It’s a new year and resolutions all around us. What should you change about your life this year? Where do you want to be in January next year? What dreams are you ignoring year after year as you ring in another new year and STILL are working that same job, in the same town, with the same people, and still feel like you’re treading water and going nowhere?

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Endless chaos, excitement, hardships, fun, challenges, but most of all, sweet memories and moments working with public middle school students in Sugi-gu, Gyeonggi province, South Korea

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I owe my entire experience in Korea to my amazingly talented Korvia recruiter, Ashley! Without her encouragement and guidance, I would have never gotten on the plane to leave America and start teaching abroad. She was an angel!

When I turned 33, I had been working in corporate America for more than 10 years in a stream of professional jobs, but just kept finding myself wanting more. I had always wanted to travel, but I was living paycheck-to-paycheck and without any “real” vacation time, I simply couldn’t afford the luxury of going abroad. I had always thought I wanted to be a teacher, but a severe fear of public speaking prevented me from pursuing that as a career option.

That New Year’s Eve, I started to think of ways I could fulfill my dreams by moving and working abroad. After some deep soul searching and setting some pretty high new year’s resolutions, I joined a terrifying (yet highly effective) public speaking course with Toastmasters International and enrolled in an online TEFL course. I didn’t know exactly where I wanted to go, but I knew without these two items checked off my list, I couldn’t get anywhere I dreamt of going. I had heard there were a plethora of teaching opportunities in Asia and was really interested in going somewhere east, but I wasn’t sure which country to go. Maybe Japan…what about China…or even Korea? I needed some serious help. So I researched online and found a list of top recruiters in Asia. Korvia’s name came to the top of search results as a recruiter for Korea, so I sent them an inquiry to learn more. A friendly recruiter named Ashley got back to me within a day or so and we got the conversation rolling.

That was 5 years ago…and it was single handedly the best decision I ever made.

With Ashley’s keen guidance and patient assistance, I was on a plane to Korea a mere 8 months later. Within 2 days of landing, I was walking into my first gig as a Native English Teacher at a public middle school just outside of Seoul. I was terrified and overwhelmed, but I was also ecstatic about the journey ahead. I couldn’t believe it was real, and that it all happen so quickly.

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Touring around Seoul’s incredible palaces with my coworker Rob and our personal student tour guide: one of my brightest middle school English students, Bill!

Korvia was there to guide me through the entire process. I can say with certainty that I would have never been able to navigate any of it without them. Between the complicated process of applying for work abroad, interviewing with schools via Skype, processing visa information and forms, financial and personal planning, teaching preparation and more, Ashley was there to calm my fears and prepare me for all scenarios. Korvia even met me at the airport when I first arrived, took me to my apartment and to the school site to meet my school manager.

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Enjoying traditional Korean BBQ with English teachers from Munjung Middle School, Suji-gu, South Korea

Korvia’s support didn’t stop once I got to school and settled. They continued to check in on me throughout the year, assist with school issues when necessary, and plan social events to help create a network of new teachers to meet new friends and share ideas.

I spent a year and a half in Korea diving into the experience, learning and exploring as much as I can. I threw myself into school work and tried to be the best teacher I could be, yielding professional and cultural advice from Korvia and my coworkers as much as I could. I managed 25 classes a week working with 3 different grades, some independently and some with a Korean co-teacher, as well as leading summer and winter camps, weekly clubs, and more. The workload was intense, but I loved every minute of it. I also traveled to so many countries with the increased holiday time I finally had after years of American corporate life. It was an incredible experience, and I am so grateful to have gone through it.

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My coworker Josh and I surprised Ann and the Korvia team at the end of my contract with a cake in their downtown office. I will forever be grateful to having chosen Korvia as my recruiter.

By the time the next New Year’s rolled around, I was ready for the new adventure. I wanted to keep moving and growing-exploring different cultures and gaining more teaching experience in different classrooms. I started the research process all over again and found some reputable recruiters in China. I contacted another recruiting company, Seadragon (SDE), and a short 6 months later, I was on another flight for a new teaching opportunity – this time in Shenzhen.

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The classrooms are huge and hectic in Chinese public schools! There can be between 50-60 students in a classroom. It makes for a huge challenge managing these classrooms without a co-teacher. Patience and perseverance are a top skill to survive teaching in China.

Just as Korvia did in Korea, SDE carried me through the process from beginning to end here with a new position in China. They helped me with the visa process, school interviews and placement, apartment hunting, lease signing, and more. Even though I had done it all before in Korea, the process in China was so much more stressful and chaotic. Was it the sheer size of China creating this heavy weight in my mind? Even though I had been through these adjustments before, in coming to China I realized I knew nothing! Everything in China seemed even more crazy and complicated than the process in Korea.

But, just as before, I threw myself into the work, trying to maximize the experience as best I could. SDE placed me at a public high school in the Longgang District of Shenzhen where I spent the next 2 years with the most wonderful group of coworkers I’ve ever known. I managed 16 classes a week with class sizes upwards of 60+ students at a time. It was chaotic, stressful and loud. Chinese students are energetic and LOUD. Very loud. But with a very supportive school and guidance from SDE, I was able to grow as a teacher and try new techniques week after week, strengthening my role as a teacher.

SDE also provided other unique opportunities to me in my spare time including supporting marketing events and activities, providing academic supervision and support to new teachers at SDE, being an ambassador for the recruiting team, and helping the SDE leadership team plan new strategies and activities to keep teachers happy and engaged with their new lives in China. I loved the opportunity to explore other professional skills and build out my resume with even more experience.

Having recruiters like Korvia and SDE were critical to my success in teaching positions in both Korea and China. Without them, I would not have had the courage or savvy to navigate the process or adapt as quickly to culture shock in each environment. Moving to another country without knowing the language is one of the most frightening things you can ever do. Fortunately, with support from Korvia and SDE, you can navigate these intricate processes by trusting in professionals who will help you through it.

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SDE support team in action! Uta and Chloe of the Seadragon team at the SDE annual Christmas party – always a blast!

Korea vs. China…
Some Things to Consider Before You Go

Living in Seoul felt hip, savvy, and fast-paced. Their technological achievements were tangible, and life in Korea felt fresh. It was easy to travel around Korea (mostly due its small size), and super-fast Wi-Fi is everywhere. As for teaching, the Korean ESL market is mature, and Koreans are well accustomed to seeing western teachers in everyday life. Unfortunately for new teachers like myself, it seemed like the “better” school opportunities were too competitive to get as the English teaching market for foreigners was small and positions seem to be drying up. I felt like there was limited room for professional growth in Korea.

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Taking the high speed train to the Pingshan district in Shenzhen for a school visit with SDE Foreign Teacher Specialist, Valerie. SDE provides every teacher with a personalized specialist who helps new teachers adjust to their new lives in China

China, on the other hand, has felt like the complete opposite. The market is exploding with job openings, and there are offers posted daily from every type of organization imaginable all over the country. You can be selective about the types of jobs you want or organizations you want to work in, whether it be teaching adults or children, public or private jobs, or even international school and university positions. The “newness” of learning English here provides endless job possibilities and career growth. Something to think about, however, is China is a tougher climate for foreigners than Korea. For example, the country is less westernized, and the blocked internet is a serious adjustment (especially after that super high-speed Wi-Fi life in Korea!). In short, China is a bit wild. It’s contradictory. It can be confronting. But it’s a truly fascinating place to explore.

No matter your choice and even with help from a professional recruiter, you must be prepared for extreme discomfort (also known as culture shock). And you need to prepare for an even bigger adjustment period if you are taking on a professional career change at the same time like I did. The learning curve is steep, and you will be alone.

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Sports Day activities and live entertainment performances are an absolute highlight of public high school life in China. Students take the festivities very seriously and prepare their performances and costumes months in advance. Their talent is definitely impressive!

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SDE offers several cultural networking events for teachers throughout the year where teachers can come together and enjoy Chinese culture, meet other foreigners, and enjoy some fun outside school life

You will be tested emotionally, professionally, personally, and mentally. All of your home comforts are gone, everything will be different, and life will seem like a struggle at first. Communication will be different and at times, you may feel so frustrated with “the way things are done here.” Entire meetings will be held in front of you where you understand absolutely nothing that’s said. The experience can be trying, exhausting, and strange. Some moments will seem extremely confusing, and you will doubt the reasons why you ever wanted to do this in the first place. You will miss your life back home. You will miss important life events back home. You will miss your comforts back home. You will miss, well, everything.

But, on the other hand, you could gain everything.

Since moving to Asia 5 years ago, I have paid off all of my undergraduate student debt which burdened me for years and years back in corporate America. I have easily traveled to so many countries on this side of the world, an opportunity I never had while working back home. I have met new friends from all over the world and continue to do so every day. Professionally, I have chosen teaching as my permanent career choice and am planning on starting a Master’s in Teaching program this fall. I feel like moving abroad to teach was the challenge I was missing in my life, and I am so happy that I took the leap of faith all those years ago. If you’re in Korea now and are looking for the next big thing, I hope to encourage you to consider China as a future destination of choice. It’s definitely a humbling, life-changing experience and one I don’t regret. And Korvia can get you there.

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Reconnecting with the Korvia team with a Korean BBQ dinner during a visit to Shenzhen in fall 2018 to meet new SDE teachers

CONNECT WITH ERICA ON LINKEDIN  | SCHOOL LIFE IN KOREA WITH KORVIA  | SCHOOL LIFE IN CHINA WITH SDE