Em in Asia!

My Experiences Living and Teaching in South Korea


I can’t concentrate.

Yesterday I had no school, so I hiked a mountain in Gwangju (the nearby city). It was nice. It was a cold, dreary, wet Wednesday afternoon which meant that the trails were deserted. I plugged in my iPod and went up and down hills, squelching in the mud, nodding to random people that I saw. I saw chipmunks, trees, rocks, and the Gwangju city skyline. The forests, paths, and lack of people reminded me of Virginia, and it was nice. I arrived at one of the peaks of the mountain range by accident – my co-teacher had told me to follow a trail to a certain point, and I continued on because I wasn’t tired. I got to the end, looked around, and the world opened up below me. It was made all the more exhilarating because I was alone; there was no one there to chat to or to be distracted by. On the way back down I got lost, as per usual, and ended up walking down the entire mountain instead of halfway down to the temple at which I had originally disembarked. With the help of a friendly older man I found another bus stop and made it off the mountain.

It was cold, it was wet, I was alone, I was lost, but I was oddly content.

Last night I found out that I had been accepted to Johns Hopkins SAIS Masters program in Korea Studies. SAIS is the premiere IR program in the nation. I didn’t receive any fellowships or scholarships. I don’t know what to do, and I am no longer at peace. If anyone has any advice for me, I would greatly appreciate it.

posted under Travel
3 Comments to


  1. Avatar March 16th, 2013 at 10:42 pm Reverend Says:

    I love the idea of climbing a mountain in the cold/snow to find some peace. I think it is interesting you are stressing about school in the US when your experience in Korea has been so rich and you must be learning so much. NO question career/degrees call in time, and Johns Hopkins is quite a school and the program seems amazing—I would figure out the finances realistically and what you want to do with the degree, and ask if what you have already been doing and what you could keep doing in Korea may not be tantamount to that experience.

    Going into debt for grad school might make some sense, but how much is a huge question—and from personal experience I would say make it as little as possible. And while you may not be at peace over such decisions, from my vantage point you’re in a wonderful moment of possibilities—explore than and have some fun!

  2. Avatar March 20th, 2013 at 12:53 am Amy Iversen Says:

    Ahhh! Next steps…sometimes present difficult choices. I agree that Hopkins is a great school and the program you speak of sounds interesting and amazing. Opportunities like this present themselves only once in a lifetime, much like the opportunity you took with the Fulbright Korea scholarship. Costs? That’s another consideration, but sometimes the financial risk will pay off in the long run. Experiences build upon one another…your experience in Korea will certainly inform your next experience, whether it be grad school or some other venture! I know you will find your way, and I know how difficult next steps can be, but know in your heart that whatever choice you make next will be the right one.

  3. Avatar April 9th, 2013 at 10:16 am epotosky Says:

    Sorry for the late response to the comments, I’ve been mulling over the decision for so long that it seems my brain has turned to mush. In English we say that our head is spinning, but in Korean they say 마음이 떨려요 (maeumei ddeollyeoyo), my heart is spinning.

    I must leave Korea, that much is decided. As much as I love it here and I’ve gained so much, you can only stay with the Fulbright program for 3 years and I’ve hit my limit. While I could stay in Korea longer through a different program, I don’t see myself becoming a teacher in the future and so staying on in Korea as a teacher just seems like putting off the next step (whatever that might be). Add to that the hassle of getting a new visa, and the fact that my sister is getting married… I should go home. Now, if I could find a non-teaching job in Korea, one that would allow me to gain new experiences and expand certain skill sets, I’d definitely consider staying, but those are pretty hard to find.

    I’ve also decided to put off grad school for one more year. Unfortunately I can’t defer, so that puts me in the awkward position of having to reapply, but hopefully I’ll get in again. In addition, though I don’t want to, I should probably widen my net and apply to other programs as well – this year I took the “all or nothing” approach and only applied to Hopkins, which sort-of worked out. It’s just not worth the financial strain to me, especially when I could theoretically become a stronger candidate and receive some funding next time around.

    Anyway, again, thank you both.

    On a somewhat related note, I have a question for you, Jim. Some of the jobs I’ve been looking at applying to ask about the applicants’ familiarity with social media, including wordpress. Would you consider blogging to be a skill worthy of putting on a resume (especially when the blog is something like this – very informal)?

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안녕하세요! My name is Emily and when I started this blog I had received a 2010 – 2011 F*lbright grant to teach English in South Korea.  I then decided to apply to renew my grant, so I am now staying in Korea until July 2012. This blog is not an official F*lbright Program blog, and the views expressed are my own and not those of the F*lbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.

I graduated from the University of Mary Washington with a degree in Philosophy Pre-Law and Classical Civilizations, and found myself 3 months later teaching English at SGHS. The town that I taught in, SG, is a small town of 12,000 people, an “읍” (eup) rather than a “시” (shi – city), and though it was sometimes hard teaching in such a small town I really enjoyed the unique experience of being the first foreign teacher SGHS had ever had. I lived in the largest part of the county which is significantly bigger (40,000 people) than the town the school is situated in, but is also considered rural by Korean standards.

During my second grant period (2011-2012) I decided to change schools and I currently teach at CPHS which is located in an even smaller town than previously, in Jeollanamdo.

This blog is meant to serve as a reflection not only of being a Native English Speaking teacher in Korea, but also of living as a foreigner in rural Korea.