On Choosing Not to Renew

I wrote extensively about choosing to renew last year – lengthy deliberations were involved – and how I came to my final decision. It wasn’t all pretty (big understatement) but choosing not to stay is just as legitimate of a choice and required its fair share of deliberations too.

As a Fulbright ETA grantee in South Korea, I can renew for up to three years. This is an amazing opportunity not available in most other ETA programs. I concede a little to the program’s self-proclaimed “gold standard” title on this one.  But the nature of the renewal process has changed.

This year, thankfully, there are no secrets and (as far as I know so far) no drama involved in renewing. The rules of game have been clearly laid out and they are, in essence: don’t expect to get exactly what you want.

Deciding to renew would once again open me up to all levels (elementary, middle and high schools, with even a slight possibility for university) and any location in South Korea. Part of me is tired and unwilling to start anew again; part of me realizes the hypocrisy in that statement as there will soon be a “starting over” for me in the States as well, whether in the form of a new job, new location or grad school.

Reasons to Stay


In Korea, I have a job. I have some experience in that job.

Awesome things

I’d be able to do a lot more within Fulbright, like volunteering with North Korean Defectors, continuing and bettering the ETA Support Network and continuing to work as an editor or even taking on a leadership role in Infusion (Fulbright Korea’s literary magazine). Some of these things are really fun, and I’d almost stay just to do them…but that’s impossible. I have to teach and take care of other responsibilities too.


I also love Busan and living with my extended family, something I’d never expected would be possible when I first came to Korea.


Another very random, unique reason is that if I stay I’d probably be able to meet a penpal who lives in Israel. We’ve been exchanging emails for over seven years (!) and she’s planning to visit Korea and Japan in 2017! I’m so excited for her, but also so disappointed to be missing out on this opportunity.


Reasons to Leave


I don’t have as many objective, clear-cut reasons to leave. Yet as cheesy as it sounds, I feel like it’s time. During my second grant year I began feeling sad about leaving Busan VERY early on, and wondered why I felt this way since I hadn’t even decided to leave. There were times I thought I might actually stay for a third year, but now I feel ready to leave. Of course, I have actual reasons too.

Tired and Unsure

There’s the uncertainty of a third year in Korea – where would I teach, what would my school logistics be like, and where would I live – and there’s also some degree of burnout. Recently I fluctuate between feeling burned out and feeling determined to do my best in the remaining time I have left with my students.


It will be nice to once again be around people who can understand what I’m saying. After a frustrating trip to Subway today, I know I can’t wait until I no longer have to deal with a language barrier from day-to-day.

Beauty Standards (or cultural differences)

I’m also counting down the days until I can get away from the beauty standards of a culture not my own. I’ve never touched on this in my blog (surprisingly), but beauty standards have been one of the most frustrating things about living in Korea. But why talk about that now when I have more than enough to say for another blog post?


Finally, there’s family to consider. While extended family is pushing me to stay (not directly, but in their own way), my nuclear family says no way. Although my parents/siblings range from assuring me it’s my decision to outright telling me to come back right away, I’m feeling  pressure and a sort of guilt to come home.


I’m not going home to any plans. I’m not going straight to grad school and I don’t have a job lined up (although I’m looking). Although it doesn’t feel okay, I know that it’s just fine.

Last week I mailed off two boxes of winter clothes. It’s official. I’m going home.


The Highlight of Spring in Korea: Cherry Blossoms

This year the cherry blossoms started blooming from the last week of March and lasted through the first week of April. Cherry blossom season is surprisingly brief, lasting only around two weeks…weather permitting. The slightest bit of wind or rain would induce, as my students called it, flower snow.

The first cherry blossoms I spotted were at my school. The building and field (erm, dirt lot) is actually surrounded by cherry blossom trees.

yeongdo girls high school

yeongdo girls cherry blossoms

You don’t really need much more than pictures for this post.

yeongdo girls cherry blossom path   yeongdo cherry blossoms

During the weekend, when the cherry blossoms would be in full bloom, I originally planned to go to Jinhae, where there’s a cherry blossom festival. But everyone I talked to only repeated the same lines about how crowded it would be. Some even told me I shouldn’t go, but if I must, I should go super early to beat the crowds. Feeling in dire need of sleep that weekend, I never intended to go early. But I didn’t intend to wake up that late either. I was late, tired, and the friend who would’ve met me at Jinhae had to leave earlier than expected.

So instead I ended up at Oncheoncheon, a river and popular destination in Busan to view cherry blossoms. I started off at Dongnae station (both exit 2 and 4 work).

dongnae station

The station is surrounded by cherry blossom trees, but the first thing you encounter are bright yellow patches of 유채꽃, also known as rapeseed or canola flowers.

The stream is beautiful as well, lined with cherry blossoms and, on this day, the banks were overflowing with food tents and people enjoying one of the first warm days of spring. There were ducks, a very collected crane, and large fish which alternated between cruising and swimming laboriously upstream.

cherry blossom tree

It was hard to get away from people, impossible even, but there were some fun characters in the crowd: adorable baby-grandma combos, confused toddlers, and amusing but obnoxious couples determined to get the perfect selfie. The bike path was just as busy, and you could frequently hear the light ding-ding of a bicycle bell signaling its approach.

Even after departing from the stream’s path, cherry blossoms filled the neighborhoods. They were just about as beautiful on the ground as they were on trees and in the air.

cherry blossoms steps

And I, after this peaceful excursion, entered a Starbucks to order myself a Cherry Blossom Cream Latte.