No, the cold did not kill me, although it is still here in the form of a horrible lingering cough.

I am, however, in the midst of a very uncertain and somewhat distracting time, as my deadline for renegotiating my contract approaches at breakneck speed and I try to realistically picture where in the world I might be, four months from now.

Much as I love change, and new challenges, and excitement, I am extremely poor at dealing with the “in-between” stages. The waiting, the wondering, the not knowing. I don’t like living in limbo. And yet I am the worst in the world at making decisions, choosing instead to wait around hopefully for them to, well, sort of make themselves.

This one hasn’t, despite the promising signs earlier in the year. I’m still in a job that I love, in a country that I love, surrounded by friends that I love. Occasionally, the job becomes a serious test of my patience, or the cultural differences get to me, or I clash with one of those friends. Mostly, though, I’m happy. I don’t want to leave. Mostly.

But then I see pictures of Paris from friends who’ve been a-wanderin’, and my heart sort of… sighs. France. French. The French. Being in a country that I’ve wanted to live in since I was a child. Not only that, but being in a country where I can actually understand some of what’s going on around me, and communicate without everything being one big misunderstanding.

And so, you see, I am too melancholy to write witty blog posts, these days, because inside my head there’s a constant tug-of-war which goes something like this:

I hate feeling stupid for being here for two years and still not being able to speak the language. I want to leave. I love my kids, and the teaching system I’ve helped to implement and develop, and I love seeing it grow. I want to stay. Five people stared brazenly at me as I walked home from work today. I want to leave. I spent a wonderful evening in the company of my friends. I want to stay. My classes drove me mad today. I want to leave. I love saving a decent amount of money and still enjoying my life. I want to stay. I’ve explored this country from top to bottom, and not much is fresh and new any more. I want to leave. I am having the time of my life. I want to stay

I seesaw from one decision to the other within a matter of seconds. This morning, for example. At least five colleagues watched me setting up the media room for movie time – dragging in extra chairs, moving the furniture back, switching on the computer and projector. Not a single one of them bothered to tell me that we weren’t having movie time today, as we were going on an outing I hadn’t been informed of. Why? Why wouldn’t someone think to say “Oh, hey, you know what? You don’t need to do all that, we’re not having movie time today.”? I sat muttering furiously to myself about the lack of communication, saying “That is it!!! I need to be in a country where people think more like I do!!!”.

But then we went on our outing, you see, and I sang If You’re Happy And You Know It on the bus with the children, and taught them the chorus of a Beatles song, and one little girl clambered on to my knee and cuddled me for the whole journey whilst chattering in English and laughing, and, well… I came back to school with the biggest smile on my face and feelings of pride, love, and contentment. Why would I leave? My irritation from earlier is forgotten, and the idea of leaving breaks my heart. Until something minor tips the scales in the other direction, that is.

I’m using every single little moment, good or bad, as a reason to go or a reason to stay, and it’s driving me crazy. But really, when it boils down to it, I would stay here for at least another year if it were only about me. I love it. I’m happy. I’m fulfilled. Not only that, but work in Europe is scarce at the moment, and my hard-earned savings would be gone in a matter of months if I tried just going to France without a job, and looking for work when I got there. Here, I’m making more money than I need. In Europe, I will be broke – struggling to survive unless I come up with a new career plan.

And so as ever, it’s my guilt that motivates me. The fact that I can’t bring myself to call my grandmother because every time she chastises me for living so far away and tells me to “get back home” I want to cry like a sorry child out of sheer guilt for not being a closer part of my family, who I do love. I feel like a bad, selfish person for being here and being happy, but I don’t know what my other options are. I’ve been the unemployed, penniless jobseeker sitting gloomily in my parents’ house with not even enough money for a coffee. I don’t want to do that again, but sometimes I feel like it’s my only option if I’m to be rid of this infernal guilt.

OK, so can one of you make this decision for me, please?! I can’t do it. I can’t give up my secure and rewarding life here to go back to no job, no money, and no purpose. I can’t stay here feeling guilty as hell about being a bad daughter/granddaughter/sister and wishing I was more like everyone else with a desire to return to my home town and settle down. So what do I do? Where do I go? How do I decide?

Sigh. 30 years old and still no idea what I’m doing…!


21 thoughts on “Crossroads

  1. Despite having more than (ahem) a few years on you, I’ve got no wisdom to offer, especially since I’m sitting here miserable because I can’t be at my uncle’s funeral tomorrow back in the US.
    On the other hand, as a mum, I can tell you that, if one of my sons called and told me that he had a job he loved, friends he loved, and was enjoying himself (even in a strange country) – but that he was going to chuck it all to come back home (or somewhere closer) where he would most likely face un- or underemployment, just because he felt bad being far away from his family, I would most definitely tell him not to do it. In fact, I’d feel awful if he did do it!

    (Of course, I grew up overseas, well away from most of my relatives, and haven’t lived in the same town or state with any relative – except my husband and kids – since I was married, so perhaps my viewpoint isn’t a common one).

    Will you be going home this summer for a good, long visit? We are, and I have found that just making plans for it has helped a lot.

    Good luck with your decision making. I hope a clear answer comes to you very soon….

    • So sorry to hear about your uncle. That’s probably the hardest part of being so far away. Thinking of you and your family.

      And thank you for the mum’s perspective. And for spelling it ‘mum’. ;)

  2. I totally feel your pain and it’s one of those things I constantly battle with: living far when those one loves are elsewhere.. and the guilt! oh the guilt!

    It does sound like you have a great situation going on which is happy news. I’d say that unless there is something glaringly wrong with where you are or who you are or have become.. then don’t put pressure on yourself to leave.. However if you find you’re becoming stale, bored, too comfortable, angry or some combination.. maybe looking into options elsewhere is a good idea. Doesn’t hurt to have a peek does it?

    • I am actually relieved to discover that there are people all over the world suffering from this damn guilt, and it’s not just me! Thanks for the words of advice – and yes, I am looking into other options before I make my decision. But really…. I do love it here.

  3. Large sheet of paper time, two columns, one for the ‘Reasons to stay’ and the other for ‘Reasons to leave’. You might be surprised at the differences in the length of these two.

    You are still very young so make the most of the great big world out there and most of all have fun.

    • Thanks Grannymar! Have tried the pros and cons thing so many times, but it doesn’t work, because some of the reasons are so huge that they equal maybe 10 of the reasons on the other side, and so it’s very difficult to know which side wins! Very glad of the “very young” comment though. Hehe… ;)

  4. Here’s my take – you say you feel uncomfortable and guilty when your Granny chides you. Remember this – while she (obviously) misses having you around she is still living her life, doing her regular things, is not alone. She maybe thinks she has to tell you to ‘get home’ because that is showing you that she loves you.

    You have to do what is right for you. In your heart you’ll know what that is. You’ll know soon.

    By the way, whatever you decide, don’t come back to Ballymena or even the UK because there are NO JOBS unless you really want to work in a shop or a nursing home and even then you’ll have stiff competition.

    • Yeah, I don’t think Granny’s trying to make me feel bad. I just feel so terrible when she asks when I’m coming back, because I feel as if I’ve turned my back on my family. I felt the same guilt though when I lived in Ballymena, mind you, and I was a 20-minute drive away and still didn’t visit her as much as I should’ve! I’m just not a very visit-y kinda girl. I’m OK with living on the other side of the world and not seeing my family and friends very often, and that doesn’t remotely mean I don’t love them…. but I suppose I just worry that it could easily look like that.

  5. Suzanne says:

    You asked, so don’t complain:
    a) discount every single instance of ‘classes/kids/colleagues/this strange/stifling environment is/are driving me mad’ because that’s going to happen everywhere. Be thankful if it’s only now and again.
    b) don’t feel bad about not being able to make decisions – it’s hard for everyone who doesn’t happen to be a total twat
    c) Nelly makes a good point as to Granny
    d) the sooner you stop wanting to be “more like everybody else”, the happier you’re going to be. Why would you, anyway?
    e – z) do not, not, not leave before you have a job elsewhere. Seriously. Not if you don’t want to see your worst fears come true, i.e. sitting around your parents’ house penniless (and by the way, how happy is Granny going to be about that, hm?). Believe me, I know what I’m talking about – not only am I 20 years older than you, I teach English in Spain. Teaching jobs at language schools you can actually make a living of are very hard to find, full stop

    By the way, I still love your blog. Wish you’d write more often.

    • Thanks Suzanne, pleased you’re still around! Your advice is solid, and I particularly like e-z. :) And that’s probably going to be the decider. I’m not leaving if I don’t have a job waiting for me.

      On the other hand, if you want me to write more often, you should be advising me to move, pronto, so that I have fresh blog material!

  6. Suzanne is right about the annoyances and obstacles in everyday life. They follow us wherever we go. It will be same in France. Just different sorts of annoyances.

    You shouldn’t feel guilty about your loved ones. I’m pretty sure they would choose your happiness over anything else. And though you do experience those trials and tribualtions, to an outsider, you come across as very happy and content in your current situation.

    Why don’t you give it a year? You know how fast they go. It gives you time to look for a job in France and make the most of your time in Korea. Enjoy your friends, pupils, coleagues, food, and ‘interesting’ times. Also, would you not be able to take a holiday home before starting the new year?

    Obviously follow your heart on this one Hails. But you have plenty of time for another year in Korea and several in France.

    • Thanks Hannah, wise words from a wise woman! I have spoken to my director about what would happen if I stayed on, and she’d let me go home for a while in the summer as well as giving me my standard end-of-contract bonus (paid return flights and a month’s extra salary). All very decent. Decisions, decisions…

  7. Philippa says:

    Exactly what Suzanne said!

    Oh, and having lived in France, I warn you that it can be an intensely frustrating place (as well as beautiful and rewarding). Of all the places I have ever travelled, France has almost the most cultural differences! Just trying to prepare you… It’s a love/hate thing :-) Though you probably won’t get stared at in the street!

    • Oh, believe me I know France is not a fantasy land, as tempted as I am to make it one in my head sometimes! I’ve been there before, but only for a few months. Living there would be very different. It is, however, still the dream. ;) J’aime la France…

  8. Couldn’t help replying to this: You’re welcome for the ‘mum’! My mum’s Canadian, so we always called her Mummy/Mum/Mumma growing up…my kids, however, have always called me ‘Mom’ despite my best attempts. Guess there are some battles I can’t win…; )

  9. Nicola says:

    Thinking of you but just want to remind you that life is not always greener on the other side in that jobs can be frustrating anywhere you live, boredom can set in anywhere!
    By the by communication is no better in some of the schools I have worked in here so don’t be fooled into thinking that people in the west think like you!!! Frustrating sometimes and happens in my current job! Hope you make a decision soon and enjoy the adventure of what comes next!

    • Yes, that’s true… every workplace has its frustrations! At the moment it’s looking like there are more reasons to stay than to go. And the truth is that I don’t want to go – not yet!

  10. Jennifer says:

    Couldn’t you have a sort of a ‘gap year’ from Korea, doing volunteering/English teaching somewhere else? Possibly France, possibly somewhere where they speak French or similar language and native English speakers might be harder to come by. And if you don’t like it, then you could always move back to Korea at the end.

    The whole home thing happens in reverse too – I spend some time on Tuesday looking at VSOs and teaching English in Romania, but that’s not exactly practical right now!

    • I’d considered taking a break and doing volunteer work, actually! Just reluctant to spend what little savings I’ve got when my future is so uncertain and I’ll need every penny after Korea.

      Yes, looks like you’ll be staying put for a while. :) Congratulations again!

  11. arlene says:

    Why don’t you apply for teaching jobs in other European countries and see what happens. It’s kind of like mixing fate and being active at the same time. A friend of a friend of mine works in a kindergarten in Luxembourg. Would you consider working in other European countries?
    Act like you are back in Ireland and need to find work in another o if you have a good TEFL course it helps. . Also If you feel bored with Korea another option is to take some time off and go travel with an eye for coming back…

    • I suppose I’d consider other European countries… but only northern ones, for obvious temperature-related reasons! :) And to be honest I’m really set on being in a country where I can speak the language again, so that limits me to a small number. If I’m going to be somewhere where I don’t know what’s going on around me, I might as well stay in Korea!

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