“I can’t believe I almost didn’t have these experiences because of my age and the pressure to settle down.” – Ellen Sidorski
Essay by Ellen Sidorski
I am 34 years old and living and teaching in Korea. I am absolutely in love with this country. Why did I come to Korea at such a “late” age? The answer is pretty simple. When I graduated college, I joined Americorp. It is like Peace Corp, but in America. It brought me to Chicago and New York City. I taught second grade, worked at a homeless shelter, and at a group home for girls. I grew so much during that time and truly felt fulfilled in life. When real life began, I worked at a Vietnamese youth program in Chicago, received my teaching degree, began a relationship, and eventually taught at a beautiful kindergarten for African immigrants. I loved teaching.
When my relationship fell apart 6 years later, I had to decide what I really wanted for myself. I loved travel, adventure, and meeting new people. Being 34 did not change this. I had spent five weeks in Vietnam a few years before and thought about that experience often. I fell in love with the people and their culture. I loved being surrounded by things completely different from me. I loved learning about their way of life. Those were some of the best moments of my life. I wanted to feel that way again.
I also always wanted to live abroad, and it was always a big regret that I had let these opportunities pass me by. I finally decided that it was not too late to fulfill my dream. I applied to teach in Korea, and thank goodness I did!
I did not digress by coming to Korea. I work at an amazing kindergarten that follows the Reggio Emilia curriculum. It is a creative, challenging, and supportive environment. I have so many skills and resources to bring back to America. I am a better teacher because of Korea. I am strengthening my skills as a teacher, traveling around Asia, and meeting the most amazing people every day. I can’t remember the last time I was this happy.
I have friends of all ages and backgrounds. There is nothing more enriching than sitting at the coffee shop with people from around the world with amazing experiences and open minds. Just the other day, I was with my friends who are South African and Australian. I will admit, I didn’t know much about these two countries. Now, I am familiar with what daily life is like and even learned a great deal about some of their political policies like gun control and immigration. These conversations happen all the time and the experiences have been both enriching and meaningful.
One of my favorite experiences in Korea was when I spent Chuseok with a Korean Family. I was able to partake in all of the traditions and even wear a Hanbok. I will never forget the kindness of this family. It was very special. I can’t believe I almost didn’t have these experiences because of my age and the pressure to settle down.
Life does go on when you leave your home country; your friends get promoted, their children grow, and not all will be supportive of your decision. Yet, even with these challenges, I encourage everyone with wanderlust to go for it! 30 plus should not mean life is over, quite the opposite. There is always time for another adventure.
To read more stories and thoughts of those who decided to teach abroad after 30, please click here.
Photos taken insinde Gangnam Station.