Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Reasons I Left Korea

Faisal Akram (
I'm back!!  It's been nearly 4 months without a single post, but I have been busy trying to settle into life in a new country, Australia, so give me a break.  To be honest, compared to living in Korea, it is just like living in England just a bit sunnier, more laid back, and with barbecues everywhere.

So why did I leave Korea?  I had a decent job that I liked, a very comfortable existence, was saving money and had lots of free time.  In recent months I have had times where I thought, "Jees, what am I doing?", especially as I have had to fork out quite a lot of my saved cash in tuition fees and work very hard here in Oz.  Here are my reasons:

1. The English Teaching Went Stale

I remember how keen I was to teach when I started my High school teaching job, I gave it everything and I was so creative in my lesson planning.  I enjoyed going to work, in fact I'd even turn up 45 minutes early everyday!  By the middle of my third year however, I was getting lazy and irritable, the challenge had gone and I was working off old lesson plans.  Everything, including the lessons themselves became less enjoyable. It was time to move on.  On top of this, could I ever be anything but an English teacher in South Korea?

2. Disappearing Friends

A friend of mine commented on Facebook the other day something along the lines of, "another year in Korea and the friend count continues to fall."  This is very true.  If you stay for a year or two, you make loads of new friends and keep your old ones, if you stay for longer, the new friends leave and you're out of sight, out of mind to your friends at home.  For me, I am always looking for new experiences and England has grown stale also, so it is with great regret that I have distanced myself from friends back home.  In Australia, I can at least make friends through my sports and there is less of a cultural barrier as well.

3. I was Becoming too Immersed in the World of the Internet

This blog was partly to blame for this, but also the nature of my job and Korea as a whole.  Too many spare hours on the computer at work sent me into a world that isn't quite as it seems, where faux outrage, trolling and political correctness reign absurdly supreme and debates always end on a sour note due to implied aggressive tone and the lack of a human face (or even a real name) to hold each person back.

I was afraid, frankly, of becoming one sad bastard who spends hours arguing with morons and reading other people's worthless blogs (I can see the irony, really), looking for something to blog about.  Live in the world of the internet for too long and you forget what the real world is all about, and that it is much better to live in.

It isn't all negative; I grew a much thicker skin, discovered the very real problem of political correctness for myself, and most importantly created something.  That something might only be a shitty opinionated blog, but I think it is important to have an outlet, to produce something, which is a large part of why I'm writing this post now.  What it means is that posts on this blog will be far less frequent than in the past, but that this site is not dead!!!

4. Something New, but not so Stressful

What can I say, I get bored easily these days, both with jobs and the places I live.  I want to see the world before I die and experience many different countries and cultures.  However, I want to live in these new worlds and not simply pass through them.

Korea is a place I am sure I will return to - I have family here after all - but for now the spice has gone and too many things were rubbing me up the wrong way, a long break was needed. When I do return, it will be to study Korean first, as my lack of fluency in the language is probably my biggest regret in my time living there, even though I could get by OK, I just couldn't have very deep conversations.  When I can speak properly, I can argue with Koreans in their own language and that'll be really interesting!

Australia is somewhere different, but not too different.  It's a taste of home, but with kangaroos, Koalas, and possums!!

5. Too Easy

The above is one of my favourite Aussie sayings I hear a lot over here, so I thought I drop it in to describe how I felt in Korea in general.  Soooo comfortable my life had become.  I have never been happy being comfortable; when it lasts for too long it becomes a rut, a furrow in the path so deep that it becomes impossible to blaze a new trail and go to new, exciting places, both literally and metaphorically. Through discomfort, the challenge of something new, and associating myself with new people, I have learned and achieved a lot and gained great life satisfaction in the process.  Korea was certainly this way for a time, but all good things must come to an end.

6. Freedom!!!

There was always the feeling of constraint in Korean society, the feeling that I couldn't really do and say what I wanted.  I couldn't just be me and be accepted by Korea, I would never be accepted that way, I would have to conform.  To be fair I have felt this way in England as well, but the flavour of it in Korea was certainly sharper and more pronounced.  I even felt pressure to not voice my opinions on this blog, so I often held back (believe it or not).  I believe my blog was censored by Busan's Ministry of Education (according to a chap on Asiapundits).  I felt like I was one blog post away from getting in trouble. I say that, but just as I was leaving, I kept on getting requests to join radio debates in Seoul (had to keep refusing, but I did one on the phone about the Sewol disaster and safety), so someone must have been reading and thinking I had some valid points or at least a debatable opposing view.  Perhaps I was just being paranoid and that actually I was one step away from recognition as a truly insightful blogger on Korea (could be dreaming on that one).

Note: Stay tuned for some more perspectives on Korea, except now from the outside looking back in; I guess I am still on the inside in a way, as I have family, so the blog title can stay the same.


  1. When I read the headline, I thought you were one of those who, came to Korea, and after a few months couldn't handle it, and left in the middle of the night. But after reading your blog, I was totally wrong. You put in your time here, got from Korea what you wanted, and felt it was time to move on to other challenges. Your reasons for leaving are very valid points. You seem to have a good understanding that we don't live forever, and one should experience as many things as possible while we're still able to. Good on ya(I used to live in NZ)for making the move. You really only have to answer to yourself. Good luck, and watch out for the snakes, scorpions, spiders, and mosquitoes!

    1. Many thanks. Haven't come across much scary stuff yet in Oz, but it's camping season soon!

    2. Good luck with the transition. I hope you don't stop the posts now that you're in Australia. I have never been to Korea, but as an ESL teacher who used to live in Taiwan I can share some of the frustrations that come with living abroad in a country that is culturally quite different. I've always found your blog interesting and insightful.

      I look forward to hearing some of the insights you have on my home country as someone from a close but not completely identical culture.

    3. Cheers Scott, will definitely try and keep the posts coming, probably less frequently, but they'll come.

  2. thank god that u left

  3. Life too easy? how about getting a real job for fair money? Those people...

    1. What is a real job, exactly? Professional footballer? Millions of pounds a year for kicking a ball sound fair to you? If you can work a job for good money that you don't work very hard at, go for it, I'd say? It's all relative. You're just a sucker if you are working harder than you need to for nothing other than money. Personal satisfaction and growth, helping people, etc, would be better motivations for hard work.

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  5. This Korea blog is really helping me to know more about Korea

  6. I know that you got a lot of people coming on here to angrily disagree with you, but I'd just like to say that I always enjoyed your blog and am a little disappointed every time I check back in to see if you have taken up posting again and find that you still haven't updated.

    I Would love to hear about your new life down under, if you ever find anything worth criticising or musing about.

    1. Much appreciated, Scott. Sorry for the lack of posts, it has been hard work here in Oz and haven't had much spare time on my hands. Things are looking up though, the missus has finally finished her studies and a permanent visa is on the way next year. This means I won't be busting my ass working all day every day to pay for student fees.

      That said, can't see myself continuing to write here, as South Korea has lost its relevance to me here in Australia. Will post a link to a new blog I am thinking of starting after I move house in February.

      Thanks for your interest, all this blog was about was to give my honest interpretation of things in South Korea without censorship and think a lot of people like yourself appreciated that, whereas some thought I was the devil incarnate, haha.

  7. Ah, I see where your time has gone then. I must say I never had the energy to maintain a regular blog even after a cushy twenty hour work week. I'd hate to attempt it after anything resembling a 40+ hour week job.

    I didn't imagine you would want to continue blogging about Korea from afar. I imagined you would keep the name and just keep writing about the new environment. Is the title Smudgem Korea specfic?

    I must say I always found your writing both refreshingly direct and thoughtful. I think too many people self censor from saying things which are not even really offensive these days because of a fear that someone somewhere might get upset.

  8. I wish I could teach English in Korea and live an easy life.
    Sadly I wasn't blessed with the gift of being a native speaker (which always leads to someone being a better teacher, obviously).

    Sorry for the angry rant, it wasn't directed at you, but at life.

  9. You're worried about expressing your opinions freely on your blog? You should try living in China :)

    I live in Beijing, and I have a blog where I sometimes discuss politics and Chinese attitudes towards foreigners. I have to self-censor to some extent, as well as keeping my real name for myself. Trust me, South Korea isn't bad from that perspective. I'm pretty sure nobody will kick you out for expressing your pretty harmless opinions on Korean culture.

    1. No, South Korea isn't that bad. However, my blog was blocked in Busan apparently by their education authority. There were enough crazy far-lefty Westerners there also that I did fear being reported to my local education authority. I don't think Koreans themselves could care less about this blog. Any of the upset I caused was always in the Western community getting offended on the behalf of Koreans, who themselves ironically mostly praised the content of this blog, if I got Korean readers.

    2. If the education authority blocked your blog, then obviously it must have upset some Koreans too! Sad stuff.

  10. I read your blog with interest as a Korean living in Australia for the last 45 years, I totally agree that most Koreans do not integrate into Australian society. Just recently I experienced a "culture shock" working for the Korean bosses who have lived in the country for more than 20 years. I left the company adamant that I will never work for Koreans again. Having said that I am in awe of you a westerner who has spent a great deal of time in a society that is contrived and hierarchical. Two characteristics which I hope the Koreans would leave behind.