When Lindsey submitted her essay, I knew I wanted to feature her story first. She’s a beautiful girl with a wonderful heart. Her stories of social work with children from other countries were extremely moving and I’m excited to share them. Lindsey is one of those teachers over 30 who is extremely motivated, bright, and talented. I believe her thought process on deciding to teach abroad and to live in Korea will be helpful to others. Her stories will be particularly helpful to those who want to teach abroad but are also mindful of their careers.
Her photos were taken in Insadong, Samcheongdong, and Gwanghwamun.
My name is Lindsey and I have been teaching in Korea since September 1, 2011. According to Western age, I arrived when I was 29 and celebrated my 30th birthday while in Korea. I’ll celebrate my 31st birthday in a few months, although anyone from Korea will tell you that I am already 32. I never dreamed I would celebrate one birthday in Korea, let alone two birthdays. I certainly never imagined I would be living in Korea. It’s funny how our expectations often don’t match reality, but I got lucky and my reality surpassed my expectations.
I completed my undergraduate degree at Western Kentucky University in May or 2005. After spending 3 years bartending, waiting tables, going to auditions, and trying to figure out what would make me happy, I returned to WKU and entered a Masters program. I was very fortunate to travel while attending college as part of a competitive Speech and Debate team and to participate in a short study abroad program. It was during the study abroad program that I realized how unhappy I would be if I graduated, got a job, and settled down as is customary in my portion of the United States. The thought of not having the freedom to travel struck a fear so deep in my being that I began to dismantle the world I had created in Kentucky to prepare for a grand adventure. I had no idea that the adventure I was seeking would lead me to Korea, but I am very glad that it did.
After some soul searching, I can conclude that my desire to experience life outside the United States was fueled by two distinct goals. The first goal is based on my career path and my desire to have empathy for others instead of sympathy. While obtaining my Masters of Social Work, I worked as an intern for a refugee resettlement agency. Before completing my internship, I was hired by the agency to work as the school liaison. My job was to take the refugee children from Somalia, Iraq, Cuba, Nepal, and Burma to the local schools and get them enrolled in classes. I also had to take children for immunizations many times over several months, assist the schools and health departments if problems arose related to the children and their families, and advocate for the rights of the children and their families when they were not able to receive the same treatment as others based on language barriers or cultural misunderstandings. As a Caucasian woman who speaks English, I had never experienced what it was like to be in the minority. I thought I understood how frustrating it is to not be able to use your words to express yourself, to rely upon someone else to help you do basic things, and to be required to trust someone else’s language skills to ensure your rights. In reality, I had no idea. In an effort to truly understand what it is like to be in the minority, to not understand the language and culture, and to grasp how difficult it is to adapt to culture shock, I believe it was necessary to experience those things in my own life. I can honestly say that one of the most uncomfortable things in this world is relying upon an interpreter to communicate with a doctor and to accept or reject medication without knowing fully what it is. The knowledge and empathy I have developed as a result of being part of the minority in Korea is priceless.
The second goal is based on a fear that is central to the heart of who I am. I know many people say that you shouldn’t live your life based on fear, but I believe that is a naïve way to look at human existence. We all have fears. The only difference between fear and excitement is how you choose to view the emotion. Choosing to use the existing fears to propel my life toward paths I never dreamed possible has been a rewarding and fulfilling experience.
I am terrified of having regrets. Since I was 6 years old, I talked about moving to another country and experiencing life in a way that is different than my own. As I grew up and matured, the desire to experience a world outside of the one I knew was the one part of me that never changed. As often as I traveled, I never left the United States for longer than a few weeks at a time. As a recent Master’s of Social Work graduate, the only responsibilities I had to bear were student loans. I was at a crossroads. I realized that moment might be the last time I was not weighed down by health insurance payments, mortgage payments, car payments, student loan payments, or family responsibilities. I was the most free I might ever be. I also realized that once all the responsibilities of life crashed down upon me, I might not have the freedom to follow my dreams as easily anymore. In an effort to be someone who actually pursues her dreams instead of just talking about them, I began the process of searching for a way overseas.
I initially planned to stay in Korea for 1 year. At this time, I have been in Korea for 17 months. While I love working with the students at my school, I am not a teacher by trade. I am getting eager to return to the world of human rights, but my love for Korea has only grown over time. I never dreamed I would find a second home on the other side of the globe. I am not sure what the future holds for me or where I will be in a year, but I look forward to continuing the journey.
To read more stories and thoughts of those who decided to teach abroad after 30, please click here.