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Departing Jeju with three lessons learned
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승인 2012.03.09  15:16:51
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▲ Adam Montgomery and friends.

I think Rod Stewart said it best when he sang the words “I wish I knew what I know now when I was younger.” I feel the same way after a year teaching English on Jeju. As I sit here in Incheon Airport, preparing to leave Korea and reminiscing on my time in Jeju, I cannot help but think of all the things I wish I knew a year prior.

The first thing that comes to mind is how unnecessary it was to take my job so seriously. Do not get me wrong; I am not advocating being lazy and incompetent in your work, only that a lot of Korean workplaces can be stressful environments, especially private education academies, called hagwons.

When parents start to complain or students start to drop out, some hagwon directors feel the pressure and need someone to blame. Unfortunately, all that blame can be transferred to the teachers causing extra pressure to be placed on their work performance. I wish I would have not gotten caught up in the stress and pressure; that surely would have made my life on Jeju more enjoyable.

Second, I should have gotten out more and enjoyed what the island has to offer. (This might have happened if I was not taking my job so seriously.) Anyone living here for a year will probably visit the big tourist highlights like Mt. Halla and Seongsan Sunrise Peak, at least once as I did during my time in Jeju. But I came to realize that one time is not enough.

One of the beauties of living in Jeju is how the four seasons create different landscapes and sceneries throughout the year. I climbed Mt. Halla in the summer, but never saw the colorful leaves the climb has to offer in the autumn, nor the bright snow in the winter. To truly appreciate the sights of Jeju, they need to be visited throughout the year.

It also took a while to dawn on me all that the island has to offer. There is a lot of hype and advertising, almost to the point of over saturation, on the major tourist attractions. While those places deserve a lot of attention, I usually enjoyed local, lesser known sights and events more. A few that come to mind are the Cherry Blossom Festival, the Haenyeo (women diver) Museum, and the Moseulpo Yellowtail Festival.

I wish I would have attended more events like these and explored more off-the-beaten-path locations. To do that however, it helps having local Korean friends, which leads me to the last thing I wish I knew.

I spent too much time hanging out with English-speaking Western friends. While I do not regret those friendships made or the time spent with them, I could have made a better effort to branch out and get to know locals. To do that, I needed to put more effort into learning Korean and avoiding the Western bars and hangouts.

As I departed Jeju, I found it extremely difficult to say goodbye to the Korean friends that I did make. Saying goodbye to a friend is never easy, but maybe this time it was so challenging because I do not know the next time I will be able to spend time with Korean nationals.

It is interesting how all three lessons learned over the past year are interconnected. If I spent more time away from work, I would have seen more of the island and met more people. If I had met more people, they would have introduced me to more places and would have relaxed me from the pressures of work.

I did not intend this to be a sappy article full of regrets and missed opportunities. My only intention was to hopefully pass on some insights to those teachers who only have a year on the island. Take advantage of that time now because before you know it, you will be sitting in Incheon Airport, waiting to depart Korea.
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