Why Did I Decide To Come To South Korea?


As I begin my 9th year here in South Korea, I tried to recall the reasons why I decided to come here. But it was not fate that brought me here. It was a conscious decision made after days of contemplation and prayers. So, what brought me here?

I decided to try ESL teaching here in South Korea not because there were no teaching jobs available in the Philippines then. As a matter of fact, I had to cut short my work in my country back in 2013 to come here. 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 a severe “job burnout”. I got so tired 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 supervising people and doing administrative works. I felt sick about it. 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 which proved that the notion “that only native speakers of English could teach ESL in South Korea” is but a myth.

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 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 60% less in terms of hours. 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.

Then came the opportunity to teach here.

When I got settled, I 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 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 write poems, essays and stories… much less do research.

That’s what makes teaching in South Korea different 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 and they are published in my  two websites (madligaya.com and chingligaya.wordpress.com).

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 hope 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. I am a licensed English teacher in the Philippines. I passed the Licensure Examination for Teachers  2003. Then in 2010, notwithstanding my busy schedule, I enrolled for 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. 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. 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 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!

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