Living abroad is new, exciting and scrapbook worthy. It’s also frustrating, exhausting, and a whole lot of DIY sign language.
It’s as rewarding as it is exhausting and everyone should do it at least once in their lifetime.
Teaching overseas is the best way to have a little understanding of why your teachers would always say “I’ll wait until you’re quiet” and then give a 40-minute soliloquy on how education is the most powerful weapon.
For the past two years, I’ve taught English in both the cramped city areas and the boonies of South Korea. It may not seem like there’s too much of a difference but besides the number of cattle you see on a daily basis, there are quite a few things to be aware of before making the decision to go abroad.
1. I’m so lonely. Mr. Lonely.
Sometimes, living in a small town really sucks.
It’s hard to make friends while living in a glorified barnyard. The ones you do find know exactly what it’s like to live in a place where entertainment means staring at a fruit cart rolling down the street screaming out watermelon prices. I saw all my city friends going out to language exchanges and dinners with their brand-spanking’ new friends while I was stuck at home with me, myself, and my soggy socks.
In fact, it’s just a matter of getting out there, getting on that archaic Facebook and joining some expat groups.
Frequent the same restaurants, ask the cute 7/11 cashier to hang out, go hang out on a University lawn and cheer on some athletes. Follow people home if needed. Whatever it takes! No pain, no gain right? Put yourself out there and snag some friends. Dying alone next to pig slop is not an option.
So, life in the city must be filled with people to meet right? Wrong. In a big city, loneliness is all but extinct. It feels cold rather than empty.
It’s like being in a butcher shop of assorted meat cuts and you’re the only one alive. There are gazillions of people everywhere but everyone has their own agenda and couldn’t care less if you tripped off the bus headfirst into a light pole.
People tend to be a bit faker in the city so even though you meet more people only a few stick.
This one is a matter of meeting tons of people and being a good judge of character. Learn who you get along with and who you want to send to a secluded island with smoke monsters and trees with no leaves.
Mull it over good and long.
Basically, it’s a coin toss between:
Open spaces and close friends but any trouble comes your way, you’ll have to light up the Beacon of Gondor.
Accessibility to (almost) everything but you’re sifting through the garbage-io to find that “Truffle Burger with Balsamic-Glazed Mushrooms and Onion-Bacon Compote” type of person.
2. 24 karat groceries in the air.
Groceries are more expensive in the city and the food isn’t as fresh as it is in the country. 24/7 marts are everywhere in the city but stock up on weekend groceries if you want to live by those sweet country roads. Or it’ll be a royal feast of grubs for you.
Really though, Korea is small enough that the groceries are fresh almost everywhere. If seasonal fresh veggies at-the-ready don’t please you, buy your goods from the same grandma every day and it’ll come with a discount. Or a free pepper!
3. I’m just a kid and life is a nightmare.
Taking care of kids is stressful in itself but taking care of stressed kids is one big heaping stack of nightmares.
Although kids will be kids, there’s a more lax attitude coming from those little small town Billy Ray Cyrus ones. They’ve grown up working, running around in tractor traffic, cow tipping and playing in the cemetery. Or was that just me?
Either way, country folk are thick skinned and relaxed. The students I had in Gwangyang did extracurricular activities because they wanted to. Not because they were told to by their parents. If they wanted to take an after-school jumbo knitting class, they did. I even did a sandwich making class and choreographed a Bollywood dance with them once for fun.
On the downside, they’re not the easiest to teach and may not have as much motivation to learn English like the city kids. The city kids tend to be better at picking up English and communicate with due to the accessibility of academies. That being said, these kids are stressed out, high strung and have bags under their eyes as heavy as TLCs Jackie: the 600 lbs woman.
Maybe it’s the pressure from parents or competition between students but school is harder. They go to academy until late at night and instead of basketball and jumbo knitting they study math and English. Half the time I feel like a dictator in class forcing them to memorize dialogues upon dialogues like they’re going to a Convention for the Stressed.
4. Tell me how I’m supposed to breathe with no air.
City air smells like kid farts. Pockets of greenery available.
Country air smells like cow farts. Bigger pockets of greenery available.
Pick your poison.
5. The wheels on the bus go round and round.
Or rather the entire bus goes round and round. Taking the bus anywhere in Korea is a one-way ticket to lose-my-lunch town.
There are two options to choose from:
Option A: A wild hunt through the mountains. Rice field spotting and bus-coaster 100% guaranteed.
Option B: A spastic quest on inner city roads with a side of stinky feet and armpit-to-head contact.
Choose carefully though.
Option A comes with a guaranteed seat and no shoving.
A sweat-free experience.
The bus driver, however, has been replaced by a baboon and it’s too busy glaring at its next victim. You.
This could be the day you and the remaining passengers topple down the mountain since the bus is flying up the mountain twisting, turning, and twerking at the speed of light. It’s also tipping over each turn and precariously balancing on one tire. Your body is taking flight during the bus ride and it hits the top of the bus. There’s no padding of course and if you’ve ever wanted to be a cone-head, now’s the time.
Option B comes with easy accessibility to almost everything you need. Buses every 5 minutes, taxis for when you come down with hangover late-itis, and of course the Almighty Angel St. Asian-Convenience-Store.
More bus routes mean more buses and longer running time, unlike Option A.
It also means a face- full of armpit hair, stale body odor, and a hot and steamy mid-afternoon bath. Everyone and everything is touching you. Oranges rolling out of bags, toes on-top of your toes, shoving from all directions, people sitting on your shoulders. In the meantime, the city bus is also flying through down the peanut butter and traffic jam sandwich streets.
Beep-bopping its way through traffic and zip-zopping down all four lanes.
Choose carefully, wise one. It’s the difference between crashing with people or crashing with heaps of farm-fresh vegetables to cushion the blow.
In the end, each of these experiences is unique and a trip to the wild, wild west where nothing is familiar and everything is as insane as seeing a fried tarantula on your plate. There’s something to learn from both living in a jam-packed city and the middle-of-nowhere, how-did-I-get-here boonies.
I encourage everyone to choose an option that’s more intimidating. Or even better, try both! There’s nothing better than being forced out of your comfort zone to have a broader perspective and better understanding of the world and the rest of the supersonic galaxy. Teaching in Korea is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had and hopefully, the reality of teaching abroad comes through the rampant minefield of jokes.
How do you take your bus crash? Farm fresh in a ditch or a four-lane mosh pit? If neither is your cup of tea, where do you want to live? Leave a comment or email us at email@example.com.