Friday, July 4, 2014

Living Without Regrets: Making the Decision to Teach ESL

Today’s article is written for the Reach To Teach Teach Abroad Blog Carnival, a monthly series that focuses on providing helpful tips and advice to ESL teachers around the globe. I'll be posting a new ESL related article on my blog on the 5th of every month. Check back for more articles, and if you'd like to contribute to next month's Blog Carnival, please contact Dean at, and he will let you know how you can start participating!

For over a year of my post-college life I struggled to feel comfortable with an answer to one short, but complicated question:

Should I move abroad and enter the world of ESL teaching?

Although this is a yes or no question, it was anything but easy for me to arrive at an answer.

Teaching abroad as an ESL teacher was my original plan in my final months of my college career.  Although I gained my Social Studies teaching certificate right after I graduated, I knew that my prospects for actually landing a legit teaching job were extremely slim due to the slow economy and budget cuts in just about every school district.  Not to mention, I wasn't sure I was ready to settle down into a permanent career in NH just yet. When you're only 23 years old, the idea of staying at the same job until you're well into your 60s in just slightly overwhelming.  For those reasons and many more, teaching abroad was naturaly an attractive opportunity for a teacher who has always dreamed of traveling in the midst of post-graduation confusion.  My short-term plan was to work for about six months to save some money, then move to another country to teach ESL.

However, everything changed when I somehow miraculously landed a full-blown teaching job in my home state of NH.  To this day I'm still amazed that I ever got that job, especially since I got it one week before school started.  It was probably the most unexpected thing that has ever happened to me, and it is remains one of the experiences in my life that I'm most thankful for.  I learned a lot over that year, and in many ways I'm glad I didn't dive right into expat life right away after finishing college. 

So after a year of teaching stateside, what brought me back to the idea of ESL teaching? Was I fired from my job?  Was my first year of teaching that traumatic?

No, not at all. Actually, I had a great year of teaching.  I still am most passionate about teaching social studies, and I'll be happy to return to that career once I am back in America.

However, I suppose like many people who venture into ESL teaching, my decision making was again prompted by a lack of job security. As the future of my position at the school was uncertain (ah, the joys of public school budget allotments as a first year teacher!), I knew I had two decisions.  

1)  Stay in NH and hope that there would be a job for me in the upcoming year.  
2)  Go abroad.  

When I had initially started researching ESL teaching while I was finishing my master's degree, I read multitudes of blogs written by people who were currently teaching abroad.  When I read about their experiences from both traveling and teaching, I knew I wanted a part of it.  

I wanted to experience something totally different.  I wanted to live outside of my comfort zone.  I wanted to work in a different school system, eat new foods, and celebrate different holidays.  I wanted to see new things and make friends with people who live on the other side of the world.  At the time I was only 23.  I felt far too young to be so complacent in my life.  

I was way too curious and way too free to stay in the US. When it came down to it, there was really only one question that mattered:

Will I regret it if I don't take the chance to move abroad?

The answer was without doubt, yes.

Don't get me wrong, at just about every step along the way-- whether it was submitting my EPIK application, completing my interview, submitting my documents, getting my visa, or getting on the plane in Boston, I had some SERIOUS doubts. Just about every time I mailed documents out I remember the feeling of sheer anxiety as I thought "Am I really doing this?!"

So why would I leave a perfectly good life behind?  I had a wonderful life in NH.  Great friends, family, and everything else I could need. I had no idea where I would be living or working in Korea.  In many ways, I felt like I was being a bit reckless with my life.

But then again, that didn't change my answer to the major question.  If I didn't go, I would have always wondered "what if?"  I don't want a life full of "what ifs". And that alone was enough for me to commit to ESL teaching, even through the extreme doubts I had at points--and even through the tearful farewells as I said goodbye to my best friends and family.

When it comes down to it, my decision to join the world of ESL teacher was centered around the fact that  life is short.  It's so easy and far more comfortable to sit back and let opportunities pass you by.  Living in your hometown is way less stressful than getting on a plane and moving to a country you've ever been to....when you don't even have any idea about where you're be living....or what grade you'll be teaching...or who you'll be working with.  However, as I read other people's blogs about their experiences, I constantly thought: why shouldn't this be me?  This doesn't just have to be someone else's life.  I can do this too.

As cliche as it sounds, life is what you make of it.  It's certainly easy to let things pass you by, but it's much more rewarding to take control of life. Being young, healthy, college-educated, and a native English speaker puts you in a position of extreme privilege.  Even with my enormous debt, there are so many opportunities for me that pay enough to live, pay loans, and travel.  Why let such great opportunities be left for other people?

As I approach my one year anniversary of being in Korea, it's hard to imagine that I ever could have not been here, and that it would have been so easy to let this experience pass me by.  I can't imagine my life without this experience--without the friends who have become my family or the students who have left an indelible mark on my understanding of education.  For the rest of my life, Korea won't just be a country "over there, somewhere near China and Japan."  Korea is a place I've seen and lived life--with all of its highs and lows.  Not every day is perfect, but when I look back on it, I wouldn't have changed anything about this year. If I had to do it all over again, I can confidently say that I wouldn't do anything differently.  I haven't seriously thought "what if?" the entire time I've been in Korea.

That alone is proof enough that I made the right decision.


  1. I also ask myself if I will regret something in the future when I'm making big decisions. It provides such a sense of security to know you will regret not doing something as amazing as teaching abroad. So glad you're loving Korea, even a year later.

  2. I agree with so much of your thought process -- life is short and you have control to make it what you want. I think that when you truly understand those two concepts, you'll take risks and make your dreams happen.

    Great post, Sarah. My Korea 1-year mark is coming up in 8 short weeks too, but that'll be the end of my Korean adventure. Glad you took the leap and have enjoyed it so much!