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So why did I come to Korea? At my age, shouldn’t I be in some corporate job with a husband, 2.3 kids, and a golden retriever waiting at home for me to make dinner when I get off work?

Essay by Kari Nguyen

My name is Kari Nguyen and I’m a 37 years old Vietnamese-American. I’m a native English teacher at an English education center in Seongnam. I came to Korea exactly a year ago, and I recently renewed my contract with the same center for a second year.

Now that the boring logistics are out of the way, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty and talk about why I’m here in Korea at such an “advanced” age.  I say “advanced” because a typical English teacher in Korea is mostly a 20-something who is a fresh out of college graduate and is unsure of where they want to go with their career.  So, they head to Korea for adventure.  Others can’t seem to find a job at home so they come here. I don’t fall into any of these categories because 1) I am not a 20-something and 2) I had a real, full-time job back home that I had to quit to come to Korea.

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I remember when I first was working with recruiters in Korea to get a teaching job here.  One of them had asked me how old I was and at the time, I told him, “I’m 35.” I heard a distinct, audible gasp over the phone and a long pause.  I nervously laughed and had asked him, “Umm…Is my age going to be a problem getting me a teaching job in Korea?” He chuckled and not so confidently stated, “Well, no, but it’s just we normally get teachers that are fresh out of college.”   30-something teachers are not that common in Korea, but we do exist and it’s not impossible to come here to teach if you’re over 30.

So why did I come to Korea? At my age, shouldn’t I be in some corporate job with a husband, 2.3 kids, and a golden retriever waiting at home for me to make dinner when I get off work? While my 30-something friends from back home have Facebook pages full of pictures of births, birthdays, anniversaries, etc, mine are full of places I’ve traveled to and of interesting food I’ve eaten.

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I came to Korea because a year ago, I was sitting at home, with my work laptop in my lap. I had to write over thirty case notes for clients I had met within the past week.  Plus, it was a Saturday night. I never imagined that the long hours, sweat and tears I endured to get my Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy would result in me sitting at home on a Saturday night staring at the laptop screen and wishing that I could just shoot myself.   Ok, maybe it was not that drastic.  But at that moment, I felt I really needed to do something about my life and career where I wouldn’t be so unhappy.

In that moment, I felt trapped in the corporate world and my job. Then, out of the blue, I remembered my friend Tina who was in Korea teaching English.  I immediately messaged her on Facebook to tell me more about her job and whether she liked it or not. Tina, being quick as lightning, messaged me back a few hours later giving me all the details. It was in a matter of hours that I made up my mind that I was coming to Korea. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense because I had nothing tying me down in the US – no boyfriend, husband, children, marriage, relationships or pets, not even a plant that needed tending. I remember feeling so liberated knowing that I could just take off and leave everything behind to move to another country.

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Now, a year later, I can say that I don’t regret moving to Korea. I’ve seen so much and have become stronger mentally, emotionally and physically. I’ve learned so much about myself and about life while living here. I strengthened my mental and emotional fortitude by being on my own in a foreign country.  I’ve been forced to be humble and ask for help since I can’t speak the language like I could at home.  At home, I felt like I could do everything on my own because I spoke the language. Having to ask for help has taught me that it’s ok to lean on others in time of need, and that I don’t have to suffer alone. It may sound strange to some, but this is something that my fiercely independent identity has struggled with in the past. I still struggle with it from time to time, but I’ve gotten a lot better about it.

If you are reading this and over 30-something and wondering to yourself if you can really do it. If you can just leave everything behind and move to a foreign country. I can attest that YES YOU CAN.

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To read more stories and thoughts of those who decided to teach abroad after 30, please click here.

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