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.


Let’s say that again. I’m gonna be in Busan!

After all the confusion, drama, and ups and downs with renewing, I not only know where I’ll be next year, but I got my first choice! I’m going to be teaching at Yeongdo Girls High School, on a sort of island in south Busan.

Not only will I be in what I think is the best city in Korea, my placement is very close to my grandparents’ house, right over by the Gamcheon cultural village. I can’t wait. :) Although I originally wanted so badly to stay at my school, a series of events have made me ready for a fresh start.

I’ve been blessed to have really great coworkers – there are no coteachers who sleep or do other work  in my class. My principal, who will also be leaving the school and retiring after this semester, has also been nothing but kind to me. In our last conversation, he said, “I think you’re thinking of me as your boss.” Um…yeah, of course I am. “But I want you to think of me as your big brother.” But then we talked about age and he toyed with the idea of trying to be like a father instead. So many teachers at my school want me to to think of them as big brothers. It’s not just my school, is it?

But what I’ll miss the most about my school are my students. In the middle of my renewing confusion, one student heard I would be leaving and confronted me. “Are you leaving?”

“No,” I lied, because it wasn’t certain and a couple weeks later I was actually told I could stay.

“Good!” he replied, “because when I heard that, my heart stopped.”

What can you say to that?

Of course, this time around, when it became certain that I wasn’t staying, he was again the first to find out. But the fact that I would be in Busan, 1-2 hours away, took away the edge.

“Oh,” he replied in response to hearing my placement, “then I don’t have to be sad!”


But I’ll still be sad. I’ll miss my after school class students and my overachievers who made me privy to school secrets, and the students who probably have only said 6 words to me: “I’m fine thank you, and you?”

Gimhae Jeil High School, best of luck.