“There’s a place in the sun that belongs to everyone. You can feel it inside. It goes straight on through to the other side. And we’re hitching a ride. There’ll be room for everyone. We’re not saying goodbye. We’re just saying hello to a better life.” -The Candyskins, “Feed It”
Since I decided to come to South Korea, many people have asked me the same question: “What are you going to do next?” My EPIK contract is for a year, ending in February 2016. Now is the time to answer that question. I was asked months ago about renewing my contract, and I told my co-teacher that I would not renew because I wanted to move to Busan. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not happy with my province’s curriculum or my town. I’ve also never wanted to teach middle school. That leaves a few options: Reapply for EPIK and hope to get into a city and school I want, apply for a hagwon (private school), or go home. It’s certainly not a decision to take lightly.
For months, my plan has been to reapply to move to Busan with EPIK. If it didn’t work out, I would find a hagwon there. I love Busan, and most of my closest friends are there. The downside to EPIK is that to move anywhere outside my province, I have to complete the entire application process again. Even though I’m already here, there’s no guarantee that I would get elementary school or the city I want. They could say, “This woman has been teaching a special program in middle school! She’d be great for high school!” (They’d be wrong.) Still, I started on my application, willing and planning to take a chance.
The time has come to finish my application. As I wrote on my essays, I reflected on my time in Korea, my wants, and my needs. I’ve always believed that every choice we make, sometimes even little ones, can change the course of our lives in ways we can’t anticipate. I think of how one seemingly minor event/decision can lead to another, and that one leads to another, and before you know it, you’re in Korea. (The film Mr. Nobody does an excellent job of showing how choices drastically alter our lives.) I’ve been doing some soul-searching, which is easy for self-aware souls, and I’ve made a decision.
I love South Korea. I’ve done things here that I’ve always wanted to do, things I never thought I would do. I’ve faced fears and crossed items off my bucket list. At the age of 30, I’ve changed in ways unimaginable. I’ve made memories and friendships that will last a lifetime. My friends and I have had this shared experience, something that only people who have done this can truly understand. I am forever indebted to Korea. No matter where I go or what I do, it will always have a special place in my heart. I think you can guess where this is going…
As much as I love Korea, it’s time for me to move on and have different experiences and learn new lessons somewhere else. The longer I stay, the more I’ll feel I’m putting my life on hold. I’m getting too old for that, and I can feel the clock ticking on certain things. It took me coming to Korea to figure out how to achieve some of my goals. I can only hope that my time in Korea will get me closer to them, but I know Korea itself cannot provide what I want and need in the long run. I have no future here, so I need to move on to a place where I could have one. If I stayed, I would really be staying for the money and to continue to procrastinate, which I’m all too good at doing.
So what’s next? One of my goals for a long time has been to live in the UK, but I never knew how to make it happen. My family has always been drawn there for some reason. My sister went to postgrad in London, and my brother got married in Scotland and currently lives in London. I’ve always felt a sense of longing when I’ve left the UK after visiting or when I watch my favourite British series/films. I’ve effectively adopted British English, mostly due to the fact that the majority of my close friends in Korea use British English. (Plus, it makes sense to use it when every other country does, except the US.) I’ve realised that now is the time to take yet another leap of faith.
I’m almost afraid to tell people of my plans because I don’t want to jinx them, but the questions will inevitably come if I don’t. Initially, I didn’t want to go back to social work, but I’ve realised that whether I am working in it or not, I will always be a social worker in heart. I was just thinking today that boundaries in Korea are non-existent and how I had a hard time with self-disclosure when I came here. (I still do.) I’ve also been thinking that in the right setting and with more education, I could potentially be a good social worker and enjoy it.
I was recently informed that there is a shortage of social workers in the UK. They also appear to be paid better than social workers in the US, though that’s likely because many people don’t want the job. My plan is to apply for postgrad in the UK to get my Master of Social Work, hopefully followed by a job there. This seems like the most feasible way to move there. Of course, there is a chance that I won’t get in anywhere, but I would hope that my four years of experience (including two years of management) in the field, good GPA, and experiences in Korea would only help my chances. Everything in life is a risk, after all.
With those risks, there’s still a lot to figure out to make this happen. I will likely go back to the States when my contract ends in February until I can leave for postgrad. The issue is that I don’t have a car or job there, but that would happen regardless of when I go back. I’ve also been out of school for almost 6 years and haven’t kept in touch with professors, so I hope that they either remember me and will write a letter of recommendation or that the places I apply will accept professional references. I’m still in the beginning stages of the process, doing research and making lists. It’s a lot of work, as postgrad will be, but if I can pull this off, I think it will be worth it.
I’m choosing to believe that everything will fall into place. Things have never come easily to me, but they tend to work out eventually, usually in weird, unexpected ways. If all else fails, my backup plan is still to apply for a hagwon in Busan. A year ago, my dream was to move to South Korea. I made that happen, and I have zero regrets. (I don’t believe in them.) It hasn’t been an easy decision to leave, but I believe it’s the right choice for me. With any luck, I’ll be writing from the UK a year from now, living out another dream. Time to do or die.