Tonight I am posting a copy of a letter I just wrote to overseas friends and colleagues. I taught English in Korea for 10 years, returning to Canada early last year.
Hello, you all!
This is Barbara from BUFS in Busan, Korea who returned to Canada after December, 2016. This is a long letter for any of you interested in catching up or curious.
I have been thinking about my time and friends in Korea a lot lately, so I am writing. I just went through all my Gmail addresses and used the ones I could remember. I guess some addresses are outdated and I don't know where all of you have gotten to, though I have chatted with a few of you in recent months.
I now live comfortably near the university where I graduated just outside Vancouver. I'm still working in English education.
It was not a shock to return here, but it took some adjustment. It went well socially as I reconnected to family and friends.
Employment was more difficult. At first, there was very little response to my job applications. I was doing some tutoring and substitute teaching, including work tutoring kids at a Reading Town in 2017. Then I had a regular teaching schedule at a new start-up program. There were so few students and such a limited program that it was super boring. Finally, it failed. I was happy to be dismissed.
I thought I was going to need to rely on self-employment, so I searched for private students and started some ghost-writing projects, etc. Just today, I finished some training for certification in conducting IELTS Speaking exams. The writing is a bit low-paid but interesting and kind of fun because we write on a wide range of topics--I added chapters to a booklet on starting a trucking business and I wrote a booklet on accelerated learning, for example. I'll take the IELTS Speaking Examiner certification test in a few days. That can give me a few hours of examinations a month, mainly on Saturdays.
In August, however, employers started paying me more attention and replying to my applications. I just got hired at a well established international college. Actually, I had offers at two of them and accepted the best one. I do not teach language, though; I teach study skills (English for Academic Purposes) as a university preparation program, but it is still part-time. My title is Sessional Instructor on a contract salary. I have 15 hours of classes, 3 hours 5 days a week. In addition, I am a tutor in the college's Writing and Learning Centre for 11 hours a week.
Having been hired at the last moment, getting started and learning the ropes has been challenging. What's more, this institution is ridiculously bureaucratic and deeply committed to operating without teaching admin staff by means of every electronic management and communications system it can. I have passcodes for several online systems, locks and copiers, which are all hard to keep track of. We use two class management systems for grading and online communications with students, and the MS Office 365 program for internal communications and shared files. I feel scattered.
I am a nomad because there is no instructors' office or department office. My base is a small student locker, except I am allowed a few hours at a shared tutoring desk. There is no lunch room, so I can be found munching on a sandwich in a corner like a rodent here and there before my mid-day class starts. Teachers get to share a few cramped desks in the photocopy rooms, where there is a tiny fridge and where the copiers are so overused that they are always breaking down. Also, I work at both of the College's campuses. I commute from one to the other each day, compelling me to commute 3 times a day every day for work.
One of the campuses is situated where I spend a lot of my childhood, stirring up lots of memories.
This college is growing; established in 2006, it now has 2500 students at both locations. Tomorrow I'll start teaching in a newly built classroom in a space that used to be a gay men's nightclub. Most students are Chinese and Indian from the Punjab. The number of students from India is surging at present. We have a few Korean students. They come for the academic orientation and for key subject courses so they can transfer to universities, subjects including economics, sociology, English literature, math, etc. The first choice in Canada is Toronto where the numbers of international students are highest.
Korean restaurants are all around the Vancouver area; I can pop into a modern cafe and feel like I never left Korea! There are plenty of Korean students and business people around. I'm quickly losing the little Korean I had learned, though.
I am connected to the ex-expat English teacher community. My colleagues in my academic English section have all spent long years abroad teaching. So have all the classmates I met in the IELTS training course. I feel quite at home among them. That's why I have been reminiscing about life in Korea.
A lot of people here are concerned about peace in Korea. I have joined a group that takes a petition around the metro area to talk to people about supporting the peace process in Korea.
Vancouver is one of the most expensive areas to live in all North America. Housing, gasoline, food and many services are over-priced. There are some improvements all the same. Transit is improving and it is cheaper now than 12 years ago because the fare system changed. Electricity is still relatively cheap. Prices of organic and some imported food are decreasing. Some commercial services are lower in price now, such as gym memberships. Internet and mobile phone services are in the high price range, though there are deals and some competitive options. There has been some relief regarding government services, in that medical plan premiums are lower and unemployment insurance and pension benefits are calculated differently and to the advantage of recipients. As well, there is so much public pressure on housing that more rentals and social housing are being built.
Apart from the high cost of living, I am very happy to be enjoying familiar territory in a vibrant and scenic environment with lots going on. Now I have a decent job, I would be able to afford getting out more, except that I don't have so much free time now!
It's nice to think that some of you may have made it this far into my letter. Feel free to send me a line here if you care to.