Letter to Korea, August 2014

Dublin, Ireland
August 2014

Dear Korea,

I may not make a habit of this, but I thought considering our long affair together the least you deserve is an update on life without you. You know, it has been almost two months since I arrived back ‘home’ in Ireland and you seem further away than ever before. This is not the first time we have been separated for a long period, but always I had that return flight date lingering in the back of my mind. Such a comfort does not exist now.

Perhaps it is significant that I write this today, me who has kind of gone off writing this kind of thing, because it is the day when I receive my last pay cheque from my old work in Korea. In some respects I can look at it as the ending of what was another era for me, although I would laud it with such praise very reluctantly. The period of time for such an era to exist has merely concluded but all who existed beforehand continue on living in Korea regardless of whether or not I am there. Ireland is equally unperturbed by my return.

I was expecting more culture shock but have been lucky so far. The benefits have balanced pleasantly against the expected problems. Having a garden and a job to arrive to have made things much easier on me and my family. Family are nearby, as are friends, and there is a seemingly never ending quantity of tasty cake supplying cafes in the city centre which I seem to find myself in frequently on the way home from work. We discover new things daily and look forward as optimistically as possible to each new challenge the rest of the week brings us.

It may well be the honeymoon period, as arguably I’m still on my summer holidays. Today it rained like December and there was a bus strike. We went to the supermarket and again scratched our heads as to why raw prawns were so hard to find. They aren’t really hard to find obviously, they’re just playing second fiddle to cooked ones. A bit like the sunshine does with the rain, and in terms of fiddling about with transport I can’t fail to mention how much I miss my kyotung card, or transfer card. The so-called leap card is more a stumble along moderately well provided you don’t ask too much of it card.

Today as I taught a class I asked the students to write ten things about themselves, be it physical or emotional, and from here they had to let fellow classmates guess what each thing meant and then they would explain. The idea was to enable them to become confident talking about themselves and their emotions, I think. I gave myself as an example, which is something I probably do too often.

One thing that I wrote I wrote on the board as is ‘old is new’. I had been pacing the classroom trying to come up with things to include as part of my list. I looked out onto South William Street and up Clarendon Street from my classroom and in the distance I could make out the heads bobbing back and forth. There was the great debris of Grafton Streets midday traffic. It was in this part of town where I had worked just before I left for Korea nine years previously, and it was around here that I had spent many days and indeed nights. I don’t think I had spent as much as others but I remembered the streets fondly, almost nostalgically.

It got me thinking about each morning when I walked to the school where I teach. As I walked from Ormond Quay up to South William Street I was having this new feeling of being  new to a city, of being here for the first time. I had that blinkered feeling that ignored the normality brought about by familiarity, the same kind of bland taste you get from the same journey to work every day for a year. I was making a subconscious effort not to recognise what essentially looked exactly the same as before I left the city when I was only 23.

It’s not that everything is new. Perhaps it is seeing everything renewed. The old familiarity I had with Dublin hasn’t gone. I walk around and drive around the city and find my way with relative ease. I know where places and, for the most part, the quickest way to get to them. I stare a little longer in wonder than I used to, and I still hope that sooner or later myself and Herself can finally get a chance to regular sample all the delights our new home has to offer.

But that can’t be everything about living. Those grey walls will lose their lustre soon. The chance to be human will be removed and we will feel like more numbers but on a different chart. Herself waits for me through the long mornings to come home from work. It can’t be easy. I worry that what work I have will not be enough to live on. So much has depended on generousity to date. Consider it a metaphor that the tomatoes planted in our greenhouse will soon be dead and we shall be left to find fresh fruit elsewhere.

We sit and we wait for the ruthless nature of what is clearly a beast that only welcomes those working. The safety net that my teaching job in Korea provided and which we ridiculed for its unrealistic nature has finally been removed at our request. Now as we tumble as gracefully as our naive frames will allow us to fold in positions for safety expecting the thump of landing, I wonder will this next year be as challenging as we are expecting? Or will it be something else?





5 thoughts on “Letter to Korea, August 2014

  1. Dear Conor,

    I somehow stumbled upon your blog whilst frantically searching for reassurance regarding my decision to give S. Korea a go.
    Today I received a contract offer for a small town outside Seoul called Pyeongtaek.
    I didn’t see an exact date for your recent blog entry but I can assume from the strike and weather mentioned it was yesterday as I too was working(near Parnell).

    I realise it’s very forward and unorthodox to ask, but I was wondering if I could buy you a coffee and bend your ear for 20 minutes sometime on a lunchbreak or something?
    I imagine your 9 years of experience in Korea would prove to be invaluable information for me.

    Anyway, let me know if you’re interested or if you have the time.
    If not don’t worry about, it is a strange request.

    Kind regards,

    Michael Hyland

    P.S. Your blog makes for some very interesting reading.


    • Pyeongtaek is of a similar size in population to Belfast and Cork. So small only Korean standards. There’s a contact form on my about page that you can send me details privately or you can get me on Twitter @ConzieSays


  2. Wow. I love your writing. I love your writing not just because of the quality of it and your careful observations revealed so clearly. I love your writing mainly because I find myself feeling what you are feeling. I find myself right there with you, experiencing the reconnection with your home country and feeling the uncertainty of and concern for your future.
    After reading this post, I found myself wanting you and your family to succeed, hoping that the metaphorical beast of society that only welcomes those working doesn’t cause you and yours hardship and suffering. Transitioning back to one’s home country after expat life can be incredibly difficult. I wish you the best.


  3. Hi there
    I stumbled upon your blog as I was researching my options for next year as I will be fresh out of uni. South Korea was never on my list (which included of Hong Kong in all top 3 spots) but I must say it sounds extremely interesting. What company did you use to manage your applications? im currently lokoing at the EPIK application form, but then what about accomodation? Other sites such as goldenkeyeducation provide accomodation etc. What would you advise? And is the expat community quite large over there?


    • I first moved out to Korea in 2005, and that was the only time I’ve ever used a company to help me. Based on my experience with them I would recommend finding a school yourself, but if you don’t know the lay of the land maybe this may seem daunting. There are better blogs and forums suited to answering your questions, as I haven’t needed to take that particular track for a long time and I imagine much of what I knew is now obselete. The community is large enough, but it depends on where you’re based.


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