It has been an awfully long time since I posted on here. November, I believe, was the last time. When I left you last, I was undertaking my teacher training and stressed about work. Well, what has changed since then? Not a lot. I am still stressed. I am still in teacher training. But my future path may be different, dear reader. For I have made the decision to re-apply to go and teach in Korea with the EPIK Programme again. Those who read my sporadic blog posts will know that I miss Korea. I miss EFL. I miss basically everything about those glorious two years. So this should really come as no surprise.
Thinking about the future can be pretty scary. For every decision that we make, there are a thousand “What if” questions that can crop up. What if I had done this or that differently? What if I hadn’t said that, or gone there? This is as true for travel as it is anything else. My life changed dramatically when I said “What if I do apply to EPIK?”, which (if you are a regular reader) you will know I did back in 2013.
So, I have been home since January now. Nearly 6 months. Half a year. We are fast approaching a year since I left Korea. And I decided it was time for me to reflect on this. What do I think, having been out of ESL for a year now? What are my future plans?
I don’t think it is a secret to anyone that since leaving the world of ESL I haven’t coped with life in the West that well. Although I loved being in Canada, I couldn’t work there so that was never going to be a long term solution. Montreal is a fantastic place to be (Marta is currently back there, and although it isn’t in the best of circumstances, even she can’t deny it is a great place). The people I met in Canada were friendly and treated me well. But most importantly – it wasn’t “home”.
The biggest feeling I have had since leaving Korea all those months ago is one of not really belonging anymore. Home, or what was once home, doesn’t feel like it for me. At first, I assumed it was simply reverse culture-shock.. But after a year, and still feeling the same, I know that isn’t the case. I am a traveler at heart and being at home provides me with no adventure. I get up everyday, like many, and go through the motions. But I have seen a glimpse of something different and now there is no going back. I took the red pill, and leapt down the rabbit hole.
But in doing so, I discovered something wonderful. I discovered friends I never would have met otherwise who mean the world to me now. I discovered a way of doing a job that brings you joy everyday. A job that is always different, challenging but extremely rewarding. A way of life that is unique and a wonderful community of people to share that with. Given my chance to do the last year over, I wouldn’t change much. But if I had to make one change, it would be never leaving the world of ESL.
I miss it everyday, and though I enjoy my job now, it isn’t anywhere near what I felt doing ESL. I miss my friends, my little apartment. The ajumma at the corner store who gave me tomatoes one summer day because she had some spare. The ajusshi who ran a local glasses store, and provided Marta and I with the same service a year later. I miss coffees overlooking the city of Cheongju. I miss brunch with TJ. The smiles of my kids as they finally got that word right they’d been struggling with. Their enthusiasm for Sports Day. I miss never knowing what was going on.
I miss the life of the expat.
And friends – as great as it is being home, I count everyday down as one less until I can leave again. Once the travel bug bites you, and you experience that life, I honestly don’t think you can happily do anything else.
As a wiser person than I said, “I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”
So, as you may have noticed, I failed to post anything yesterday. I assure you, dear reader, that this is because I am busy as hell. I am currently in the process of settling back in at school (new classes and co-teachers), hearing one of the co’s I had is leaving and an old one is coming back, learning names and other teaching things. On top of this, I am in charge of interviewing 4 students from my school for a home stay programme is Australia. This has required me to come up with a scoring system and a series of questions to ask them. The interviews themselves are today.
In my time at home, I have been busy preparing to apply for a Canadian Working Holiday Visa. I will cover this in more detail in an upcoming post. But it has required a lot of work and document gathering on my part, as well as getting things from back home sent to me out here (proof of address for a criminal record check, for example). This, combined with school and running my other blog (The Birth Of The Cool), has left me pretty exhausted. What little free time I have has been invested into cooking, showing Marta Goodnight Sweetheart (a great TV series) and playing on the closed beta of Heroes of the Storm.
Normal posting should resume this weekend, or early next week. Sorry to delay you all from tales of my wonderful adventures.
Being a teacher is a strange thing. You see the same kids week-in and week-out for most of the year. You know there are far too many for you to remember their names. In the case of Korea, I feel like it is hard to build a relationship between myself and my students (language being an obvious barrier). And then, their graduation arrives. Those boys you have seen grow into young men are finally leaving to go make a mark in the world. And you feel sad.
Drama! Thrills! Anger! Confusion! These and more are what many of my friends seem to be going through at the moment. I think I wrote a blog post back in late 2014 talking about budget cuts and the teachers here working in the public school system. Well, a few good friends of mine have lost their jobs (including my companion-in-arms TJ, who I will miss greatly) and other friends today found out that, from March, they will be teaching in multiple schools. Naturally, this seems to have gone down about as well as expected – that is to say, mostly badly. Many people are confused as to why the decision was made. Annette, our regional coordinator, sent out a response to this which I shan’t bore you with here. Needless to say, she is under great stress as a result of these budget cuts and is doing a fantastic job in keeping us informed when she can.
But this is part of a trend across Korea, which is more worrying for GETs in general – a cutback on native English teachers working in the public school system. In Seoul, they are only hiring for elementary level now. Across many regions this Spring, there will be many teachers losing their jobs. In such an environment, uncertainty flourishes and spreads a seed consisting of fear, doubt and anger. We don’t know (yet) how the budget cuts are going to impact on GETs hired through EPIK for the August intake. For all I know, I could be out of a job. In Korea, on a wider level, and a definite conversation amongst friends of mine, is a big question – how much are we needed here?
In my opinion, GETs are not really utilised in the most effective way. I currently see my First and Second Grade boys (I teach middle school) for an hour every week and my Third Grade boys for an hour every two weeks. Their classes with me are conducted entirely in English (my Korean ability being as useful as a chocolate fireguard). But the other however many hours of English they have a week are done in Korean, with little emphasis on spoken English. Yes, their grasp of grammar is good and is in fact what Korea seems to concentrate most on teaching. But this comes at a price – the ability to communicate effectively in English. Students here learn English from Third Grade at elementary school. Yet, I will have students who can barely communicate beyond “hello”. Naturally, the government is looking for reasons why and the blame seems to fall at the door of GETs. I would, however, argue that the system here is at fault. To genuinely improve English, there needs to be less of a focus on perfect grammar and more of a focus on speaking the language. It is a bit like trying to put a flat-pack wardrobe together using only a saw – you can follow the instructions as much as you like; learn them even. But it won’t get you anywhere. The sooner this is realised here in Korea, the better for everyone involved in teaching English in public schools.