Life as an Expat, Living in Korea, More, Teaching English

The Double Whammy

This past week marked my third full month living in South Korea, and nearly-third full month of teaching middle and high school ESL. Up until now, pretty much all of my blogging efforts have gone toward recounting the many wonderful, new and exciting things that I’ve seen and done. I’ve hiked some killer mountains and stood in awe of glorious views. I’ve biked to the beach and back, soaking up the sun in the Korean countryside. I’ve been to several festivals, gone zip lining and am fortunate to have positive relationships with coworkers, expats and a handful of Koreans outside of school. And yet, despite all of this, lately I’ve felt like I would happily give it all up in exchange for a plane ticket home.

stages_cultureshockTrue to the trend depicted on this culture shock chart, the honeymoon phase is over and the magic has worn off, leaving me in a state of full-blown homesickness and disenchantment. Going to the grocery store used to be an adventure; an exhilarating quest that resulted in me boldly buying something off the shelf purely because the picture looked yummy. Now it’s more of a hassle; a frustrating and time-consuming endeavor that results in me purchasing anything even remotely recognizable, or nothing at all.  The language barrier, which started out as a challenge I was ready to face head on, has become more of a hindrance; an obstacle that impedes even the most basic tasks, like paying bills and getting a haircut. And then there’s the food. For the first month or so, I was very good about eating at least a little bit of kimchi with every school meal and giving everything on my tray a try. Most recently, though, I usually just move the kimchi around to make it look like I’ve touched it and I pass on the seafood dishes. I have officially entered the preliminary low of culture shock.

First Year Teacher ChartCompounding these pangs of homesickness and cultural aversion is yet another downswing on a different emotional roller coaster: teaching for the first time. All through my TEFL certification and EPIK orientation, I naively believed I was fully prepared to handle this job despite my lack of experience. Then, after the first week or so, it finally hit me: I have no clue what I’m doing. I fell into survival mode and ever since then have been throwing anything at the wall in the hopes that it will stick. Most mornings I fight negative thoughts of self-doubt and anxiety as I drag my feet to school. I sit at my desk trying to plan a lesson and sometimes an hour or more goes by with no result because I’m paralyzed by my own skepticism and insecurity. And at the end of the day, I go home wondering if even a handful of students benefitted from my presence.

It’s a double whammy. A perfect storm. An uphill battle against two enemies that have combined forces. As much as I could be, I was prepared ahead of time to deal with culture shock and the challenges of being a new teacher. But I never really considered the fact that I would be fighting both beasts simultaneously. It’s an overwhelming feeling, and for awhile now it has followed me around like a second shadow that I can’t shake.

double-whammyThis is not a rant about why Korea sucks or how teaching ESL abroad with no experience is a bad idea. Or at least, I don’t mean it to be. If you’ve read any of my other posts, you know that I have many good things to say about both topics. I just wanted to acknowledge the other side to the reality of living in a foreign country and the learning curve that every new teacher rides during their first year. I wouldn’t be giving you an honest or accurate picture of my experience if I didn’t. Culture shock is no joke, and neither is homesickness or the battle to find your way in the classroom.

Having said all of this, I promise to not let these struggles permanently turn me into one of those cynical, unappreciative expats who never has anything good to say about their time abroad. No one likes a whiner. But for right now, at this moment in time, I wanted to be real and admit where I am.

I have faith that things will get better. And, intellectually, I know that nothing in life is forever. It would just be nice if my heart and soul got the message too. Until they do, I’ll keep rolling with the punches of The Double Whammy.


6 thoughts on “The Double Whammy

  1. Hey~
    So Ive been reading along in Feedly…but since I saw this, I wanted to comment.

    First off, Himnae! Fighting! Or whatever they are saying nowadays.
    Sharing how you really feel is a good thing. You are human. Plus, the way that you express your concerns about teaching goes to show that you do care about what it is that you are trying to do there. I had a friend, who had grown up in Korea, and went back to teach after graduating. She secluded herself because of her homesickness, going through the motions. So even those acquainted with the country have troubles. Anyway, my point is, thanks for sharing this aspect of your time there.

    Hang in there!


    Posted by rasilla | November 21, 2014, 11:38 PM
    • Hi Rasilla,

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. I’ll continue to keep my head up, and do my best to enjoy/make the most of my time here. Things will turn around eventually! Each day brings both ups and downs, so I just have to focus on the good. Thanks again for the encouragement, and for reading 🙂

      Take care


      Posted by magyarn | November 22, 2014, 9:41 AM
      • I’m waiting for a good private offer to come over as well, so your blog has been great. So yes, it will get better~ Hope that is sooner than later 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        Posted by rasilla | November 25, 2014, 10:29 PM
  2. I know exactly what you’re feeling, and it’s normal. The fact that you recognise it, is half the battle. I guess from here on out, you’ll be counting the weeks until you go home. But while you’re counting the weeks, try to also enjoy your time here. There certainly is a lot ‘wrong’ with Korea, from a foreigner’s point of view, but hidden in all of that, ‘I can’t stand this anymore’, is a beautiful Korea. It’s in all of the bushes, trees, and flowers around the city, in the glorious mountains, in the ocean, and believe it or not, even in the people. I’m mainly talking about the older generation. People in their 60s, 70s, and 80s. Take time to notice the older people. They’re a lot different than the, rush, rush, rush, always on the go, get out of my way, younger generation. I find the older generation to be kind, generous, easy to talk to, and very down to Earth people. Anyway mate, hang in there, take time to smell the roses. Look on the bright side, and enjoy your time while you’re here. Before you know it, your time will be up here, and it’ll be back to the real world.


    Posted by Steve Carroll | November 22, 2014, 10:32 AM
    • Thanks, Steve, I certainly will. I have too much time left here to start “counting the days,” so I definitely want to keep trying to find the positives and make the most of my experience. I appreciate your thoughts. Take care!


      Posted by magyarn | November 22, 2014, 6:27 PM
      • I’ve taught in Korea on two separate occasions, and had my ups and downs. What kept me sane, was knowing that one day I will be going back home. Back home to where everyone speaks English, signs are in English, people have manners, and I’m not taking my life into my own hands whenever I cross the street. In other words, however bad it is hete, it’s only temporary. I’m back here for a third time, but with a whole different frame of mind. I’ve been married to a Korean for 8 years now. We first lived overseas, but a year and a half ago, we sold everything and moved to Korea. So Busan is now our home. For me, it was a big move, and I’m still weighing whether it was the right move or not. I no longer have the escape value in the back of my mind that this is not my home, and I will be going back home before too long. So however bad it is for some, it’s all relevant. Living here is certainly a test, and surviving will make you grow as a person. So keep your chin up, and try to view everything as an experienced!

        Liked by 1 person

        Posted by steve | November 22, 2014, 8:09 PM

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