I was still employed at my last job when I decided to apply to the EPIK program in South Korea. While my last job could be very rewarding at times, it was also incredibly stressful and unpredictable. My schedule could change on a day to day basis, making me work split shifts or late nights. I often worked with difficult clients that left me feeling drained at the end of a contact. Don't get me wrong, when I was able to help somebody, I felt really great. I also had the best co workers anybody could ask for. It takes an amazing amount of strength and compassion to keep doing the job we were doing. Over all I'd say it was a valuable experience but not something I want to do for the rest of my life. I like to go out and explore the world every now and then, and my employment was not providing the time off, or the pay to do so.
I was first told about the EPIK program from my friends +Aubrey and +Philip. What they told me sounded very appealing: Consistent schedule Monday-Friday, great vacation time, free rent, generous pay, health insurance, and to top it all off I would be living in Korea. I decided I would finish off my first year of full time employment and then go for it. I was young, single at the time, and was eager for a change of pace.
I applied, interviewed, filled out a mountain of paperwork, and now I'm here! Happily employed at a Korean elementary school teaching grades 3-6. My job is even better than the description. I only teach about 4 classes a day, all in the morning before lunch. After lunch the rest of my time is for planning activities, talking with my co teachers, and checking my email. I work from 8:30 to 4:30, and never have to take work home with me (unless I need to use an English version of powerpoint). Since I get off work at 4:30 I have plenty of time to pursue my own interests. I can go for a walk, go down town, or cook dinner. Not all my time is spent worrying about my job and I can really relax. I make enough money to live comfortably, make my car payments back home, and still add to my savings.
I expected the Korean children to be good, but man, they are so much fun! Children are still children all over the world, so they are loud, silly, and mischievous little things. They love to ask me questions even if they have to struggle with English to make me understand. When I walk to or from school children yell "Theresa teacher!!! Hello!" They also compliment me nearly every day. It's probably the best self esteem boost ever to be told by multiple children that you are "Tall like model!" or "Teacher is so beautiful". Just having happy kids come tell me hello, or trying to talk to me outside of class makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I really enjoy my job.
There are also reasons outside of employment as to why I came to Korea. I like to travel and have a bit of adventure, so not being able to even take weekend trips was starting to wear on me. I was going so stir crazy that moving to Korea for a year seemed like a great solution. I had never been to Korea before now, and honestly didn't know very much about Korean life, but I had heard of many good experiences. It didn't hurt that the benefits are some of the best being offered for teaching English abroad. I like to travel and learn about new cultures so Korea seemed like a great place to go. Why not? I have since come to enjoy how cheap and delicious Korean food is. It is also rather healthy, so combined with my increased walking I've actually lost a little bit of weight. Korea is my accidental diet plan ;) Korea also has some of the best makeup and skin care products, all for a reasonable price too!
Another side effect of coming to Korea to teach English is meeting all of the other awesome English teachers from all over the world! In Daegu there is a great expat community and I'm friends with people from South Africa, Wales, Ireland, New Zealand, Canada, as well as the U.S. It's great to be able to build friendships with people you know are here for a while and not just passing through town, or happen to be staying at the same hostel. Now I have excuses to go visit other countries to go see the friends I made in Korea!
This is also my first time living completely on my own. I've always had roommates, and now I don't even have a pet with me. Due to high rent, I may not have otherwise experienced living alone. It's not as bad as I was expecting and it does give a positive sense of independence. I feel like this is an opportunity for personal growth and reflection. I have time to really think about what I want in life and what I want to do when I go back home to California.
After all of these reasons, what it really comes down to is that I did this for me. I've had a dream since high school to go teach abroad, and I'm doing it. Before this I had a dream to study abroad in France, and I did that too. I know that I'm capable of setting excuses aside, and fulfilling my goals. It can be a daunting journey, and it's not always easy but I know that I can do it. (It helps to have supportive loved ones). I don't have to say "Oh I always wanted to do that, but never got the chance" because I did it.
There have been end of life studies to show what people regretted most in life. One of the top 5 was "I regret not living a life true to myself". I'm not going to have this regret. So agree or disagree with my reasons to move to Korea, either way I am satisfied with my choices. I'm doing my best to live my life and not just merely existing day to day. At the end of my travels I always have a greater appreciation for my home, friends and family, and the experiences I let myself have. I wouldn't have it any other way.