In my first “Letter from South Korea,” we covered off the basics of who, what, when and why Meaghan Harrison chose to leave Canada and teach English overseas. Now, in Part 2, we can learn a bit more about this experience on a personal level.
You’ve been in South Korea for six months now … what’s been the most challenging aspect so far?
The most challenging is just the day-to-day life. The majority of Koreans don’t know English, so basic things like going out to eat can be made difficult. You have to plan your actions much more carefully. If you walk into a Korean restaurant and do not know how to order something in Korean (in most restaurants there are no menus anyway), then you probably aren’t going to get any food. Although living here can be challenging at times, it really is a learning experience and has made me respect and admire immigrants in Canada much more.
The most rewarding?
The kids! I was going to put them in the most challenging aspect of Korea, but really they have given me the most rewards. When I started school in the beginning of March, the kids knew some broken English and I had to constantly tell them to stop speaking Korean. Now most of the kids do not speak any Korean at school, they can write and they can read sentences. They truly amaze me. Although some days can be so challenging, they can always make me laugh at least once a day! In Korea, it is totally acceptable to be very playful and loving with your kids as a teacher, in fact it is expected. It is so nice to be able to pick them up, hug them and kiss them. I will miss that if I ever teach in Canada.
The most fun?
To be able to work at a job I love and respect. I have never had a job that I truly enjoyed like this. It makes every day fun.
The most bizarre?
I think just being a ‘foreigner’ is the most bizarre. People stare at you no matter where you go. One time I was on the subway and I saw a man taking a picture of me with his cellphone, trying to pretend he was texting. It is a very strange feeling to stand out, and it doesn’t necessarily feel good. I don’t think it is really rude to stare in Korea, so people will literally just sit with their eyes on you non-stop. The younger Korean people are very nice, in my experience; but some of the older Korean people don’t understand why we are here and can make that very clear (sometimes using negative words for white people). Basically being a foriegner anywhere must feel bizarre, this is just my fist experience with it.
You are there with you husband. Do you think you would have made this choice if you were travelling alone?
I know I would have made the same decision if I was alone. I always wanted to travel, this is just one way to do it. Having said that, my husband has made this experience ten times more fun and easy. We always have each other no matter what, which makes living in a new country much easier than it is for most people. Many people come to Asian countries to live and end up feeling very alone and isolated, because I have my husband I can avoid that kind of homesickness. We have been able to share the ups and downs together and I feel so lucky to have him here by my side.
How do you spend your free time?
What we like to do most is have good food and be with good people. When you eat Korean food, it is a very social activity. All the food on the table is to be shared, and it can take many hours to finish. It is definitely my favourite thing to do here.
When you complete this experience, what do you hope you can walk away with?
So many things … I will have a better opportunity to get into good schools for teaching, as many of them see experience as a requirement for acceptance. I will have a better understanding for different cultures, specifically how difficult it is to live in an unknown country. I have also seen a side of my husband I didn’t know existed. How giving and gentle he is with the children, has made me love him even more. A deeper appreciation for Canada and all the space and beauty we have. And finally, I hope to walk away with money in my bank account and to be debt-free!