As a social worker I’m not new to the concept of burnout, but somehow I thought this would never happen to me whilst teaching English in Korea. Trust me, it did. And when it happened, it got me bad. I should have seen it coming, but hindsight is 20/20, right?
Here are the 8 things (in no specific order) that got to me, and how I will try and avoid them in the future.
There’s no reason to be isolated because you live in a foreign country. Well…see…when you work with people you don’t get along with, and on top of that you share a living space with them, things tend to get a little turbulent. Top that off with a school that is literally not even in a town, and seeing different kids every week for a year and a half, it starts feeling like you are floating from one day to the next.
To the future me: Do not live where you work. Ever.
2. High standards
The next pitfall for me was (and continue to be) my high standards. I love to work and I did not come to Korea to sit around and get easy money. I honestly love teaching and working. But when you are surrounded by people, both Korean and foreign, who only come to work for the salary you will start to feel like you are pulling all the weight. Or sink into despair because of the unfair treatment. It sucks when people don’t work as hard as you, but reaps all the same rewards.
To the future me: Life is not fair. You reap what you sow, and sometimes people around you also reap what you’ve sown. Deal with it. Either stop working so hard, and feel crap about that, or keep going and stop measuring yourself against others.
Oh boy! This has been a big one. I would get so excited because I think something will play out a specific way (the way I see as logical), and when it goes the other direction I’d fall into despair. Well, that does not work out. Ever.
Note to self: You’ve written a post about Korean logic- stop expecting western results in a Korean society. It’s not fair, it’s never going to happen and you keep setting yourself up for failure.
I’ve always had ‘money- issues’. Some months back home I would have literally only the food in my cupboard to get me through the month, with not a single cent in the Bank. In Korea, I feel rich. I spent way more money than I would’ve back home, which is fine because I also save way more. The problem for me comes in when I hear how other people back home struggles. I have this guilt that I carry around, and this silly notion that I’m responsible for the whole world’s wellbeing.
To the current and future me: Help when you can and when asked. You are not the keeper of mankind, stop being so hard on yourself.
At my school, we do the same program for weeks on end. The current program we’re teaching is running on week 8. I do the same lesson 8 times in 4 days and have been doing so for the last 7 weeks. This is my second contract with this school, so it means that not only have I done this lesson 32 times x 2 for 2017, I’ve also done it 32 times x 2 for 2016. And this is only for 8 weeks out of the year. All the other weeks have their own little repetitions and calculations.
Dear future me: Go to a school where you can work towards a goal for the year, not the week.
6. Kids (or the lack of)
As a person who loves kids, need kids in my life and get my energy from kids it is extremely exhausting to have no relationship building what so ever. How could you if you only see a child for 1 class during a one week period, and then maybe you’ll get to see them again the next year if they choose to come back to camp? Sure, we have homeroom (10 minutes each morning for a week), but how much can you achieve in that time?
Note to self: As a teacher, you have a need to build relationships and see some form of growth taking place in a child. You need a job where that can happen.
Yes, I suffer from FOMO. My friends back home are exploring new Gin bars, and I’m sitting on my couch drinking Soju. I’ve missed two big weddings, one funeral, the death of a pet, my friend’s pregnancy and I have not even met my best friend’s new (not so new anymore) boyfriend.
How to deal: Skype more, write more, care package more (FFS, you have the money now).
8. Health, Weather, and Diet
This one seems completely logical, right? If you eat healthily and stay out of the cold, rain and snow you’d never get sick…said nobody ever! When you are stressed, feel fatigued and have to combat the ever-changing weather in Korea (both outside and inside), you are bound to get sick. I’ve had my fair share of summer and winter flu episodes and also the occasional stomach bug. I don’t ever feel like I recover since the medicine in Korea are equal to the stuff we give babies back home.
How to cope: Bring lots of medicine from home, try to build your immune system up by taking extra vitamins and minerals. Drink Vitamin D at least twice daily. If you go to the doc in Korea, go back after three days because a three-day prescription will not cure you.
So, what next? Now comes the difficult part where I have to do something with all this newfound wisdom. I’ve already decided to start looking for a new job, and hopefully I’ll get one which ticks all the boxes. Am I leaving Korea? Not even close. This is still one of the best things that has happened to me. Watch this space, good stuff will continue to happen here 🙂