We’ve mentioned it here a few times now, but just in case you missed the memo, Kristina (aka your humble narrator) is moving to South Korea!
I wrote this big post about my reasons on my personal blog, but then realized I hadn’t really gone into any detail here. Which is a little silly as this is a TRAVEL blog afterall. So this is me remedying that and repeating myself only a bit if you also read my nerdy lifestyle blog.
The move to Land of the Morning Calm is one many years in the works. It’s a decision I went back and forth on over and over again to an aggravating degree. I would do something else and then that itch to go to Korea would come back. Without fail. I went on multi tweet rants about how I think the move would be a good choice, outlining my thought process, my goals, and what I wanted to accomplish. In the end I was just making sure I was convincing myself… or rather, I was letting myself realize that it was the right choice.
I’ve found myself in an odd, but not terrible situation. I’ve been getting more writing work, which has been wonderful, but also means I don’t have to be in any specific place. Granted, my on-air show at the local station is at stake here, and I do love my radio family, but I only have a show one day a week and I’m very interested in the English language radio opportunities in Korea. They do exist and while on an E2 Visa I can’t really “work” anywhere else, I can volunteer. Which is my plan. I’ve already scoped out all the stations and shows. There’s also internet radio, so I could just start up my own show in the land of the kimchi and KPOP. I probably will anyway. Anyone wanna be my co-host? I’ll be teaching English again, something that I did in Japan once upon a time, though I’ll be busier and teaching more often… which will be a great improvement.
My time in Japan was a weird one. I was fresh out of undergrad and while I had studied abroad in London for a few months and jumped all over Europe while I did so, I had never lived somewhere that I didn’t speak the language. Or read the language. However, my love affair with Japan was two decades deep at that point and it seemed the logical choice. Especially after I spent 8 months interviewing with the JET Programme and being put on the much coveted short list. JET is a government funded program that places native speaking English teachers in teachers around Japan. Korea has something similar in EPIK and GEPIK.
I’d been accepted into six graduate schools for history, but I deferred my acceptance and packed my bags for the Land of the Rising Sun. Because I’m crazy.
I started off my time in Japan very positive and excited, despite being twenty-one and having NO idea how to teach my native language. I lived in Yaizu, a fishing town in scenic Shizuoka Prefecture (home of wasabi and Mt. Fuji). The capital was a fifteen minute train ride away, Tokyo only an hour and a half farther by shinkansen (bullet train). I was ready. I was excited.
But then the reality of what I was set in, faster than I expected. My school was high level, which meant they were far more concentrated on university exams than me teaching them how to order food at a restaurant. I was a glorified desk warmer. I taught so rarely that I was able to write a book, get addicted to twitter, and travel a lot. I was told I was the most well traveled JET ever. Every weekend I’d be somewhere, be it China or Vietnam or Kyoto or Hiroshima. Anywhere just to be able to do something.
I was utterly miserable. I started having panic attacks, sunk into a depression, and ultimately had to go to the hospital twice a week for a period of time. My fellow (Japanese) English teachers felt guilty. When I got to teach I was delighted. I loved my students, so very much. But when I only got to spend one class a MONTH with them, what sort of relationship could I hope to cultivate? I had two students I wrote journals with back and forth, and I bawled when I had to say goodbye to them. But we actually keep in touch and my recent trip to Tokyo had me meet up with both of them. They’re adults now. It makes me feel old.
So why the hell am I going back to teaching English? Especially in a time where funding for ESL is on decline? Am I a masochist? Well yes, but that’s besides the point. I want to give it another shot, and I think I will be in a better situation, if only because Korea has a reputation for working their teachers a bit harder (especially in private academies/hagwons, which is what I’m doing) than Japan, heh. I don’t do well when I have nothing to do. And of course that’s not my only reasoning, but I am looking forward to the challenge. I need a challenge. I get so damned bored when I’m complacent.
My grandfather served as a medic in The Korean War, and I went into that a bit when I wrote about my visit to the War Memorial in Seoul. But that’s another reason. It’s a link to him, who is no longer with us.
The main reason is the ability to make and save some money, not gonna lie. I knew I could get a job teaching English. I’ve done it before and have multiple teaching and childcare credentials to my name. It makes sense. The Korean economy isn’t in the best of shape, no, but I also know how to live frugally. Any graduate student becomes more than efficient at that before long after all. So while my salary may only be around $2k a month in Korea (thanks to that darn exchange rate), I should be able to save at least half of that every month as my housing will be paid for by my school and expenses won’t be too high going by what I’ve researched. That’s not to say I won’t continue traveling, I am very much looking forward to truly exploring South Korea and taking some budget friendly trips around Asia. I miss Asia, and I’m excited to head back.
Also there’s the creativity aspect. The last time I lived and worked in Asia, I wrote a book. I really want to get back to creating, and every time I’ve been in Asia, be it visiting or living there, I have found myself immensely inspired. I don’t know what it is, but I like it. And I intend to use it.
So that’s the grown up plan. Go to South Korea doing something I will enjoy, broaden my horizons a bit, live responsibly, CREATE, save money, and do things on my terms. Will I stay a year in Korea? Probably. But I could stay longer. Especially if radio things happen. You never know.
The first time I went to Korea it was the summer of 2010 and I was finishing up my contract in Japan. It rained pretty much the entire time. I went with a fellow JET and we did all the touristy things like the DMZ tour and palace hopping and the folk village. We got new glasses Namdaemun and ate more kimchi than we knew what to do with (especially since our taste buds were so use to Japanese food which, while delicious, is not spicy at all). It was only a three-day-long trip and I immediately yearned to go back. After finishing The Mongol Rally I finally got that chance, and I won’t lie, a large part of me wanting to head back to Korea after the rally was to gauge if I did want to move there. I’ve been writing about that trip in detail here, but in short, I found myself aching to stay longer. Korea is a country caught in rapid constant change. It’s modern and not afraid to affiliate itself with the Western world, but also it is fierce in keeping to its traditions, especially when it comes to food. It’s not as intense about it as Japan, which I find interesting from a cultural standpoint, but I also understand it given the two countries’ history.
It’d be remiss to talk about reasons I have been drawn to Korea without mentioning their pop cultural exports: KPOP and KDrama. Two years ago I had no idea about the Hallyu craze. I wouldn’t have been able to name a single Korean artist or actor if you paid me. But in my YouTube roulette looking up versions of a song I loved from a German musical (look, I’m super nerdy OK?), I came across a Korean version and immediately fell in love with the singer’s smokey voice. That singer turned out to be Kim Junsu, a legendary figure of the KPOP world and former TVXQ member (the first Korean boy group to break into Japan). Little did I know it would be a slippery slope and I discovered his discography and music videos and the rest is history.
I’ve talked about my battle with depression and panic disorder (I was formally diagnosed in Japan) briefly above, but I had never tried any sort of music therapy before. Despite working in radio, I’m not much of a music person. I mainly did talk radio. If someone had asked me my favorite band a few years ago I literally wouldn’t have been able to tell you; not because I couldn’t choose, but because I simply didn’t have one. But there was something about Junsu’s voice, his passion, and frankly his killer dance moves that helped me. His dance tracks help me feel energized and happy, his ballads can comfort me or help me cry when I need to and the tears won’t come.
Through discovering him I discovered his new group, JYJ, and other artists. I got introduced into Korean Dramas and found many of my friends were also fans. It was a new world for me and one that just genuinely made me very happy. It’s very unlikely I’ll ever be able to see Junsu live as he has to enlist in mandatory military service this year, but his work alone has done wonders for me. I wish I could explain it better, but I invite you to watch the two videos above to see sort of what I may be talking about. Or at least enjoy the show. Dem hips.
In my planning to learn Hangul, I came across a proverb that I thought was quite apt for this decision and going forward.
가려운 곳을 긁어 주다
Galyeoun gos-eul geulg-eo juda. It literally means “you scratch where it itches.” Moving to Korea has been itching my brain for ages. I kept going back and forth, back and forth, but it’s time to scratch that itch. I know I’m still young and that there’s no rule saying you can’t keep bouncing all over the world as you get older, but I want to do this now before I do get settled somewhere (if I ever do, let’s be real). It’s time to scratch that itch. And so, 가려운 곳을 긁어 주다!
Living and working in Korea will bring a slew of challenges, but I am ready for them and am excited for them. My paperwork is done. Now it’s just time to wait for a position. The plan is to be in Korea in May. Let’s see what blooms.
Original version posted on Very Nerdy Curly.