I have been told today that I have to decide whether or not to renew my contract for another year of teaching at my elementary school in South Korea before Friday. This turns out to be a difficult decision, though I thought it would be quite easy. Here is my attempt to explain to myself why it’s hard.

Recently I have spent some time writing Python programs, configuring Emacs by writing lisp, and reading philosophy. I hadn’t done any of these things in any significant amount at all since arriving in Korea seven months ago, because the free time during which I had the energy to do productive things was totally absorbed by getting a handle on living here, doing things like my failed applications to graduate philosophy programmes, going to the gym and my social life. Lately my handle on living here has become secure and the number of friends that I see regularly has reduced, so I’ve been making the time to pursue these intellectual interests.

I’ve found that I’d forgotten how much more interesting these things are than my job is. The way that one makes progress in these mostly solitary intellectual pursuits is something that I enjoy, whereas at work I’ve come to the conclusion that trying harder doesn’t necessarily yield better results (and in any case, I’ve no idea what better results really are). I find that how well activities go down with the pupils and how well they learn have no connection to how much effort I put in to preparing the lessons.

My interpretation of this is that the way that I set my mind to tasks is not the way that one should set one’s mind to teaching. I should like to think that I could adapt to being someone who makes progress with teaching—it’s only my very first year, after all—but the environment I’m in doesn’t encourage that. Achieving a certain appearance of being a good teacher, which focuses around certain things with negligible educational value, is the way to succeed here. This success amounts to getting your contract renewed, and being treated with a little more respect and friendliness than you might otherwise be.

In summary, I’m bored with my job in Korea. Now I should say something about my life outside of school. At the moment I have a good time because I have some good friends and a girlfriend, but this situation is fragile. For example, one friend recently got a new job which has her working a lot of night shifts, so we now meet every two weeks or so instead of more than once per week. My friends are few enough that something like this needs to happen to only a few of them, or my romantic relationship end, for me to be back to the situation of the lonely cold winter that I spent here just a couple of months ago. It took a long time and a lot of luck to get out of that but I could very quickly go back.

One never knows who one might meet. But over the second year of my contract, if I renew, many people I know definitely won’t be here. My best foreigner friend will be gone in April. Almost all my other foreigner friends will leave in October. My best Korean friend will probably leave in December. My girlfriend could well go within the next month (I may discuss this in another post). Also, the only pupils who I really look forward to teaching and prepare lessons for with vigour will all leave for middle school in February, and there are no pupils like them in the younger year groups/grades.

There is also the matter of struggling through another Korean winter, with soul-destroying holiday classes.

All this makes it look like a terrible idea to renew my contract. The reason why the decision is hard is because it’s not at all clear that something better is waiting for me back in the UK. If I go back to Britain, my immediate choice is between finding a job in London or in Sheffield, either some kind of third sector work or some kind of computer programming role. I am waiting to apply to graduate philosophy again in December/January, and I am otherwise trying to figure out what proper career I want to pursue. Until then, the work I will do is bound to be fairly unsatisfying, and I am very likely to find a computing job back in the UK as uninteresting as my job here, after only a short while.

Perhaps, then, I should be aiming a little higher, applying for jobs for the purposes of trying out career options, rather than just filling the time until my next set of applications. But I wouldn’t know where to begin with this. I don’t know how to behave in an interview for a job where it’s not the case that I really want the job, and have developed a real interest in the field.

Instead of this, my idea of continuing to move forward is to push myself hard in my free time to learn some new things (such as studying Korean, since I’m here) and develop my knowledge and skills in the areas where I’m already competent and interested, namely, philosophy and computer programming. In order to do this, I need a job that doesn’t tire me out mentally and that doesn’t have long hours. My current job here in Korea allows for this. If I don’t get into a creative block, and it’s not the school holidays, and we don’t have some kind of special class coming up, I get at least an hour and usually two hours of time to myself in the office at a computer with access to Emacs and a solid web browser. I can get serious stuff done in this time. Millions of people are stuck in jobs they are bored with but don’t have free time like this.

One problem I’ve been experiencing with getting on with my own stuff after school is that the loneliness of living alone saps at my motivation to settle down and work. I don’t know if the above plan is feasible. I don’t know what kind of self-learning I want to be.

The above is a decent summary of the different reasons for renewing or not renewing my contract that float in and out of my head. Which ones seem more pertinent changes from hour to hour. I don’t know what to decide because I don’t trust my view on it at any moment.

While writing this blog post today, on and off between lessons, a further option has occurred to me. I can of course resign my contract, with 30 days notice. I can take the financial hit (no money to buy flight ticket home and no severance pay) because this year has almost broken even with the costs it took to get here and so I’ll soon be saving. I worry that my reference might be damaged, because doing this would seriously inconvenience my co-workers, and Korean culture does not so smartly frown upon taking small revenge like that. Assuming I could be brave enough to do it, this could be a way out should I find myself extremely bored or extremely lonely. I think it might be unethical to rely on a get-out like resignation when hiring a replacement is as much of a hassle as it is.