How did you like Korea?
The question most asked of me since returning to Canada
I never give a good answer because I always suspect they’re sadistically hoping that I hated it and I’ll tell them horrible stories about the other side of the world, confirm my undying love for Canada and reaffirm their comfort in never leaving the country, except that one time they took a cruise through the Caribbean.
I smile, I shrug, I say, “It was great,” and I leave it at that.
But the truth is, I woke up most mornings (or afternoons: I worked at a hagwon/private school), looked outside at the mountains peeking out from the crowds of apartment buildings, and thought, “How awesome is my life?”
Why you should go
It’s super, duper awesome! But let me explain:
People, people, people
Have you ever found yourself sitting down to dinner with a collection of Brits, Americans, Canadians, South Africans, Aussies, Koreans, and Kiwis? Because that was pretty much every Thursday night for me. It fulfilled a long-held dream to have friends from all over the world.
People are constantly coming to and leaving Korea and this forces you to make quick connections. It might seem like it’s all very shallow, but in spite of my now large and international circle of acquaintances, I also made deep friendships with people I only saw face-to-face for about six months of my entire life. I know them better than people I sat next to in high school every day for four years.
It’s true I wasn’t making millions. I was barely making tens of thousands. But life in Korea was rent-free and even with my student loan payments, this made the living easy. I spent my weekends busing it around Korea with IFX, a travel group based in Incheon, run by the very cool and laid-back Jeremy Giroir.
I also took off for day trips with coworkers and friends because it was cheap and fun. I saw cherry blossom festivals, huge burial mounds, a volcano, these absolutely awful “banana” spiders, stepped into the demilitarized part of North Korea, went to an arboretum in a snowstorm (this I would not recommend), played on inflatables at a mud festival and a thousand other small moments that would mean nothing to you but are worth the world to me.
Maybe I would have made more money if I’d finished that Canadian Securities Course they offered in my first job out of university, but I can’t say that I regret a single dollar that I didn’t earn because I went to Korea.
What do you want to do with your life?
I had this crazy idea when I was nineteen that I was going to figure this out in university.
My undergrad confused me more than anything. I was involved in Girl Guides, an outdoors club, a sorority, worked at a bookstore and a department store and studied English and History full-time. None of those things was exactly what I wanted to do and I used to get depressed and frustrated trying to figure it all out.
Then I graduated and worked at a securities firm because they needed someone and I was available. I hated this.
So, I went to Korea thinking that I didn’t care much for small children and the worst that would happen was I could come back and try to get back into the finance industry. Or go back to school. Or something.
But a wonderful, amazing thing happened:
Try Stuff Out and Get Adventurous
First of all, I really like working with kids. They have a wonderful sense of humour and playfulness that is refreshing in a world where everyone takes everything too seriously. I may never have realized this if I hadn’t gone to Korea and been fortunate enough to work with and around passionate teachers.
Secondly, I joined the Seoul Writers Workshop and started gaining some confidence that someone, somewhere was going to read what I wrote. I just had to put it out there.
Some of the people who have gone to this workshop are crazy talented, and I got to witness their writing process over the weeks and months. It was fascinating.
Thirdly – and this is the best part – I just started trying out anything that sounded remotely interesting. I learned to play netball, I started doing spoken word poetry, I went to trivia nights, watched baseball, hockey and soccer (football) games, did street painting, went to festivals, wrote half of a really terrible novel, went to film festivals, and generally had a great time. Some things I did over and over again and some things I abandoned pretty quickly because they didn’t fit for me.
Of course I could have done these things in Canada, but I didn’t. Being around people who also live in the spirit of adventure and new experiences means there is always someone to try something out with. And no one will think you’re odd for trying stuff out on your own.
Maybe you shouldn’t go: Some people should just stay home
No, really. The most annoying thing when you’re living abroad is the asshole who talks about how much better things are back home. Or complains that not enough people speak English. Or speaks about Koreans as a homogenous group (as in, “They think this,” “They feel that,” etc).
And it’s ok to have low points. I had days when Korea drove me crazy. But I still woke up amazed that I lived on the other side of the world from where I was born and raised.
Some people are just more comfortable at home. That’s ok. There are different ways to see the world – you don’t have to live abroad.
If you don’t want to go: I don’t actually think your life sucks
I genuinely don’t feel a great tug toward motherhood, home ownership or working in an office. But ten years ago I didn’t feel a tug toward doing homework, spending time with children or wearing sweatpants in public. I totally do all of those things now, often with pleasure.
So, while I don’t envy your life of marriage or parenthood, I believe that it’s valuable and I may want it one day. Right now I value working on a career that isn’t possible in my hometown and meeting people from all over the world.
If I get paid less than I would working a similar job in Canada, I’m content with that choice and I do actually have it “together,” in as much as any 28-year-old with an Arts degree can.
It’s such an individual choice, but if it’s something you’ve been thinking about doing, then do it. Go to Korea, go to Japan, go to Mexico, go wherever your imagination takes you. You can always come back and work in finance if that’s what you really want to do.
Your loves, your wants, your desires change and develop with each new experience, so take in as many as you can. If you feel stuck and stagnant where you are, then take that plunge and move forward.
Why give up the chance to wake up each morning thinking about how awesome your life is?
Follow me @SabrinaNemis