Just down the street from my new apartment is a restaurant that sells octopus. In South Korea, chopped octopus, served wiggling, is a delicacy. I haven’t tried it yet, but I have to admit, the more I pass by, the more I consider the daring idea of slurping a tentacle or two. For now, I’ve eaten a rice burger, delicious chicken enveloped in two bun-sized rice patties; I explored a temple and drank tea with Master Do Yo in his gray robes; we eat seaweed, tofu and kimchi.
The perks to coming to South Korea have been sizable, I am the happy recipient of a free return airplane ride, a brand new furnished apartment, and a job to pay off my student loan and fly my boyfriend in for the Mud Festival in July. In return, I have to pull my end of the bargain, and it takes a little muscle.
Until my much-anticipated departure, I was woken dozens of times by telephone calls from the recruiting agent in Toronto. “You have to Fed Ex the documents to South Korea today,” she would say, or, “Could you call the embassy in Vancouver to see what’s taking so long?” I made two trips to the South Korean embassy on the 16th floor of a building on Robson Street, took long ferry and bus rides, and spent approximately $600 mailing my passport, photos, and dwindling funds to various issuing agencies.
Now that I’m here however, I’m thinking of sending a letter to the grocery store I used to work at, thanking them for firing me before Christmas and sealing my fate of traveling the world. I spent the past winter applying for anything and everything, finally finding work in an organic grocery store. I was still in the probationary period when I had to take a sick day. Even though I had a doctor’s note, the employer let me go just weeks before Christmas, saying, “It just wasn’t a good fit.” That same day, I called a company called Teach Away. I had been in contact with them previously about a job offer in South Korea, but had been holding out for the comfort of staying at home. “I’m 100 per cent,” I told the woman on the phone, tired of the rigmarole of job applications, interviews, and minimum wage jobs. Immediately, I was hurled into the documentation process necessary to work in South Korea.
Anyone who is interested in the attractive bonuses of teaching ESL should also take into consideration the sacrifices foreign teachers have to make before they even set foot outside their own country. Before I arrived in Kwangju, (a city in the southwestern part of South Korea), I had to wade through a very lengthy swamp of paperwork. Although Teach Away helped me get where I am today, they didn’t forewarn me about how much the legal documents would cost. Teaching English overseas is nothing if not an exercise in flexibility.
As for teaching, South Korea puts high stakes into education. I currently teach four classes each day of 10 four- to five-year-old students. The students all have English names and gigantic amounts of energy, wreaking havoc as only kids can. I get a lot of help from the other teachers who whisper a few Korean words to the little monsters and work magic that has so far eluded me.
It’s hard to know how to prepare to move to a place you have never been before. I found my tap water needed to be boiled before use for cooking, and fresh fruit is expensive; it costs $10 for six apples. On the plus side, most apartments have common areas on the roofs! However, all in all, it’s worth it, and I strongly recommend if you have even a sliver of a chance to travel the world, do it. There is no way of knowing what experiences will come up on the road ahead of you. The scariest thing about picking up and leaving town is the impossibility of knowing exactly what you will encounter. One thing is for certain, your comfort zone will go spinning off into a ditch like a piece of rubble under your tire.