South Korea: From Nova Scotia to South Korea in 14 hours
Arlene Lahey bites the bullet and has no regrets as she changes her career to move halfway around the world.
Within the last seven months, I have completed a TESL Diploma program, lost my job and moved to the other side of the world to begin a new career as a teacher at the age of 46. I wasn’t anticipating making this lifestyle change as quickly as I did but, I saw my job loss as an opportunity to do something I have wanted to do for a long time: live and work – especially teach English – abroad.
I’ve just finished my first four months of a one-year teaching contract at Jung-il High in Daejeon, South Korea. It is, so far, the most rewarding and, sometimes, the most frustrating thing I have ever done. What makes it worthwhile? My students make the difference. I teach 20 classes of about 25-30 students every week. My students are first and second graders, separated into boys and girls classes, and ranging in ability from beginner to advanced. Additionally, I teach two 80-minute evening classes with about ten students in each. One is a debate class and the other an English conversation class.
My memories of my life before now, before I got on the plane and landed in another country on the other side of the world, seem mostly out of focus. I remember I was busy getting organized and saying goodbye to family and friends. What I don’t remember was any hesitation about teaching, or moving to South Korea. When I left Canada, I left behind five boxes of mostly books carefully stored with friends and family. The rest of my belongings I sold or gave away. I took with me only what I needed. I downsized my life in a big way.
And now I am teaching teenagers how to speak English. Some days are great and my lessons are even more successful than I had hoped. Sometimes the lesson plans mostly work. It’s at those times that I feel as if my students and I have an unspoken agreement: they know I am trying and, even though the lesson is not working really well, they will give me another chance in the next class.
Recently my school held its annual festival. The students worked diligently to get ready. They performed, they cooked food and they forgot for a day all about homework and studying and school. I remember two things about that day: how happy they were to have the English teacher visit their classroom; and how happy she is to be their teacher.