You’ve taught there before and now you’re thinking about returning to Korea, but you feel like it would be taking a step backwards. I know what it’s like. I took that step, and I’m happy I did.

A lot of people back home didn’t understand why I was going to Korea again. If you go once, people think you’re adventurous. If you go a second time, they’re just confused. To be honest, I was a little confused too.

There’s no denying that returning to Korea feels a bit like admitting defeat.  Life is like a ladder. Each year, we expect to move up to a new rung with exciting possibilities. The rung of our dreams. But sometimes, the next rung remains out of reach no matter how much you stretch for it. Sometimes, you just need to go lateral on the ladder of life.

returning to korea ladder of life

There it is. The rung of your dreams

Korea is the ultimate lateral move. Look at it like a football pass. It works like this. You’re the team in white, and all of life’s problems are the team in black. When you’re carrying the ball and the defensive linemen of life are looming over you, Korea is there. Throwing a lateral might mean you lose a few yards, but gaining a new perspective on the field can be exactly what you need to shake off the defense and finally pull yourself up to that next rung.

I’m getting my analogies confused. Anyhow, here’s why returning to Korea is the perfect metaphorical lateral pass.

1) Make Money

It’s easy to save money while teaching in Korea. The salary that teachers make out here isn’t exceptionally high, but the cost of living is low and the benefits are great. Five bucks for a meal. Travel across the city on a bus for one dollar. Flight reimbursement as well as a full month’s severance pay at the end of your contract. Utilities cost next to nothing. And rent as low as it gets: free. Some teachers have even managed to save up to $17,000 per year.

Listen. I taught an advanced ESL class for 18 to 25 year olds at a school in Los Angeles. We once had a conversation about what constitutes a good life and the students all agreed that money was not important. It was an expensive school, so I had reason to believe none of them had ever experienced being poor. I asked them what, if not money, you would need for a good life. Here’s the list they agreed upon: a home, food, friends, transportation, internet, clothing, entertainment, and the ability to travel occasionally. All of that sure as hell sounds like money to me.

Money isn’t the meaning of life, but it’s hard to focus on the deeper meaning when you have money problems. You will not have money problems in Korea.

2) Build a Better Resume

Returning to Korea means you’ll have a lot more free time during the day than you might while working another job back home. Foreign teachers generally don’t have to grade homework or tests, and lesson planning is fairly minimal. In fact, public school teachers often complain about “desk warming,” which means they’re complaining that they have a surplus of free time.

returning to korea students in class

Lesson planning is simple and the students are a pleasure to teach.

During my first stay in Korea, I used that free time to play online flash games and develop an addiction to the show Survivor. I moved back to the States and realized that my resume was full of experience teaching ESL, so I got a job doing more of the same. I quickly found that teaching ESL back home is significantly more time-consuming than it is in Korea. I didn’t have enough time to work on developing a more career-focused resume. So I threw a lateral.

You can use that free time to watch Survivor (if you haven’t seen season 15, it’s great), or you can use it to volunteer your skills, take online classes, develop future lesson plans, and in general build a better resume. Getting a job in Korea can lead to a better job waiting for you when you decide to head home.

3) Have Personal Space

Returning to Korea can also act as a reset button for your social life. Or a pause button, depending on how you play it. I know a teacher out here whose close friend passed away before he decided to come teach in Korea. He didn’t want to sit at home alone but he didn’t want to go back to life as usual either, bumping into the same people at work and around the neighborhood.

The foreigner communities in Korea are generally open-minded, warm, and eager to make the most of their time here. The new faces and comfortable environment helped my friend work through his emotions at his own pace.

I never thought about this reason for travel until I heard his story, but now I believe we all undertake our own personal pilgrimage when we move out here. My first time in Korea helped me better understand myself and become confident in my adulthood. This time around, I’m concentrating on developing my work ethic, the fruits of which you’re reading right now.

returning to korea lake

Find peace on a mountain trail in Korea.

4) Make Connections

You will meet interesting people after returning to Korea. You likely got most of the partying and noraebang-ing out of your system the last time you were in Korea, so this time you can focus on getting involved and doing a bit of networking.

In just the five months since I came back to Korea, I’ve connected with the head of a nonprofit which helps North Korean defectors, a columnist for a major newspaper, and a multitude of English speakers from across the globe. Right now, all of these connections are simply friendships. But who knows–in the future, chance encounters like these could lead to fantastic opportunities.

Of course, you could also wind up with a whole different sort of beneficial connection. Not many foreigners come to Korea as a couple, right? You like traveling and having exciting new experiences? Great, you have a whole community of like-minded singles out here. Just remember, you owe me a wedding invite if your love connection works out. Especially if you have an open bar.

In Short

Back home, I have a lot of friends saying that want a new job. They aren’t sure what they want to do, but whatever it is, it’s not what they’re doing now. Returning to Korea allows you to take a step back, clear your mind, and eventually come home with a mission. And a comfy financial cushion to sit on.

You came to Korea the first time for the adventure, but coming here again can offer a whole new set of benefits. This is a beautiful and unique place that can give you the change in perspective you need to relax, regroup, refocus, and ultimately return home ready to tackle the next rung in the ladder.


– Edited by Lindsay McEwen

-Featured images courtesy of Fdecomite & KnittyMarie on Flickr