Gap Year in Korea – My Sabbatical from Life

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My story of coming to Korea to teach English plays out much
differently than most of the 20-somethings that take up this endeavor.  Where many teachers come here fresh out of
college or just a few years out, I was in my late 30s when I seriously decided to
take the plunge.

In the midst of an
economic downturn and a desire to reinvent myself, I finally decided to do
something that I had once dreamed about many moons ago:

Travelling abroad.


My story of coming to Korea to teach English plays out much
differently than most of the 20-somethings that take up this endeavor.  Where many teachers come here fresh out of
college or just a few years out, I was in my late 30s when I seriously decided to
take the plunge.

In the midst of an
economic downturn and a desire to reinvent myself, I finally decided to do
something that I had once dreamed about many moons ago:

Travelling abroad.


For nearly 15 years, I spent my days in ways that most
foreign teachers leave Korea to pursue. 
As I coined on my personal Facebook page…

…I was a “cubical-dwelling,
corporate wannabe” in the IT industry

I
spent many years in New York City working for large companies trying to snag
my own piece of the American prize.  At
times it happened, at others it didn’t.  Like in 2008 when I was laid off while working as an IT project manager
in Florida.  That was a “didn’t” moment.  That event would be the
catalyst for what would be the biggest change in my life to date.  Turning away from something that, to be
honest, I didn’t even know why I was doing it other than it was a “good
career”.  I spent the next two years seeking
and begging for a job in IT.  I would get
short-term contracts here and there, but nothing steady.  In between I would stay busy either selling
cars or tae kwon do memberships.  It was
a wicked and tempestuous time.  And for
what?  The hopes of getting a job that
brought me nothing more than a paycheck?  For me, my line of work was sitting in a fabricated, cubical-laden office
space where the highlight of my day was often wondering what was for
lunch.  It was a crazy cycle, and I was
determined to break it. 

For some…for MANY, this is the right path.  But for me, I couldn’t see the light at the end of that tunnel.  And here I was jumping
through hoops to try to stay in it.

Fast
forward 2010 when I finally decided to take a detour.  I had wanted to travel to Korea or Japan out
of college, but it never happened.  At
the time it was more for furthering my judo training than anything else and I
saw teaching English as a potential vehicle to make it happen.

In 2010, I took a meaningful look at myself
and my life and started asking better questions.

Like, what are you chasing, Tom?  What is this amounting to?  Will it matter in the end?  Where is the fulfillment?  I don’t think I have to sell to anybody the idea of what
corporate work is.  It is what it
is.  The fact is – very few like it.  I would say that most tolerate it.  A promotion, health insurance, or a new car every 5 years is
good enough reason for most.  But if you
don’t have a family to support or another legit driving force, it can be a life draining endeavor.  For me it was just that.  For 15 years!

So, I fired off an email to an ESL recruiter.

Orientation graduation

Before I knew it I was well into gathering documentation,
digging up my criminal history, and selling off a bunch of accumulated stuff
that I never really needed in the first place. 
Something inside me began to change at that moment.  The hustle of the process, reading blogs(!),
watching videos, wondering about how awesome or terrible it was going to be
ignited a new flame in me.  I was ready
to take off for a year and leave the rat race to the rats.  No offense!  

Everything began to happen at breakneck speed and before I
knew it I was eating lunch with my brother and his wife saying
goodbye.  I remember like yesterday
telling him on the phone as I lay on the floor of my empty bedroom in Florida
that before we knew it I’d be in Korea.  And so it was. 
I’ve been in Korea teaching at the same all girls middle
school for about 16 months and I feel like I just had that
conversation with my brother.  What’s
crazier is that before making the final “go/no go” decision (little IT jargon
for y’all) a good friend of mind reminded me to follow my guts rather than
staying stuck in analysis paralysis
Let’s face it, this is a huge step. 
Especially when you’re older – set in your ways and comfortable.



The whole notion of “gap year” hasn’t even
sunk in yet to be honest.  I’m beyond a
year anyway, and I don’t see an end in sight.  

That is unless they kick me out first.

Here’s to the future!

But getting back to reinventing myself. 
Finding out who Tom 2.0 is, I’m looking toward a new future.  Teaching English is becoming a global
endeavor now with nations like China, Taiwan, Malaysia and the entire Middle
East upping the ante.  Japan remains
steady with their JET program and has grown steadily over the years.  Though
Korea is retracting their EPIK program, there’s no doubt the future for
teaching abroad looks bright overall.  I will
soon be enrolling in an online teacher certification program, and possible
Master’s in ESL.  It’s all guns blazing to
roll out Tom 2.0!

Gap year nothing.  I
look at so many of the younger teachers leaving, looking to
embark on a career of some sort that will bring them that professional
satisfaction.  I hope it turns out just
that way for them.  Somehow I think there
will come a time, mid-career, where they will wish they were back in a classroom
again playing K-Pop Slam with a bunch of carefree screaming kids.  If they have
the reason or circumstances to keep them focused and motivated in their
profession of choice, they will be fine.

There is no correct answer.  For
me though, my sabbatical has come at the right time and given me something I
had lacked for many years…  


Hope.



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