The final year of university brought me close to the kind of mental breakdown regularly symbolized in popular culture by the haunting picture of Britney Spears’ shaved head. I didn’t cut all my air off but I did do a lot of self-indulgent weeping, ate double deckers as a supplement for every food group, and wrote a lot of depressing, woeful prose for my creative writing module.
It was hard at the time to pinpoint one thing that was making me want to shove my head in an oven, but looking back it seems that it was probably the feeling that my current existence was teetering on the edge of a cliff. At any moment the wind could send me hurtling towards a glum abyss and I would have nothing but the depressing sting of adulthood obligation to cushion my fall. In other words, I would soon have to look for a job. I couldn’t travel because the amount of debt I was in made Greece look like it had flourishing economy, and Nick Clegg had ruined any chance for me to burrow under another year of post-graduate education. So, after graduation I would be left with an anorexic bank account, two cardboard boxes crammed with classic literature, and no intention of settling for the bland, rigid graduate jobs that saturated the market.
The idea of teaching in South Korea appeared like a white knight rescuing me from a job as a sales or marketing executive, (looking at every job search site ever, my own reliable study proved that these seem to be the only options for graduates). My friend Matt had studied in Seoul during the summer whilst at university, and he returned with magical knowledge of a way to escape the corporate job prison of England. I found out that English language schools in Korea would pay for your flight into the country, your apartment, and most of your health insurance. They would also pay a wage that was far above the cost of living, thus creating the phenomenon that graduates in England have only ever dreamed of: saving.
I started looking for a job in Korea as soon as I had graduated, however I could only start after I had cleared some of my debt and collected some money for my first month out there. I found a full time job at a call center where I got paid for letting people scream at me all day, and blame me for the profit-mongering, customer-neglecting actions of the company I was working for. Thankfully Korea gleamed in the distance as the antidote to the slow destruction of my soul. Over the four months I worked as a slave to customer service, I fattened up my bank account and secured a job in Daegu, South Korea teaching English to 7-15 year olds.
My job in Korea pays me enough so that I can live comfortably and still manage to save around £800 every month. I live in my own apartment and I can afford to travel around whenever I get the time. The teaching is easy enough and most of the Korean students I work with are engaging, intelligent, lively, and hilarious. I’m not attempting to claim that working as an English teacher here is the best graduate job I could have landed, but it’s the only one that allowed me to encompass everything I wanted to do after studying for 17 years straight. I can travel and experience a new alien culture, I can bulk up my pockets ready for heading back to England, and I can take some time to figure out where I want my life to go.
As a graduate in England, I was faced with an innumerable amount of barriers that restricted my career options. I want to be a writer, and in order to achieve my word-penning ambitions realistically I have to work for free, since like in many industries, attempting to find a paid internship is like trying to find the lost city of Atlantis in a Birmingham canal. Another blockade to my dreams is that London seems to be the only city in England that has opportunities for writers to get experience. So, when it comes to climbing the ladder of literary success it appears you must have pretty deep pockets so that you can survive working for free in the most expensive city in the world.
Teaching in Korea has given me a leg-up on that ladder because it so generously provided me with a financial boost. It has also given me the space away from home that has helped me acknowledge that I never want to chase an elusive career and all its promises of money and self-fulfillment. I can find fulfillment without a steady salary and an impressive title to list under the job section on Facebook. I know my own satisfaction will come with fighting in any way I can to ensure the world is a more equal and peaceful place. Even if it means I have to be poor and unacknowledged, I’m still not surrounding myself to the fate of a corporate graduate job that makes me want to drown myself in my own tears.