Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Calm before the storm?

Well I'm still here. It's been a few weeks since I started my new job at a local Community College. I've been teaching a mid-level Writing class that focuses on sentence structure and using articles. It's been interesting in that I've discovered I need to spend some time on the content and how I will present it to my students.

Besides that I'm still studying for my Comps exam, but I think I have a good lead on that. Just really want to take it and get it over with. So it seems things are a bit more balanced now and I have fallen into a bit of routine. I go to work in the morning, come home and then do some lesson planning - work business. Then I pick up my binders and study for the Comps, while getting distracted with videos related to the topics I have to study. By then it's dinner time and veg-out time with videos.

I'm really eager to have the Comps behind me so I can get my projects done for my one TESOL class I'm taking. Then I'll have more time available to really work on making my lessons come out better, but also just general leisure time! I need a good hike through the woods or a good sit on a park bench somewhere.

I know it's still winter, but I feel like spring is coming little by little. The sun is staying out just a little bit longer and I even hear bird songs now and then. Can you tell I care nothing for winter?

Anyway, hope everyone who reads is doing well. Chow!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

"I can't move back to America, I won't have a job." And other myths

As the New Year is here I can't help but look back about two years ago when I was about to leave Korea and head back to my home country (America). Years before that decision, while I was still traipsing around Seoul I thought to myself that I could never return to America because I wouldn't be able to get a job, I would need a car for wherever I went and things would just be too difficult. I saw Korean life as easier, more convenient and well fun.  But as you know, I came to my fifth year and realized that I needed to think about my future, especially my career in Korea. I was working at an immersion style public / private school, which I probably could have kept for years and years. However, I felt like I was stagnating. I wanted to know more about the profession and most especially I wanted to be treated as one.

That's where I changed my mind and decided I will go back to America and try my best to make it in my home country. My plan was to pick a new city I would be interested in living in and attend a graduate school where I would earn my MA TESOL degree. I'm almost done completing that and although I know I will have student loan debts to pay, I feel however I'm one step closer to my goal of being a professional in this field.

Recently, there has been a lot of talk and news about how Korea has been cutting back public school jobs from many areas around the country. This means that most teachers who have been teaching at public schools will have as their choices either teaching at hagwons (private schools) or universities. However, universities in Korea now can only really accept teachers with an MA degree (preferably in the field) and with at least two years experience teaching adults. I've heard you can get into Unis with less experience or some kind of magical number of years teaching children. But all in all, the opportunities and flexibility that were once a staple in Korea have been disappearing for several years now.

So then you start to hear rhetoric on online forums about how their choices in America aren't that great. That you're going to head back home to no job or the prospect of having to live at home. To that I say rubbish! That's why I want to dispel some of these myths and remind people that there are great benefits to leaving the exciting life abroad to returning to your home country and yes it will be harder than what you're use to abroad but all of it is truly worth it.

Myth 1: I can't get a job.

According to my off-hand understanding of the economy, American has been generating a lot of jobs lately. Also a lot of immigrants have been coming to America. When you have an influx of immigrants then you have a need to teach them English, because in order for them to be successful in our system they will need English. You also have an influx of international students from many countries, which come here to study English to either return to their countries for jobs or to advance in their career field. So it is my humble opinion that there are indeed teaching English jobs here in America.

Why can't you get a job? Do you think that your experience teaching children for the past x amount of years renders you without any job skills? If you were at least somewhat cognitively aware of what you were doing during your teaching hours you have some skills to reflect on. I have to say this but if you just showed up at your school hung over or hardly caring about your classes then yea I think you will return with a basket full of no skills.

But in essence you can look back at your work in Korea and see that you have a lot... A LOT of transferable job skills. Here are some I would like to mention:

  • Team work: you had to work with either a Korean team of teachers, a foreign staff or both. This mean negotiating activities, schedules...events...planning ...etc. Team work is a highly sought after skill and I know that when you work in Korea you have to be very patient and open-minded to deal with not only work related challenges but Korean-work-culture related troubles. These skills are incredibly transferable as employers in our field (teaching ESL) want to see you can work on a team of teachers to discuss curriculum, testing...etc. 
  • Class management: Believe it or not, but adults need to be managed as well. You should have developed some sense of class management with your classes. 
  • Teaching the 4 English skills: You should have something to talk about when an employer asks you, "How would you teach a lesson on speaking, especially the topic of debates?" 
  • Personal beliefs / teaching philosophy: You can definitely look back at your experience and consider a philosophy that kept you going throughout the years. What were some really positive experiences you had? negative? What did you learn from all that? Employers in America want to see that you not only can teach the subject matter but that you care about it.
  • Lived abroad: Just living abroad means you have the skills necessary to understand your student's perspectives of studying / living abroad. Knowing the challenges of living in a culture with a language different from your own, is incredibly valuable. Even if you never spent hardcore time learning Korean, you know what it's like to have to use it daily and to be around people who speak it and don't translate it.

Those are just a few examples of transferable job skills you can bring back to America. I also like to think that these skills can be transferred over to any job you're looking for when you come back.

Myth 2: I'll make less money and work more...

Actually, this in most cases will probably be true. You really can't beat Korea's pension, healthcare and other benefit systems. However, you have to consider what you're giving up for each. In Korea you will have amazing benefits but you're not at home. This is fine for some people, but after a while and having to visit immigration every year, it wears down on you. Not being a voting citizen also wears on you. If money is really your objective and you don't care about having everything your home country can offer you then by all means stay in Korea. But if you can handle making less and with less benefits then take that sacrifice.

Also, I feel that in America you don't really start making the "real money" until after you've been back a few years and you have some solid experience here. Then you can move your way up and get into other jobs in the field (administration) which do pay more. 

With that said, you can work at private adult-language schools and make (in my estimate) up to $25 an hour. Full time, will get you benefits of course. 

I definitely miss making a lot of money in Korea and having all those benefits, but the amount of things I don't miss about living in Korea end up winning. Actually, it's a constant debate whether I should go back abroad and teach after my Master's, which means that in general my life abroad impacted me more than just the money I made. 

Myth 3: American life sucks, it's boring...expensive and rife with political problems

It's no secret we are rife with a lot of social and political problems. But at least now you can be involved without fear of deportation. 

After coming back I have been instilled with a stronger sense of what it means to be American, white and female. This has allowed me to make better social and political choices, to voice myself more clearly and to understand my role as an instructor. Coming back and feeling this sort of empowerment will make you get involved in immigrant rights and access to English classes. 

American life is not boring, because really it's all about your own habits and personal life style of living. 

However, I would agree that American life is expensive, but somethings that were expensive in Korea are cheaper here like salads at restaurants...organic food...clothes...etc. You can get things in your size, not have to ship it from abroad. 

You can get a job and you can make a life for yourself back home:
This post, though isn't meant to be a comparative battle between which country is better to live in. My main point is that you can return to America, get a job and enjoy your life here just as you did in Korea. 

For sure a lot of repatriated souls have returned to America to find themselves jobless and living in their parent's or friends basement. But I have to ask to what effort did they put in to searching and looking ahead?

If you can move anywhere back in America, then you can research which cities have a high population of immigrants and / or international students. Look at job ads and see if you match criteria. Talk to people already there and in the job field. Don't just come back to America and expect a job to be handed to you! 

So some word of caution, though, as this post is not based on any expert analysis of trending jobs or numbers. Just based on my own experience, the knowledge of talking to other repatriated people I know and general observations of working at several schools in my area. 

I hope this encourages some people out there who feel their options are getting thinner in Korea and that they dread having to return home to America. When you're at that point you have other options such as teaching in other countries, too. 

Well then good luck to all of those out there and a Happy New Year!