To renew or not renew…that is the question…whether tis nobler in the waygook to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous English teaching…okay I’m done.
But seriously, the question of whether or not to renew your contract with EPIK is basically the biggest decision you’ll make once you’ve landed in Korea. There are pros and cons to both outcomes, and just like everything else in life there is no universal right answer. It’s totally subjective and dependent on your specific situation. But as the list below shows, there are still pros and cons to consider for both options:
Pros of Renewing
- Money money money – This is #1 not because it’s the most important, but because it’s the most obvious. Not only do you get a renewal bonus equivalent to one month’s salary, you also get a $100 increase in your monthly wage. And throughout your second year, your “retirement fund” that gets deducted from each paycheck will continue to accrue and make for a nice, hefty chunk of change in the end (between $4,000 and $5,000).
- Extra vacation time – Again, an obvious perk gauranteed by your contract: an extra 8 paid vacation days which you can add onto, or divide between, your other summer or winter dates.
- Easy-breezy-beautiful, Korea – I’ve heard other EPIK teachers say this, and I would agree: the life of an English teacher in Korea is about as cushy as it gets. You don’t pay rent. Your monthly bills never exceed more than a few hundred bucks. The cost of living in Korea is very low, so you can easily lead a comfortable lifestyle of eating out and modest weekend travel. Also, your teaching hours are reasonable and the amount of free time you have is ridiculous. And even though you’re living in a foreign country, your co-teacher will (hopefully) always be there to help you figure things out when they get confusing.
- Work experience – If you see teaching, teaching ESL or working with kids as your future career path, Korea is a great place to gain experience. And depending on where you’re from, there may be more/better opportunities in Korea than in your home country (for instance, the job market for teachers in most of the US is abismal, and the life of the ones who have jobs usually isn’t nearly as easy, breezy or beautiful).
- No longer the new guy – If you know for certain that you will be recontracted to your same school, you have the luxury of being already established with your students, coworkers, and city. Similar to making a big move back home, setting up your life in Korea and forming connections takes time. And when there’s a language barrier, it often takes a lot of time. So once you’re finally at a point of familiarity and stability, it’s nice to enjoy the calm after the storm.
- Cheaper and easier travel – There is so much to see and do in Asia that it would be impossible to accomplish it all in one year, even if you did nothing but travel. Staying for another year in Korea would give you the geographic proximity you need to check a few more spots off your bucket list, while still allowing you to put away some money for the future.
- More time – When faced with the renewal question, it’s important to ask yourself, ‘Have I done everything I wanted to do while I was here? Have I gotten everything I wanted to out of this experience?’ If the answers are ‘no’ and ‘no,’ perhaps you should stick around. Taking another lap on the EPIK track will give you more time to keep learning Korean, exploring the culture, figuring out your next move after teaching and/or doing whatever else you set out to do when you first came here.
Cons of Renewing
- Sorry mom and dad – Being away from friends and family for any prolonged period of time is hard. So to willingly extend that time is often the hardest part of renewing an EPIK contract. Loved ones back home will continue to get older, get married and/or have kids without you. S’just the way life goes! At least nowadays it’s easy to stay connected with Facebook and Skype.
- Wrong way – If you don’t foresee teaching as your ultimate career, renewing your contract might feel like investing your time in the wrong place. I firmly believe no experience is wasted experience, but I also think it’s important to spend your time wisely and pursue opportunities that will help you reach your goals. If you can’t justify how Korea is helping you do that, maybe it’s time to move on.
- Another ride on the rollercoaster of culture shock – Adjusting to a foreign culture is not a one-and-done process. It’s a rollercoaster, full of ups and downs until the very end (and then there’s reverse culture shock, but that’s another post in and of itself). Yes, the severity of the degree to which your emotions fluctuate may lessen, but even in your second year you’re bound to face old and new frustrations.
- Make new friends and lose the old – Depending on the plans of your fellow expat friends, you might be the only one in your social group who plans on staying; which means, once they scatter off to other corners of the globe, you’ll have to say your good-byes and form new relationships. The latter is actually a “pro” for many people: meeting new people and making new friends is fun and exciting. But the former is no fun for anyone.
Pros of Not Renewing
- Friends and family – It doesn’t matter if you’re gone for a few weeks or a year, it always feels great to come home to the people you know and love. Of course, the longer you’re gone, the better it feels. So not renewing your contract and instead returning home is sure to be filled with many wonderful reunions.
- So-long, culture shock – After getting through some reverse-culture shock, you’ll ultimately land back in a much more emotionally stable state back home. The world around you will make more sense again. And you’ll be blind to all the little things about your country that drive foreigners crazy because YOU’RE the one who’s used to them.
- English English EVERWHERE! – No more language barrier! No more charades at the check-out aisle! You can finally put away your dysfunctional translator app and just talk to someone! Anyone! Everyone!
- Freedom – If you’re not interested in another year of teaching, but you also aren’t ready to go home, you now have the perfect opportunity to travel as long as your bank account can support you. You’re completely detached from any obligations. You can go anywhere, anytime.
- Onto the next thing – If it turns out teaching isn’t for you, you have a clear point at which to begin the next leg of your journey to self-discovery: the end of your contract. By not renewing, you can fully commit to exploring other passions and opportunities.
- Onto the next country – If teaching IS for you and you just want to continue bouncing around the world while you do it, you can easily do that once your year in Korea is up.
Cons of Not Renewing
- Back to reality – Turning down a second contract means you’re turning down the cushy English teacher lifestyle and all the perks that come with it, in exchange for “going back to reality.” If you’re unsure of what’s next, don’t have a job or a place to live back home, or were using this experience as a means to escape problems in your previous life, not renewing has some seriously terrifying downsides.
- Sorry co-teacher(s) and students – This isn’t so much a downside for you as it is for them, but it still might make you feel guilty about leaving after only a year. By its very nature, the industry of teaching English abroad has a very high turn-over rate. Foreigners come and go like the wind. And it’s unfortunate that co-teachers and students are subjected to this year after year. They never know who/what they’re going to get when a new teacher is hired, so in a perfect world it would be nice to provide them with some stability and predictability, even if only for a second year. But the only way to do that, is to renew.
- Handing in your foreigner card – Once you’re back on home turf, you’re no longer the token foreigner, the special snowflake, the local celebrity. You’re just another face in the crowd and no one treats you any differently than the guy next to you. But on the plus side, this also means you’ll no longer get blatantly stared at or talked about behind your back.
- No more Korea – Leaving Korea inherently means giving up all the things you’ve come to love about the country: BBQ restaurants, clean and convenient public transportation, friendly old people, etc. Your hometown might have some of these things, but it’s just not the same.
So there you have it. Pros and cons for both arguments, each of which carry different weights for different people. No matter how many items you can think of for any of these lists, what it ultimately comes down to is what matters most to you. Even if you can think of a million reasons to stay and only one to go, if that one reason is the most important to you, you should go! If you’re really undecided but your gut is telling you you’re not done here yet, stay! There is no wrong decision, only the one that’s right for you. And whatever’s meant to happen, will happen.
If you’d like to add anything to these lists, please leave a comment below!