The writer is Waterford resident.This column appeared in The Spotlight's "Point of View" section in the Sept. 14 editions.
A year and a half ago, I wrote a three-piece series for The Spotlight’s Point of View column about my experiences around the world and back during a Semester at Sea, where I lived and studied on a ship. I got the chance to travel to 11 different countries in the course of four months with 520 other students, and I was lucky enough to share my adventures with you back home.
Now that I have graduated from the University at Albany with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology, I am off again for yet another adventure around the world. This time, instead of traveling place to place with others, I am moving on my own to South Korea to teach English for a year.
All the other times I spent abroad, it was only for a week or so at a time in each country. This time, I will be living among the locals, trying my best to learn the language and culture. And even though it’s teaching English that got me a job in South Korea, I am hoping to use this experience in my future to help others and rebuild communities that have been destroyed all over the world.
Many of the students, even before the age of 14, are attending school from 8 a.m. to 10:30 at night.
In South Korea I will be living in Incheon, which is the fourth largest city in the country, and only 30 minutes from the capitol, Seoul. The school is a Private Hagwon, with three English teachers and four Korean teachers. Together we will be teaching students between the ages of 5 and 14. I will be focusing on teaching Kindergarten along with a Korean teacher, as well as a couple of night classes for middle schoolers. The school system is very different in South Korea. You are constantly being graded, and if you don’t do well in kindergarten then you won’t make it into a good public school. And once graduating from grade school, even with good grades in a decent public school, you won’t make it into a good middle school and so on. So even from kindergarten, schooling is very important. So important that many students go to a public school during the day, a hagwon in the late afternoon and most of the times even another hagwon at night or a private teaching lesson. Many of the students, even before the age of 14, are attending school from 8 a.m. to 10:30 at night.
I’m not too nervous about moving to another country on my own. In fact, I’m not even thinking about it really. When I was accepted into the Semester At Sea program, I didn’t think about what it would be like because I didn’t want any preconceived expectations. I had never been abroad before so I didn’t know what to expect, and in a way I didn’t want to know what to expect. I have, however, looked into what not to do in a specific country because the last thing I wanted was to insult another culture. All I wanted to do was just have an open mind when I entered a country, and not compare what life was really like there to what I had Googled or read about previously. The same goes for when I move to South Korea. I had a very short timespan in which to sign the contract. In just a day, I had to make up my mind if I wanted to move there or not.
A day after I signed the contract, I admit I started second-guessing my decision, but after that, I realized that the only reason I wouldn’t want to go is because I felt guilty for leaving my family, and I felt too comfortable to leave. I chose to sign that contract because it will help me in my future, and I will gain from my experiences, good and bad.
This will be the hardest year of my 22 years of life so far, but really it’s up to me to make it the greatest.