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My Journey to Being an ESL Teacher – WanderLang

My Journey to Being an ESL Teacher

I’ve posted a lot about travel lately, since it’s been Cody and my’s winter break. But this blog is about more than just travel, it’s about having an adventurous life and how I’m using being an ESL teacher and languages to do that. Although travel is a big part of my definition of “an adventurous life.” So today, I want to share the story of how I came to be sitting here in South Korea, teaching English to kids.

SaraZoolongBirds
Just a picture of me getting to be a Disney Princess at a Korean zoo. It has nothing to do with me getting to Korea, I just like it.

When I wrote the first draft of this post, it got kind of depressing really fast. And I don’t want to make it seem like I’ve lead some terrible, sad life, when there are people who have actual sad stories out in the world. So I’m just going to give you the Sparknotes version.

I went to a really good college and picked a major that I loved (Classical Civilizations with a focus on Ancient Rome), but that pretty much everyone told me would be useless. My college years have a lot of fun memories, but they were also four years that I spent feeling completely lost. Unsure of who I was, my place in the world, and what I wanted to do with my life, I battled depression and anxiety. All I wanted was to feel “good enough,” but I could never meet this invisible standard that I had created for myself.  I was just unhappy and didn’t see a way to fix it.

UofMGradPic
A picture from my graduation day.

For no real reason other than it had been “my plan” for a long time, I decided to go to law school. I started right after graduation (as in graduated Saturday, started law school classes on Monday), again not for any real reason, but I felt compelled to do so. I managed to survive it for a year, but I was completely miserable the entire time. So I left law school and moved back to my hometown. I got a job at a local bank, and things stayed that way for over a year. I was still unhappy and felt incredibly lost. I had no passion, no fire, and was drowning in depression.

Then came March of 2015. I had a week-long vacation scheduled and my plans had fallen apart the night before it started. So, rather than just sit at home for 7 days, I decided to pack a bag and drive somewhere I had never been before and hang out there for a few days by myself. Give that “soul searching” thing people are always talking about a try.

I ended up in Lansing, Michigan. Not super exciting as far as solo adventures go, but it ended up being an important step for me. I used my time in Lansing as a chance to do some self-discovery, and to try to figure out a path for myself. It was the first time I was really able to be on my own timetable, and I could do whatever I wanted whenever and for however long I wanted. I went to museums; went out on the town; took long walks around the city; and sat in a lot of coffee shops — reading, writing, and staring out the window a lot.

Murphy helping me research
My cat Murphy “helping” me research how to move overseas.

It was while I was sitting in one of those coffee shop that an amazing idea hit me: I wanted to see the world, starting with a move to Italy. Not just a visit, but go live abroad for a year. I had studied Ancient Rome in college, so why not go experience the modern land for myself? It was a chance for me to throw my invisible and un-meet-able standards out the window and experience the world.

I began researching how to make it happen immediately. After looking into possible jobs overseas, I decided that becoming an ESL teacher was what I wanted to do. I found an online Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) course and started getting some of my documents ready.

But Italy was not to be. At least, not yet. As I researched into moving costs and the process for finding ESL jobs, I started to notice a few problems. Namely, Italian language schools typically only hire teachers (with previous teaching experience) that are already in the country. Meaning I would have to move to Italy and hope that I could find a job that would hire me with no past experience, within the three month tourist visa I would be given upon landing, all while having to rent an apartment and live off of my savings while I job hunted (in a country with a high cost of living). It would take me ages to save up that kind of money, and I was anxious to get started on my new adventure. So I decided to table the idea of Italy for a while and see what other countries might offer.

It was at this point that Cody (who was just my friend at the time) mentioned the massive amount of ESL jobs available in Asia. Now that I was open to anywhere in the world, my options suddenly became a lot more affordable! I ended up picking South Korea, because they would interview me over Skype (rather than having to be in country), they typically pay for your flight to the country (and often your return flight home), and the wages are great (especially compared to the low cost of living). If you’re looking into becoming an ESL teacher, keep an open mind when it comes to the country. You will be surprised at the perks some of them offer.

So now I had picked my country, I had all my documents ready, I had started packing away my things for storage while I would be gone, all I needed was a job. I ended up getting a job at a private kindergarten in Busan, and I started teaching at the end of November 2015.

There were seven months between the time when I first decided to move overseas to the moment I actually started teaching English. In that time I had to handle getting all of my documents together; finding a teaching position; dealing with more documents for the work visa process; putting the majority of my belongings into storage; packing up the items I was taking with me; saying goodbye to my old home, my family, and my friends; and said hello to my new home, South Korea. It was stressful, but the whole time I could feel in my gut that I was making the right decision, and I felt a passion I had never felt before.

In future posts, I plan on writing posts on how to get a TEFL certificate and the other types of documents you’ll need for moving overseas. So stay tuned!

Moving to Korea to be an ESL teacher was my first step on my adventure. I have a few ideas where I might go in the future, but I’m letting my life flow where it will and enjoying all the sights I can along the way. All it takes is a decision to change something that makes you unhappy. Where will your adventure take you?

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