Since I’ve settled into life in East Asia quite nicely, I’d like to write about a question I’ve been asked a lot since before I even moved here: “Why South Korea, Farah?”
Well, as I outlined in my inaugural post, I happened upon teaching English as a foreign language as a fantastic way to make a living while overseas. I just needed to pick a country!
Europe Wasn’t Gonna Work …
Practically from the moment I stepped foot there, I felt drawn to live in Europe. But as anyone who’s simply visited Italy, France or any other EU nations, the cost of being there is decidedly wallet-unfriendly, and the TEFL teacher salaries aren’t much help. In fact, I’d probably be dipping into my savings just to keep my head barely above water! No bueno.
So I researched further: Where could I get the best pay, benefits and cost of living? For the first two, the answer was simple — the United Arab Emirates, hands-down, paid the most, and lavished foreign teachers with a bevy of benefits, including housing and so much more. I’d even heard of teachers having utilities and transit paid for! Unfortch, even though I had the master’s degree most schools desired, I quickly realized I couldn’t even glance at a UAE teacher job description without a teaching certificate from home and a couple years of teaching experience under my belt. Well, damn.
Well, Hello, There, South Korea!
But the best-paying destination after the UAE totally piqued my interest: South Korea! I’d never had much interest in exploring Asia. Let me rephrase that … I figured I’d explore Asia after I was through hitting every country in Europe … and a few in South America. And maybe more U.S. states. So as you see, I wasn’t ruling Asia out, it just wasn’t high on my must-visit list.
That said, there was something about SK. Years ago, I caught a South Korean action-thriller at the Dallas International Film Festival. The film is called Company Man, and as I watched it, I was gob-smacked — how come I didn’t know how stylish and modern Korea was?! It was a wonder, and it stirred something in me. In the following years, I always made sure to catch a South Korean movie at the DIFF, and I came to develop a (albeit passing) fascination with the culture.
So once I discovered that Korea might be a good fit for teaching, I went hardcore on my research. What was the standard pay? What was cost of living like? Could I save money? Could I reasonably spend money? Was there any kind of expat community?
My Research Results …
As it turns out, Korea, like the UAE, provides paid housing for foreign teachers. I could get used to no rent! And the monthly pay would allow me to pay bills back home and save a little coin, all while leaving me some fun money to explore the country or eventually another one.
As for the culture, I ended up loving most everything I learned about it. I loved the country’s merging of high-tech modernity and big-city life with the traditions of social hierarchy and respect of elders. And while I was super-jazzed about all things Seoul, Korea had numerous cool metropolitan areas to dig into, all connected with smaller burgs via an excellent transit system. Finally, while Korean is a really difficult language for English speakers to learn, as are all the Asian tongues, its alphabet is the easiest of them all — I had it down in a day!
Sure there were/are some downsides I was wary about. Korea has a rep for being hyper-focused on looks, beauty and youth, and I’ve certainly encountered my share of issues with that. (There’s also a million downsides I’ve read about teaching here as an expat, too, but that’s enough for another post!) But, overall, I just try to emit a colossal amount of self-respect, confidence and self-esteem that allows me not to feel less-than here. It works! I’ve found Koreans to be overwhelmingly friendly and kind, and I’ve connected with terrific expats here as well!
I Highly Recommend a Move Like Mine!
So after allll that research, my experience here has been largely as I expected it to be. Scratch that: School life is as I expected, but meeting people and exploring Seoul have been much, much better than I could’ve imagined. I’m having a blast, and I’d recommend moving out here to anyone … after voluminous research like I did! South Korea has turned out to be my spirit country, and I’ll get more into why in a future post!