Reverse Culture Shock: Unemployed

In my last post I mentioned two identities that I’ve lost in coming back to the USA: being a foreigner and being an English teacher. This time, as you’ve gathered from the title, I’m talking about jobs.

I am no longer an English teacher.

Secret: Sometimes it feels like I never was a real English teacher.

I didn’t major in Education or even English. I took a crash TESOL course before jumping on a plane to fulfill my Fulbright teaching grant, but I’d never taught my own course before, only a class here and there as a teaching assistant. During our six-week long orientation with Fulbright Korea, we took teaching workshops and practiced teaching small classes of students at a summer camp. Still, I didn’t feel like a teacher, but it was soon time to get into a real classroom and teach. Teacher or not, I had to teach.

And I did. It was often messy and always challenging, and I went through many teaching insecurities. I read an article about the high rates of new teacher burnout and felt a little better. I became motivated again and took another online teaching class. I read literature on the subject, learned about flipped learning, and eagerly soaked up advice from co-teachers when it was offered. Then I moved to a new school and felt like I was going through the whole cycle again. Now I’m here, in the US, freed from the scourges of lesson planning and sleeping students.

I am no longer an English teacher, but I could choose to become one again.

Currently, though, I am now “unemployed” and “have no idea what I want to do with my life…still.” It feels like I’m back in college, pre-Fulbright grant acceptance, facing a rising anxiety fueled by my rapidly-approaching graduation and everyone’s questions about what I was going to do next.

How all of this ties into reverse culture shock is this: I’m scared that nothing’s changed.

I worry that it’s like the last two years never happened and I really am back in the same place. Once again people ask what I’m going to do next- this time people on both sides of the globe- and I repeat “I don’t know” or “I don’t have plans” so many times that you’ll have to excuse me if I get a little bit snippy with you, although I’m getting used of giving that robotic response. Sometimes I go back to the answer that satisfied my questioners back in college but didn’t satisfy me: “I’m going to get my PhD in sociology and become a professor.” Am I though?

Yet sometimes I’m struck by my luxury. Most adults in my life (adults older than 30 that have careers I mean) didn’t go though the same struggle, simply because they never had so many choices. They chose what was in front of them or whatever would pay the bills and became that. I’m lucky, spoiled even, in that I will never really have to worry about paying the  bills. Oh sure I’ll worry, but in a sense I’ve already “made it.” Yes, I am unemployed, but I’m never going to be stuck at minimum wage jobs. I’m never going to stay too long in a job that I hate because I have the savings and skills to take my talents elsewhere. I will be solidly middle class, with the potential to go even higher I think, if I focus, choose the right career, and use the right connections.

Yet here I am paralyzed by indecision, again.

It’s silly isn’t it? Maybe it’s a romanticized notion of “what I’m supposed to be,” that holds me back, makes me scrutinize every potential path through the lens of something made up called “destiny” that I’m so scared of trespassing, because then maybe I won’t be happy. But that’s silly, isn’t it?


5 thoughts on “Reverse Culture Shock: Unemployed

  1. Hello Monica!
    I am applying for a Fulbright ETA in South Korea and I just passed my campus interview. After reading your most recent post, I felt that I resonated with the experience of having people ask “What do you plan on doing afterward?”. If you have time, could you email me? I have many questions about your in-country experience and about translating the teaching skills and TESOL certification into employment elsewhere in the world.

    Thank you for being so open and honest within your posts.

  2. I’m glad you wrote this because I’m having very similar experiences. I find it frustrating being in America with no plan and feeling like my teaching time didn’t really count for anything. I’m deciding wether or not to take another teaching position in Korea, at the same time being completely undecided about what I want to do. I did find “Design your life” by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans to be really useful.

    • Thanks for the suggestion Justin! It really is a unique kind of transition coming back after teaching abroad. I almost didn’t publish this post, but I’ve been surprised by how many people feel similarly.

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