Should I stay or should I go? On making Korea a home or just staying for a year

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While I have no hard facts or data, it would seem that I’m running into more and more expats / foreigners who have made Korea their home. Long after their first one-year contract has finished, they’re still here making a life for themselves as a teacher, a college professor, a student, a writer / reporter / journalist, or the all-important-sounding title of businessperson. While few of us knowingly start our Korea journey thinking we’ll stick around for a second (or third or fourth or ninth) year, here we are.

While I have no hard facts or data, it would seem that I’m running into more and more expats / foreigners who have made Korea their home. Long after their first one-year contract has finished, they’re still here making a life for themselves as a teacher, a college professor, a student, a writer / reporter / journalist, or the all-important-sounding title of businessperson. While few of us knowingly start our Korea journey thinking we’ll stick around for a second (or third or fourth or ninth) year, here we are.

Some expats come to Korea with a specific plan – ‘I’ll work here for a year then apply for a teaching job back in the states’ is one I’ve recently heard. ‘I want to work as an ambassador or in an embassy, so I need a couple years of experience living abroad’ is another. Others come with no plan at all – ‘I just graduated college / university and I have no idea what to do next, so maybe Korea will help me discover My Life Plan’©, or ‘I came to Korea to find myself’. Plans change, however, as does the situation you might find yourself in when / if you return home.

Thanks to an economic downturn in most countries English teachers come from, there is that fear of what you’ll do if you return home. There are plenty of ways to tell a story about your time in Korea – presuming of course you didn’t drink and chase women your entire time here. You learn a lot while in Korea: self-reliance, ability to think on your feet, ability to understand (or at least tolerate) a foreign culture, and perhaps a new language or skill that will go great on a resume. With that said, you still have to convince an employer that your experience in Korea will help you (and them!) in the position they have available.

Most expats find themselves looking at several choices:

A: Keep going as an English teacher in Korea, whether at the same school or a different one.

B: Move to another country to teach English – whether your home country or a completely new country.

C: Go back to school – getting a Master’s degree, a teaching English course, or even a second Bachelor’s degree

D: Move back home and bum off of your parents or friends until a job comes along.
E: Find a non-teaching job in Korea

So which is best? That’s up to you – I’m not your mom. More than a few people have taken a break from life in Korea, gone home, and actually missed things in the Hermit Kingdom after awhile. Others leave and never look back, thankful to never see another dish of kimchi.

The key to consider is purpose. Why did you come to Korea originally? The money? The food? The international experience? The resume-enhancing benefits? The Korean girls / boys? Whatever your reason was, consider whether you’ve achieved it or enjoyed it. What purpose will staying – or moving on – serve?

If you stay in Korea:

  • Consider how you want to grow or advance. Do you want to keep teaching kindergarten for the same wage, or do you want to move up the pay scale? Getting a teacher’s certification is often worth the time and money required to get the piece of paper.
  • Make the country your home – now might be the time to invest in guitar lessons / Korean lessons / Korean cooking class – whatever it takes to make it feel more like home.
  • Get involved with the expat communities – whether it’s the Hash House Harriers, Roboseyo’s 2S2, or Stitch ‘N’ Bitch, there’s more than enough communities out there.

If you decide to leave:

  • Get all the loose ends tied up – get paid, get your severance pay / pension reimbursement back, close your bank accounts, pay the bills, get your deposit back from the school / apartment, and so on. You should be returning home with more money than you first came with.
  • Have a going away party – that goes double if you’ve built up a lot of friends and have some time to plan something. Maybe your favorite bar can make a special or something. Don’t just show up one day and disappear the next.
  • Keep up-to-date with your friends in Korea via Facebook / Myspace / Cyworld – it’s done far more easily these days than in years past.
  • Have some idea of what’s next. Flying back into your home city / country with little more than two suitcases and a carry-on is almost no one’s idea of a life well-spent.
One excellent resource to considering one’s purpose is the revered What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard Nelson Bolles. While the book is geared towards career changes, in a sense that’s exactly the decision you have to make.

Creative Commons License Chris Backe – 2010

This post was originally published on my blog, Chris in South Korea. If you are reading this on another website and there is no linkback or credit given, you are reading an UNAUTHORIZED FEED.



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