When people think about gap year travellers, images of privileged teens partying in Thailand might come to mind. My gap year was quite different because I waited until after I graduated university to take a year to go abroad and work. It was a gap year in the sense that I wanted to give myself more time to decide what I wanted to do with my life without spending my betwixt time at home. I discovered that a number of people were going abroad to teach English and I examined my chances. Was English my native language? Yes. Did I have a bachelor’s degree? Yes. Was I interested in moving to a foreign country and learning about a new culture? Definitely! After doing more research I narrowed down my search to South Korea.
I graduated in 2009 and it was a difficult time for recent graduates looking for work. After being rejected by the local jobs I was applying to it felt amazing to get immediate responses to the jobs I was applying for in Korea. I evolved from rejection-letter recipient to sought-after recruit and it gave me the power to be more selective about the company and location I chose. I had spoken with friends of friends who had worked in Korea and it seemed like Seoul was the best location for me. The capital was the biggest city in the country and it had world-renowned public transportation and an international appeal. After I had a few interviews I accepted an offer in the business district of Jongno-gu in Seoul.
From the day of my first interview until my first day of work, six months elapsed.
There are a lot of mandatory documents needed for a Korean work visa, which usually takes Americans 2-3 months, but due to my universities’ extremely long diploma processing period, my wait was doubled. Luckily, the process is shorter for Brits.
I arrived in the winter and as a California native, it felt like The Arctic. My snow boots, bomber hat and two jackets were my daily uniform for the next four and a half months. Thankfully, Korean apartments come with floor-heating. I met really great English teachers from all over the world who became my immediate close friends. I worked with college students and business people teaching them English conversation and pronunciation.
I really liked my students and enjoyed the job but the hours were gruelling. My job started at 7am and ended at 9:30pm with a break during the day. After ten months of subpar sleep I was happy to change shifts.
I really loved living in Seoul: the food was delicious and inexpensive and every weekend promised an amazing time with great memories. I changed jobs to work at an English kindergarten with some friends. The hours were much more normal and the kids were the sweetest, smartest and best behaved students I’ve ever encountered.
During my third and last year in Korea I started applying to postgraduate programs in the United Kingdom.
Since my grades were not exactly competitive from my previous studies I think that my international experience was the extra “push” that landed me three acceptance letters.
Going to Korea was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and I have not ruled out the possibility of going back.
Read more about study in Asia.