Thursday, November 11, 2010

South Korea or South Africa?

by guest blogger Jade Scully

For a while now I’ve been considering taking a bit of a leap and going over to South Korea to teach English. I know a few people who have done it, and people who know people who have done it, and it sounds…interesting? Intriguing? Um, try downright scary!

A close friend of mine, Holly, has been staying in South Korea with her boyfriend for a good few months now, teaching English. I asked her to write a little bit about her experience living so far from home, and here’s what she had to say:

“There are tall concrete buildings everywhere, neon lights glow on the streets, every town and city looks the same and everyone has black hair…clearly you’re no longer in South Africa. Instead you find yourself in the other South, South Korea, teaching English. And despite the many terrible things you’ve heard and read it’s actually a little bit of alright.

People told me that I would struggle to fit in here, that basic groceries are ridiculously expensive, I would get stared at on the streets, and my students would be a nightmare.

I have to agree that I don’t really fit in; I have blue eyes and light brown hair – not the recipe for blending in over here. But despite that I’ve come to feel comfortable in my life in Korea. People are really friendly and are fascinated by me, and other foreigners. Children say a shy ‘hi’ as you pass them. Old women stand and literally stare at you, for as long as you’re in their line of vision. You stick out in a country where conformity is the word of choice. But any of these people are willing to help you out, to take time out of their day to direct you to wherever it is you want to go…provided they understand you.

Yes, occasionally I wish I could give my students a swift kick to the shin, or an elbow to the face – but I think that can be expected of any children. Actually, because education is taken so seriously and students spend so much time studying, the students in Korea are more innocent than those back home which is quite refreshing.

The language barrier – or in Konglish languagey barrieru – is one of the most difficult things for me. More comprehensive English education has only been introduced more recently, so most of the older (by that I mean adult) generation speak very little English. Menus, ingredients, directions, movie names, they are all written in Hangul (한굴) which to be frank, I don’t speak. But I can still get by, and for when I just can’t I can call on one of my Korean co-teachers or friends and they will gladly help out.

Living in a foreign country can be difficult at times, but it’s also dependent on the type of person you are. If you think every country should be westernized, I don’t recommend coming to Korea.

The food is very different – red bean paste in pastries anyone?

The culture is far stricter – you should bow respectfully to your elders.

The housing is definitely not the same – high rise apartment blocks, for everyone.

And most of the men and women are impossibly small and slim – anyone up for added insecurities? Could I live in Korea forever? No. But right now being here makes me happy, and believe it or not is pretty easy too.”

After reading through her story, and of course hearing the many more little tales she has to tell on a daily basis, I’m so torn between what I want to do. On the one hand the thought of dropping everything and everyone I know and adventuring off into a distant and exotic place sounds so appealing.

On the other hand, I’m very comfortable here in Cape Town; I live 1 minute from the beach, am very close with my family and friends and have an amazing boyfriend (who I’d have to leave behind me if I left).

I think what scares me the most is the thought of the unknown: of not having my support system of friends and family when I need them most. I’m scared to be on my own, and am anxious about not fitting in, or not liking the food (I really, really enjoy food so this is a big deal for me!).
But then I think about all the amazing experiences I’m missing out on because I’m too scared and I think: “Why not?”

So I’ve downloaded the entrance form and have decided to apply to become and English Teacher in South Korea, let’s see how it all goes.

Jade Scully is a copywriter, blogger and online marketing enthusiast who has published her work on a series of online publications and websites including Leeulekker who provide a range of travel and touring information for southern Africa travelers

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just returned from a visit to Seoul for the 4th time this year. This time I met three expat friends who have only arrived about a month ago and they really like it there compared to Paris and Frankfurt respectively. They're working for multinationals, so not directly comparable to English teachers. I'm not familiar with South Africa, but they really appreciate the convenience of living there (except for the obvious language barrier) compared to Europe. It really helps if you like (or love) Korean food, although there are plenty of western fast food places if that's your thing. Of course I also know a German expat who hated her time there because she compared everything to "back home" and couldn't understand why everything was different and only few people could speak English. So I would recommend Korea open heartedly as long as you are open minded and willing to learn and accept a culture different than your own.