Living Abroad and Returning Home: Oh, Canada!
I’m back in Canada. After a year in Busan, 2 in Seoul, a questionable first week in Bali, blissful 2nd week in Gili Trawangan, and a lengthy journey back home chock-full of nasi goreng, kimchi, and caesars, I’m back, Beaches. To be clear, I’m not quite back in Toronto, yet. Those beaches I referenced in a 6ix-centric pun were not, in fact, on the boardwalk of my hometown, but actually way East. I’m in a little town called Port Hope, and there doesn’t seem to be an escape in sight. One might say I’m still technically “living abroad”.
Reverse Culture Shock from Living Abroad
Everyone’s been asking me how the reverse culture shock has been. Well, it’s been like coming home after a vacation (which, hello – Bali, I did!) I mean, it’s crap not having access to public transportation, but beyond that I don’t really feel that much of a difference. Canada and Korea aren’t massively different. Off the top of my head, Canada has better snacks, healthier options at Starbucks, and horrible drugstore skincare products (in my opinion). The only real adjustment has been to tax & grat being added. I’m happy to pay the tax and grat, but could do without the surprise!
I no longer start my workday banding with the other teachers on my floor, forcing one another to smile and say positive affirmations before our ogre of a boss arrives to derail our classes. I have gone to the gym and to community events with my parents. Sleep has been most important while “funemployed”. The rest of my time has been spent editing photos from my trip to Kota Kinabalu where I partnered with the Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort and the Sabah Tourism Board. I’ve got work to catch up on, a cough to get over, and a schedule to resume. I also have distractions everywhere.
My “Influence” Living Abroad vs. At Home
To be fair, I’ve only been “home” for a week, but the pressure to succeed here has already begun. People back in Korea, friends in Toronto, and even some family seem to be surprised that I haven’t yet locked down a job and put a downpayment on a condo. I haven’t even locked down an interview, to be candid! The timeframe seems too short to have had results, but at the same time disheartening. That said, it’s been awesome to see my parents and go about their daily lives while steadily applying for more and more local jobs daily.
Adjusting to life back home didn’t seem as though it would be all that challenging from afar. I started applying for jobs 2 months before my Korean contract was up, and have been applying aggressively since my return. Keeping busy building two brands abroad has been great when submitting to influencer marketing agencies, but tough to get bites from actual full-time jobs with salaries and benefits. Do these people genuinely think living abroad means a 3-year working (read: babysitting) vacation?
Living Abroad vs. At Home: Job Hunting
Job hunting in Korea was simple because there weren’t
any many options as an E2 visa holder. Our teaching options are limited to EPIK or hagwon, and Kindergarten, Elementary School (usually at a hagwon you’d teach both the former), middle school, or adults. The age group of your pupils dictated your schedule, and that was that. If you have a degree from an English-speaking country, a resume with your name and contact information listed, and a half-decent (but definitely foreign-looking) face, badda-bing, badda-boom you were employed. It’s not necessarily fair, and I know plenty of native English teachers who are a disservice to their students, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles in Korea. Some teaching jobs were more challenging than others. I seem to have fallen into the trap of a school owned by other expats in Korea my final year. I worked hard, learned a lot, and the rest is another story for another time.
Now, I’m applying to jobs in Marketing, which is an eco-system unto itself. I’m open to Event Planning, although I’m not 100% sure I want to go back to the hospitality side in the same way. I did Influencer Relations in Korea and Public Relations at my 3 previous Toronto jobs, which means I’m all client side/ in house and have no agency experience (= slim to nil job prospects). I’d love to sink my teeth into Content Production and Copy Writing, but all my experience is from newspapers, magazines, blogs, YouTube, and digital media in Korea.
Permanently Living Abroad? Never in the cards.
I don’t want to continue teaching English as a Second Language. I’d love to continue teaching, training, or coaching high school or university students. I’d love to train sales, marketing, and client service professionals, too. ESL in Korean hagwons (private academies) is not for me. If it was something I thought I’d continue to enjoy long-term, I would have stayed in Korea where the cost of living is significantly lower!
Living Abroad vs. At Home: Perceptions and Instrospectives
A successful and professional friend sent me a job post today. It was for an online English teaching position starting at $16/ hr part time. That’s a great way to supplement income while abroad, but there’s no way you can live in Toronto making that. Also, I was director level before leaving Toronto. I had a career. I worked my ass off. I don’t know if there’s been a moment in my adult life when I felt less capable or believed in by my friends.
Was it unsafe to assume their perception of me was different to that of recruiters? Did I just imagine they thought of me as an outgoing, motivated, polished, and accomplished young professional? She then followed up with “you might have to settle for entry-level”. I was no longer just insulted, I was hurt. Is this what my friends think of me? Have I become the stereotype of an LBH (Loser-Back-Home) in the precisely 7 days I’ve been back in Canada?
Support After Living Abroad
As a teacher, it was my job to pump up self-sabotaging students with self-esteem issues. The kid who cried every day for the first two weeks because his reading, writing, and speaking abilities were limited won a speech contest he wrote by himself and delivered in a huge hall at the end of the year. Another who refused to pick up a pencil out of sheer laziness brought home a thick, colourful field guide full of research and writing on dinosaurs by Christmas. My entire class of 6 year olds was writing informational and argumentative essays by the end of last year.
Why is it that I can motivate and engage little ones to see their skills and value, but can’t seem to jump up and down enough to get anyone else’s attention? I’m used to pointing out the path to kids who have lost their way. Now, I can’t seem to see the trees for the forest.
Have you returned home “funemployed” and without your own place to live after living abroad? How did you adjust to your lack of schedule (and lack of importance)? How did you find your first job and did you need to take a big step back professionally? Leave me a note in the comments!
9 Comments Add yours
Good luck Kate- I’m sure you can do it! I also struggle with this- I’m worried I’ll be a laughing stock when I go back to Scotland but, we have so many transferrable skills as travel bloggers! I’m sure you’ll find an amazing opportunity soon and, for now, enjoy the long lies, the home cooked dinners and getting your washing done.
Much love! x
Hit the nail on the head with this one. Looking at doing the same thing in a couple of years. The part that you brought up about “settling for entry-level” is a good one. I have had the exact same job offers and whatnot. It sucks when you are a professional and have had some amazing experiences abroad but are demoted down to nothing due to outdated beliefs about working outside of Canada.
At any rate, I look forward to hearing more about your transition and how it all goes. Good luck to you! Also if you have any tips on pitching to tourism boards around Asia, I would love to hear them.
Hi Jason – thanks for the comment! I’ve only been home a week and there’s all this pressure already from people back in Korea and family and friends here. It’s insane! How long have you had your website up and running? Have you had any partnerships before? Before approaching a tourism board ask yourself what you can bring to the table which will benefit them. What’s your reach like? Is your following their target demographic or is it wishful thinking?
Hello! I had a similar experience returning to Canada after 1 year in Korea, back in 2009. I have to admit it was a tough adjustment and being unemployed was hard, but after about 2 months I found a great job so just be patient and enjoy this time, see your friends, enjoy home! You’ll be back to work very soon.
Thanks for the kind words and for sharing your experience! I’m heading into the city tomorrow to catch up with a bunch of people and couldn’t be more excited! Where in Canada have you settled?