This guest post is written by Linda. I first met Linda, during the one day tour of the Garden of Morning Calm and Petite France in South Korea. It has been over a year since our first meeting. During that time we have bonded over our love of travel, food, and family stories. Below is her inspiring journey of moving and finding employment in Korea.
It took me over two years to make it to Korea. In 2012, I was feeling desperately stuck in a rut, stagnant. I knew that I needed to do something different. It was getting to a point where not doing anything and continuing to live the same life was scarier than making a leap into the unknown.
Why Korea? I have always had an interest in Korea because my parents are Korean. Although I was born and grew up in the U.S., I never felt fully accepted as an American. I wanted to connect with my ancestral roots and relatives in Korea. I found myself getting emotional reading blogs about people who had moved to Korea and wishing I could do the same. In my gut, I knew that somehow I had to go there. It wasn’t a decision I made so much as it was a calling that I had to fulfill.
But I had some obstacles to overcome. First, I needed to find a job in Korea. Second, I needed to get past some mental blocks.
At that time, I had been working as a librarian for the past several years so I searched for library jobs in Korea, but they were few and far between. Since I was not totally fluent in Korean, I was limited to jobs for English speakers. There were some librarian jobs at international schools, but I didn’t have the teaching certification that most of the jobs required. In addition, many schools were Christian and seeking employees of that faith, so that also narrowed down my options.
Finally, I found a school librarian job that I could apply for. I was interviewed and offered the job! However, there was a catch – they wanted me to teach English in addition to being a librarian. I lacked the confidence to do this and worried about moving to Korea on my own. After some tearful deliberation, I turned the job down.
That experience led me to realize that I shouldn’t try to make myself dive in headfirst; rather, I needed to start with dipping my toe in the water. The fact was, I had never even lived outside of my home state and had always lived within an hour of my parents’ home.
I signed up to volunteer at a summer workcamp in Korea for two weeks. That summer, I traveled abroad by myself for the first time and worked with other volunteers at Yangdong Village, a UNESCO World Heritage site near Gyeongju. This experience helped me gain the courage to eventually take the dive and move to Korea.
I continued to research jobs in Korea and found that most of them were for English teaching, but I was hesitant to apply for these jobs because I felt they were for younger people in their twenties. Also, I still wasn’t ready to give up my career as a librarian which I had spent two years in grad school preparing for, and I felt guilty about thinking of quitting a full-time job in my field at a time when so many people were struggling to find stable employment.
Unable to find librarian jobs in Korea, I applied for a job at a university to be an English test editor. I thought this seemed more “professional” than a hagwon job. Although I had an interview, I wasn’t offered the job. Next, I turned my sights to the EPIK program which places native English teachers in Korean public schools. Again, I applied but didn’t even make it to the interview stage!
Eventually, I enrolled in a course to get a TESOL certificate. I spent time searching websites such as Dave’s ESL Cafe and started getting used to the idea of working in an English language hagwon. I gathered a number of documents and applied for an F4 visa that would allow me to live and work in Korea. I got a background check done and documents apostilled in preparation to apply for an English-teaching job.
During this time, I found inspiration in a blog post on Kimchibytes called: “Too Old to Teach Abroad? Meet the ESL Teachers Over 30.” I began to shed the ideas of what I should do and realized that I didn’t need to justify my life choices to anyone.
In 2014, I was searching Dave’s ESL Cafe and entered the keyword “librarian” as I did every so often in hopes that something would be there, and this time there was! A relatively new international school in Korea was hiring several teachers and a librarian.
I immediately emailed to inquire about the position and received a reply that it was still open and did not require a teaching certificate; a master’s degree in library science and work experience in a library would be enough. That night, I pulled an all-nighter preparing my application materials and eventually I got the job!
I was 33 years old when I finally moved to Korea. Almost four years later, I have zero regrets and plan to stay at least another year. I have certainly met with challenges during my time in Korea, but the personal growth I’ve experienced by coming here has been invaluable to me. Although in the end, I was lucky to find a job in my career field, it didn’t happen until I was ready to give it up. It was not a smooth journey, but with patience, perseverance, and luck, I was able to follow my heart to Korea.
About The Author!
This guest post and all photos are provided by Linda, a school librarian currently living in South Korea.
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