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A Decision That Changed My Life
Most people in Calgary figure out what they want to do with their lives before or during university. But when I graduated with a BA in English Literature I was still unsure. There was so much pressure to figure it all out in my 20s and so many unanswered questions. What could I do? Who should I be? Why haven’t I decided yet? The answers to these questions seemed to come easily to others and that frustrated me. As it seemed, my options were to find a regular nine to five or continue my education and get a master’s degree. Instead, I did the unthinkable. While my friends moved on to higher education or started entry-level positions, I booked a flight and moved to South Korea.
As a quiet and introverted only child, teaching English in South Korea was an unlikely and bold move but it was one that broke me out of my shell and gave me an array of new skills and experiences, propelling me in to the person I am today.
Here are some of the ways teaching overseas changed my life:
Breaking shells, crumbling walls: Jumping out of my comfort zone.
As a new foreigner in Korea there’s no time to be shy. You’re alone, you’re a little scared and you have to network to survive. While in Korea, I joined online groups and went to expat meetings to make friends and grow a support system. I met other foreigners from the UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, America and Canada. Today, many of these people are my closest friends but, at the time, meeting new people on a regular basis was a new and unnerving concept. It was here that I quickly learned the power of one simple and universal word: hello.
Before I knew it, my social skills blossomed and so did my self-confidence. I found that breaking out of the comfort of my country, city, home, family and friends, was liberating and allowed me to grow.
Seeing the world and gaining cultural perspective.
“Travel has a way of stretching the mind. The stretch comes not from travel’s immediate rewards, the inevitable myriad new sights, smells and sounds, but with experiencing firsthand how others do differently what we believed to be the right and only way.” – Ralph Crawshaw
Living in a homogenous country has its ups and downs. Few people looked like me or spoke my language, and I faced a number of cultural differences on a daily basis. It took a while to learn to bow instead of shake someone’s hand, or to get comfortable with strangers handing me fruits and snacks on public transit. And it took even longer to be relatively okay with a live squid crawling across the dinner table only to be plucked by a pair of chopsticks and devoured! But the ups were great. Learning about new cultures was one of the best rewards of living overseas. During my vacation time, I explored my newfound love for travel and culture, visiting 13 countries across East Asia and Southeast Asia and returning with new insight and new friends from many corners of the world.
Paying off my dreadful student loans.
Without a doubt, one of the main reasons people, including myself, consider teaching overseas is to put a dent in outstanding loans. While traveling and seeing the world might ease the stress of those looming debts, it can also help realistically pay them off.
Korea is one of the best overseas teaching countries to save money in. As a Foreign teacher, the government paid for my two-bedroom, furnished apartment, my Internet and cable, and initial expenses, such as kitchen utensils and small appliances. This meant I could save most of my pay cheque. From just two years of living and working in Korea, I saved enough money to pay off my student loans and still have some coin leftover.
Thinking back to the lost, young graduate searching for her place in the world, I realize that teaching overseas was not a permanent solution but it opened me up to a broad range of possibilities and taught me lessons that I’ll take with me throughout my personal and professional life.