Wednesday, May 16, 2007 Korea (South) South Korea

Korea Change

We did not have any real preconceptions about how travelling would be before we left home back in November. Did we give much thought to how it would feel having no home, to be without the security of two good incomes? Not really—getting away from the whole material existence thing was the whole point. If we had thought about it too much, we probably wouldn't have gone through with it.

Now six months into our trip, we have made it to the eastern edge of Asia, sticking pretty well to our goals of not flying whenever practicable, and making things up as we go along. We had no idea that we would be here in South Korea in May. We have so far stuck to the northern hemisphere (Bangkok was the closest we came to the equator), not by design but just because it happened that way. We still have three quarters of the globe completely untouched—Northern and Central Asia, and the whole of Australasia, the Americas and Africa.

Travelling is sometimes harder work than work. We wanted to get away from everything so we'd have time to think about our plans for the future. But on the road there is always so much to see and do that we seem to have spent less time thinking than we did at home! In considering our Grand Strategy For The Future™, so far we've come up with a couple of mediocre ideas and a whole lot of rubbish ones. We did better than that in an average month at home!

And then there's the financial issue. We have spent a total of GBP 18,000 / USD 35,470 so far. That's about GBP 100 / USD 197 per day, which is a lot. But considering that (a) we weren't travelling on a cheap Round-The-World plane ticket, and (b) we splurged on our four-week Chinese and North Korean extravaganza, this total is not actually too bad. Before China and North Korea, the daily average spend was about GBP 82 / USD 161. We're not about to go broke, thanks primarily to the fact that we sold our house at what we believed was the tail end of one of the biggest global asset bubbles in history [we still believe that]. But we do want to have something left in the bank when this trip is over. Our travels were never supposed to be about money, they were supposed to be about enlightenment and personal growth—but we find that enlightenment is much easier with a cash pile in the bank.

Before we left home, we had briefly discussed the possibility of stopping for a while 'somewhere around half-way' and working to top up the finances. We thought we might look at doing something in Australia or New Zealand, or maybe even teaching English in China, Korea or Japan. We didn't get as far as investigating visa rules or anything, as we wanted to keep it unplanned and just see what turned up.

Serendipity has been very kind to us on this trip. In Hungary, the first unfamiliar country we came to, just as we were starting to feel overwhelmed by the journey ahead, we arrived at the Vámház Hostel where people turn up at the door and never leave, where they drink superb coffee and talk all night about absolutely nothing, and where we first began to get into the travelling groove. And in Bulgaria, at the far eastern end of Europe, where we prepared to dive headlong into Turkey, feeling a little as though Europe had been the uphill bit of the roller-coaster and we were about to start the first headlong plunge, we met an orthodontist from Germany called Matt, who gave us the wise counsel to just find our own pace. It was only then that our trip really started.

And once again, on the train from Dandong to Beijing, serendipity showed her hand. We were chatting to our cabin mates, the Aussie ladies with whom we had got on well in the DPRK, about stuff in general. We mentioned that we were going to South Korea next. It turned out that one of them has been living in Seoul since September, teaching English. We said that we had considered possibly doing something along those lines before we left home, but hadn't really given it much thought since, and what was the job market like there? She said the market was extremely good at the moment, and gave us her business card and the name of the recruitment manager at the language school she works for.

Well, we arrived in Seoul, visited the DMZ, chilled out a bit and started the long process of writing up our North Korean adventure on the blog. And then we had a look on the web for English teaching opportunities in Korea. There were indeed plenty, all much of a muchness for people like us who don't have teaching qualifications. There were also plenty of horror stories, but as far as we could tell these were mostly written by people just out of uni who seemed to want the world on a plate. The terms being offered by our friend's company seemed competitive and the working conditions seemed better than many of the other opportunities we were looking at. We called our friend's recruitment manager. She emailed us some information and a form to fill in, which we sent back. A few days later we were off to meet her for an interview, and Glenn's shiny pink Kim Il-sung Mausoleum tie got an unexpected second airing. Next day we both got a job offer!

The offer was for a year's contract working anywhere between zero and thirteen hours per day, depending on student demand. Our pay would be determined by the number of hours worked, but there would be a guaranteed minimum monthly salary. We would also get an accommodation stipend and a free trip to Japan to pick up our working visas. We knocked up a quick spreadsheet and it looked like we would be able to save enough money in a year to cover what we've spent so far on our trip, plus some extra—possibly even enough (when we factor in income from our investments in the UK) to get all the way back home again! The thought that we might be able to come home with as much money in the bank as when we originally left was compelling.

But it gets even better than that. Firstly, Glenn really, really hates public speaking. So much so that he didn't even know if he was going to do a speech at his own wedding until about 30 seconds before he stood up. [He did, and doesn't regret it.] He feels that his phobia held him back in his previous career. If standing up at the front of a class for a year doesn't cure him, nothing will. Secondly, our jobs will have antisocial hours. Our first lesson will start at 06:45, and our last one will end at 21:00! This is because we will be teaching mostly Korean businesspeople, who want to learn English before and after they go to work. How the hell are these hours a good thing?! Because we will get a large chunk of free time in the middle of the day, which will give us time to think about and pursue ideas and opportunities for the future. And working evenings will stop us having any daft ideas like going out and spending money in Seoul. It's all good!

We deliberated, discussed, adjusted the spreadsheet, and came to the conclusion that we're going to do it. Tomorrow we move into the apartment which the company is providing for the first three months. Then we will do a week's training, make a flying visit to Fukuoka in Japan for our visas, and then start work. When this year is over we will have saved some money and had a whole load more experiences. Our travelling batteries will be recharged and we'll pick up our tiny bags once again and head off out to explore the rest of the world.

p.s. We will still be updating the blog throughout the coming year, with our take on Korean life and culture, on teaching English in Seoul, on surviving on no sleep, and on thoughts for the future. We hope you will stay with us!