After two amazing years, Chris and I are leaving Korea to continue our travels. I am not exaggerating when I say that coming to Korea was the best decision we could have made, although it definitely isn’t for everyone. I want to give you some details about how to make your move away from Korea as painless as possible, as well as how we knew it was time to move on.
Leaving Korea: How to know when you need to go
The decision to move to another job, house, or country should never be taken lightly. There is a lot of inspiration-porn out there that will encourage you to pack it all up and leave, or have your own “Eat, Pray, Love” moment, but nobody really talks about what happens after you make that decision.
There are infinite reasons for making a change, but I want to cover three big ones that helped us to know that it was time to commit to leaving Korea for a new place.
To put it simply: are you happy and fulfilled in your current job? Of course it isn’t all that simple, and there’s a hundred other questions that follow this one. But I think it is a good self-care practice to ask it periodically, and to figure out what to do if the answer is no.
Nobody is completely fulfilled and content at their job, and of course there are a ton of small things that can add up over time to make you feel the need to move. If you are feeling dissatisfied with your job, you need to figure out if it is just your workplace specifically, or your career choice more generally. For example, when we were considering leaving Korea, we needed to understand if we were getting bored with teaching, or just bored with the particular way we have to teach in Korean public schools.
If you’re thinking of leaving Korea, try to identify exactly what it is you want to change. Could you change between public schools and hagwons? Or do you think you could be happy still teaching English elsewhere? Or is it time to give teaching a rest altogether? All of these questions are vital to reflect on if you’re going to make a decision that is in your best interest, rather than just on a whim. Have a look at our teaching in Korea guide to see what other options you may have in the country.
Following on from the question of work, it is important to focus not only on your current situation, but also keep an eye on the bigger picture. Your job may not be exactly where you want to end up, but does it provide an important stepping stone in your long term plans? It’s a tough pill to swallow, but sometimes you’re going to have to stick it out at a job or in a country you don’t love to get to where you want to be.
In our case, it made sense to stick it out in Korea for at least two years, as it was a prime opportunity to save money and build a little nest egg for our future dreams. We managed to put a bunch of money in investments for our pension, as well as having a bit of a cash barrier to back us up as we start our own businesses.
Teaching isn’t ultimately what either of us would like to do long-term, but it has provided us with amazing opportunities to travel, increase our skill set, and set ourselves up for future opportunities. Have a look at all the reasons I think people shouldn’t teach English abroad, and if you agree with me, well, it may be time to find something else if you can.
Before you decide on leaving Korea, or wherever you are, take some time to write down your goals. Not only is it great to take a look at these from time to time, it will also show you very clearly if you’re on the right track to making them happen or not.
Another aspect to your decision to move on should be how much you enjoy the lifestyle you have. This includes all sorts of things, such as if you have a good support system of friends or family, and whether you enjoy the culture of your chosen country. Maybe you are earning a good salary, and although your job isn’t super fulfilling, you love the lifestyle that it affords you.
There is no reason to feel guilty about enjoying the money you make, and having stepped up considerably in the money department, I know how great it feels to not worry about making rent or buying a daily coffee. You need to reflect on whether your lifestyle justifies you staying in your job, and if not, can you change your specific workplace, or your whole career, while still maintaining it?
There is no right or wrong answer here, and if you can’t answer, give yourself a little more time. You wouldn’t make a decision on your physical health quickly, so give your career the same consideration.
Leaving Korea: Why you shouldn’t
Just as there are infinite reasons why you should move on from a job, career, or country, there are a ton of reasons why you shouldn’t. When you’re making this decision, be careful that you aren’t simply suffering from a case of destination addiction.
Despite what it sounds like, destination addiction isn’t about being addicted to travel, or even to a specific country. Rather, it is the idea that all of your happiness lies just over the horizon, at the next job, the next home, the next event. If you find that you’re missing out on enjoying your here and now because you’re always pushing on to the next thing, you might be suffering from destination addiction.
Psychology Today has a good introductory article to destination addiction, where they speak specifically about the following symptoms:
* “Whatever you are doing, you are always thinking about what comes next.
* You cannot afford to stop because you always have to be somewhere else.
* You are always in a hurry even when you don’t need to be.
* You always promise that next year you will be less busy.
* Your dream home is always the next home you plan to buy.
* You don’t like your job but it has good prospects for the future.
* You never commit fully to anything in case something better comes along.
* You hope the next big success will finally make you happy.
* You always think you should be further ahead of where you are now.
* You have so many forecasts, projections, and targets that you never enjoy your life”.
Really take time to reflect if this in any way describes how you are feeling while you’re deciding on leaving Korea or anything else. If your reasoning involves destination addiction, then leaving Korea, your career, or your partner, isn’t going to give you the sense of fulfillment that you’re craving. Although it isn’t a diagnosable disease, it is a very real problem, and you should maybe think of talking to a therapist or even a trusted friend about what you’re feeling.
There’s nothing else to do
Another problematic reason for leaving Korea, would be just feeling like there’s nothing else you should be doing. It is never a good idea to be making life-changing decisions because of societal pressures to do something different, or be at a different place in life. I have many friends who left Korea to go back home and start to work on their dreams, only to return to teaching English in Korea a few years later.
While there is nothing wrong with deciding you’d rather return, keep this in mind before you even make the decision to leave in the first place. Do you have an actionable plan for when you return? Do you have plan b to z for if your initial attempts don’t go so well? Or you leaving with a goal in mind, or simply because you feel you ‘should’?
There’s nothing wrong with teaching English abroad long-term, although believe me, I understand how it feels to be in this position when it really wasn’t part of your life plan. Have a look at my reflections on what it feels like to be around 30 years old and teaching English in Korea.
Leaving Korea: Logistics
If you’ve decided that leaving Korea really is for you, then here is some specific information to make the transition as stress-free as possible.
Dealing with moving stress
Moving house is widely accepted as one of the most stressful events in a person’s life. The NY Times has a great article on the psychology of moving if you’re interested in why it’s such a stressful life event. For the rest of us, here are some tips for how to manage the move:
Write stuff down, then do it.
Making an actionable list is fundamental to dealing with the stress of change and the unknown that moving brings. Instead of letting your imagination get the better of you and giving fuel to your anxiety, write a list of what you can do. Even better, write three lists: what you can do right now, what you can do soon, and what you need to figure out more long-term. Then do as much as you can on that first list. Getting even a little thing done will help you be in the right frame of mind to tackle the rest.
Ask for help
There is nothing worse than facing a daunting task alone. You probably aren’t as alone as you believe, and asking for help is really important if you want to get sh*t done. Get your friends on board to help you pack, unpack, plan, or help you remember to eat. If you feel like you can’t ask your friends or family to help, then hire someone to help. There’s no guilt asking someone to do something when you are literally paying them for the job. So figure out what you’re struggling with the most and get someone to help you professionally.
Don’t be unrealistic about timelines
Moving always takes longer than you think. There’s no harm in setting up an ideal timeline, but don’t hold onto it so tightly that you get super anxious when something inevitably goes wrong. There’s a reason people are professional movers, it takes a lot of skill to get this stuff right. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t get it completely right first time.
Marie Kondo your stuff
Marie Kondo has been a revelation in our lives, and I mean that in the most sincere way possible. With the Konmari method we were able to donate four massive boxes of stuff, and throwaway a ton of junk. After two years in Korea we got our stuff down to 3 big suitcases and some backpacks, which is no mean feat if you like stuff as much as we do.
It may be a trending topic right now, but don’t dismiss it as a fad before you try it. There’s never a better time to reevaluate your belongings as when you need to pay to haul it across the world. I also love the idea that you need to decide what belongings ‘spark joy’ for you. There are tons of boxes at my family home filled with things I haven’t missed for a second since I’ve been away.
Wouldn’t it be better to only hold onto the belongings that bring me contentment, than to be literally weighed down by all the useless crap I accrue? I can’t even tell you all the things I donated just last week, so I sure as hell didn’t need to haul them to a new country with me. Hopefully they can ‘spark joy’ for someone else.
Leaving Korea: Admin help
If you’re leaving Korea specifically, there are a number of administrative tasks that can seem a little daunting if you don’t speak fluent Korean. Because I’m South African I don’t receive pension in Korea, but here’s more info if you need to collect your pension before you leave.
You’ll also need to cancel any phone or internet contracts if you haven’t reached the end of your agreed contract duration. Here’s some help with cancelling contracts in Korea. You’ll also need to organise to get your stuff sent to wherever you’re going if you can’t Konmarie your way down to your allotted checked baggage allowance.
The Korean post office is a great way to get your stuff sent home, and I’ve heard that it takes a couple of months to get your stuff sent by boat. I tend to trust Korea Post over other courier companies, as they often have English speaking staff, and I have found them super reliable and cost-effective. Have a look at this guide to shipping with Korea Post.
A final hack, is that if you are travelling with Korean Air, Asiana, China Southern, T’way, or Jeju Air, you can check your baggage and go through immigration at Seoul Station. This is a huge time-saver, especially if you are travelling through Incheon airport at peak times. Have a look here for more specific details about Seoul Station check in services.
I hope that this has helped make your decision on leaving Korea an easier one. I sincerely hope that whatever you decide, you move on to brighter, more fulfilling opportunities. Is there anything I’ve missed out? Let me know below!
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