If you would have spoken to me prior to my departure for Korea, you would have thought I would never leave Korea; that I would spend the rest of my life there. That’s because that’s exactly what I would have told you. I believed it myself. However, upon receiving my placement in a rural steel-making city called Gwangyang, my mindset quickly changed. The city had a lot of negative aspects; the fossil fuel burning factory, the amount of abused dogs, the lack of people my age, and the fact that the famous food of Gwangyang is spicy cow meat. With my background in conservation and environmentalism, these things really irritated me. But I decided to stick it out; I mean, I might love it!!
I did not.
With no one in the city being my age, I would go straight home after work, eat, and workout, and that was that. I had no english speaking interaction on weekdays due to the lack of foreigners as well. I am used to doing things on my own, but I am not now nor will I ever be used to loneliness.
On top of the lingering darkness, my coworkers did not help with the situation. They treated me so badly. Everyday without fail, one or more of them would point at my lunch and make comments about it because I’m vegan. In fact, one girl who never spoke to me came up to me one day and said “Megan, not sexy.” They were just cruel people. One of my coworkers, on three separate occasions, physically picked up her lunch plate and moved when I sat next to her. On top of that, when I was really struggling with culture shock, loneliness, burnout, the flu, and depression, I told a coworker about it, and she laughed. She laughed and told me ‘you’re okay.” No, actually, I was not. In December, when my mood was at an all time low, I got seriously ill with a bought of the flu, a headache (which I never ever get), and burnout; I told my coworkers that I was probably going to faint or throw up or like, DIE (okay not really) but they told me to teach my classes and leave early. I taught 2 and honest to god felt like I would pass out, so rather than have me teach the final two they wanted me to walk to the hospital, a 20 minute walk away in the heavy rain. I was like, but are you joking? I can’t even stand up right now..
And just one more of the many occasions that will haunt me for life: on a Tuesday morning I was made aware of a friend’s death and my grandmother having a heart attack and being placed in hospice. I burst into tears, as any normal person with emotions does. My coteacher freaked out, asked me what happened; I told her and she asked if I was okay. I said no. She said “drink water, you have class in 10 minutes”. Yes. I had to teach after that.
It was an absolutely awful environment.
So living in pollution, having only enemies and no friends, and being malnourished, I was living in a real life hell on earth.
When asked to renew, I said absolutely not. I could not go through this mental abuse for any longer.
The worst part is I know my entire experience would have been different had I have lived in Seoul, Busan, or another bigger city. The amount of people my age would have allowed me to vent or simply TALK to others. I also missed seeing the sky. In the year I lived in Korea, we had worse pollution than Beijing on most days and I never saw a single star. I am an avid star gazer so this brought me down real quick.
Everyone has a different experience however, so mine definitely isn’t exemplary of everyone’s time teaching in Korea. However, I was not alone. Many of my friends left early, chose not to renew, or had an awful time. This is why the turnover rate in Korea is so high for teachers. We are not treated with respect; some of us aren’t even treated like humans at all. But a handful of my friends had an absolutely incredible time and while I’m absolutely envious I do understand that its the people you have in your life that change everything. My students were absolutely incredible though, I really have never loved anything more than I loved them. They were so kind, so funny, so brilliant. I wish things had been different. But when one door closes, another opens. I will be moving to Shenzhen to teach again at a public school. I’m hoping to have a much better experience and I am almost certain I will because how could it possibly be any worse than THAT???? Knock on wood x75739
If you’re considering teaching in Korea, just know, everything depends on your city placement and your school and you’ll know nothing until you get there, Jon Snow.
But good luck and I really hope you have an amazing year.