[LEARNING CURVE]A lifetime of experiences in a few years

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[LEARNING CURVE]A lifetime of experiences in a few years

Like many Westerners, I came to Korea on a whim. Several years ago, I was terminated from a financially stable, yet unsatisfying technical sales job. I was reluctant to pursue work in my profession. Coming from an engineering background, teaching English overseas had never crossed my mind. In fact, the irony is that engineers are notorious for having poor English language skills, even though English is our mother tongue.
I have always had a passion for traveling. But coming to Asia, for any reason, had never occurred to me. It just seemed like a place that was out of reach and much too expensive to fly to. Before arriving, the only things that came to mind when I heard of Korea were Ben Johnson’s stripping of the gold medal in 1988 and its 2002 hosting of the World Cup. But since all of the schools were offering free airfare and accommodations along with the salary, it was time for me to shed my veil of ignorance.
Living here has opened my eyes to an abundance of things I normally would never have experienced back home. Although the novelty of it all has long since worn away, there’s more than just simply teaching that I’ve learned through all this. Aside from being able to explain things using my hands, I’ve learned the art of tolerance, humility, and most of all, patience.
The patience of an English teacher is tested on a daily basis, whether it’s attempting to calm down a rowdy classroom full of 8-year olds who don’t understand their teacher or trying to explain the subtle differences between the pronunciation of “R” and “L” or rationalizing with mothers who don’t understand why their children aren’t fluent in English after four months of study.
Outside of the classroom, this virtue is also put to the test. Speeding motorists who have no respect for pedestrians, feisty ajummas who push their way in front of others simply waiting in line for their turn. Everyone seems to be in a rush to get somewhere. The mass population combined with a sheer lack of space is at times nothing less than overwhelming.
In a few months I will make my way back home. Like most of the English teachers working here in Korea, I have used this opportunity as a stepping stone towards my next stop in life.
I’ve experienced many of the highs and lows of life in Korea during this time. The pink shirts, norae bangs, break-ups, make-ups, bus drivers, stares, glares, short tempers and of course traffic have all tested my patience. It has been a lifetime’s worth of experiences.


by Robert Hartmann
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