Seoul Searching – July 2010

Paleontologist. Actress. Dog breeder. Actress. Olympic Champion. Actress.

Those were the things I wanted to be when I was growing up. By grade 8, I had a very clear image of where I would be at 25.

I’m nearing 25 now, and the life I live now is nowhere near what I expected. The only thing that seems remotely close to it is the fact that it’s still a far cry from normal.

When I was 22, I ran off to Japan straight out of university to teach English. It was, at this point, the defining moment in my life. I talk about my time there constantly, and I learnt a lot. But, if you think the recession in Canada was bad, Japan was worse. I came home with 2 yen to my name, and the feeling of running home with my tail between my legs, having to leave 16 months after arriving instead of the 3 years I had been hoping for.

So now I’m here, 2 years later, starting another adventure. While Japan still seems to be recovering, and the English market seems oversaturate, I hear Korea simply can’t get enough of English. So I’ve been applying to South Korea. Already, I’ve been fielding offers, being reminded of just how overwhelming this process can be.

Luckily, Japan taught me a lot of lessons.

It’s so easy to feel the pressure when job offers start coming in. You want to go over right away, and you’re worried this could be the only offer. It’s so hard to remind yourself that the English market in Asia is huge, and if you have just a bit of credentials behind you, you can be as picky as you like.

With me, my requests are pretty straight forward. I’d like to work in a middle school or a high school, and I’d like to live within an hour of Seoul, preferably close to a subway station.

Of course, all my offers so far have been in elementary schools well over an 1.5 hours from Seoul. I figure the elementary school situation is because I have 16 months experience in one, but I want to try something new. I’ve had a few offers for private companies (known as hagwons in Korean, or eikaiwas in Japan) but I learnt quickly that you have to be really careful with those places. It’s business first, English lessons second. My personal preference is to avoid them like the plague.

I find though, that the most important thing about going overseas is learning to trust your gut feeling. When I was in Japan, I ignored it, and regretted it. This time, I want to do Korea right.

Rebecca Bredin is an ESL teacher who taught in Japan in an elementary school. She is currently in the process of being hired to a public school in South Korea. To follow along with her time overseas, please check