Before teaching English in South Korea, I planned on blogging about my upcoming experiences. I contemplated blog names, looked at different hosting sites, checked out other travel blogs for inspiration, and vetted themes.
Yet, when I arrived in South Korea I ended up writing only one blog post. Yes! I wrote just one, measly blog post about my pre-departure packing focusing on the whittling down of clothes, shoes, and loved items into just the two suitcases. But once my feet were on the ground and firmly planted in South Korea, the land of the morning calm, I found myself too enraptured with living my expat life to sit down and write again.
I was full of wonder, appreciation, and excitement. I always wanted to be out: visiting new restaurants, sharing jokes with locals, and making new friends. It is only now that I have returned home after five years of living abroad that I can really see the beauty that was my international life.
Teaching English in South Korea: Different and Yet Similar
My life while teaching English in South Korea was so completely different from my life now, yet so strikingly similar. The large themes of family, work, and fun remain constant despite the country you’re in. I would head to school each day at 7:30 a.m. and leave at 4 p.m., shop at the neighborhood markets for bread and produce, and head downtown to shop or meet friends for dinner.
These types of ‘constants’ give you a sense of stability and familiarity that is very normalizing but it’s the small differences in each place that bring the color to our lives. These differences make it fun, challenging, and sometimes even disruptive but encourage you to grow and understand.
Instead of driving to work, I would ride my yellow 50 CC scooter (complete with ‘Hello Kitty’ decal on the front) to school. Rather than snacking on cake or cookies during celebrations, I’d eat rice cakes with sweetened red bean filling or patbingsu, Korea’s version of shaved ice. I cheered on my local baseball team, the Kia Tigers, as opposed to my Cincinnati Reds while munching on kimbap (seaweed rice rolls), noodles or dried squid as opposed to hot dogs and pretzels. My mind would regularly fill with travel plans to countries that once seemed so far and exotic. I celebrated long-loved holidays in unconventional ways: substituting roasted chicken for the nearly unobtainable turkey on Thanksgiving and baking nearly 100 cookies for decorating in a toaster oven.
The more countries I visited, the more places that I worked at, and the more people that I met proved that the human experience is not so different after all – no matter where you go. People are people. They share the same desire for fun and connection; they share the same fear of loss and the unknown; they share the same appetite for understanding and adventure; and they share the same curiosity of food and culture.
Teaching English in South Korea is all sorts of things: comical, challenging, unique, and unpredictable. The same can be said for teaching English abroad in general. No matter your coordinates, the sun rises and the sun sets. Teaching overseas taught me to appreciate the familiar and the unfamiliar, the regular and the irregular. Creating a balance and appreciating the beauty in what you know and what you still have yet to learn is a foolproof way to make the most of your time abroad. Seize the day!
Written by Claire Gerdsen
Claire Gerdsen taught overseas for a total of five years living in three different countries and traveling to nearly forty. She has a Master’s of Education focusing on Global and International Education and is currently in pursuit of a second focusing on Instructional Design and Technology. Currently settled in Cincinnati, Ohio, Claire works with Oxford Seminars teaching TESOL/TESL/TEFL courses.