U-Turn

If someone were to tell me almost 2 years ago- on that first lonesome night when I was overcome with culture shock- that I would be signing on the dotted line for my third year in South Korea, I would have thought they were crazy. (Delirious Clarity)

Yet, that’s exactly what I’ve done.

It has been an incredible experience, and I’ve met some friends for life. I was thrilled to have been given the opportunity to spend another year in this beautiful country.

전주풍나문. Pungnammun Gate, Jeonju.

Sometimes I think back and wonder just how I got here? I think it’s important to stop and appreciate the journey from time to time.

There was a pivotal moment which took place a few months before I had even considered applying to Korea, and it sprung me into decisive action. Before I describe that particular event, I feel the need to give you some background information.

Planted Seeds

I had been interested in pursuing a career in education ever since secondary school I suppose. I experienced firsthand, the influence good teachers can have on the mind of a young person. I was intrigued- and it was something I knew I wanted to be a part of one day.

That being said, it wasn’t something I thought of consciously. Instead, it just lingered in the recesses of my mind.

My strongest subjects in school included engineering and maths. They were also the subjects that the teachers with whom I had the greatest mutual respect- and the closest relationship- had taught. Go figure.

I found myself enrolling in an engineering undergraduate course, even though by this point I had a good idea that teaching was an avenue I wanted to explore. On the first day of induction, we were given a pep talk of sorts by the course director. At the end of his ‘rousing’ speech, he opened up the floor to questions. People asked questions relative to the course- how much workshop time do we get each week, will we get the opportunity to use the latest CAD software, and so on.

I plucked up the courage to ask the one burning question in my mind.

‘Is it possible to go down the teaching route after graduating from this course?’

The course director let out a little sarcastic chuckle, and shot my question down with a condescending tone.

‘There’s no money in teaching.’

There were a few giggles from the back of the room.

I had one of those after thoughts upon leaving the lecture hall- you know the ones where you wish you had said something, but didn’t?

Opportunity missed.

Eradicated Doubt

I graduated with honours from the course, and had just returned home after spending 6 months working in Doha. I had no doubt in my mind that I was NOT destined for a career as an engineer. I thought differently to that of a mind of an engineer- I was on a different wavelength.

Before I left Qatar, I had made the decision- at least in my mind- that I was going to look into teaching english abroad. I had been bitten by the travel bug, and I knew I wanted to pursue teaching. It made perfect sense, and the very thought excited me.

However- on returning home- that plan got stored away and almost forgotten about as I fell back into a comfortable routine. I went back to my old part-time job as a bartender in a hotel to bring in some money, back to playing rugby and GAA with my local clubs; the days just started to roll on by. I wasn’t living- but merely existing.

I began to apply for engineering jobs that I didn’t even want, because I had myself convinced that it was the next logical step. I was going to interviews feeling miserable- worried that I might actually get the job, and be stuck in an existence where I knew I didn’t belong.

Decisions

U-Turn

The pivotal moment came about a year and a half after returning home from Qatar, while on the way to an interview with a big engineering company. It was to be held over the course of a weekend in an extravagant hotel- competency tests, personality tests, interviews, presentations, groups tasks- the works.

What I felt that morning is very hard to put into words. Nerves before an interview are one thing, but this was different. The thoughts of doing that interview made me physically ill, something wasn’t right. I expressed to my parents that morning that I wasn’t feeling up to it. Shem- in fairness to him he always has our best interests at heart- talked me into putting on my suit and sucking it up.

‘You never know, you might get it.’ He said to me.

Jesus, I hope not. I thought.

I reluctantly boarded the bus from Monasterevin to Dublin, and endured one of the longest hours of my life on the way to the hotel. As I got closer to my destination, I began to feel significantly worse. The weight in my stomach became heavier. I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t sit still.

I was unaware at the time, but that whole episode was my gut feeling demanding to be acknowledged.

I had been in constant contact with my two closest confidants all morning- my twin brother James and my best friend Wildsey- who had been getting a running commentary on my thoughts and apprehensions.

True friends don’t always tell you what you want to hear, rather what you need to hear. There were some really honest questions asked of myself on that bus journey as a result of reaching out to James and Wildsey, and it was just what I needed.

I knew I didn’t want to pursue a career in engineering- it was not what I was destined for. I had always known deep down that I wanted to get back out and explore, and I also knew that I wanted to take my first steps into the education profession. It was time to take action.

OK gut feeling, I’m listening.

As the bus was pulling up to the last stop I finally acknowledged what was happening inside, and I took the decision not to go ahead with the interview. This came as a surprise to the bus driver- who looked at me like I had forty heads when I asked him to take me back. He undoubtedly saw the look of desperation in my eyes; I could barely speak, and was visibly shaken from the battle that took place in my head over the course of the hour long journey.

I put my hand in my pocket to reach for my wallet, to pay for the ticket back down to the midlands.

‘Yer alri’ bud, don’ worry abou’ reh.’

He wouldn’t accept my money.

Some of you will know that Dublin bus drivers are notorious for their ‘no-nonsense’ attitude- to put it very mildly. I was shocked.

His kind gesture- with words coated in a (strangely) soothing North Dublin accent- almost knocked me off my feet. I felt like crying. I barely managed a smile, muttered a thank you, and resisted the urge to hug him.

I decided not to tell Shem that I wasn’t going ahead with the interview. I didn’t want him to think I was giving up- or that I had a defeatist attitude- so I didn’t tell him. I’ve never told him this story, in fact to this day he thinks I went to that interview, as far as I know. Shem if you’re reading this, sorry for being deceptive. I hope you understand my reasons, and know that it worked out for the best.

I stayed with James that weekend, where I enrolled in an online TEFL course and began taking control. He always has my back.

I called Wildsey later that day, and I thanked him for helping me find the answers. I told him that we would look back on this day as a major turning point in my life. He told me that he hadn’t witnessed a u-turn like that since Steven Gerrard decided to stay with Liverpool in 2005.

As I write this I am coming to the end of my second year teaching english in South Korea, and I have just signed on for a third. I love teaching, and working with young people on a daily basis. I get so much enjoyment and satisfaction from what I do; I never stop learning from my students.

I’m very happy- and grateful- for everything this amazing country has given me.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all sunshine and lollipops. Some mornings I wake up and struggle to find the motivation within- it’s a constant process. I’m always in search of ways to develop and improve, and I always try to look inward and ask questions of myself of how I can do better.

A couple of things I took away upon reflection:

  • If there is something you want to pursue, go for it with everything you have. You stand to gain so much.
  • It’s an empowering feeling cutting loose from something that doesn’t make you feel good.
  • Always trust your gut feeling. You know best, what’s best for you.

I’d like to finish with my reply to that disdainful answer the course director gave to my one burning question- the one I wish I had said at the time, but didn’t.

‘It’s not always about the money.’