Why Did I Decide To Come To South Korea?

As my 9th year here in South Korea started a few days ago, I tried to recall what made me want to come to this part of the world. It was not fate that brought me here. It was a conscious decision made after many nights of contemplation and prayers.

So, why did I travel to the Land of the Morning Calm?

The reason I decided to venture into ESL teaching here in South Korea was not that there were no teaching jobs available in the Philippines. As a matter of fact, I had to cut short my work in my country back in 2013 to come here. At that time, I was employed as  Principal of a basic education institution. To earn extra, I also worked as a part-time college instructor  and as an academic consultant in another school.

I had no problem finding jobs in the Philippines.

So, what made me decide to teach here?

Firstly, I suffered from severe “job burnout”. I got so tired of being a school administrator and a teacher at the same time. I desired to go back to full-time teaching.

I started doing supervisory works in 1994 at 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. From there I became a college dean in another school then principal in a basic education institution. From 1994 to early 2013 I was a school administrator and a teacher at the same time.

I really got tired of supervising people and doing administrative works. I felt sick about it. I felt sick with the politics involved in supervising and managing employees. My last two years as a school administrator were terrible and horrible, particularly the penultimate one. How I wish I could go into details.

I wanted to go back to just being a teacher. That’s the reason I applied for a teaching job in South Korea. I was hired. My getting hired also proved that the notion “that only native speakers of English could (and should) teach ESL in South Korea” is but a myth. The truth is some of them could not and should not teach.

It was that “job burnout” that got me seeking for a job opportunity overseas. Not that I wanted a greener pasture.  I would be branded a hypocrite if I say I don’t need higher pay. But I was somewhat satisfied with the salary I was receiving at that time. It was good enough that I and my wife could save then, later on, buy a small parcel of land and had a house built. My family and I could even enjoy some of the luxuries in life, travel if we wanted.

Of course, I was (and more so now) happier and more satisfied with my monthly pay in this country when I came. 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 60% less in terms of hours. Do the math. That basic (K to 12) education school where I was Principal 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. Burnout torched my soul and I was really unhappy. There was something missing.

Then came the opportunity to teach here.

When I got settled, I finally figured out what was missing. Because I was so busy with my administrative functions and was teaching at the same time, I was not able to attend to my other passion…WRITING.

In the Philippines, being a school administrator and 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 I felt I ought to do. Sometimes I would even go to my office on Saturdays and Sundays. With that hectic schedule, I could hardly find time to write poems, essays and stories… much less do research.

That’s what makes teaching in South Korea different (and a blessing) for me. It allowed me to have a lot of spare time which I could use to write.  I was even able to write papers for presentations in international conferences and for publication in international journals. Something that, unfortunately, I couldn’t do in the Philippines. Back there I would be lucky if in a month I could write even just a single poem. Here, after 8 years, I have written a lot, as in hundreds of them. I had them published in my  two websites (madligaya.com and chingligaya.wordpress.com). I even found time to pursue my interest in personal growth and development. And that worked more wonders for me.

ESL teaching is part of the career-path I paved for myself. I really trained and prepared for this. As early as 2009, I was already thinking of coming to this country to become an English teacher. I applied also to schools in the Middle East  but it was my dream that I would be given the opportunity to do ESL teaching here.  After my rejections by 2 universities in the Middle East, I didn’t lose hope of eventually landing a job as an English teacher overseas. True enough, in 2013, a university here in South Korea, believed that I have the necessary qualifications to teach English.

I did not become an English teacher overnight or by accident. I did not teach because there are no other jobs available. I chose to be a teacher.

I am a licensed English teacher in the Philippines. I passed the Licensure Examination for Teachers  2003. I was required by the RVM sisters to take it (and I am thankful that they did.) Then in 2010, notwithstanding my busy schedule, I enrolled in a certification class in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages).

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. Midlife crisis is a real thing. It isn’t a myth. There were some personal demons that I had to slay. It’s too personal to share. Let me just say that I am not proud of those decisions I made during those times. 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… to bring back sanity to my existence. Let me just concude this paragraph with this… Romans 8:28.

Then my efforts paid off and my prayers answered. I was hired by a South Korean university in 2013.

God is really good. 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 that personal crisis and take the road to self-improvement more seriously. I wouldn’t have not done so had I opted to just stay in that principal’s office in the Philippines.

My journey as a teacher continues. This is my 33rd year as a teacher – 24 years in the Philippines and on to my  9th year here in South Korea.

As Seth Godin said, “Do what you love and love what you do.”

What I do that I love is writing and what I love that I do is teaching.

To God be the Glory!

About M.A.D. LIGAYA

Teacher-Writer-Lifelong Learner M, A, and D are the initials of my two first names (Massuline and Antonio) and my mother's family name (Dupaya). Ligaya (a Filipino word which means happiness in English) is my family name. MAD is actually one of my nicknames aside from Tony and Ching. My full name is Massuline Antonio Dupaya Ligaya. Many times I was asked the question "Why do you write?" I don't write for material rewards nor adulation. When I write poems, stories, and essays, when I do research, the process of creating them gives me immense joy and seeing them completed brings me great satisfaction. I don't write for cash incentives, "likes," and "praises." I would be thankful should I get those but the happiness and sense of fulfillment I get while doing them and completing my works are my real rewards. Is teaching difficult? No! When I teach, I don't work but I play. My educational philosophy - "The classroom is my playground, the students are my playmates, and the subject is our toy." I am a lifelong learner too. My daily goal is to be better than I was yesterday. It's difficult, but it's worth the try. It's not for what I get from doing it but for what I become. Proud to be me! Proud to be a FILIPINO! TO GOD BE THE GLORY!

Posted on March 4, 2021, in My Personal Experiences, Personal Essay, Teaching in South Korea and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. It’s great to be able to turn one’s vocation into one’s hanapbuhay. My wife was a teacher in the Philippines and my mother in law was a college professor but they were forced to move abroad

    Liked by 1 person

    • I read Seth Godin’s book entitled “Linchpin.” His articulation about work and hobby is very interesting. It’s something like a hobby is the “something we love that we should do” and work is the “something we do that we should love.” The hobby is our source of happiness and work is the source of our income. But we can always make both hobbies and work as the sources of both.

      Liked by 1 person

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