02Mar

This article is part 1 of a series. To read part 2, Teaching Tales from Daegu: Embracing Life as an English Teacher, click here

In December of 2019, after graduating from university, I moved out of my family home and settled in Ottawa (the capital city of Canada) – six hours from where I had grown up. I was working at a bilingual French cafe as a manager while I prepared to start a Masters Program at the University of Ottawa, when Covid-19 hit in March of 2020. 

When my workplace (and most other businesses) inevitably closed for a month, I began to take socially-distanced walks with my Korean friend, Changa, who I had met at work. Through chatting, I learned more about where she came from, what her life was like back home, and became super intrigued with Korean culture and history. These walks and her friendship became a lifeline for me during the pandemic, and when she had to cut her work visa short and return home, I missed her dearly. 

Another lifeline for me during these times was, yes, K-Pop. BTS’ Life Goes On was one of my most-played songs of 2020. K-Pop was simple fun, and made me so incredibly happy. When work opened back up, BTS’ Dynamite was the first song I played every Saturday morning before our busiest shift to hype up my workers. I began to study the history of K-Pop alongside the history of Korea itself. As an undergraduate history major, the history of South Korea was new and incredibly fascinating

woman wearing traditional dress, next to a gate in korea

I became more and more curious. I had previously taught in France and Italy, so the concept of teaching overseas wasn’t new to me, but I had never so much as visited anywhere in Asia. I had heard of people teaching in places like South Korea, Japan, and China, but had never looked into it before. I messaged Changa, who was now living back home in Korea, and asked her tons of questions. What was life like in Korea? What was it like to teach there? What was different for her in Canada when she was here? I discovered soon after that an old classmate of mine from university was living and teaching in Korea too, and I didn’t hesitate to reach out and ask him about it. He raved, on and on, about how much he enjoyed it there, and I was getting more and more convinced. 

woman next to royal guard at Gyeongbokgung Palace in Korea

First visit to Gyeongbukgung Palace with Changa! (During the pandemic)

The pandemic had changed a lot for me in terms of realizing what I wanted, the direction I wanted my life to go in, and the things I cared about. I had decided to rescind my Masters Program acceptance to study History, and while trying to figure out what my next steps were, I couldn’t stop thinking about Korea. My roommates at the time were so supportive; I distinctly remember one of them simply saying, “Why wouldn’t you go?” and I realized that they were right. What was stopping me? Why not try? I decided to start looking, browsing through countless online forums, applying to multiple recruitment agencies, and setting up some interviews. When I got offered a job at a school in Daegu that fit all of my requirements, I snatched up the opportunity and didn’t look back. 

Don’t get me wrong – I was terrified. I didn’t speak the language, I didn’t know much about actually living in Korea, and I only had a couple of friends there. I would also be leaving my family and friends in Canada, many of whom I hadn’t seen in over a year because of the pandemic. That was another big factor: the pandemic was still ongoing at the time, and travel was only just beginning to be normalized again. But I knew what I really wanted to do despite all of that, and had everyone’s support to go for it. 

I began to take Korean lessons a few months before I went to learn the basics, joined all the expat communities I could find on Facebook, and did as much research as I could. It appeared that the coronavirus situation was being handled well in Korea, and I felt reassured by all of the country’s immigration protocols. However, I also knew that the only way to truly understand what Korea was like was to just do it: to pack up and go. So I did. 

On my way!

In conclusion, there wasn’t one single reason why I decided to move to Korea. It all kind of happened randomly for me, and I’m so grateful that it did. I left Ottawa after preparing for months, packing and repacking my suitcases about 20 times, until the day of my flight came. I said goodbye to my brother at the airport, and off I went. 17 hours of travel later, I landed at Incheon Airport with no idea what waited for me in the next two years.

Authors

  • Kolaris
  • Leslie Thompson

    Leslie is a writer and ESL teacher who grew up in Canada, and has since lived in and traveled to many different countries. Though currently taking a year to visit family back home, she lived in Daegu for two years and can't wait to move back to Korea. Leslie holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Guelph in History and French, and loves learning new languages. She can now speak three languages fluently, including English, French and Korean! When Leslie isn't working, she's reading books of all genres, performing in musical theatre, and looking for the cutest cafes to visit.