….as in “Why are you moving to Korea?”
This is by far the most common question we’ve been asked since we started telling our family and friends about our plans way back in August. Even though we’ve been to Korea twice before on holiday people still don’t really understand what it is about this mysterious country that keeps pulling us back. Some people seem confused about why we want to move abroad at all, and other specifically think it’s strange we would choose Korea, especially with everything that’s going on in the news. Also, while we’re on that note, if one more person says “North or South?” when we tell them we’re moving, my eyes might roll fully into the back of my head, and then I’ll really struggle teaching…
I feel as though when people ask me I usually get a bit flustered and defensive, which I don’t mean to. It just sort of feels like people can be quite judge-y when they ask, and it’s a bit disconcerting when people question your life choices right in front of you. I don’t think people would be as forward about saying “You’re getting MARRIED?! To HIM? Oh no, I wouldn’t do that.” Anyway, hopefully this post will more clearly some up the main reasons why we’re making this big life change, and why we’re doing it now.
1. For the Experience
Both Jod and I are going to be teaching English in a private elementary school in the city of Gwangju in South West Korea. We’re hoping to develop great skills as teachers and get experience working with children of all different ability levels. Seeing cute little kiddos progress in some cases from zero to conversational in a short space of time will be a great motivator for us to be the best teachers we can be, especially for Jod who wants to train to be a primary school teacher when we get back to the UK. As rewarding and challenging as we hope teaching will be, that’s just the start of the amazing experiences we’re aiming to have by living in Asia for a prolonged period of time.
Not many people in the West consider Korea a tourist destination but it has some of the most breathtakingly beautiful scenery you could imagine. From Buddhist temples high up in the mountains to pristine beaches and green tea fields that seem to go on for miles, there’s so much for us to explore. We hope to use our weekends off to travel around the country and have experiences nothing like those we’re used to – temple stays, camping weekends and island hopping are all on the agenda.
We’ll be lucky enough to get a few breaks from teaching each year and because of Korea’s central location within East Asia we should be able to knock a few other countries off our bucket list too. So far we’re considering Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Bali and of course China, but the choices are pretty limitless!
2. To Save Some Money
ESL teachers in Korea get a truly fantastic deal. Not only is the wage decent compared to working similar hours back in the UK (We’ll be earning 2.2million won/just over £1500 per month each) but taxes are lower, cost of living is cheaper and our rent will be completely free as our apartment is provided for us by our school. We also lucked out in getting a job where lunch is provided (that might not sound like much but imagine the savings over 2 years if you got a £3 meal deal every work day…) and within a short bus ride of our apartment. Public transport is incredibly cheap in Korea compared to the UK as is eating/drinking out, and this means we’re hoping to be able to live fairly comfortably off one salary while putting the other straight into savings. Two years should be enough time to pay off our debts, save for a deposit on a house and maybe even get a car when we arrive back in the UK. I’m sure there will be some months were we splurge and don’t save as much as we’d like, but hopefully we’ll be able to get ourselves in a more comfortable financial position fairly easily and have fun doing it.
3. To Meet New People
We’ve heard that the expat community in Gwangju is one of the best in Korea with tons of opportunities to meet people from all around the world. There are running clubs, yoga classes, hiking groups and volunteering opportunities at the local animal shelter, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. This is such a great chance for us to learn more about the world around us, and I haven’t even touched on the fact that Korea is a very sociable society in general. As our Korean language skills (hopefully) improve, we hope to integrate ourselves into the culture at our school and create some amazing memories and form friendships that we’ll hold onto for the rest of our lives.
4. For the Food
It’s definitely no secret that we’re both obsessed with food and Jeolla Province (where Gwangju is located) is famous for the quality and rich variety of its cuisine. We love Korean food and can’t wait to explore the amazing culinary heritage of this region, especially as eating out is so cheap and convenient that most apartments don’t even have ovens! Luckily traditional Korean food is pretty healthy with lots of vegetables, soups and stews, but there’s also a plethora of treats to enjoy on the weekends; from chocolate covered bingsu (shaved ice) in the summer to brown sugar syrup stuffed Hotteok (pancakes) on cold winter days.
5. Because we can
We’re still reasonably young (well, Jod is…), have no mortgage and no children. This is the best time for us to do something “crazy” before we settle down and figure out what we want to do with the rest of our lives. The world is full of bad news, but we would rather take a risk for a huge reward than play it safe and regret it forever. And anyway, as long as we have each-other we’ll always be at home, wherever we are in the world.