Monday, February 09, 2015

The Re-patriation Chronicles, Part Three: English Teacher K

Another entry in my interview series dealing with the travails of trying to STOP teaching English abroad.

How long did you work abroad, and where?

I worked for one year in South Korea.  If you zoom in on Google Maps, my apartment was basically in the middle of the "S" in Seoul.

What made you decide to return to the US?

Several reasons.  I wanted to return to my girlfriend (long-distance relationships should be avoided at all costs).  I did not like the location of my apartment.  It was positioned right near a walkway, so I could hear businessmen and motorbikes rushing by at all hours of the day and parts of the night.  Of course, if I had requested a new living accommodation, I am confident that my school would have tried to give me one.  Living in a metropolis like Seoul also started to wear at my desire for privacy, open space, and fresh air.  This was especially difficult because I had never lived in a city before.  Finally, Seoul started to depress me.  Businessmen work for twelve hours at a time and students go to class for up to fourteen hours.  Of course, I was aware of the excessive worth demands that Koreans place upon themselves, but seeing it in person made me quite disgusted.

But there is something deeper to my apathy and antipathy toward Seoul.  I realize that a lot of it stemmed from my foolishly- insular behavior.  Seoul, and South Korea for that matter, are not interested locations as far as natural beauty and landmark beauty.  Let's be honest, South Korean cities are hives of concrete boxes with garish signage and the landscapes are mostly mountainous without any unique beauty.  The richness of Korea lies in its people, and I avoided its people.  I should have made more friends and been more social. 

What were your experiences like trying to find a job? 
I'm not sure if this question relates to finding a job in Korea, or finding a job upon returning to the US.  I'll answer both.  Finding a job in Korea was fairly straightforward.  I applied directly to the EPIK program and selected Seoul as my city.  I decided to choose the safe public school route because I didn't want to worry about the drama and risk involved in working at a private institution.  Looking back, I appreciate this decision.  Working at a public school was very rewarding.  I was guaranteed a 8-4 work schedule, a delicious and massive lunch, and all of the teachers and staff were tremendously professional and helpful.  My elementary school was apparently one of the most prestigious in Seoul.  I was clearly the most unqualified person there.  The school also has a Taekwondo program that was so good, they performed for Queen Elizabeth when she came to Korea several years ago.  I was able to jump in and learn some moves.  In class, was always with a co-teacher, so discipline wasn't a huge problem and oftentimes I only had to teach half a class.  It really was a sweet TEFL gig.

I was told that the program, and Seoul in particular, was challenging to be accepted to.  I didn't have a CELTA, but my stellar undergraduate resume, my major in English, and a few letters of recommendation from professors who earned English PhDs at Oxford seemed to be enough to secure the position.  When I arrived at orientation, I found that nearly everyone else had similarly worthless degrees, all the truly-wise people staying in the U.S. and earning real money.  But hey, they aren't getting a "cultural experience," are they?

When I returned to the United States, I found that, as I suspected, few people were impressed by me teaching English abroad for a year.  I had to wait a year for graduate school, so I found a basic part-time job to earn some cash and spend time with my girlfriend.  Talking about teaching in Korea is certainly an interesting discussion during the interviews that I did have, but most of my jobs applications have been rejected.  I blame that partly on my academically-oriented resume and major.  

I do think that it is very important to plan what you will say to a company back home when you apply for a job.  Don't write on your resume, "English Teacher."  Write "English Instructor."  Don't write, "taught kids English."  Instead write, "Developed the English curriculum for the school, taught four grade levels, and managed after-school programs and camps."  You need to use every trick in the business book in order to make TEFLing stand out.

What do you like/not like about living in America?

Coming back from Korea, the first things I noticed about my fellow Americans were that they were fat, unmotivated, and generally lazy.  They are also rather disrespectful.  Americans are also really slow when walking in public and checking out at grocery stores.  We have an over-reliance on vehicles and no one can survive in this country without a good vehicle.  After spending a year walking everywhere in Seoul and only entering a vehicle once, I was terrified by driving for several months.  I would get extremely panicked even being in the passenger seat.  And why shouldn't I be?  70 mph with another two-thousand pound vehicle three feet away?  How suicidal can we be?  So yeah, returning to the US, even after a year of having complete access to English entertainment, made me notice a lot of problems with my country.  I still love it and can't imagine spending the majority of my life anywhere else.  Still, I'm ready to leave again.

What are your plans for the future?

I'm going to graduate school to pursue a career.  I really want to be a professor and I have the credentials to get into graduate school.  So I'm going to go down that path.  However, I'm interested much more in traveling now.  I've deeply considered pursuing the JET Programme to teach in Japan.  I also want to work for a North-Korean activist group called LINK (Liberty in North Korea).  I'm a huge activist and would love to be on the front lines smuggling North Korean defectors from China to South Korea.  Truly, it would be a rewarding experience.

What advice would you give to people in your situation or future TEFLers?

Do spend at least a year teaching in another country.  You hear people--myself included now--complain about different cultures.  But I very much appreciate the knowledge that I gained that allows me to denounce different cultures with more authority.  Sometimes, that's all you may gain from traveling: discovering what you don't like and why.

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Couldn't have said it better myself. And all you readers out there in reader-land, feel free to e-mail me at englishteacherx(at)yahoo(dot)com if you have a story of TEFL teaching or of returning to your home country you'd like to share. 

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