BY JENN TERRELL
Back in 2012, I made the gut wrenching decision to leave my boyfriend, a great job, and everything I knew behind to hop on a plane to a country slightly smaller than the size of Kentucky.
South Korea was not a country I was familiar with until one day at work when I met a guy who had taught English there. He said schools there needed college graduates with at least a bachelor’s degree from an English speaking country. He also said the schools there will cover flights, rent, and will even pay a monthly salary.
It all sounded too good to be true. I had always assumed I needed lots of money and time to travel outside of the U.S. After reading up on it, I confirmed everything he said. A couple weeks later I let my family and boyfriend know that I was moving to South Korea for a year to teach English.
My boyfriend wasn’t too thrilled, but he was supportive. My family was skeptical at first, but with all of the research I had done, I was able to answer all of their questions, and they were soon on board with it.
I started applying for jobs and about a month later I put in my notice at work and signed a contract to work in Gyeongju, South Korea. That was one of the best decisions I have ever made. There is nothing quite like hurling yourself out of your comfort zone and diving into a new world. I experienced different ways of living, met people from all over the world, and truly never had a dull moment.
There are so many things I will never forget about the trip. I was so lucky to have taught 80 of the most brilliant Korean children as my day job. I ate loads of kimchi and lost 30 pounds from being surrounded by so many healthy and delicious foods. I hiked up a volcano on a beautfiul Korean Island. I rode a Ferris wheel overlooking one of Korea’s largest cities. I saw a ceremonial bonfire bigger than a building. I swam in the bluest, prettiest ocean I have ever seen. I played in the first roller derby game EVER in South Korea (Yes, they have roller derby there. Isn’t that insanely awesome?).
The list goes on. Plus, South Korea is home to lots of foreigners from many countries including Ireland, South Africa, England, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, etc. I have friends from all over the world now.
I won’t lie though, it wasn’t always easy. The first month of adjusting was pretty rough but still entirely fascinating. The hardest part was saying goodbye. I had to leave my favorite restaurant and coffee shop owners, my students and co-workers who had become family, and my friends who all lived so far away from my home in the U.S. When I said goodbye to my family to move to South Korea, I knew I would see them again. When I said goodbye to everyone in Korea, I knew there was a good chance I would never see them again. It was heartbreaking. One friend said in a letter: “I know you are upset about leaving, but that’s the nature of traveling isn’t it? You make lifelong friends but everyone has to say goodbye sometime.”
He was completely correct. You form strong bonds with people and you learn from them. Plus now I have personal tour guides all in several different countries which is even more of an incentive to travel again.
For one year I happily belonged to South Korea, and no one can ever take that away from me. Nearly three years later, I am back in the U.S. pursuing my graduate degree, but I still think and dream about Korea all the time. I occasionally get letters from students, and I still tear upon reading them.
My advice? Do what you love. Even if you don’t really know what that is. Find something that feels right and go with it. And best of all — travel. There is no better way to learn about yourself and grow. If you are interested in teaching English in South Korea (or another country) you can visit www.eslcafe.com to get started.