So you’re ready to catch a flight across the world to teach english? Here’s how our journey began in Korea and what you can expect as you start your own adventure
You’ve signed the contract, it’s time to leave your friends and family to fly across the globe and start a job that you’ve got no experience in – it’s a scary thought right?
It feels like only yesterday that Dave and I were saying an emotional goodbye to our parents at the airport (well, mine was an emotional goodbye; Dave’s was a quick kiss on the cheek from his mom and a pat on the back from his dad. I on the other hand spent ten minutes at the departure gate trying to escape the tight grip of a very tearful mother whilst my dad put on a brave face holding back the tears – oh the joys of being an only child.)
The journey from the UK to Seoul was going to take around sixteen hours, with a quick changeover in Istanbul. I felt surprisingly calm during the flights considering I had no idea what was waiting for us once we arrived in Korea.
Everything had happened so quickly – less than six weeks ago we had a fifteen minute Skype interview and thirty minutes later we were offered a job. The following day we signed the contracts, and now we’re on a plane travelling halfway across the world to start an epic adventure teaching english in Korea.
Why did you choose South Korea? Aren’t you worried about North Korea? But you have no teaching experience? How are you going to teach english when you can’t speak Korean?
These were just a handful of questions that family and friends had been firing at us for the past month. The answer was quite simple: I don’t know. With only half an hour to go before landing, it finally started to dawn on me that they could be right. Will it all go to shit and are we going to be on a flight back home next week because this teaching malarkey just wasn’t for us? The truth was we had no idea what was in store for us after we stepped off that plane, but there was no turning back now.
Incheon Airport – clean and efficient. That was my first impression as I tried to digest my new surroundings as we disembarked the plane and went through customs. Of course, something had to go wrong. We’d been in Korea for less than an hour when we encountered our first problem – Dave’s suitcase hadn’t made it. It wasn’t funny at the time – believe me – but looking back now I wish I had taken a photo of Dave’s face once he realised that his case wasn’t going to be joining us.
It was at this moment that it hit me; our phones didn’t work, we couldn’t speak a lick of Korean and we had absolutely no idea of the address of our apartment or even the school that we were going to be working in. The only information we had was the email address of our recruiter, Jenn. We didn’t even know her surname.
Had we made a huge mistake in thinking we were going to be able to survive in this alien country?
Luckily for us, the customer service team were super helpful and their english was much better than our Korean. We managed to get in contact with Jenn and after lots of pointing and google translating, we were left hopeful that Dave’s suitcase would catch up with us over the next few days, wherever that may be.
Now for the next challenge, getting from the airport to Cheongju – the city we were going to be calling home for the next twelve months. As we finally walked through arrivals, there was an old guy waiting for us holding a small sign with our names on. He couldn’t speak any english so conversation simply comprised of a few awkward smiles. He presented us with two bus tickets and pointed in the direction of the bus stop, talk about a quick meet and greet.
At last the final leg of our journey was upon us; a three hour bus ride from Incheon Airport to Cheongju. Our recruiter assured us that MiHo, our soon-to-be manager from school (who’d never spoken to) would be waiting for us at the bus terminal.
We were the only Westerners on the bus, but to my surprise we weren’t getting any funny looks. Getting stared at was something that I’d gradually become accustomed to whilst visiting other countries in Asia, especially being blonde. As the bus pulled out of the station, everything seemed relatively normal. No huge culture shock yet, I thought.
As I stared out the window it finally dawned on me that I really had no idea what to expect about our new life in Korea. We didn’t have a back up plan, we’d pinned everything on liking our new teaching jobs. If things didn’t work out, it was going to be a little embarrassing heading home a month after our big ‘leaving do.’ Sure we’d spent hours reading travel blogs, TEFL books, and the lonely planet’s ‘guide to Korea,’ but nothing quite prepares you for your own journey in a new country.
Much to our relief, MiHo was waiting for us as we pulled into Cheongju bus terminal. I wondered how she would recognise us, but as I looked around I quickly realised we were the only Westerners in the terminal, sticking out like a sore thumb. Not to mention we must’ve looked bloody awful after almost a day of travelling. She greeted us with a hand shake and a friendly smile and introduced us to her brother who was waiting in the car. Between the four of us we made enough small talk in broken english to last the duration of the car journey to our new town, Ochang.
I remember sitting in the back of the car and laughing to myself, ‘you should never get into a car with strangers,’ I thought, as I looked out of the window knowing absolutely nothing about these people and having no idea where they were taking us..
You guessed right – we weren’t kidnapped. I felt a sense of relief as we passed a number of restaurants, shops, bars and coffee houses as we drove into Ochang, the small town where we were going to be living and teaching. We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at our apartment, don’t get me wrong – it’s far from luxury, but it’s the first place me and Dave will have lived in together and it was going to be our ‘home’ for the next twelve months.
Finally we had arrived! Apart from the mishap with Dave’s suitcase, everything had gone pretty smoothly and we were feeling positive about our new life in Korea. If you’re still reading – thanks! But really; I guess all this post was trying to say is that sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone.
Stop putting it off – take the job and get on that flight. It might be the best decision you ever make, I know it was for us.
Any questions, please get in touch and I’ll do my best to answer them. If you’re interested in teaching in Korea, click here to read our post about how to get a job in Korea.