My name is Bethany Lacy, and I will be a teacher in South Korea in less than a month. This particular course of my journey came around in the last few weeks, but the adventure to live abroad has been a long while in the making.
I have always loved traveling and learning about different cultures. The first time I traveled abroad was in 2009. I went to Japan for a short weekend trip. I didn’t know a single soul in Tokyo and I had an extremely elementary grasp on the Japanese language. I survived my day and a half alone in Japan. More than that, I enjoyed every second away from the American hustle and bustle. Japan was new and different, yet comforting. I was half a world away from home, but I felt as comfortable wandering the streets in Harajuku as I would have watching Netflix at home in my pajamas. This traveling abroad thing was no sweat.
I have been to Japan twice more since my initial visit, and I have traveled to Spain and Costa Rica. I love the thrill I get from immersing myself in different cultures, in different ways of life. I also love how the people in these different cultures are similar to people I know in the United States. The world is a wonderful place that stretches out much further than the American borders. I feel like too many Americans fail to realize how amazing the rest of the world is and how much we can learn from others.
Before I go into how I decided to teach abroad, I should expand on my working conditions leading up to my application to South Korea. In November of 2012, I accepted my first big girl job relevant to one of my bachelor degrees. I began working as a radio host at a local radio station while simultaneously taking masters courses and teaching undergraduate students. I became more and more involved in my radio job until it consumed every aspect of my life. I worked six days a week; some weeks I would work 58 hours. There was a span of 48 days when I only had two days off. I loved radio work, and I still do. I loved speaking to my listeners on the air; I loved keeping them updated during severe weather conditions; I loved covering meetings and events. I hated who I did all this for. I hated that I worked full-time hours for part-time wage. I hated that people I trained, who didn’t have any prior experience in radio (I was my college radio station’s station manager for a year before I landed the job and had been a student deejay for five years), were receiving the same hourly pay as I was. I hated that we had a skeleton crew and that I was at the station completely by myself for hours on end. I hated that I couldn’t take any sick or vacation days. I hated that I had to work every single holiday (Christmas and New Year’s Day included) for the same rate as a normal working day. I hated that my employers took advantage of me because I loved my job and my audience so much. I hated that I let the employers use me.
I decided early on that I would leave my job at the radio station as soon as I received my master’s degree from my university. I told my employers in March 2013 that I would be resigning from my position in December. I reminded them in October that I would be resigning. In November I told them my last day would be December 15. The week before my last day, my employer called me and asked me if I would stay on for an extra few weeks because they had failed to find someone to replace me. I graduated with my master’s degree on December 20th. They still hadn’t interviewed anyone for my position. I had two of my radio students come to the station to fill out applications. Another week went by. The owners finally called my two radio students for interviews. Realistically, the station needed two new people to take up my workload. The employer only hired one of the students. I had two days to train the new employee before my newly appointed last day- December 31st.
As I stated before, I loved radio. I loved everything about it except the people who owned my station and how they treated employees and people in general. I loved radio, but I needed a break. I had been tossing the idea of teaching abroad around in my mind for a couple of months before my graduation. I did the necessary reconnaissance. I knew a girl who had recently come back stateside after teaching in Seoul for a year. I messaged her for information. I also messaged one of the directors of my university’s International and Multicultural Student Services Office (IMSSO) to see if he had any recommendations for me. Both of them recommended the website Dave’s ESL Café (www.eslcafe.com). I checked it out briefly, but hadn’t decided to pursue a job in teaching abroad. My graduation day came, and I decided enough was enough. I was ready for a change. I was ready to completely put myself in an unfamiliar culture. I was ready to commit to teach abroad.
I went to Dave’s ESL Café and browsed through the recruiting companies on the South Korea board. I clicked on various links to see which companies had the best job offerings, but one company stood out to me: OK Recruiting. Maybe it was the way their title text cheerily wished everyone a merry Christmas and how as a Christmas present they had more than a hundred job offers, maybe it was the fact they had so many different schools, maybe it was because they provided links. Whatever it was, I was drawn to OK Recruiting. I sent them an e-mail with my information after spending a few hours looking at different companies (only to come back to OK again and again). Most of the recruiting companies required the same information on the initial e-mail. I needed to submit a recent picture of myself, my resume, age group and location preferences, and my earliest start date. I told the recruiting company that I didn’t have a preference for age groups, but I did prefer Seoul or a location within an hour’s train ride from a city. A recruiter from OK e-mailed me back that same night. He had a job offer for me right off the bat, but he asked that I send more pictures. I know that sounds extremely shady, but I also knew that appearances are extremely important to Koreans. I sent my recruiter a handful of other pictures, ranging from business poses to casual goof-off pictures. I asked him to use whatever pictures he thought were the best. After I sent him that e-mail, I received another job offer that had higher pay. I scheduled an interview through my recruiter with the second school. The interview was scheduled for the Thursday after I had contacted the recruiting company e.g. I had an interview less than a week after making first contact.
My recruiter gave me information about the school when he told me the school was interested in an interview. The school was in Gangnam-gu (yes, the district made internationally famous by PSY). I would have ten vacation days, my housing would be paid for, I would be offered health insurance, and I would be paid more than at my radio job. This deal sounded fantastic from the get-go. My recruiter sent me a list of questions and tips on what to expect from the interview (http://www.opportunitykorea.com/a_menu/menu2_8.asp). My recruiter also reminded me a couple of times that the interview would be in EST. I found his concern more than a little endearing. I expected the interview to be conducted via Skype, but the school told my recruiter they would contact me through my cell phone. I was worried my tiny netbook wouldn’t be able to handle a Skype video call, so calling my mobile worked all the better for me.
A woman from the school called me a few minutes past 8 p.m. on January 2nd. She asked me a few of the questions on the list my recruiter sent me. A big question she asked was what was one thing about myself I am working to improve. I thought about the question for a long moment. I like myself as a person, and I’m not actively trying to change anything about myself. I thought about my past year and some months at my radio station. I decided that the thing I needed to improve upon was to let others accomplish things for themselves. The interviewer asked me to explain what I meant. I told her a little bit about my work conditions at the radio station, and how I worked as hard as I could and taught myself as much as I could about the radio station because I cared. I took up responsibilities that went beyond my job title because no one else at the station knew how to carry out the responsibilities or didn’t care enough to do the extra work. The interviewer asked me how the extra work made me feel. I told her it didn’t really matter how I felt. The work had to be done and no one else would or could do it at the time.
Besides her questions for me, she told me some about the school. The school is a private English institute. I would be teaching kindergarten from 9:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. After 3:30 I would be teaching older elementary students. She asked if I had any questions for her. I asked her about the students. Would the kindergartners have any knowledge of the English language before I began teaching? Some of them would know basics; some of them would be learning from scratch. Would I use mostly visual cues? Yes, I would use flash cards and movies and a lot of visuals. As we ended the interview, the woman said she enjoyed speaking to me very much and wished me a good night.
A few hours after the interview, my recruiter e-mailed me to ask how the interview went. I told him I thought the interview went well and how nice the woman was on the phone. I told him the interviewer would speak to the others at the school, and they would contact my recruiter by Monday or Tuesday. Shortly after that, my recruiter e-mailed me again to say that another school director was extremely interested in having me teach at his school. The pay was even higher than the school I had interviewed with. I decided not to pursue the third job offer until after I had heard back from the second school. On Monday, my recruiter e-mailed me to let me know the English institute was offering me a contract to start at the end of February.
I accepted the contract. I do not know what day I will be departing from the States as of yet, but I will be beginning my own Korean journey by the end of February. I’m excited for it. I’m excited to teach young kids about my language and culture, and I’m more than enthusiastic to learn about their culture in return. It’s time to start Teaching Gangnam Style.