Currently I’m known in Ulsan foreigner circles as Kim, that girl who was in Russia. Yes, apparently I mention it a lot. I do hope, hope, hope that it’s not one of those, “Oh, geez …” eye-rolling moments when I say, “When I was in Moscow …” because it just pops out of my mouth.
If you’ve just stumbled upon this, or even if you know me, you may be wondering how in the world this whole teaching English, living abroad thing started.
If you aren’t curious.
After about three years at University, I realized I had more than just a fleeting interest in Russian art, art history, and culture. I searched through Boise State’s catalogue to find Russian language, Russian history, and Russian art history classes and got excited when I saw two out of the three offered in the catalogue. Yet, when I checked the schedule of classes, neither Russian language nor history was listed, so I did what any, overzealous, informed student does. I went to the chairs of the departments and asked.
In the modern language department, the chair simply stated, “We don’t offer Russian anymore.” When asked why, he promptly brushed off my obvious interest in learning Russian with, “Russian isn’t a business language.” Go tell that to people wanting to get a handful of money from Russian oligarchs.
In the history department, the response was a bit better. At least they didn’t completely disregard Russia, but there was just no professor to teach Russian history because the last professor had been a Stalinist and now the department feared “crazed” scholars of Russian history. In a brilliant move, the department split Russian history into modern and imperial and assigned the courses to the Eastern European scholars. Neither professor had any interest in actually offering a Russian history class, and I wouldn’t have done it either, if my specialty was in countries that had been dominated by Russia.
Finally, I talked to my art history mentor about my problem. While the art history department didn’t even pretend to offer any classes solely about Russia, my mentor suggested I go to Russia and teach English to learn Russian and decide if I was really interested enough to pursue a graduate degree in Russian studies.
That was in September 2007.
I Googled teaching English in Russia. I did a bit of research, but a year out from actually being able to go anywhere, most jobs couldn’t offer much information, so I forgot about it.
In February 2008, after all the deadlines for graduate school applications had passed, and I wondered what I would do with myself when I graduated in May, I stumbled across my notes on teaching English. After a little more Internet research, I threw out an application for a CELTA scholarship with a guaranteed job in Russia to follow.
By the next day, I had received a reply to my application and by the next week I had gone through two rigorous, 45 minute interviews and knew I would be in Moscow in September. Suddenly my life had changed. Little, old me, who had only been to Toronto outside of the US was now going to Moscow to live for what I thought would only be nine months.
After the first day of my CELTA, having talked to people I connected with right away just because of my interest in travelling, I had a feeling I may be teaching English for more than nine months. I really had no clue what I was in for.
After two years in Russia, I thought I was finished. I was going to “grow up,” get a “real job,” live in the States ,and settle down. But after a month of looking for jobs and relaxing in the States, I realized I wasn’t quite ready to pick one place to live in for the rest of my life. So, I did what any rational 25 year old would do, I applied for another job teaching English abroad.
After three interviews in one day: one with Chile, one with Indonesia, and one with Korea. I ended up in Korea. Even though it was originally my last choice, the friendly voice on the phone and amazing benefits and pay convinced me Korea was next.
After Korea …