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Tomorrow is the day, the 6-month point of my return to Canada after 10 years living in South Korea working as an English teacher. It’s a good time to reflect on things, and here are a few of those thoughts (If you’re in the just getting ready to leave stage, check out this blog post: Leaving Korea? Top 10 Tips to do it Well).
For Work, Make Plans, but be Flexible
I thought that I wanted to go all-in on the digital entrepreneur thing when I went back to Canada. But the reality of it was harder than I thought, especially because I was new to Canada and didn’t really know people where I had chosen to live. I felt kind of sad and depressed staying at home with the cats on my computer so knew I needed to go out and get a real job. I did however hire someone to work for me full-time to keep the online thing going which is working out really well.
That real job consisted of the booming movie industry in Vancouver where I’m working for 4 months on a CBC TV series. It was strangely easy to get the job, despite my total lack of experience. I get paid a kind of ridiculous amount of money for the actual amount of work I do (locations, and more recently, crafty assistant). The hours are long, but after 10 years working 10 hours a week in Korean universities for 32 weeks of the year, it feels pretty good. And there’s also a ton of opportunity to climb the ranks and get better and better jobs for more money and fewer hours.
So what I’m saying is this: make a plan for work when returning to your home country, but be flexible. I truly had no idea that I’d end up doing the movie thing. But, it’s actually way better than any other thing I considered. And I’m now living in Vancouver, and it’s unexpectedly affordable. It all just really worked out, but in the most unexpected way.
It Takes Time to Make Friends
In Korea, I had a big group of super rad friends. It was hard to leave them and when I look back at pictures from my going away party, I feel sad. Really sad. And I don’t have that in Canada. And I’m not sure I ever really will. People are busy with families and jobs and other stuff and they simply don’t have the time (and disposable income) to hang out and do fun stuff every single night of the week like they do in Korea. But, I’m trying not to let it get me down. I knew it would take a couple of years to have a solid group of people around me.
Things will be Hard at the Start
The first couple of months in Canada were really chaotic and stressful. I knew that they would be, based on the interviews I did for the book, “Life After ESL.” I tried to mentally prepare myself for it which really helped. So many times, I would say to myself, “WTF…this is some crazy shit. But, I’ll figure it out and everything will be okay.” And then it all really was okay.
I did a few things which helped:
- Made time for paperwork. This stuff takes time and it’s better to just bite the bullet and do it at the beginning. I devoted a couple entire days to it and got it all done. Get a cellphone and car asap and this process will be much easier.
- Brought my pets. I brought little Sarah and Lucy with me from Korea. It was kind of annoying and expensive, but totally worth it. It was really comforting to have them with me…the familiar, when everything was kind of new. They’re happier now too because they can be outside and have this amazing backyard to hang out in.
- Had enough money. I ended up spending a lot of money getting set up in Canada, mainly due to moving around a few times. But, I had a big pool of money (thank you Korea Teacher’s Pension payout!) and it ended up not being a big deal, especially since I got my well-paying full-time movie gig. It would have been really, really stressful without this buffer. At this point in time, with the movie gig and the online gig, I’m at the break even point of how much money I spent in those first few months.
- Dealt with one thing at a time. Make a list. And then just go through it, starting with the most important things.
- Had a financial goal. My goal in Canada was to save $1000 a month by the end of my first year. Then $2000 a month by the end of my second year. The online thing wasn’t really doing it for me. The movie thing is though.
If you Want to Go, Just Go
Some people ask me whether or not I miss Korea and if I regret leaving. The real answer is that I miss Korea a little bit, especially my friends, but that I haven’t regretted leaving for even a second. I wasn’t happy living there for the most part, and teaching in Korean universities is a bit of a joke (see: Why South Korea isn’t the Place for Serious English Teachers). I wake up almost every single day and am happy that I’m not teaching.
Sure, I was scared about money and work and finding a place to live and leaving my friends and dealing with all the paperwork, but I figured it out. I think everyone does eventually.
Canada, especially Vancouver is an amazing place to live. Not to be one of those ridiculous patriotic Canadians who backpacks around the world with the maple leaf on their backpacks, but like it is a great country. It’s clean. There are no loud-talkers. You don’t feel like you’re going to get mowed down by a scooter on the sidewalk. It’s okay to be gay. It’s okay to be a woman. It’s okay to be from another country. Everyone speaks English, mostly. People are polite. There aren’t a million and one people at every single nice place. I can go paddling and not worry about dying due to getting hit by a jet-ski. I can get any kind of food I want. There are avocados and cilantro and parmesan cheese in abundance.
The Advice I Gave? It’s Solid I think
I for real was kind of terrified to leave Korea after 10 years and go back to Canada. My friends in Korea thought I’d be a lifer and never leave. That’s how comfortable I was there and how little I talked about going back. In order to alleviate this terror, even a little bit, I interviewed 55 English teachers who’d returned to their home countries and tried to glean every bit of wisdom I could from them. I then found the commonalities in their stories and wrote a book about it, offering up advice for expat teachers returning home.
Having now gone through the experience myself, I can say that the advice I gave in that book is super solid. And I think it can really help you make the transition more easily. Here’s what a few of the reviews on Amazon had to say:
“Here’s my verdict: This book should be the starting place for anyone thinking of going home after a stint abroad.”
“I know that there are people who will end up TEFLing forever, but for the rest of us, her book offers good advice in a concise format.”
“I think this is Jackie’s best book yet.”