On Monday I’ll be back in the US. Yes my contract was for a year. And yes I’ve only been here 4 months. Technically I quit at 3 months, but I couldn’t leave right away. I’m sure people are curious about why I’m leaving and I know I have millions of questions ahead of me when I get home. So I decided to split the answer into 3 parts.
1. Why I went
I went to Korea because I enjoyed it so much when I studied abroad there in 2015. I appreciated the culture, the language and the food. I made friends from different countries. I liked living in a huge city where everything was accessible by public transportation. There were things I didn’t like and bothered me. Many days I was counting down the days till I was home again, but those were all normal emotions and overall I left Korea feeling sad that my experience was over especially because I thought I’d only ever be able to come back for a very short vacation. And a few days or even a week isn’t enough time to explore and fall back in love with Seoul. Honestly when I left Korea I didn’t plan to go back and live there long term because I knew the only way I’d be able to make that happen was as a teacher. And I didn’t want to teach. And I had also decided that maybe living abroad wasn’t for me.
However, a sense of impending doom slowly overcame me during my senior year of college. And that doom pushed me towards Korea. Why? Because I could easily become a teacher in Korea. Sure it would (and did) take awhile to find a job, but I also didn’t need so many qualifications. At home, I saw too many job posts stating “at least 3-5 years of professions experience was required” as well as a long list of required skills. I also wasn’t even sure what the numerous job titles I saw even meant and entailed. To add to this, I didn’t (still don’t) know what I want to do with my life. It was just easier to become an English teacher. I would teach English. Simple enough. No requirements, apartment paid for, a good salary, a chance to explore Korea (again). And I wouldn’t have to drive again because most people who know me know that driving is something I love to avoid. I made many pros and cons list and ultimately decided sometime mid-fall semester that I would go back to Korea and teach. I would continue the adventure I started there. Never mind the fact that studying and teaching in Korea are two completely different worlds. I breezed through (read: avoided) all things career related my last year and graduated with the hopes of going back to what I called my second home. The Journey to South Korea the Sequel began.
2. What happened
I’ll skip the boring parts of applying and interviewing because you know what happens. I got a job! It was in a small city about 3 hours away from Seoul at a small hagwon Christian school. I landed on October 30 and after a week I was teaching (with some guidance from the previous teacher). To be honest, by my third day of observing I was already seriously plotting to fly back to the US. I had the money and I easily pictured myself escaping into the night. Only my pride kept me from coming back. I couldn’t look everyone in the face back home and admit that I quit before I even tried. So I stayed and it did get better. Slowly and with lots of help it got better. The 10-13 classes a day I had became easier to manage. The many textbooks, reading books and curriculum became more familiar. I got to know the other English teacher a lot better. The kids weren’t staring so much. Outside of school, my life was okay too.
Around December, though, I realized teaching was not something I could do long term. After a month, the students relaxed and that “being on their best behavior” period ended. I hated having to deal with classroom management. I hated talking so much. I hated having to entertain and be “on.” I hated being around so many children for so long every day. I was drained. I was starting to shut down. The holidays kept my spirit up. But right after our 5-day New Years vacation, I knew I couldn’t teach forever. The question was how long could I last?
All through January I went back and forth. Hating everything, feeling miserable, feeling anxious and dealing with nausea at night during the week. And hiding away or hanging out with people who made me feel that it was all worth it to enjoy Korea on the weekends. On Sundays I’d tell my parents I liked Korea and that the following week could be better. And on Tuesdays or any other weekday I’d tell them when I was planning to let my boss know I wanted to quit. Back and forth. Back and forth.
One week my mood really dropped that Mrs. K, the school director, noticed and asked me about it one evening before I left to go home. I ended up crying almost uncontrollably as I tried to explain that I was just tired and working here drained me. That same week I confessed to the other English teacher (who I call “Cate”) how I felt in more detail since there wasn’t a language barrier. I even admitted I was thinking of quitting. Sensing that I was really distressed I think is what motivated her to invite me to lunch and a movie night over our 3-day weekend. We talked a lot. I went to church on Sunday and hung out with the same group I usually did. That Sunday evening as we rode the bus back to our city I remember telling her how I appreciated what she said to encourage me and maybe teaching was worth it. I even sent my parents a voice note saying that I liked living in Korea and maybe I just needed to change my mindset/perspective.
The next day, as I walked in the classroom, I took back everything I had said. I was angry, irritable, annoyed, tired. I had all the qualities that can make a bad teacher and what’s worst is I didn’t care to hide it anymore. For the past week or two the kids could tell that I was different. I couldn’t keep acting anymore. I was starting to shutdown. I planned to tell Mrs. K next Monday.
On February 6, the Monday I quit, I had planned when and what I would say and how I’d phrase everything. It didn’t happen how I planned it, but it did happen. I quit. The following days were crazy. I cried a lot and had a small anxiety attack. That is a long story and everything has been resolved now (as much as it can be resolved). On Wednesday I was told I would work until March 23, but on Friday, Mrs. K asked me how soon I wanted to go home. My response was “soon.” She laughed seeing the desperation in my face and told me my last day would be March 10. Even though my leaving is inconvenient, I have to admit Mrs. K has been understanding.
3. Why I came back home
I’ve spent weeks thinking about this post and how I would phrase things and justify my decision to leave. I worried about being seen as a quitter, a loser, a weak person. But now, I’m 100% happy with my decision to leave. I have no regrets and while I’m not ready for the awkwardness of explaining to people why I left, I’m not fearful of what people will think of me. Maybe I am a quitter or a loser or a weakling. But I was also unhappy. So so unhappy there. I dreaded everyday. I woke up hours earlier than I needed to just to mentally prepare myself. I woke up in the middle of the night from nausea so many times and my stomach always felt off. I would get nauseous walking to work and headaches when I came back. Not surprisingly, about a week after I quit all those symptoms disappeared. I missed my family a lot. And while I met many nice people, I never found a close friend to do stuff with anytime. And I just plain hated teaching. I hated it. I hated working with children so often and teaching English. It wasn’t for me. I’m lucky that I was in a position to quit. There are many reasons why I quit, but ultimately it comes down to this: I was unhappy in so many ways. And life is too short to be miserable or to do things just to show people that you did it. I’m so nervous about my future now. Teaching English was supposed to be my fool-proof plan. I really planned to stay in Korea for at least a few years if not long term. But I have hope that it’ll be okay. It might sound unbelievable, but I definitely heard God telling me not to come this time. But I ignored Him because I really wanted to be in Korea again. Now I’m so ready to listen to Him because I obviously don’t know what I’m doing.
On the bright side of this whole ordeal, lots of successful and amazing people have quit, failed, been fired, worked a low-end job or dropped out around my age. I’m not suggesting that I’m going to be the next great person who advances technology or society, but I know this is just the beginning. And while it seems everything’s going downhill now, I know things will get better and in my mind things have already gotten better. I’m moving on. I’ve answered the “what if” question about teaching. I saw Seoul one last time. I tried the teaching thing. And now I get to go home to my family. I’m looking forward to where I end up.
It’s definitely a bit uncomfortable to share this with people. To admit defeat. To admit that the thing I was beaming with pride about is the same thing I hated and quit before my contract was up. But somehow I feel compelled to show people especially those around my age that it’s okay to bail or quit things when you know it’s not working. It’s important to work hard and push through difficulties of course, but I think there’s a difference between working hard and doing something you hate just to save face. And I also think a job that makes you ill isn’t worth it
Since I’ve quit I’ve heard of and read similar stories and it makes me feel good to know I’m not alone or a failure. It’s just as important to know what we like as well as what we don’t like, so it’s still progress. To the people who, like me, tried something and it didn’t work out, I hope we find something better and don’t get discouraged while we do.
Let’s have happier days.