I’ve written a number of articles about the things you should know before coming, the actual monetary benefits of teaching in the RoK, and of course, my personal experience with the whole gig. Let me start by saying that for me, the four years I spent in South Korea were simply the best. As far as the fun aspect of it, I think of it much like college, but with money. However, one thing I really have never talked about on this blog is, surprisingly, the most important thing to consider. Is going to Korea the right move for you? I will try to minimize the BS, sugar coating, and any of that other stuff countless people do online to make this post as realistic as possible. There are just three questions to ask yourself.
Do You Like Teaching?
Yes, this is a real question. Unfortunately, way too many English teachers in South Korea not only have very little talent, but no interest at all in the profession. They come for all the wrong reasons and quickly find out that if they hated their situation back home, coming to Korea to do something they also hate isn’t going to make them any happier. As someone who really enjoys teaching, I find it quite irritating whenever a foreign English teacher talks about “going back home and getting a ‘real job.'” It is offensive to your co-workers, a disservice to your students, and quite honestly, it should be offensive to you. While I am not suggesting everyone should be gunning for teacher of the year, I don’t think it is too much to ask that you have at least some interest in the profession.
Are You Willing to Embrace Another Culture?
Another seemingly stupid question, until you get here. Things in Korea will not always go your way. You might have a hard time finding a variety of foreign foods, the work culture might be different than what you’re used to, and you might find that an older person’s opinion, however irrational, may have more sway than you would like. Adapt.
There are a million wonderful things to experience in South Korea, from lantern festivals in the fall, to the changing of the guards in Gyeongbokgung palace every day on the hour. However, way too many foreigners seem completely intolerant of anything in Korean culture that they don’t agree with. While I am not suggesting that social criticism is bad (after all, it will at the very least, be your temporary home), I do find the constant bitching a bit more than annoying.
“This would never happen in Canada” or “Well, in America…” are lines I have heard a million times. No, you aren’t at home anymore and yes, things are different (and not always for the better). However, being a foreigner doesn’t make you an expert in how a perfect society is run. I’ve heard it all from “They don’t do mayonnaise right” to “Why can’t they make a decent American style breakfast?” Probably because it is Korean style mayo, and because you’re not in America. Any more questions?
Can You Handle The Pressure?
Working abroad comes with a handful of challenges, but none as prevalent as this one. Unfortunately, while you might feel liberated and excited to be in another country, be prepared to add a mountain of new pressures to your life.
Koreans are nosy. Within Korean society, it is totally culturally acceptable to ask your age, who you are dating, why you aren’t married yet, why you can’t afford a car, and a variety of other questions typically reserved for that aunt you try to avoid in family reunions. Try not to let it faze you.
Before you try to blame this on Korea, you will quickly find out that those you knew back home will often do the same. For every friend that is “soooo happy for you” to be living abroad, two will question “What about your career?” and “Are you even thinking about your future?”
“Gesh, you know what, no, I actually had zero thoughts as to my future, thanks for reminding me.”
Much like your friends who already have kids and try to convince you that having kids is the way to go, despite evidence to the contrary, many will try to second guess your being in Korea in the first place. While your best friends might have the best of intentions, in my opinion, everyone else is just trying to reassure themselves that by not going abroad, they made the wiser move. You really have to have thick skin and be sure of your decision. Any sort of doubt will be sniffed out, and you won’t hear the end of it.
Teaching in Korea can definitely be the most amazing decision you will ever make. It can take you on a path of self exploration, cultural enrichment, and give you a slightly better understanding of the world around you. Just make sure that if you do decide to go, you go for the right reasons with the right mindset or this amazing experience, could very well become unbearable to you, and everyone who unfortunately decides to become your friend in the RoK.