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Facing the Decision: Saying Goodbye to Korea

When the end of my second year was approaching and the hagwon I was working at asked me if I would be staying for a third year, I had to take some time to think about it. I loved Daegu, I loved my coworkers, and I had had a couple of years with great students. However, I hadn’t seen my family in three years (we lived in different provinces and couldn’t visit each other during the Covid-19 pandemic), and most of the close friends I’d made were leaving Korea that same year, too. Going home just seemed to make sense as the next step for me, so I booked my plane ticket and left at the end of my second year.

friends wearing facemasks at some korean festival

(Leaving my friends was one of the hardest parts…)

Navigating Reverse Culture Shock

I find that no one really discusses the intense reverse culture shock that can come with moving home after living abroad. I’ve lived in multiple places in Europe before, but never felt as out of place when coming home as I did when I returned from Korea. Though I had missed Canadian comfort food, the snow and the ease of my native language while I was away, I felt strangely out of place. I missed the friends that I had met (who became some of my closest friends for life), I missed my students, I missed my apartment. I missed the food, the Dancheong-colored traditional buildings, the hustle and bustle. I missed Korea.

two friends looking over cherry blossom trees

(Cherry Blossom Season – aka the best season)

Missing Korea: The Place That Had Started to Feel Like Home

While living in Korea, I progressed quite well in learning the language. I began by self-teaching, but in my second year, I started to take one-on-one lessons. By the end of my second year, I was able to hold longer conversations, read signs and know where to go without asking, and even joke around with the ajummas at the grocery store. When I returned back to Canada, I continued my lessons, and found that I really missed hearing the beautiful Korean language around me all the time. I missed the traditional Korean roofs or “giwa” that could be found on both modern and older buildings, the green spaces that were spread throughout the city, the ease of calling a taxi or renting a Kakao bike.

(Traditional Korean giwa roofs)

Charting a Course: Exploring Career Options

I struggled for the first half of the year, telling myself that it was natural to miss the place I’d spent the last two years in. I pushed through it, trying to figure out a plan for the next few years in Canada. I looked into everything: getting my Early Childhood Education degree, going back to school and getting a Masters in Education, and some other options completely unrelated to teaching. For about six months, I worked at a seasonal cafe that opens for tourists in the summertime as a way to make some money. I didn’t mind being a barista there; my coworkers were great and the job wasn’t hard. My favourite part about it all, though, was meeting people who were visiting from all across the world. 


Through these interactions and practicing my French language skills (since French is abundant in Canada, I studied it in school and love to speak it), I came to realize that what I love the most, what makes me the happiest, is being able to understand other people and cultures through language. And I love that through teaching English as a Second Language (ESL), I can help students grow their abilities to thrive in what’s swiftly becoming a multilingual world. Being able to communicate opens so many windows of possibility, and I love being able to teach that to young, curious minds. With this new revelation, I began to look at other countries I could possibly teach in across both Asia and Europe, but none of them seemed as appealing as Korea.

Embracing Change: Making the Bold Decision to Return

After my birthday in August, I knew I had decided where I wanted to be. I knew what job I enjoyed, and I knew that, simply, I missed being in Korea. Why did it have to be any more complicated than that? My whole life, I had always been told that I should be settled down by 30, but I never understood that mindset. There’s so much world out there, so why not go where you want to go and do what you want to do, regardless of age? It’s just a number! 

In light of this revelation, I booked a couple of interviews, found a school that works for me, and signed a contract – all within a matter of weeks. Off I go! I’m so excited for this next chapter, and can’t wait to meet my new students, make new friends… and eat Korean BBQ straight from the source.


  • 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.