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Here's Why Going To Teach In Asia Is The Best Decision You'll Ever Make

By James Fenton

July 16, 2017 at 5:18pm

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It was August 2008 when I handed in my thesis at the end of a long hard summer of typing absolute nonsensical jargon. I now found myself thrown out on my own into the big bad world of searching for employment. 

Only problem was, Ireland had found itself smack bang in the middle of a great, big, massive recession and jobs weren't exactly easy to come by.

It's a story that will be familiar to many, not just for people of my generation, but many before me and loads more after. Employers want experience, you haven't got any, you need to work somewhere to gain experience, and so continues the most vicious of circles. 

While I spent a few frustrating months trying to seek employment, a good friend of mine had already taken matters into his own hands. Following a few talks at our college outlining the lifestyle, financial and career benefits of taking some time out to teach in Asia, he found himself landing in the far eastern city of Daegu.

"Oi! Where the eff is that?", I can hear you all shouting and that's exactly what I asked at the time too. Well, let me tell you. Daegu is the fourth biggest city in South Korea in terms of population, with approximately 2.5 million people calling it home as of 2015. 

Being an Irishman who values the idea of having loads more Irishmen around him wherever he went, my mate made numerous attempts to get me to join him over in the 'Land Of The Morning Calm.' 

Originally, I didn't fancy the idea of heading over to the other side of the world but my decision was made easier by the promise of employers on the other side paying for my return flights as well as my rent. Yep, most schools and academies in South Korea will allow you to live rent free for the entirety of your stay.

Anyway, after mulling over the aforementioned factors for a while, it wasn't long before I was on a plane to join my bud on the Korean peninsula.

So what met me on the other side? Well, he did for one, along with two other Irish lads (obvs) whom he had met since he arrived three months previously. The three lads took my jetlagged self for a pint under the bright, flashing lights of bustling downtown Daegu which were to become a familiar sight over the coming months and years. I was instantly hooked. 

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The city itself is a hotbed for expats coming from our own Emerald Isle as well as the UK, the USA, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and any other English-speaking country I have failed to mention.

South Korea's desire to integrate itself with the English-speaking world means that there is never a shortage of jobs for anyone from here in the west who wants to give it a go. Parents and schools place a huge emphasis on the education of their children, to the point where you feel sorry for the little mites.

In Ireland, when kids finish school around 3pm, they scribble a bit of homework and then go off out and play with their friends. In Korea, a day in the books is followed by homework and then evening trips to various after-school academies such as maths, science, music, and English, where the vast majority of us expats teach. This meant that for many of us work didn't start till around 3pm and finished at around 9.30pm or 10pm. That schedule had its benefits alright. 

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What if you have no experience teaching? Not a problem. Unless things have changed dramatically from my own experience all those years ago, most employers only require a university degree of any kind to get set up over there. It goes without saying that teaching experience helps and many friends of mine undertook TEFL or CELTA courses, but for me, I just went over with a university degree and the clothes on my back. Speaking of which, come dressed for all seasons. The summers are absolutely roasting while Korean winters make Ireland feel like the Costa Del Sol. 

So how did I get a job? Luckily my pal had made a few mates and the revolving door system of teaching jobs in Asia meant that one of his departing peers was in search of a replacement to take on the job he was leaving behind. In other words, I got quite lucky. It certainly helps if you know someone over there which, for many people, will be the case nowadays. When I first landed in Daegu in 2009, I knew all of the approximately 10 Irish folks in the town. When I left in 2014, the place had been overrun by us, with somewhere near 200 Irish people residing there. This would be the same in most big cities so my advice would be to ask around, get in touch with people and if you hear of anyone who lives in Asia, contact them and ask for help. As I mentioned earlier, for Irish people going abroad it's generally a case of 'the more the merrier!' 

You're probably wondering why I went to South Korea in 2009 and didn't return permanently until 2014. My answer can be summed up in the following five words: 'The craic was bleedin' ninety.' 

Most people don't believe me when I say that. They picture Asia as an overpopulated place where old people go to see boring old ruins like The Great Wall Of China, where food menus are made up of funny symbols designed to give everyone a headache and where people sit on the floor with their shoes off while eating dinner. That last one is very true by the way, but only in a minority of restaurants and in family homes. 

People hear of Korea and they think of Kim Jong Un, of poverty and of nuclear warfare. While the people of North Korea do live in a closed-off dictatorship, the difference between north and south could not be more vast.

Honestly, I could have spent five years drifting from job to job somewhere in Ireland or I could have stepped out of my comfort zone and headed off to do some growing up while at the same time getting up to plenty of messing with my new found mates from Korea and further afield.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying it's for everybody. It's easy for some people to walk straight into their careers after college but I found it difficult and I know a lot of other people do too. That's why it was amazing to see so many welcoming faces from all corners of the world when I arrived in a place which was a far cry from where I grew up. Watching the Irish population grow and the local Daegu Fianna GAA club become one of the most prominent in Asia, all while having some of the most unforgettable nights out of my life, is an experience I'll always treasure and something so many others will treasure.

In fact, after three years, I went back to Daegu earlier this year to watch that same friend, who convinced me to join him over there, marry the love of his life. While I'm back on home soil now, he remains there along with many more of my very good friends.

I can only speak for Daegu, the city I lived in, but while I was in Korea, I experienced the many charms of Seoul, Busan and loads more cities as well as taking in trips to China, Thailand, Japan and the Philippines, all of which are home to countless Irish people who still manage to make annual trips home to visit Mammy and Daddy.

I climbed the Great Wall Of China, I drank from buckets at a full moon party and I sunbathed on beaches which I thought I'd only ever see on postcards. I even got to have a peek into North Korea on a tour of the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) at the north/south border. 

The food is great, the people are amazing, the languages are easy to pick up and, if you find yourself at a loose end after college, or any other time for that matter, I would recommend moving to teach in Asia to anybody! Feel free to get in touch if I've failed to answer any questions you may have. In the meantime, 독서 고마워 (look it up!) 

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