Leaving my Awesome Teaching Job in Korea: A Difficult Decision

This post is a short reflection on why I made the difficult decision to leave Korea and my awesome teaching job in Korea. Let us begin with a brief recap. In 2014 I went to Korea as an EPIK teacher. After one year of teaching in rural middle schools I was noticed by my local office of education and transferred into an awesome job in an awesome international language institute. After three happy years in this awesome teaching job, in 2018 I made the decision to leave Korea and to return back home to South Africa (after some travelling). I did this knowing that, as a South African teacher, my salary would be dramatically lower than it had been in Korea and there was no guarantee that I would ever be able to get back into the same awesome Korean job that I had previously enjoyed. When I speak to people today about the time I spent in Korea I have a hard time stopping myself from gushing about what an amazing experience it was. I loved the country, I loved the culture and I loved the experience of teaching in a variety of Korean contexts. Once I have said all of this, it is perhaps not surprising that I am very often asked why I decided to leave Korea and my awesome teaching job in Korea.

These big life decisions are probably influenced by a complex mix of rational considerations and less rational emotions. Without diving all the way into that complex tangle of thoughts and feelings, let me briefly outline the three main factors that I swayed my decision towards returning to South Africa.

Reason 1: Purpose and Being of Service

Finding joy and meaning in my work has always been really important to me. Teaching is not glamorous work. If one hopes to find a sense of joy and purpose in teaching, one must look towards those small but significant differences that one is able to make in people’s lives from the position of a teacher. After four years of teaching in Korea I came to feel that, for me to really make a meaningful contribution to the world as a teacher, the best place for me to be teaching would be back home in South Africa.

Reason 2: Professional Growth and Career Progression

After four years of teaching in Korea I reached a point where I felt that, if I was going to continue to grow as a teacher, I would need to get out of my comfort zone again and start wrestling with new sets of challenges. I had become quite comfortable in my life and in my job, and although there are always opportunities for challenge and growth if one seeks them out (and of course I do try!), it does help if one can throw oneself into something entirely new.

As much as I loved teaching in Korea, in most cases there are not very many opportunities for career progression – especially if one finds oneself embedded in the ESL world. Looking around me I could see expat English teachers in Korea who had been in basically the same position for most of their adult lives. Teaching in Korea is a wonderful thing to do and I can understand why someone would want to stick at it; but in my case, it seemed important to progress towards something new.

Reason 3: Building a (Relatively) Stable Network of Friends

Another reason I left Korea is because I wanted to be in a place where it would be a little easier to build up a relatively stable network of friends. While living in Korea I met the most amazing people and I was fortunate to become part of social groups and communities that massively contributed to my sense of joy and belonging. However, the majority of my friends were internationally-minded Koreans or semi-nomadic expats – i.e. people who tend not to stay in one place for too long. Over the four years I spent in Korea it seemed impossible to build up a stable network of people; instead I was constantly having to re-build as the friends I made moved on to new destinations. Of course this has become a fairly common problem from young adults around the world today; it is not a problem that is unique to expats living in Korea. But it became apparent to me that if I wanted to have more enduring relationships, it would help if I was in a place where young people are generally less likely to move country every year or two.

In Conclusion…

I still miss Korea. I miss my job. I miss the culture. I miss the places where I used to spend my time. I miss my friends terribly. Korea took me in and treated me with so much love and kindness. I am so extremely grateful for everything Korea has given me: the opportunities, the lessons, the beautiful experiences and memories. I would love to live and teach in Korea again one day – ideally with a job that comes with more opportunity for career progression and professional development. But for now, I feel that the next chapter in my life and career must be back in South Africa.

I leave you with some beautiful contemporary culture and scenery from a country that will always have a special place in my heart.

And it wouldn’t be complete without some…

That’s all for today. Catch you next time