“Here’s to Another Year”

May 28, 2011

Let me first state for the record: no, I have NOT renewed my contract for another year. As of today, it will end on October 7th, 2011, and I plan to keep it that way. But I have been thinking. Simon and Martina of Eat Your Kimchi have just celebrated their third year in Korea, and plan on staying for a fourth. I can’t seem to get over the “can’t stay, but can’t leave” dichotomy.

On the one hand, I’ve just had a really good time volunteering in Japan (story coming soon, I promise) and enjoying a pre-birthday weekend celebration in Uljin with some newbies and friends. On the same hand, the US economy and job market are terrible at the best of times, and I don’t fancy having to return to that and gamble my health and security for a desk job. Moreover, this article on homelessness in America really freaked me out, much more than I’d be willing to admit to myself or my parents:

But the fastest growing subset of the homeless population are mobile homeless like me, those affected by the recession and living out of vehicles and just trying to blend in and boostrap their way out of it. I met a doctor. He and his wife were living in a car together, thinking of moving to another country and teaching English. I met a guy who speaks four languages and another guy who used to own three houses. There are a lot of people who lost their jobs and thought they’d be okay but were unable to find work. A lot of people who took unemployment as long as it would last. And a lot of others have been foreclosed on. That’s pretty common. This recession has been completely indiscriminate. It’s affecting everybody.

I consider myself an independent person, a resourceful worker. But successful? Not really. Being a traveler has the advantage of location independence and flexibility when it comes to choosing a line of work, e.g. teaching English in Asia: anyone can do it. But if I were back stateside, that advantage is gone. My time abroad reduced to factoids on a resume with employers asking “haven’t you had any practical experience in your field since 2006?” No, I haven’t. I’ve been living in Japan, China, Thailand, New Zealand, Korea, and looking for my place. In all likelihood, I’d be too proud to accept a position as a cashier or in a restaurant, even if it were absolutely necessary for my survival (and even if I personally think it to be less difficult than teaching in Korea), and could find myself in Brianna Karp’s shoes. Just someone who could not find the job he was looking for at the wage he wanted, slowly ate through his savings, and found himself without proper support. I’m never staying with my parents for more than a few days EVER AGAIN. My friends are good people, but they can’t support me for weeks at a time while I look for work that may not even exist.

So I’m torn. Korea is good and bad for me.

Good in the sense that I am comfortable, am well-fed, am in great running shape, can enjoy nights out and some luxuries, can travel, enjoy a steady paycheck, have a network of friends, have a spacious apartment of my own in which to relax, and work a job that is in no danger of being outsourced, made redundant, or simply removed.

Bad. As I see it now (and I stress this point, because my views always change over time), there’s no opportunity to grow in Korea, as a worker or a human being. I would always be an English teacher, whether the position be in a hagwon, public school, university, or international school. I would always feel compelled to reach out to foreigners first to make friends, rather finding people based on common interests (I do meet runners and Couchsurfers, but by and large the expat community is the ultimate social glue). I’m tired of kids pointing and laughing at me, even if the reasons are based on ignorance.

The good is just as strong a reason to stay as the bad is to leave.

6 Responses to “Here’s to Another Year”

  1. Simon on May 28, 2011 at 11:49 pm

    I think the bad point is pretty spot on. It felt like, no matter how hard we tried as teachers, we’d be stuck, and wouldn’t be able to grow much in that role. For some people, that role may be fine, but we’d want the possibility to grow.

    We’re not going to teach here anymore. We’re really lucky to be able to live here without teaching, yeah, but we couldn’t really see ourselves staying here for the long run as teachers.

  2. Anders on May 29, 2011 at 8:49 am

    All the good parts of staying in Korea (in your text above) seems to me as being good enough reasons to stay and keep working as an English teacher (not saying that you should though). Good enough reasons for you to grow “as a worker or a human being”.
    You have me confused here Turner, you do not want to go to the US because you are scared to not have the things you have in Korea; monthly paycheck, steady job, a home, well fed, and living very comfortably in general.
    I think that most people in the world would say that all the things you mention in the “good” section are the foundations for being able to grow both at work and as a human being.

    If you are bored with teaching then what are the alternatives, and why is it that you cannot grow where you are? Do you let your surroundings dictate your growth? Shouldn’t growth come from peace and tranquility within you?

    Surely it is time to move on as you are not happy where you are, find the peace within you and keep growing as the good person I know you are, grow as a teacher too, growth comes from within, not from the surroundings.

  3. Jessica on May 29, 2011 at 10:30 am

    With all of your teaching experience, wouldn’t it be possible to teach at a university? Could that be your opportunity to grow? Or are you looking to grow in the field you studied? Or grow in a different way completely? A friend of mine taught at a hagwon her first year, and now she’s finishing her second year at a university. She found the university experience more rewarding.

  4. Turner on May 29, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    Understandable confusion, and maybe it is all on my end. Surroundings definitely play a part in growth, in my opinion. But I’m hardly challenging myself by teaching English in Asia, an industry where there is NO possibility of advancement. As a result, my desire to really help these kids lessens with each month. There are no alternatives to living and working in Korea other than teaching. The exceptions live in Seoul, but most of them had to start in the same field for a few years to get everything squared away.

    And, personally, no matter how confident I am in myself or how much I do want to grow, it is draining not to be able to fully understand everyone and everything around you, to be the occasional subject of ogling or ridicule.

    And I agree it’s time to move on, but anywhere “foreign” would no doubt lead to similar circumstances in the future. So I search.

  5. Turner on May 29, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    I don’t think I would, especially in Korea. It’s same the story – English teacher – whether you’re at a university or hagwon.

  6. Keith Hajovsky on May 29, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    I only taught English in Asia (Japan) a short while, and that was several years ago. But a brother of mine has taught for years in various counties in that part of the world. He too felt like he hit a wall when it came to growth in his profession, so he went to grad school (Norther Arizona University in Flagstaff), and ended up teaching at a university level in Korea after that. He feels like he has grown quite a bit, and he also feels like his time in the university has openned other doors in other parts of the world. But, then again, he knew for sure he wanted to remain in the teaching profession. So unless you know that is the case for yourself, then perhaps grad school (for ESL) wouldn’t be the right choice for you.

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