From Kirk Yetholm to South Korea

editorial image

A little over two years ago, I made the decision to move to South Korea to teach English as a foreign language. Two years have passed, and I haven’t looked back once.

Initially the thought of moving away from Kirk Yetholm was extremely daunting. I had many fears, the language, lifestyle, and the teaching.

As the two years have passed by, I couldn’t feel more comfortable or more thankful for the doors this new life has opened for me.

Having always loved theatre, I became an active member of the theatre troupe in the city where I live. I have been in three successful plays, and written another based on the city where we live.

I have also been lucky to meet some wonderful people, people who I never thought I would ever talk to in a situation at home. These people have shaped and molded me, giving me a fresh and new insight on the world in which we live.

The idea of travel had never really appealed to me before moving here. I would dream of seeing parts of Asia, but never thought it was possible.

Over the last two years I have been to Taiwan – where I tried snake blood, Hong Kong, the Philippines a week after the hurricane that took so many lives, and Bali, the most beautiful and inspiring place I have ever seen. The ex-pat life is not without its downfalls. Communication with people from home can be difficult, even with the wonders of modern technology. It is difficult to watch your friends and family grow and change from many miles away. They become different people and so do you.

My personal limits have been stretched and pulled in directions I never believed to be possible. South Korea is a very difficult place to describe to anyone who has not been.

Their progression in technology, standards and way of life has moved so quickly that you see the older generation being left behind and stuck in their ‘old-fashioned’ ways.

It is not uncommon for an old man, or woman, to take your seat on the bus, push in front of you in line at the store, or stare at you as you walk by. Foreigners are fascinating in Korea. It is almost like being a very low-level celebrity.

In terms of the teaching, it is much more comfortable in the classroom than in the UK. The students are well-behaved, study hard, and are mostly keen to learn and listen to what you are teaching. They are inquisitive and the younger students lust for life is infectious.

The flip side of this is many Koreans still fear using English in any sort of social or commercial setting. I have been in many coffee shops, restaurants, and cinemas and witnessed the staff arguing over who would be the one to serve the foreigner.

Before I moved to Korea, I was worried about being safe. This concern was completely unnecessary. The exposures to acts of violence is minimal and the drug culture is non-existent.

Koreans do enjoy their alcohol and are the highest consumer of spirits in the world – their own Soju is the biggest selling liquor worldwide

This doesn’t lead to the same attitudes towards alcohol in many western countries. If you were to attend a dinner with your boss and you didn’t drink, this would be seen as offensive. Alcohol and its consumption is a big part of their lives, but it doesn’t rule them.

There was also the concern of living so close to the North and the potential ‘threats’ they pose. In truth, this is not seen as a big problem in the South. Most of the time, the news never reportswhat is happening. Nobody has a fear of North Korea here, but trying to explain this to people can be quite a task.

I was lucky to be able to have my parents come and visit me last year, and I was overjoyed to share my new world and life with them. Many things I had forgotten were unique, and seeing it through their eyes made me enjoy it too.

I will return to Scotland in April for a brief two-week visit, and then I will return to Korea for a third year. I wouldn’t go as far as to call Korea my home, but for now, it has given me a wealth of experience that I am very thankful for.

If you have ever thought about teaching in another country, I couldn’t promote the opportunity enough.