Why teaching in Korea is the greatest thing I could have done

Why teaching in Korea is the greatest thing I could have done

” Actually, not many people know this, but I tried to come to Korea before I came through EPIK, and when it fell through I was absolutely devastated.”

“You want to…teach. In…South Korea? Why?”

“What on Earth is in South Korea?” 

“What happened to you wanting to be on TV?!”

When I told everyone my decision to move to Korea, I got questions like this all the time. As my 6 month anniversary in Korea rapidly approaches I feel like I am finally allowed to sit back and marvel at the journey I’ve taken. There were lots of reasons why I eventually chose to move halfway across the world to a country I had never been before where I could barely speak the language.

Quite frankly, none of those reasons matter now.

What matters is that I’m here, doing something I literally never thought I would be, fulfilling dreams I didn’t know I had.

In the weeks before graduation when I told my immediate family that I wanted to move to South Korea, to teach of all things, they were more than slightly confused. After all, I was about to graduate with a Television Broadcast degree, and at long last it seemed I’d be starting out on my path to becoming the next Oprah, a dream I’d had since I was a child interviewing my teddy bears (Literally. I was crazy.). Though they were outwardly supportive, I honestly don’t think they took me all that seriously until I was offered an actual reporter position not even two months after graduating. I mentally, physically and emotionally struggled with my decision to take this job for days. I was already in the process of trying to come to Korea, and I knew if I took that job I was never going to make it overseas.


In the end I obviously turned the job down, and I have yet to regret that decision even in the turmoil that 
followed. Actually, not many people know this, but I tried to come to Korea through a private Hagwon before I came through EPIK, and when it fell through in August, weeks before I was expecting to step on a plane, I was absolutely devastated. I had turned down a job for this opportunity, put everything on the line only to have my dream forcibly taken from me. When I randomly ran into Greenheart Travel online just after this devastation took place and found out I wouldn’t be able to come to Korea until February, I gave up all that was left of my already dwindling hope. My thoughts were racing with negativity: I had to get paperwork together far too quickly, there was no way I’d be able to scrounge up $1000 in 4 months, and could I stand to go through everything all over again just to be rejected once more…?

Ultimately, I couldn’t tell you what made me finally decide to go through with it, gather the paperwork again and pull myself up by my bootstraps, but I know that from the moment I made the decision to get here I was working my butt off. At one point I was working 3 jobs to save up for both a plane ticket and for when I actually got to the other side of the world. I wasn’t sleeping, I certainly never saw my friends, and my family was starting to worry that I’d gone crazy. Still, I had a goal and a million reasons so I was sticking to it.

When I finally got my placement in late January, I’m not ashamed to admit that I opened that e-mail and cried like a baby. I had been through what felt like Hell and back and what I had wanted for years was finally, finally, real. I had no idea what I was walking into really, but I knew that I had been studying the language and the culture for over 2 years and that I wanted, needed, to make this work because I wanted it more than anything.

6 months later I still acutely remember how stressed I was just over a year ago when my plans first fell through,
along with every bump in the road that came after. While those memories remain, they’re overridden by new ones. Like crazy summer nights on a random beach. That one time I took a crazy 9 hour bus adventure with friends and slept on a stranger’s floor (do NOT tell my mother). I remember (and also only kind of remember…) any and every weekend I’ve spent in Seoul with friends old and new. Instead of thinking back on the tears and frustration I prefer to remember laughing uproariously in noraebangs as we screamed ‘Hey Jude’ into a mic, or when we celebrated absolutely nothing on a Friday night in a bar the one time I had to go in to work the next morning (the results, as you may have guessed, were tragic).

The reason coming to Korea is the greatest thing I could have done isn’t the fact that I overcame so many obstacles, or anything so dramatically ‘Remember the Titans’ worthy as that. Coming to Korea was the greatest thing I could have done because for the first time I did something entirely for me, free falling into an opportunity in which I had no idea what was waiting on the other side. And you know what, I feel like I’m finally making the difference I’ve wanted to make since interviewing those teddy bears at age 5 .

I may not be mic’ed up and ready to give the world’s greatest interview just yet, but walking into the classroom everyday to my students excitedly yelling “TEACHER!” gives me the same feeling as walking onto any stage. Giving out stickers on homework is my new “And YOU get a new car!” equivalent. On very rare bad days when I miss the simplicity of talking into a camera, students will literally half mime-half speak the world’s best broken English and cheer so loud when I understand them I feel more important than any celebrity on the planet.

Basically, my decisions and reasons for coming mean virtually nothing in comparison to what I’m actually accomplishing now that I’m here.If you’re on your way here, whether in a week, a month, a year or 10, your reasons don’t have to be ginormous or profound or spiritual. Your reasons for coming aren’t that big a deal, it’s what what you do while you stay that truly matters, and it took me a long time to see that.

I plan on staying for a while yet, and even though not everyday is perfect, it’s the perfect days that remind me why I fought so hard to get here in the first place. I’m sure I’ll get back onto the path of Oprah eventually. For now, I’ll pretend that moments like the ones where my students tell me how much they learned and how much they hope to achieve have been captured on film, and that’s really enough for me.

One thought on "Why teaching in Korea is the greatest thing I could have done"

  1. Zachary says:

    This is a great and inspirational story. I personally can kinda relate but only on the part that I really cannot wait to travel and move to Korea. I’m now going to be a Senior in High School and have been interested in Korea for nearly 3.5 years now and every day my desire to move to Korea has grown stronger and stronger and my bad days have me depressed wanting to move to Korea and experience what I can’t in America. I have also been asked many questions on why I want to move their and why South Korea in general.

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