Why I’m Teaching in Korea (again)

What can I say that hasn’t already been said? So many have done this before, including myself. But writing isn’t about saying new things, it’s about looking at the same thing in a new perspective. So here‘s my perspective on coming to Korea again, this time a little older and a little wiser. Though the latter remains unproven.

Back in the U.S., some people didn’t understand why I was going to Korea again after I had already taught in Busan from 2009-2011.

Oh, didn’t you go there before? My co-worker asked when I said I was leaving.

Yeah, for two years.

Oh, her eyebrows pushed together. Okay…

Some didn’t understand why I was travelling at all.

A twenty-five year old German student asked me during class, Don’t you think it’s strange to get up and leave when you are twenty-nine years old? Don’t you have a life settled down by your age?

I feigned confidence because I was in class, but his question haunted me. I did think it was strange. When I was a kid, I had dreams of different scenarios for my future. Floating ESL teacher with no roots anywhere was not one of them.

Here’s the deal. Last time I came to Korea for the adventure. This time I came because it’s a better job in every way for where I am right now.

Where am I? I’m a nearly thirty year old man with a resume full of a career I don’t want. I chased a few writing jobs in California, and I got close a couple times. But each time, they wanted someone with a better writing portfolio. That’s why I’m here.

Does that make sense? It didn’t completely make sense to me until this conversation I had with my Korean co-teacher. We were talking about my work schedule in Korea. I teach between three and five classes a day. Each class is forty minutes long, so that’s two to three and a third teaching hours a day. No matter how many or how few classes that day, I still have to be at school from eight forty to four forty. That time is used for lesson planning, which isn’t difficult because the books are detailed and I only see the same students two or three times a week. Therefore, many lessons are repeated in a week.

Compare that to my job in California. I usually taught two general elementary classes and two general advanced classes. Sometimes I had an elective class as well. Each class was eighty minutes, so I was in front of my class for six to seven and a third hours a day. That’s almost full-time hours just in the class, never mind all the prep and grading. And as far as prep, I taught the same students in the elementary group every class, every day. Same with the advanced class. No lessons were repeatable in a week. Lesson planning was a constant weight on my mind even after I had the plans written down.

On top of all this, I save more money here, which will be an indescribable relief. I spent the last three years living in a kitchenless studio apartment with no heat or AC, washing my dishes in the shower, storing what I could in a mini fridge with no freezer, and despite living there I was only able to put away enough money to save up for the inevitable next car repair. The need to get out became tangible once my car died and I had to bike to work. I felt it with each pump of the pedal. PUMP gotta PUMP get the hell PUMP outta here, as I pull into the parking lot where my school’s rich kid students park exotic sports cars I don’t even know the names of.

With my workload cut in half and financial stress eased, this is where I need to be as I head into my thirties. I know where I want to go in my career, and I need to use my free time to write for a while to get there. That will be much easier to do here than with my job back home.

So yes, I came back to the same country, but the objective is different this time. Or rather, there actually is an objective this time.

At least that’s why I think I’m here, but another thing I’ve learned about writing is that you have no idea how the story will end until you get there. You don’t even know what it will be about. Then you finish and go back to edit the beginning so it looks like you knew what you were doing all along. This gives the effect of the storybook ending where the climax comes back around to ideas introduced at the start.

This blog is the story of my sloppy second time in Korea. I probably can’t give you a storybook ending because I don’t know where this is going. But I’ll try my best to fake like I know and maybe I’ll nail it.

I’ll get involved with a Korean girl. Language and cultural differences, as well as yellow fever stigma, will make me regret it. So will my fear of commitment.

Where I spent the last time in Korea getting drunk and chasing girls, this time I’ll get involved. I’ll do some volunteer work. I’ll take Korean classes and my ability to progress will not nearly match my ambition to understand everything around me. I’ll get out and see more of Korea.

I’ll teach here for two years despite only planning for one. In my first year I’ll apply for a writing gig out here. It’ll fall through, but it’ll be close enough to prod me into another year. I’ll refocus my efforts on getting a job back in the States. I’ll land something on the east coast. It’ll pay horribly, but I’ll do it because I’ll see it as a stepping stone.

Or maybe I won’t. I’ve been obsessed with learning about indigenious cultures of America for the last three years. I’ve been daydreaming for months about moving to South America as an English teacher and living with a native group who speaks a dying language. How cool would that be?

Maybe that’s the kind of story this will be. A Choose Your Own Adventure, except only if you’re me.

5 thoughts on “Why I’m Teaching in Korea (again)

  • When we talked, you said you didn’t regret any of your past decisions. That was really cool to hear. I believe that if we can now recognize and celebrate the goodness in what felt “bad” in the past, we can then look at the present and the future with a warmer embrace, drinking in our experiences as colorful and quirky pieces of the larger picture. If we dedicate ourselves to doing the next right thing, we can better enjoy today as a piece of our story. Proud of you for embracing your days with positivity, even amidst the foggy patches that make some seasons feel obscure, aimless, and detached. It’s all a gift–and an opportunity to give.

    Being me, I can’t resist leaving a quote from another author and thinker to join your own. This is beautiful:
    “Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life. Therein he cannot be replaced nor can his life be repeated. Thus everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it.” – Viktor Frankl, “Man’s Search for Meaning”

  • Mike, there are so many things about this post that I like/agree with/can relate to/smiled at/”yepped” at…keep writing and take advantage of your time to do it, but that goes without saying! I finished a degree because of it. You can accomplish your goals too! And you will.

  • Hey Mike its Ben from Namsan Middle School. Make the best of your time here. Get lots of private students save up all your money, meet a nice girl here, and keep writing! Your also a handsome dude so learn more Korean and get on one of those TV programs. Life ain’t easy, but lots of people really do well for themselves here if they apply themselves. Take care, dude!

  • Dear Mike,
    On behalf of my brother, Radhan, I here by congrats you for your healthy mind.
    I wish you the very best of luck in your future and I hope we will meet one day.
    Whenever you want to play with me on LOL, I’m Silver 2 now going for Gold ya habibi.

    Thank you

    Abdulito ya amigo

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