Quite often I am asked why I decided to come to Korea. That particular question pops up all the time from both friends and family back home in the States and from a lot of the people that I meet here. It is definitely a fair question, but it is one that I must admit that I have had a bit of a problem answering fully. Usually I just come up with some half-joking answer like “I didn’t have anything else to do really,” which isn’t entirely untruthful, but it’s not a very good answer though either. To be entirely honest I don’t really remember what inspired me to look into coming to Korea in the first place, other than there was a lack of decent jobs back home and I really wanted to have another good adventure abroad. So in the end Korea was the best, and by best I most likely mean easiest, path to accomplish my goal for getting abroad again and working at the same time. Still, I personally find this answer to be a little bit lacking. Now that I’ve been here a bit I’ve had some more time to really think about it. Why did I come to Korea? What am I really trying to accomplish in my time here? These are good questions that warranted a decent bit of thought on my part, and while it is a bit rambling, this is what I have come up with:
When I decided to fully commit to moving to South Korea to teach, I will readily admit that I honestly hadn’t put that much thought into it. Obviously for people that have read some of my earlier posts once I decided to go ahead with it I put a ton of thought into where I wanted to go, what I wanted to do, and all of that, but I never really considered much of the why aspect of it all. In general, I can tend to be a bit of a spontaneous person. Mostly this comes from me being something of an eternal optimist. My general outlook on just about everything is “Eh, it’ll all sort itself out in the end, and everything will be just peachy.” This mentality was definitely at work in my decision making process.
Prior to making my decision to move, I will admit that I was going through one of the biggest rough patches of my life. Last May I had just graduated with my Master’s Degree, and I felt like I was on top of the world. I had made plans to finally move down to Florida to be with my longtime, and long distance, girlfriend, so with my usual mentality in place I just went ahead with the move down thinking that a job and all that will get sorted out in its own time. Unfortunately that simply wasn’t the case. Finding a decent job proved to be much harder than I expected as the jobs that I was actually qualified for went to someone older or with more work experience, and the bad jobs that I looked at didn’t want me because my Master’s Degree simply made me overqualified in their eyes. So my summer in the sun passed, complete with my “It’ll all work out soon enough” mentality keeping me moving along all the way through. Then things really began to go haywire. By the end of my summer my girlfriend and I had broken up, and I was essentially out of option in Florida, so I packed up my car again and drove back to the loving arms of my parents very grateful for the refuge they provided from the horribleness of the real world.
After a month or so of moping around, I finally decided to get my butt into gear and really get to finding myself a decent job somewhere. Month after month passed without anything really working out for me. The same situation always followed me, either I didn’t have enough work experience for the decent jobs, or I was overqualified for the bad jobs, or they liked my resume and would like to interview me if only I lived closer. This inevitably left me in a rather depressed state. My job prospects were bleak, my personal life was in shambles, and all in all I was feeling pretty glum about life in general. Then, as all great ideas do, late one night while stumbling around some international aid job sites online, I happened to come to the realization that I should look into teaching abroad. It was an idea that I toyed around with back in undergrad, but then I got into a serious relationship that was already taking place over a distance of 500 miles, so I quickly squashed those ideas to the back of my mind. But now all of the things that were holding me back before were no where to be found. I was free as a bird to move wherever I wanted! After a very brief look around the internet, I quickly settled on South Korea. I knew a few people that had done it, or were still doing it for that matter, and all in all it seemed like the best possible set up. My parents ended up being all for the idea, and it was basically settled by the next day, I would be moving to South Korea to teach English.
That is essentially the real answer for why I decided to come to South Korea in the first place. Not a whole lot of thought really went in to the decision. While I do not regret making that decision in the slightest, I can’t help but look back and think that I didn’t make it for all of the right reasons, or any real reason at all other than “why not, got nothing to do here!” Which now leaves me here in Korea with a quite long explanation of why I decided to move here that generally gets boiled down to “Why not?” This inevitably comes into conflict with the rational side of my mind. While I can be rather spontaneous because of my positive outlook, all of my training in history and philosophy has left me with a strong need to find the rationalizations behind actions, and not just my own but by everyone. I am a bit curious that way, the impulsive optimist with an intense urge to understand the “why” behind everything. After much thought and deliberation, here is what I have come up with for being my new, and actual, purpose for being in Korea: To learn more about myself, and how to balance my life.
On the face of it, this purpose comes across as cheesy and a little cliché for even my own tastes, but I really do mean every word of it, especially the part about finding balance. The fact of the matter is this, I am now twenty-five years old and this teaching gig in Korea is the first real job I have ever had. Prior to this I have only ever had jobs like camp counselor, graduate teaching assistant. or baby-sitter for the American students while in Italy. None of which have really provided me with much opportunity to figure out how to balance a job and a social life like an adult. The best I can offer up is my time in grad school, which is a spotty example at best as grad school can generally be described as a time of extremes. In grad school you spend a lot of time doing work, research, or writing, and then you blow off a lot of steam over a very short period of time, like over the course of one evening every now and again when your other grad student friends happen to be free on the same night, or you go through dead periods where I would spend literally days doing basically nothing but playing video games and wandering around the internet. This really didn’t teach me much about finding a balance between work and play, as the whole system ends up being a little contrived. Which leaves me here in Korea to sort things out for myself.
In a roundabout way I ended up coming to quite possibly one of the most perfect places to accomplish this goal. If there is one thing that I have learned in my brief time here it is this; Koreans work hard, but they also play very hard. I think this is probably the best place for me to learn this skill which in my mind is of the utmost importance to living a good life. The other day I had a luncheon with the rest of the teachers at my hagwon. I ended up sitting with the newest teacher, partly because we are both new, and partly because we are the only two guys that work there. Of course he had a lot of questions about me, my family, and my life in general. After some time talking he made the very astute observation that I seem to really struggle to find balance in all aspects of my life, and that this was very smart for someone my age. Prior to this I had given a fair bit of thought to the concept of trying to find balance while I was here, but this cemented my views. In my personal opinion, balance is probably one of the two most important things that a person can strive to achieve in their life, with the other one being openness. I like to think that I have a fair handle on trying to really achieve the openness side of the equation, but I definitely would like to work more on the balance. So that has become my new reason for coming to Korea, along with the traditional answer of using the experience to broaden and learn about myself. Which is in my own opinion a much more solid reason for coming here than “Pssht I had nothing better to do, did I?”