Saturday, 7 November 2015

Finding feet

There are far too many blogs out there which people use to showcase how wonderful and interesting their lives are. It's what drives most forms of social media. There are also too many TEFL blogs where agencies pay TEFLers to document their positive experiences, pretend like they're wonderful teachers who love their jobs, and that moving abroad was the most easy and exciting process in the world. It all seems very American, in the sense that I generally find Americans (not all, of course) feel the need to claim everything they just did was the best moment of their lives. That's one thing I enjoy about the British and Irish - we approach life with a greater sense of cynicism, acknowledging at least on some level that in the end, not a lot matters. It's what allows us to find the "craic" in everything, and defines our humour. Anyway, I'm don't intend on writing one of those super-positive, overly enthusiastic blogs. I'll just state how I've been finding things, and this country, warts and all.
Moving over was made pretty smooth for me. Two easy flights, brought to my own apartment which was ready for me when I got here. I have a good boss, she takes care of a lot of things. It was a bit of a shock to have to work the day after flying halfway across the world, but all of the above made it pretty easy to handle.
There are plenty of things already worth documenting, cultural differences etc, but I'll save some of them for later. For now I'll mention that I'm living in a town called Anseong. The TEFL recruitment agency I worked with didn't exactly lie to me, but nor were they fully explanatory - I told them I wanted to live in one of Korea's main cities, if at all possible. While they then told me Anseong was only 80km outside Seoul, I assumed it was slightly better connected than it is. I thought I'd be able to catch a 40 minute train to the centre of Seoul, but instead it's a 1.5 hour bus ride, and the buses stop before midnight, which is a bit of a game-changer.
Spending some time in Korea had been in my head for so long (I first started applying over a year and a half ago) that by the time it rolled around, I had to try and remember what it was I actually wanted out of this year. As far as I recall, it was to live in an Asian metropolis as an out of place Westerner, do a lot of dating, some partying, and get involved in the live music scene, hopefully getting the chance to play in a band again for a while. As you can imagine, those kind of things generally demand a relatively big city. I haven't been here long enough to know how this will pan out, but I'm not sure how accessible those kinds of things are going to be from where I am. I was in Seoul yesterday and really enjoyed it, and got a much better sense there of the things I had actually come here to see and experience. The friends I make here, as well as the ease with which I can travel around the country and those kinds of things, are going to define my enjoyment of the year, so I'll have to wait and see how things play out, and while I'm not fatalizing the situation, it's fair to say I'm less enthusiastic about how the year might go than I previously was. I might not get to cross as many things of my list as I had hoped.
I should explain that the main reason I ended up in this town is because I chose to work in a reputable hogwon (private English academy), which I was put in touch with by the recruitment agency. That's definitely the big plus in this situation. The staff are all friendly, both my boss and the other expat teacher Tyler have been super helpful, the work isn't all that challenging and the hours are ok. The more I've researched teaching in Korea, the more horror stories I've come across. As an expat you're in a vulnerable situation, coming to the other side of the globe and not speaking the language. It looks as if for every good school there is, there are 2 or 3 ready to take advantage of you, overwork you, not pay you on time, and generally make your experience pretty difficult here, rather than it being the amazing year in Asia that everyone harps on about. As with a lot of things, when you tell people you're moving abroad to teach they tend to envy you and think you're having the best time of your life (and as I was saying, travelers posting photos on Facebook and Instagram of what may have been the one moment they enjoyed in the last week only encourages this view), but when you get involved in the practicalities of finding a comfortable job, there's a pretty good chance your experience won't be as smooth and wonderful as you'd like to think. I guess there are a lot of good reasons to teach abroad, but there are also some relatively good reasons not to.
Knowing these things is what's allowed me not to get too worked up over everything not having fallen into place exactly the way I wanted. I might not be in Seoul, but I'll have to figure that out and make the best of the situation I've been placed in. I've got good working conditions in a good school, I've made some friends, and I can't say I've found the experience really that daunting so far. It may be a bit of a setback but I'll figure it out. And while I'm not going to brag about what a wonderful time I'm having, I will admit that it's been a lot of fun so far.
There'll hopefully be a more substantive post on Korea itself and its differences to Europe coming soon.
All the best.

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