How Living in Korea Affected my Mental Health

How Living in Korea Affected my Mental Health
When I graduated from University, I knew I wanted to come to an Asian country to teach English. Mostly for travel and to save money. Korea happened to be one of the first countries to call me back and after briefly researching the country and seeing how skin health was #1 here, that was enough to sell me lol.
 What I didn’t know was that my mental health would be affected by this transition. 
I  lived in Korea for almost a year and a half getting to know their culture every step of the way.  With living in a foreign country i inevitably came to know their way of living, cultural practices, and the not so great aspects too.
Before I continue on with this blog post I want to mention this was my experience. It’s not to say Korea is all bad– every country has it’pros and cons. This is simply an account of my journey over the past year and a half. The things I will mention is a collection of first-hand stories of friends, co-workers, and students.

The Education System sucks

Korean students live a hardcore, stressed life from the moment they are able to go to school. From then on it’s a cycle of academies and school. They are taught the harder they work the greater the reward will be.  On average Korean students studies roughly 15 hours a week or sometimes more.
Their day usually gets started at 7 or 8 am and lasts until 3 or 4 pm ( it’s usually earlier for younger students) afterward, they go to cram schools or academies ( this is where I taught, an English academy) where they study math, English, or science There’s an academy for everything!
Academies can last anywhere from 1 to 4 hours. So, it isn’t uncommon for a student to go to 2-3 academies daily. You’d think after a full day of school and academies it’s time to rest. No! it’s time to go home and study and do homework. And the process repeats itself again the next day.
Due to this high-stress life, you can imagine how miserable the students felt and how challenging that made my life as a teacher. More times than I can count, the student’s came in completely depleted and drained from the day and the night before. Very few students get a full 8 hours of sleep. Every day, the student’s complained about how tired they were. One of my 8-year-old students had purple eyebags from lack of sleep.
Of course, as an instructor and a foreigner, this made me feel helpless. I wanted to make their lives better and change their school system, but the truth of the matter was, this was their culture. So, I just tried my best to make the classroom atmosphere fun and engaging. Which, I think i succeeded in.

Korea isn’t that healthy

Prior to coming to Korea, I figured by the time I’d leave I’d be a vegan. I totally fell into the rabbit hole that all Asian countries were healthy. I was WRONG! Koreans eat A LOT of CHICKEN! And drink A LOT too. Chicken or some form of meat is in everything. There are layers and layers of it. There’s a chicken place on every corner.
As a pescatarian, I couldn’t sustain the lifestyle I wanted. I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables and the fruit and vegetables were ridiculously priced. I’m talking $17 for a watermelon and $5 for a small case of blueberries.

Korea is built on vanity

With Korea being one of the highest countries for cosmetic surgery. It pays to look good here. Every job I have applied for has asked me to attach a photo with my resume. Which I guess is becoming more common. At train stations, there are mirrors everywhere for Koreans to prep and prime. I would be lying if I said I didn’t utilize the convenience of it. It isn’t uncommon to catch women applying their makeup during their commute whether it’s by train, bus, or walking.
At my first job, my girl students would have mirrors on their desk so they could reapply their lipgloss, put in hair rollers, and curl their eyelashes.
My most shocking account was when my 15-year-old student mentioned she was getting eye surgery for her 16th birthday. Her parents felt her eyes were too small so they wanted her to get blepharoplasty to make them wider.

 Work life sucks

Taking on the wrong job with the wrong boss can damage your mental health. Which ultimately ended up happening to me in BOTH jobs. My first boss was too power hungry and my most recent boss was too lackadaisical and “didn’t want to be boss” (these were his words). The truth is, I was suffering from stress and burnout as are many employees in Korea.

I was a Hagwon teacher for two years and a half. Hagwons are English academies that the parents pay a good amount of money for so that their kids can learn English. Essentially, you are an English robot.

Breaks are minimal.
In my first job, I had 5 mins breaks between 40 min classes but only worked for 4.5 hours. In my second job, I taught  9 classes with 5 min breaks in between each 40minute class but worked for 8hours. There was little time to socialize and I was constantly rushing to eat, use the bathroom and text friends.  Everything was rapid paced, there was no time to flow and be slow.  These jobs had no regard for my personal life it was full of chaos, crisis, and urgency.
If you find your job is rapidly paced with little time to socialize with a  cold and sterile environment. you may be in a toxic work environment. You can take this quiz to find out.
This began to get unbearable which is why I decided to leave. I wasn’t living the life I wanted and most importantly i wasn’t doing what i loved, which i felt was an injustice to myself.  Once my mental health began to become affected I knew I  had to go.

 If you find yourself in a job that is draining you of your life its time to go. Truth is, most jobs sacrifice people for profit. Expecting one person to do the job of five. Your mental health should be a priority do not forgo your peace of mind at the cost of a job. 

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