I’m home again! It’s been a whole year since I was in Scotland, for last Christmas, and I still find it crazy that I was away for so long. My time here is brief though, as I’m around for just over a week before I have to fly back to Korea over New Year. It would have been nice to have a little longer, and maybe celebrate Hogmanay at home, but my school only takes 3 days off for Christmas, and I already requested to take 3 extra on top of that, to have a little more time at home, so taking anymore would have been really pushing my luck. A week is better than nothing at all though, and on top of the usual Christmas and Boxing Day celebrations, my granny is turning ninety on Christmas Eve, so I really wanted to be back for that. Anyways, this seemed like a good time to write up another update about how things are going in Korea so far. It’s not a “Term One” update, like last year’s from Hong Kong, as the school doesn’t really have terms – all our holidays are so short, that it’s really just one massive school year!
Since I lived in Hong Kong before coming to Korea, I can’t help but continue to compare them, both being developed Asian countries, and I have to say, Hong Kong is still winning so far. Everyone has their own opinion of course, but a friend of a friend also worked in Korea and Hong Kong and said the same thing. Hong Kong had so much going on, I met some great friends, my school had it’s problems but was fairly relaxed about my work, my students were so lovely and well-behaved, and although I complained about how busy it was sometimes, it was a city that I generally enjoyed living in. None of this is to say that it’s bad living in Korea; it’s just not as good as Hong Kong was. I don’t regret switching countries though, as it’s allowing me to experience somewhere new, and I was never going to stay in HK permanently, so it’s easier to leave before getting too settled.
Anyway, to get more specific; Busan is a nice enough place to live, and I’m very glad to be near the ocean and to hills and countryside areas. I’ve gone on a few hikes and long walks now, and been to the beach a couple of times, which is all great. The city itself though, while it does have plenty of amenities and an abundance of shopping and restaurants and such, just feels a little flat, and a little boring to me. I have been able to travel around the country a bit though, and seen some lovely places, as the nature here is quite beautiful (my Chuseok trip is a favourite so far), and they put on some great festivals and events, like the massive Busan Fireworks Festival. However, while I absolute do not want to stereotype, and I have met some lovely people here, Koreans in general keep to themselves, which results in behaviour that can feel quite rude to foreigners. As I said in my previous post too, I take strong issue with the emphasis placed on physical appearance here, which I just keep noticing more and more, and is troubling to see evident in such young children. They are also largely reluctant to practice the English that is drummed into them at school, which makes it more difficult for us. I know, I’m living in their country and perhaps should make an effort to learn more Korean, but it’s surprising given how much emphasis they put on education and learning English here. I have made some good friends here though, but since we all work in different places and I met them in different ways, I tend to hang out with each of them individually, so there isn’t that sort of group camaraderie we had in HK. I’m glad to have them though of course, and I’ve never been one to have a huge social circle anyway.
Work is a mixed bag, and there are good days and bad. I’m very glad to have fellow foreigners at work. It makes it a little easier when we can vent to each other, or help each other out, and just have each other to chat to (though most of the Korean teachers do have very good English), and we often get dinner or something together after work every now and then. My co-teacher has also been very nice to me, and we’ve been chatting more often now, and she’s quite lenient about what she expects me to do, as long as the kids get enough work done and I help her out as required. She was very nice when I informed her about my extra days off! Most of the staff are pretty nice, but the school as a whole can be disorganised and there is an astonishing lack of communication. I’m grateful they allowed me extra days off, but they didn’t make it easy, insisting I find and pay for a native speaking substitute, and threatening to let me go when I was struggling to find one (I actually only found cover for one of the days the day beforehand, just a few hours before I left!). I don’t mind having lots of classes, but the pressure to complete the books is a bit intense! I also don’t mind the events and field trips as much as before, since I don’t have to do all that much most of the time, and although our Halloween party was exhausting, it’s over with now! The students are still nowhere near as well behaved as my kids last year, and while there are still some classes that I dislike and I want to tear my hair out after their lessons, others have grown on me, in particular my two main kindergarten classes. All the foreign staff had to attend a seminar recently, and it was nice to see how excited my students were when I came back into the school later in the day after being out for the morning – hopefully I’ll get a similar response again after being missing for three whole days!
All in all, things are fine, but not great. I’m still very grateful and aware of how fortunate I am to even have the opportunity to live and work in another country, and I still enjoy learning more about this country and its culture. However, while there are many foreigners who end up staying in Korea for years, because they enjoy it so much, I will not be one of them. I’m content enough to stick out the year, and save up a bit of money for some more travelling when I’m done, but that’s all. I am much happier and more settled than when I first arrived – I was hating everything back then! – which is mostly because I’m used to my routine and how things are here, and I’ve made some friends now. I’m looking forward to exploring some more parts of the country too, but I won’t be sticking around after my year is up, and HK is still my favourite so far, and I doubt that will change.