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  • Writer's pictureKaitlynaMac

this is the blog post where i convince you to leave your home

Updated: Jan 9, 2021

About four years ago I decided to move from Canada to South Korea. Going abroad and traveling around the world had interested me since I was young. I hadn't done much traveling until that point due to time and financial constraints (traveling anywhere from Canada is EXPENSIVE. Heck, traveling within Canada is expensive, too). When my debts were settled and I had some emergency money in my bank account, I finally took to the skies. When I was in highschool, one of my English teachers mentioned being an au pair, AKA nanny. I liked kids, but many of these jobs are live-in and I prefer to be more independent than that. Through some way or other I eventually learned about teaching English. The idea is that you go to a country, teach English to students--usually kids--on one year contracts, make money, and then go wherever you want to. I had originally planned on going to Japan, but after looking up some information about it online, I came to know that the working hours are long and living expenses are high. Not exactly ideal for me who was working 60+ hours a week in Canada just trying to get by. I stumbled across one forum where someone suggested working and living in S. Korea, which has better working conditions and, and using it as a base for travel during long holidays. I knew next to nothing about S. Korea, but I was sold.

With little knowledge and no expectations, I got a job, packed my bags, and was off. The first few days were a flurry and whirlwind of activity. It's a good thing that I don't believe in jet lag, because I arrived at the airport in the evening, and had to be at work first thing in the morning. We, my new co-workers and I, did two days of orientation and then it was off to the races. Most young people that come to teach English abroad are not actual teachers. There are the rare few who actually have teaching degrees, but for the most part these "teachers" have liberal arts degrees, like me. I also had the great luck of teaching beginner students who didn't know any English, and I didn't know any Korean, and my Korean co-teachers kept quitting, so the first few months were, needless to say, pretty rough. But never once did I want to quit and go back home. On the contrary, I was really happy at my job, I made tremendous friends, gained the respect of my superiors, was financially stable, and was able to afford a rich and vibrant life which I was unable to have in Canada.

When I left Canada, my family and friends asked me when I was going to return. In typical "me" fashion, I had not made any plans. I only knew that I had to stay a minimum of six months (so I wouldn't be on the hook for airfare as per my contract), but other than that, the sky's the limit. Now I've been in S. Korea for nearing on four years. It's not something that I expected, or even planned to do, but that's how it happened. S. Korea has a lot of holidays, so I was able to travel outside of the country quite a bit. I visited Thailand, Taiwan, Indonesia, and Japan, and of course, I traveled all over S. Korea. It's been a marvelous and amazing journey.

I've met a lot of different people and many friends during my time here, some of whom are very curious to know what life is like back in Canada. My Korean acquaintances and students especially want to know how expensive it is, what people are like, and what working is like in Canada. The work culture is pretty harsh in S. Korea, and Asia in general. There's a lot of mandatory over-time, extra duties, and workers are expected to stay at the office as long as the boss is still there. The boss could be taking a nap for all the workers know, but still they can't leave. S. Koreans think that Canada is a beacon of hope and fairness to workers, and that they can enjoy an easy life there. They assume that all Canadians are friendly and that they will be accepted in society and the community at large if they were to immigrate. Of course this can't be true for everyone, but everyone who's asked me about it has had these ideas.

Faced with these questions, I had to really think about my life and experiences in Canada. When I was living there, I just blindly accepted my lot in the absence of other experiences or knowledge. I always heard that Canada was the greatest country on Earth growing up, and I believed that. Even when I had to wait 6 hours in an emergency room, I believed that. Even when I worked 60 hours a week to just get by, I believed that. Even when I got robbed at gunpoint in the jewelry store I worked at, I believed that. However, now that I've been to more places, met more people, and simply grown up a little more, I no longer believe. Don't get me wrong, there are lots of things to love about Canada and I will return there... someday. But It's certainly not the paradise that I blindly believed it to be in my youth.

I'm not trying to compare S. Korea to Canada either, rather my experiences here have opened my eyes to new possibilities and alternative ways of doing things. For instance, S. Korea's health system is ranked 4th in the world, while Canada's is 25th. That Medicare that Canadians are so proud of has some serious flaws. My experiences with Canadian healthcare might be a little skewed since I lived in the Maritimes and Newfoundland and Labrador, both very rural and constantly short on healthcare professionals. I've had a few problems with my health and I found that I was able to get better care in S. Korea, even though I don't speak the language, and the system is alien to me. In S. Korea you don't need a referral to see specialists, and in many cases you don't even need to make an appointment; walk-ins are preferred. At one point I needed to get an MRI and see an endocrinologist in S. Korea, I was able to get an appointment in weeks and had my MRI after two months, and that was at a popular hospital. I looked up MRI times back home in Canada and the waitlist is over a year. The one draw-back of S. Korean healthcare is the price. I paid $800 recently for an explorative surgery, even with national health insurance. Private insurance is available, however, and for only about $10-20/month. As a financially stable person, I don't mind paying a little extra if it means being able to get treatment sooner. Not to mention that certain dental procedures are covered under national insurance in Korea. I got two wisdom teeth pulled in Korea for $60. It cost me $500 just pull out one tooth back home. Cleanings and check-ups are $15 if you go once a year with national insurance. I went to the dentist recently for an additional cleaning and it was only $30. Glasses are also a lot cheaper. You can get non-designer frames starting at $10, and your lenses are ready within a couple of minutes.

The tax system is also streamlined in S. Korea. I heard from a woman in a hostel that the system is similar in France. Basically, the government knows how much you should pay in taxes already, so all you need to do is go to a government website, input your person info (usually your social insurance number), get the total amount of what you owe, and then pay it. Done. Easy. In S. Korea you can do it this way and pay a flax tax of 17% of your income, or, you can submit your banking transactions for the year and get an adjusted rate. I usually just go with the flat rate and I've never had to pay in more than $200. In Canada, I remember my shock when I was working two jobs, having $500-$600 getting taken out of my cheques every month, and I still had to pay in $1000 at tax time. S. Koreans are often really surprised when I tell them how high taxes are in Canada. Personally, I don't feel like my tax money was being used efficiently, or at least, not as efficiently as its used in S. Korea. Here, the streets are clean, public transportation is cheap and convenient, healthcare is fantastic, the streets are safe, and there are plenty of accessible programs for even foreigners like me.

On the other hand, the banking system in S. Korea is a nightmare. You need to install security software onto your computer to purchase things online with your Korean debit/credit card. If you want online banking, you need to get an electronic certificate, which is like... some kind of permission to long into your bank account online, and renew it every year to keep using the service. If you forget your password you need to go all the way back to the bank to get a new certificate and start the process all over again. I haven't had online banking for the entirety of my stay in S. Korea because I can't be arsed to go to the bank so often. Truly a waste of time. While living abroad I've also met people from all over the world. Spending time with them and hearing their stories has opened my eyes to new possibilities and ways of living. I have a friend from NZ who is a neuroscientist, spends most of her time in the mountains, and lives a minimalist life-style. One of my students used to be a delivery driver, but now is a published author, has fans, and has recently bought a couple of investment properties. And, of course, I met my partner in crime (sometimes literally), Sam! Everyone I've met have had their own stories and experiences and I feel lucky that our paths somehow met during our respective journeys abroad. I met a Turkish guy once who explained that it was normal for young people in their country to go abroad to broaden their horizons and I think Australians do the same. Whenever I talk to my students, I always tell them that they should try living in another country for a year or two if they can. It wasn't always easy, but I'm satisfied with the life I've lived and the decisions that I've made. I'm happy with the person I've become, and I have a more solid idea of who I want to be in the future.

If I had never left Canada, I would still be living within the same bubble I was when I left. Don't get me wrong, I love my Canadian bubble, but at the same time, I'm glad I popped it. Some people live within their bubbles their whole lives, and that's ok! But my life is so much more vibrant and richer than it was, and I'm grateful for the knowledge and skills that I have gained over the past four years. I have the confidence, and know-how to face my future head-on without second-guessing myself; something I used to do quite often. I guess what I'm trying to say is that, traveling around, or better yet, living in other countries and following an alternative life-style, is over and above and beyond worth it. If you have the chance to do it, you should. Who knows? Maybe you'll find the place where you truly belong, or realize that your home was where you belonged all along. Your eyes will be opened to new possibilities, you could find your Seoul-mate (sorry), learn a new language or cooking techniques. Basically the benefits are endless, the pitfalls are few, and the adventure is great. In this age of globalization, the world is your oyster and it's time to harvest that pearl.

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