During the last few decades an increasingly appealing option for young, adventurous, English-speaking westerners with no professional skills to speak of, is to spend a year abroad teaching English. It’s a great way to travel, experience a different culture, get some exotic sex and maybe even pay off some college debt.
Some suddenly realise years later that they forgot to return to their homeland and have inadvertently become expat lifers. What started out as a crazy year in Prague, partying and doing that ridiculous job has inadvertently turned into a crazy decade and ridiculous career, complete with a fully stamped passport, greatly reduced liver function and a Masters degree in Applied Linguistics.
For years now, Korea has been a hot tip for a guaranteed EFL gig and some crazy wild times. A decade of rising inflation, wage stagnation and some other stuff has arguably taken some shine off the K-party though, and increasing numbers expat lifers who managed to avoid going full-native are now jumping ship in search of a whole new crazy.
EFL lifers enjoy long term employment stability like regular teachers enjoy their new Ferraris. It just doesn’t really happen. ‘Flexibility’ is paramount (this was stressed repeatedly during my last job interview – any abilities I may have to actually teach English didn’t seem terribly important) and industry hot spots sporadically lurch from country to country; continent to continent.
A few days ago I bumped into an old friend and colleague at the airport in Abu Dhabi. It was weird only in the sense that there was nothing weird or unusual about it. This sort of thing happens all the time, because the EFL industry is a weird little industry, comprised of weird, somewhat disfunctional people who tend to travel a lot and randomly bump into each other while bouncing, seemingly aimlessly around the planet.
It didn’t seem overly strange recently then, when seven old friends from six countries who lived together in a bizarre South Korean EFL theme park in 2006, happened to be in Muscat, Oman at the same time. We all had a nice spot of lunch and a chat at my place then everyone wandered off again to their respective homes and countries. Actually, five of us now reside in the Sultanate and more old friends and colleagues are arriving by the week.
My second Korean gig was at one of Seoul’s top 437 universities, which continues to promote itself as being famous for being very close to a subway station (arguably Shinheung University’s most outstanding quality). It has a football pitch, a now ex-chairman who’s a bit too embezzley and an English Department with a foreign staff of around 25, seven of whom have recently relocated to Oman, or next door in the UAE.
The K-exodus seems to be on in full swing… and it really is a very small world.