I am about to give up my work and residence in Korea and head back to make a new start in western Canada. I reflect on the best experiences and my accomplishments during my time in Korea here.
Living in Korea since July, 2007, I benefited from a lot of new experiences and my life moved forward. I remember trying some types of Korean meals and going to a singing room or bowling or drinking with Korean student-/teacher-guides. I remember that I tried sea kayaking for the first time in my life in this country. I remember going to soccer and baseball games and all the madness of the live stadium spectacle in Korea. I remember enjoying scenes of the countryside and some merry traditional festivals during my first few months, too. I remember all the mountain hikes and day trips, and learning to be able to do some on my own within a few years' time. I remember nearly being trampled at a beach-side fireworks show in Busan. The lurching buses and hot-dogging taxi drivers are burned in my memory, as well as being elbowed, groped and punched in packed public transit. Traipsing over rough and uneven cobble stones, trying to avoid stepping in spittle, and avoiding collisions with drunks while occasionally hearing insults in my ear as some angry person vented anti-foreigner sentiment. I remember the lush summers and dry winters, times of joy and those of acute frustration. There were moments of fascination as I peered into Korea's past and moments of admiration as observed its treasures. I remember acts of kindness and bemused faces and cheery greetings as I passed by people in the street or shopped for ordinary fare.
Some aspects of being a working foreigner, and one teaching English here, were tough, even though the foreign language teachers generally have higher status other types of foreign workers in this country. Crashing head-long into the life of a private "academy" (after school study institute) and suffering the usual and unusual bumps and bruises in the first episode of this stage of my career, I soon moved into a more stable yet equally as exploitative situation, finally escaping academy life when I was hired to work at a private university by 2009. Despite the bumps and bruises and the discomfort of linguistic and cultural barriers, not to mention very conservative attitudes toward education and employment, I enjoyed learning the culture and language, exploring its history and geography, and getting to know some of its people. At the university, I enjoyed time with students and developing my methods and approach to teaching. With the financial stability of the work, I enjoyed the security and free time afforded by the roomy scheduling, comfort and autonomy of English profs, even though our pay is quite lower than proper professors in Korea, and even though we miss out on many of the perks and benefits such as bonuses. I had time to devote to hobbies, namely mountain hiking and writing. I also had time and money to travel around East Asia and beyond, and make wonderful summer trips back to Canada six out of the 10 years.
I list my accomplishments here.
Wow! I really learned a lot of skills that I don't think I would have had I not embarked upon expat life in Asia. This is one of the aspects of my time in Korea that really stands out. It's not bad for a gal my age, considering how computer illiterate many of my peers are. In an Asian country which has produced a lot of technology, especially communications tools, I could not avoid doing so. Just before leaving, I joined the budding social network platform, Facebook. In Korea right off the bat, I got into texting regularly. Soon, I had a wide screen monitor and was active on Skype and SMS'. I was forced to get used to automated systems, from elevators to subway ticketing. I also found myself doing online shopping. Between the last academy job and the start of the university gig, I created my own website, which I have been developing ever since to include photos, publicity on my writings, a blog, links and a description of my commercial services with order forms. I acquired a smartphone in 2013, though I have not used many apps. Learning Korean, and being involved in the English teachers' association, I learned to do online meetings and conference calls. It was not until a couple of weeks ago, that I activated the webcam function on my laptop.
I started studying Korean right away. I was soon able to at least read signs in hangeul. Being so much in demand for speaking English, I found it hard to get opportunities and find proper and competent tutors or classes to get practice. I persisted a few hours a week for a few years so that I got to the lower intermediate conversational level. Not sure about the reading--another frustration as there seemed to be few readers available. I can therefore say that I have added another foreign language to my repertoire. At the same time, I've had opportunities to brush up my French and Spanish because of the collegial friendships with the the foreign profs of French and Spanish at my workplace.
With a background in teaching English established (and certified) and a past as a foreign language student myself who had studied some linguistics, I had to brush up on and expand my methods, particularly with respect to teaching kids in the beginning. I renewed my certification. Joining the main English language speaking English teacher's association provided a forum for talking about this work and getting some ideas. I did two stints as a local active leader in this organization, and I attended several conferences. I presented at a couple of them, and found other venues to prepare presentations for on socio-linguistics, language-learning theory, teaching methods and reflective practice. I published articles related to the situation of English teaching in regional academic journals, the organs of the American Association of Anthropology and our national association's blog and journal.
As a university instructor, I got to expand my experience from teaching the basic conversation and composition classes, to classes on news, job preparation, debating and public issues to undergrads during regular semesters, and reading, pronunciation and idioms in special summer and winter sessions for regular undergrads. I also got to teach a couple of graduate courses, conversation practice for city employees and county residents, and give a seminar on English conversation practice activities for new foreign school teachers. I created new materials and testing models, and found new resources and classroom exercises. I went on a few outings with students, particularly groups of freshmen.
Right away, I could see the dire need for support networks, advocates and resources for new teachers in Korea hailing from other countries. The academies are extremely exploitative and they often operate illegally and with untrained management. The stage is set for workplace conflicts and abuses against employees. I therefore became one of a few forces in the country creating defenses and disseminating information for teachers of English from abroad in Korea by creating the TEA-KOR and FREED networks. The general situation is generally still problematic, although measures have been taken to curb abuses nationally, and teachers are better informed at the point of arrival to the country. Though not everyone listened and took my advice, I know I helped a lot of individuals in real ways and served in part of the efforts to clamp down on bad employers.
Through this volunteer work, I came to know others involved in the national and international peace and social justice movements. I joined in regular discussions and attended many actions and meetings, mainly in Seoul. I also joined an international league of like-minded activists and professionals working on a wide range of social justice issues. Such experiences really enriched my life and raised my skills, knowledge and contacts.
Yeah, I really got into to travel. I started out as a bit of a stick in the mud, though I had a justifiable resistance to tourism travel outside the richest countries. First, I went to Seoul, and I have been there more than 20 times over the ten years, frequently for activist meetings. Then I took advantage of the willingness of Korean individuals and groups to show me/ groups of teachers around. I went to villages and historic sites in South and North Gyeongnam Provinces and beyond for festivals, sightseeing and hiking. Later on, I went to southern islands, western, central and northeastern areas of South Korea, once for an association meeting, but mostly for personal pleasure. Much of my travel outside Korea has been tied to some scholarly or professional work, or some cause. I went to Europe, the Philippines (3x), Montreal (2x), Massachusetts, Japan (3x) and Hong Kong for activities related to social justice movements and the league of activists/ movements mentioned above. For events related to teaching and scholarly discussion, I went to Italy, Singapore, Taiwan and Cambodia (2x). Well, I had some partial reimbursements for three of these trips. The only purely tourism trips I took was a short tour of Thailand, a trip to Siam Reap/Ankor and a week in Penang, Malaysia. Of course, trips back to Canada, the place of my roots, were intended to catch up with friends and family, as well as enjoying the good side of life in British Columbia, Alberta and Montreal, although I attended a few political meetings and actions.
Despite all the travel and voluntarism, I met my target for saving money over the past (nearly) 10 years. I shopped very conservatively, buying a modest amount of comforts, new clothing and souvenirs. I have invested much of my surplus and have a little nest egg to build on over the next and final phase of my career to be in a relatively decent position by retirement.
Health and Fitness:
I became more conscientious of my diet and fitness, especially aware of the context of my age. My nutrition and fitness generally improved, at times peaking when I was concentrating on regular exercise routines. I have kept my weight under control, even though I think I am usually a tad over my ideal weight. The results of my general physical examinations have consistently been good, and the hypothyroidism is stable. I am certainly more fit than many of my peers, and many younger people.
With the free time of the expat teacher in Korea, my hobby writing finally took off. I had always wanted to devote time to creative writing, in particular, and planned to take on writing projects during my middle years. I started hobby writing in the mornings and weekends while working in the childrens' academies. My prior training in social science seemed to interfere with my attempts to write fiction, at first; on the other hand, I began by successfully writing about some of my experiences as a teacher living in Korea, which resulted in the collection of short stories in a creative non-fiction style, called "Impressing Heaven.". My new experiences in Korea inspired the theme of my first novel, naturally, a romance with a mystery angle about an English teacher from Canada in South Korea. I guess I gained courage from the success of "Impressing Heaven." I somehow arrived at a method and fell into a process. Having dabbled in poetry for many years before, I meanwhile continued to add poems to my credit. Eventually, I learned about e-publishing and began uploading my works to public commercial websites offering e-pubs to the market. Though there have been only a few sales, publishing has helped to build and promote my profile and prove my skills, interests and abilities. In all, I have completed and published 4 novels, 3 collections of poetry, a children's story, 2 collections of short stories and the autobiographical compilation of a year's worth of blog entries aimed at my self-expression and shared for the benefit of readers. The blog has received 40 positive comments.
Did all that. Now for something new. In with the new, out with the old. So long, the past! Welcome, my future!