Why did I decide to move to Seoul, South Korea at 23 with no experience of anywhere outside America? Not a fucking clue.
It was 2009 and I had just graduated college with a degree in Merchandising. Merchandising? What does that even mean? All this student loan debt and I still have no idea. But I was young, and I wanted to do something that no one (I know) had ever done. I also couldn’t stand the idea of having to get a ‘real’ job.
I was working at a bar/restaurant at the time and was stalling telling my parents what my plan was. Ashley, a co-worker, was majoring in Mandarin (or was it Cantonese?) and had this plan to move to China to teach English. She shared with me her ideas about China and how wonderful it would be to live and work there. Now I was not too keen on the idea of living in China. All I knew about China was that we outsourced a lot of stuff to them and they were only allowed to have one child. Ashley then mentioned she had a friend who had just come back from a year of teaching English in Seoul. Again, I knew nothing about Seoul but I agreed to have dinner with Ashley and her friend to get a better idea of the whole situation.
At dinner I only had a few questions. 1. Was is fun? I didn’t want to move across the globe only to find myself miserable and without friends. 2. How much do you get paid? Only a 6-month grace period until Sallie Mae would start calling me for money. I had graduated 2 months ago; the clock was ticking. 3. How complicated is it to get there? I don’t do well with paperwork.
She assured me on all of my questions. There was a large expat community made up of English speakers from all over the world with a large area of the city that had foreign businesses including Subway and McDonalds. Good to know I would’t starve. The answer to my second question came with a big surprise. Not only did you get paid, they basically paid you to come, live and work. The school you work for pays for your flight (to and from), your apartment (or give you housing allowance), contributed to a pension (which you could take out when you left), AND you got a severance bonus upon completion of your contract. Cha-ching! And the paperwork I was dreading? Piece of cake! Only a handful of documents were needed to be submitted to the embassy and they would issue my visa. But still, why Seoul? Why not Bangkok or Tokyo? Well, that was simple, Korea paid the most and had a low cost of living. I didn’t need Sallie Mae putting me on her speed dial. Ok, I’m in.
So I made the decision. And in an effort to prove to people I wasn’t a liar, there was no turning back. I nervously told my parents. I thought they would tell me I couldn’t go, and then I would be that liar I was trying to prove I wasn’t. But to my delight, they were very excited.
That’s when I started the job search. Now, it may seem incredibly difficult to find a job in a foreign country, especially in 2009 – before LinkedIn and other global job sites. But, it was surprisingly easy! There’s actually loads of websites that will allow you to apply for jobs (we’ll talk about them in a later post though). So I simply applied, did a few phone interviews and I was hired! I was to be in Seoul, South Korea on a year’s work contract in just a couple of months.
I was excited as fuck but if I learned anything from this experience, it’s to do your research before making any sort of big decision like this…