I am proud to say that over the last 10 months of living and working in Korea, my YouTube channel has grown from 5 followers to almost 5,000. I know that number is still fairly small, but I mention this only because ever since I started documenting and sharing my life abroad, I have had more than a handful of people reach out to me for help, tips, and advice on how to get started teaching abroad in South Korea. Most people want simple answers and facts from someone who’s already gone through the process, but recently I received an e-mail from young man who reminded me so much of my former self.
I am sharing his questions and my response to him in this blog post because I’ve frequently been asked by family, friends, and strangers about how I decided to teach abroad, the steps I took along the way, and what I will do after this all ends (if it ever does).
I wanted to give this guy an honest, thorough, and carefully thought-out response. This required some deep reflection on my part, something that I used to do too much before I left for Korea and not enough of lately since I’ve been here. So for anyone who’s interested, read ahead.
E-mail from dude below
Comment: Hi there Kimmy!!
I just legit came across your youtube videos today! My name is ——– from California and I wanted to say that your videos and updates are so awesome! I came across your video because I have been going through a lot of soul searching lately. My backstory is that I am still trying to figure out my undergrad life in college. I am 22 years old and I am actually a nursing student. I kind of went through a quarter life crisis in which I had no idea what I really wanted in life. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a nurse anymore or what else I would do. Long story short, I decided to teach English for two weeks in Korea last summer and it was the best experience ever. I enjoyed it just being able to help someone learn a language I kind of take for granted sometimes (LOL).
Now, my issue is I want to pursue this teaching abroad path and the issue at hand is perhaps what will happen after I finish teaching English. I come to the conclusion that only time and life will tell but I can’t help it that this is all I really want to do and will hopefully make me happy.
I wanted to personally ask you what undergrad you pursued and how was your family with this decision? I personally asked my mom if I could go teach abroad and she was highly against it and I understand why because she knows it is not a money making career, but I know you can save a good amount. And also, what did you do prior to getting your TEFL work wise and preparation wise.
And also, I know you mentioned that you plan to teach in Spain which is so awesome! Do you have kind of an idea what you will do after teaching abroad? I am just curious.
I hope to hear your response and any tips you can recommend. Thank you for taking time to reply!
My long, carefully thought-out reply:
I enjoyed reading your email because I can definitely relate with what you are going through. I had a very difficult time trying to figure out what to do then and I still have a hard time figuring out what steps to take next.
Let me start by summarizing my very complicated academic journey through undergrad:
I started out as a biology major then switched to nursing. I was actually half way through my nursing program when I realized that I really did not want to be a nurse. I was miserable, depressed, and always sick while I was in nursing school studying and going through clinical rotations for my classes. It was a difficult time in my life and I was completely lost. I dropped out of the university I was attending for the nursing program and took a fall semester away from college to figure things out. I felt that I was wasting a lot of time, money, and effort pursuing nursing as a career choice. I was very critical of myself during that semester away from college, because I felt like a failure. I was lost but eventually, I transferred colleges (for the 3rd time) and re-declared myself as a business administration major. It took me another 2 years to finish my degree, because most of my previous college coursework was unrelated to business.
A few months after I graduated college, I settled for a job in finance working as a financial services representative for a company called E*Trade. It was a respectable job with great benefits, and it looked great on paper but within the first few months of working in corporate, I knew that I would stay miserable if I continued to work in a job that left me feeling empty and unsatisfied. At the beginning of 2014, I decided to quit that job with no definite back up plan of what I would be doing next. I went back to working in my family’s salon business (I also am a licensed cosmetologist) for the majority of 2014, with the purpose of trying to figure out my next steps during that year.
In the summer of 2014, I joined one of my best friends at the end of her studies abroad trip in Europe. We traveled together for a short time, along with another girl, who was the first person to suggest the idea of teaching English abroad. When I got back from that Euro Trip in June of 2014, I started doing extensive online research about teaching abroad in different countries, how/where to get certified, and different teaching programs abroad. I also reached out to people who were already teaching abroad to get more information. I applied for South Korea’s EPIK (English Program in Korea) at the end of September 2014, took a TEFL certification course in Oct-November, and waited for a job offer for months. I finally moved to South Korea late March of 2014.
My mom was completely unsupportive of my decision to leave the country to go teach abroad. We argued for weeks leading up to my final departure and I never felt more guilty in my life for pursuing something I wanted.
Most people know that teaching is not a high paying career and I wasn’t sure what the heck I was really getting myself into when I decided to leave everything I knew for a new land to become a teacher for the first time ever. But I can tell you this, I have no regrets about coming here. I was more terrified about what would happen to me if I continued to live an unfulfilling life pursuing empty endeavors in jobs that gave me no sense of purpose or real reward (besides a paycheck).
In the time that I’ve been here, I’ve been able to pay off a lot of my debt, save some money, and travel extensively throughout Korea and surrounding Asian countries. For the past several months, and now that my work contract is coming to an end..I have been stressing about what I will do next and where I will go. I still don’t have the answers to all of life’s questions, but all I know is that teaching abroad has allowed me to fulfill my dream of seeing the world, meeting new people, experiencing new cultures, and sharing my knowledge to help others.
I have no idea what I will do after I finish teaching abroad, or if I will ever finish teaching abroad. As of right now, teaching is still satisfying my wants and needs. The possibilities are endless, and my dreams are always changing. I used to be so hard on myself because I did not know what I wanted and because the plans I had made for myself in my younger years did not work out the way I had envisioned. I have to constantly remind myself that it is okay to change my mind about my choices, as long as I keep trying to do something to better myself.
You mentioned that your issue is that you want to teach abroad but are afraid of what will happen after you finish teaching. You can worry about the future but if you already know that this is what you want to do, then just do it and see what happens. There’s no other way to find out then to take the leap. I didn’t even know if teaching would be the thing for me before I came to Korea, but you already have had a small taste of it during your 2 weeks in Korea last summer. You seem to already know that you will enjoy it. I know it all sounds easier said than done, but you owe it to yourself to pursue that things that interest you. Even if teaching does not end up being your final career choice, that’s okay.
When I was 22, I put so much pressure on myself to finish college, so that I could get a “good” job, and start my life. But then soon after I graduated and achieved all of those things, the question became “Now What?” It’s good to constantly re-evaluate and switch gears because you never know what will make you happy or unhappy until you experience different things throughout your life.
There’s a few people out there that may have their lives figured out, but I’m a true believer that most of us have no idea what the hell we’re doing. I live my life by process of elimination, I try things and if I don’t like them…I move on. I can beat myself up about how most of my choices were not the best, but I would have never known that unless I made those mistakes and gone through those experiences.
Stay true to yourself and your own desires. Don’t let discouragement from others (including your family and closest friends) and your own fears hold you back from chasing things that give you purpose. If you think this teaching thing will make you happy, do it until it no longer does. Deal with the after, after.
Whew! I realize I may be getting too philosophical! I am sorry if I bored you with my long story about how I got to where I am, but not too long ago..I was in a similar position so I felt the need to re-hash all my old anxieties.
I hope my response was helpful in some way to you. If you have any further questions or concerns, feel free to email me again. I wish you the best of luck in figuring out your next steps. Go after what you want and the rest will play itself out along the way. Thanks for reaching out!
I have no idea if this guy will get anything useful out of my long email response, but it somehow forced me to make sense of where I’ve been and where I’m going next. We all want answers, but we often don’t ask ourselves the right questions to get there.
I have plenty of questions that I have to answer for myself in the next 8 weeks as my current work contract comes to an end in Korea. I finish here, then what?