Friday, March 1, 2013

Why Korea? You don't even like kimchi!

In my previous post, I talked about what prompted me to decide to move to Korea.  My job of 8 years was coming to an end, and I felt I wanted to experience something different.  Having been in the same job since I graduated university, I felt that I learnt all that I could from this position; I didn't feel challenged by it anymore.

Don't get me wrong, I loved the job, my place of work and heck I even loved my boss!  But when I can fill out a travel claim in my sleep, it's time to try something different, don't you think?  I knew working for another Senator wasn't an option.  Not only would it mostly be doing the same things, I'm not sure I would have found a Senator that was as great a boss as my previous one.  No offence to the many great Senators I've gotten to know over the years, but my old boss was a truly great man.  I think they would agree with me too - every one always loved him.  Over our near decade of knowing each other,  we had gotten to know each other and our families quite well.  He certainly has become like a father figure to me.  I have tremendous admiration and respect for him and I know that that won't go away now that I no longer work for him.  I will always be grateful that he took a chance on a very young and inexperienced fresh-out-of-school girl to essentially run his whole office.  It was a big leap of faith on his part, and I hope that I did my best for him.  I certainly hope that I can one day come back to the Senate under a different role in administration because it has become like a family to me.  I will miss walking into Parliament and feeling the history and privilege of just being there.  But just as a baby bird must someday leave the nest, I had to spread my wings a try something new.

When beginning my research into teaching abroad, one of the first things I looked into, was getting a TEFL certificate.  While some people I spoke to said it was unnecessary  I thought it was important for a few reasons:
1) Having no experience teaching made me nervous.  Sure, I've done lots of public speaking and am very comfortable talking to people, but having to create and execute an actual structured lesson plan? Nothing.  So, while not as in depth as an actual teaching degree (by far! this was only a 60 hour in-class, 40 hour online program) I thought it would be a good "crash course" on how to teach.
2) Both of the programs I was looking into offered help with finding an overseas teaching job for all of their graduates.  From everything that I saw and read, finding a job in Korea (or anywhere for that matter) is stressful at best and extremely overwhelming.  Job boards are filled with ads and it's difficult to know exactly where to start.  So if some one was going to offer to help me, of course  I'd take them up on that offer!
3) Usually having a TEFL certificate, again while not being a Bachelor of Education, shows the employer you're serious about the job and will help when you get hired when you have zero experience, and might even push you to a higher pay bracket.  Of course, for some people doing this, money isn't everything.  Not that it is for me either, but a girl's got bills to pay!  Being able to live decently and have a bit of money to put aside at the end of the month was important to me, so this little piece of paper just helped me that much more.

After a few weekends this past summer, I had my certificate in hand and was ready to start the official job hunt.  But where did I want to go? China? Japan? Korea?  The answer was still a question mark at that point.  I had been on vacation in China the previous summer and really loved it so it was high on the list.  I had been to Tokyo briefly and thought it was an interesting option too.  To make a decision, I had to ask myself why I was actually doing this.  Why did I want to give everything up for a year, and move to the other side of the world?  This was an important question and one I've had to remind myself of the answer many times over the last few months as the nerves have started to set in.

I want to move and teach overseas because I want to have a different experience.  I want to experience living in a different country, in a different culture, with different challenges.  As strange as it sounds, I even want to experience culture shock. (Please remind me of this statement when I am sad and questioning my decision to move overseas and want to come back early!)

Of course, all of the countries would easily meet all of these criteria.  I was interested in each of their cultures, although admittedly, I love dim sum and sushi far more than I like kimchi.  In the end, my choice of country boiled down to the benefits.  Each country will fly you there and back.  China and Korea both provide free accommodation to their teachers, Japan gives you an allowance and you're on the hook for the tab which can eat into your savings when you're in one of the most expensive countries in the world.  China pays about half of what Korea does, so in order to save a bit more money, Korea won the battle for my new home.  Since the decision was made, I've done all that I can to embrace the Korean culture: taking language lessons at the Korean Embassy, dinners out at local Korean restaurants, and had a 4 hour marathon karaoke session Korean-style (isn't karaoke the national sport over there?).  I hope that doing these things to prepare will lessen the severity of my culture shock that I know is inevitable.

Every one I've talked to who has gone over, and everything that I've read online, has told me that there is a pattern that happens when some one moves to a foreign culture:
Phase 1 - the honeymoon phase, where everything is exciting and new.  I've been told this may last for the first few months after my arrival.
Phase 2 - culture shock hits, you're alone in a strange land and all you want is to be home with everything familiar.  I've been told to keep myself busy when this stage comes, as sitting at home sulking will only make it worse.  I've also be advised to avoid alcohol and becoming a regular at the local ex-pat pub during this time as some who have never left this phase congregate there and will try to bring me down with them.
Phase 3 - acceptance of the life and culture of this new land and the ability to enjoying it for it is: a beautiful experience.

I fully expect to go through each of these phases, and I'm sure it won't all be easy or pretty.  I hope you, my friends and readers, will all be there to experience the highs and lows with me!

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