I’m now renewing my contract which got me reflecting on what a year it’s been. Last year I flew into Korea on my birthday. I turned 23 mid-air, starting a chapter in a country I barely knew. It’s funny how something so short, a 2 week visit to Korea 10 years earlier would impact so greatly on my decision to move here further down the line.
The thought of returning to Korea had been on my mind for a while, but I’ve got to be honest, the day of my flight I was so scared. Everyone around me kept saying how wonderful it was going to be. The application process was long, tiring even and saying goodbye to friends and family was difficult. I didn’t know how to teach, knew very little Korean and it was for a year. However, what I’ve found to be consistently true is that the most rewarding experiences I’ve had, have required the most work. More crucially, they require the ability to take a leap out of comfort zones.
It paid off. Korea has been everything I hoped it would be. One year on and this time I celebrated my birthday with some amazing friends. Heck, I even met a nice boy! (who ironically is not Korean). Busan is my home away from home and better than I’d imagined. Now the new intake for EPIK is moving in soon and it really got me reminiscing about how I ended up here. Why this destination above others? I’d had such a short experience with Korea which really had become a bigger influence than I ever would have imagined.
For some teachers, it is their first time in this part of the world. Some are experienced having taught elsewhere. For others, this is their first time abroad! There are many people from all over the world who for whatever reason have all ended up in the same place with you for a period of time.
When teachers meet each other for the first time one of the most common questions I’ve been asked and have asked others is, Why did you come to Korea? Its a good question, so I’ll take you to my beginning. My familiarity with Korea began with taekwondo. I joined as a kid, became obsessed with the sport and that was it. My first love was taekwondo and I guess the culture that was entwined with that is what got me interested in this country.
However, things really kicked off (excuse the pun) when my Taekwondo club (Koryo Taekwondo in Cockerton, Darlington) set up an exchange with another dojang based in Cheongju. A group of Korean students came over for a couple of weeks, they trained with us and I was lucky enough to host 유솔아. We did taekwondo together, hung out and I even took her to my school (what a nightmare that was- long story). Nonetheless, I wanted to give her the best experience possible and it certainly gave her a taster of what life was like as a teenager in the Northeast of England. Whilst neither of us could speak the same language, we really bonded and the whole family was so upset to see her go.
In 2005, it was my turn to stay with her family. Whilst I didn’t know it at the time, this was a turning point and one of the main reasons why I came to teach in Korea. I was 13 years old. It was my first time abroad somewhere so foreign, I’d just passed my black belt so the opportunity to go to Korea, the home of taekwondo was very exciting. It was scary of course. Living with a family and training in a language you can’t speak is pretty daunting but it was amazing. After that trip my interest in Korea and taekwondo was pretty obsessive. From then on I became enamored with this part of the world. The Korean flag took pride of place on my bedroom wall (this seems strange to me now) but at the time it seemed perfectly normal. I took up Chinese Mandarin at my school which enabled me to visit with a school trip. Then, in 2013 I ticked off my dream to visit Japan.
Even after visiting China and Japan there was something about Korea which drew me in. It was so long ago but I knew I needed to go back. I’d only spent 2 weeks there and had such distinct memories. Was it just because I’d visited as a youngster? Would it be as impressive now? I didn’t know.
What better way to do this than teach? I can live in the country and have the opportunity to travel as well. The English Program in Korea (EPIK) was perfect. I’d just graduated University and began my TEFL and application process immediately for the hope of getting onto the Feb 2015 intake.
Since moving here things have been non-stop. In a year I’ve been able to enjoy so many things with my new pals.유솔아 and I even reunited in Seoul for a day, it was amazing to see eachother after so long! These experiences, no matter how long or short can have a lasting impact. I wouldn’t say I’m a deeply reflective person but I can’t deny that everything has just fallen into place somehow. Without taekwondo, I wouldn’t have visited Korea. Without visiting Korea for even such a small amount of time, I may have chosen somewhere else.Would I have even come to this part of the world at all? Would I have had the confidence to do so? I don’t know.
I’m now about to embark on my second year of teaching and can’t wait to get stuck into year 2. I still love Korea just as much as I did when I was a teen. Thank you mum and dad for getting me into taekwondo. Without that, maybe I’d still be working in M&S wearing my lovely fleece. I hear people say to me all the time ‘I wish I could do that.’ Well, you can…but you have to take the jump. So, here goes. Bring on the Bu, Year 2!