Why I Came To South Korea
(A Personal Essay)
I decided to try ESL teaching here in South Korea not because there were no good jobs available in the Philippines. As a matter of fact, I had to cut short my employment back home in 2013 to come here. That time I was employed as Principal of a basic education (K to 12) institution. To earn extra, I also worked as a part-time instructor in a college and academic consultant in another school .
I had no trouble finding jobs in the Philippines. I carefully crafted a career path and built a strong supporting structure that would ensure I won’t run out of options and ascertain a stable future for me and my family.
So, what made me decide to teach here?
Firstly, I suffered from a severe “job burnout”. I got so tired being a school administrator and a teacher at the same time. There was no sense of fulfillment anymore. I wanted to go back to full-time teaching and try to discover what I was missing. Yes, there was something missing.
I started doing supervisory works in 1994 in a technical-vocational institution. I resigned in 2002 then moved to another school, a Catholic tertiary institution, where I was offered a supervisory position – head of the Education program. Thinking that I could pursue a career in the public school system, I applied (and was accepted) as College Dean in a local college. It did not turn out the way I wanted. The working environment and the organizational climate was not what I envisioned it was. It was then that I began to feel the “burnout.” From there I transferred to that basic education institution where I became a principal. It did not help that at that time the said school had to renew its FAPE (Fund for Assistance to Private Education) accreditation. Those were the days when I almost had to sleep in my office to finish all the required paper work for the re-accreditation.
I really got tired supervising people and performing administrative works. I felt sick about it. I wanted to go back to just being a teacher and find out what I was missing – something else that I should be doing. That’s the reason I applied for a teaching job in South Korea.
After passing through the proverbial eye of the needle, I was hired.
It was that “job burnout” that got me seeking for a job opportunity overseas. It’s not just because the pasture is greener. I would be branded a hypocrite if I say I don’t need a higher pay. But I was really satisfied with the salary I was receiving at that time. It was good enough that it enabled me to buy a small parcel of land and had a house built.
Of course I am happier and more satisfied with my monthly pay in this country. Who wouldn’t be. It’s roughly 75% higher than what my Pakistani employers paid me in the Philippines and with me having to work almost 60% less in terms of hours. That basic education school where I was a Principal then is owned by Pakistanis operating a vast network of schools (The City School) in Pakistan and some parts of Asia.
At that time I felt that I was at the crossroads of my career. I have to admit that there was some kind of dissatisfaction within me. That job burnout (and the search for that something I was missing) torched my soul and it was making me unhappy.
Then came the opportunity to teach here.
When I got settled, I finally figured out what was missing. I found out that with my being so busy with my administrative functions and my concurrent consulting and teaching duties, I was not able to attend to my other passion – WRITING.
In the Philippines, being a school administrator and a teacher at the same time require that you stay in the workplace, officially, for 8 hours a day. But most of the time, I would stay way beyond that, even if I wasn’t required to. It was just something that felt I ought to do. Sometimes I would even go to my office on Saturdays. With that hectic schedule, I could hardly find time to do what really makes me alive – writing poems, essays and stories.
That’s what makes teaching in South Korea different for me. It afforded me a lot of spare time which I could use to write. It gave me an opportunity to create (and maintain my own websites.) I was even able to write papers for presentations in international conferences and for publication in international journals. Something that, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do in the Philippines. Back then, I would be lucky if in a month I could write even just a single poem.
ESL teaching is part of the career-path I paved for myself. I really trained and prepared for this. I am a licensed English teacher in my country. As early as 2009, I was already thinking of coming to this country to teach. I also applied in universities in the Middle East but I was really hoping that it’s here (South Korea) where I would be given the opportunity to do ESL teaching.
My second (and last) reason for deciding to try teaching here (South Korea) has nothing to do with my career. At that time I was journeying to midlife. There were some personal demons that I ought to slay. It’s too personal to share. Suffice it to say that I needed space. I needed that entire space between the Philippines and South Korea to really get my bearings back.
Then my efforts paid off and my prayers answered. I was hired by a South Korean university in 2013.
God is really good. (Yes, I believe in the existence of God!) I got what I wanted – just teach and no more supervisory works. That gave me a lot of time to write. I was also able to squeeze myself out of a personal crisis. I wouldn’t have not done so had I opted to just stay in that air-conditioned principal’s office.
I am forever grateful to universities (like Hanseo University and Gyeoungju University) who believe that not only native speakers of English could (and should) teach the language – that qualified non-native English speakers could also excel in ESL teaching.
South Korea has become my second home and I would love to stay here to teach (and write) for as long as possible… if given the opportunity.