Friday, August 01, 2008

Saying Goodbye to Korea

I recently applied and received an offer to teach in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. So, after a 12 year stay in Korea, I have decided to pack up my 12 years of belongings, prepare my wife and kids and move on to greener pastures. The reaction of my colleagues, friends and family has been a mixed bag of incredulity, congratulations, advice and warning. The university in the UAE has made an offer that I can scarce afford to pass up: A salary I can live well on, the stability of a 3 year contract, the comfort of a 3-4 bedroom apartment for me and my family, airline tickets to UAE for me and my family, yearly round-trip airline tickets back to the US for me and my family (soon to be 5 people) as well as tickets home at the end of contract, a generous furniture allowance (more than 8 million won), paid international school education for my children from age 5 (can you imagine 3 children in Korean international schools on a foreign English teacher's salary?), 1 month salary per year severence bonus, free medical insurance for me and my family, a brand new state-of-the-art laptop computer, a generous excess baggage allowance and end-of-contract moving allowance..there's lots more but I have to save something for later.
On the down side, there is not as much vacation as working at a Korean university and I have to work a few more hours (20 as opposed to 15). Most people seem to be concerned about the weather but I understand that AD is very livable most of the year (its just the summer that is unbearable). As with any job that involves another culture, I am sure there will be difficulties adjusting to the culture of the UAE but I understand that foreigners make up more than 80 percent of the country and English is the Lingua Franca so I don't need to learn Arabic (though I would like to).
The impending and existing presence of several top notch world university sattelite campuses (NYU and Harvard Med for example) also seems promising. The UAE is trying to bill itself as an Educational Hub (see Korea is not the ONLY hubmaker in the world) of the Middle East so this should make the academic environment interesting if nothing else.

It's not really that I want to leave Korea, its just that this is too good an opportunity to pass up for the sake of my family as well as my career. For those of my readers who are interested, I will be trying to continue this blog from there and hope to be doing some open comparison between the teaching situation here and there. Much of what I have read indicates that there are some striking similarities. I am sure that I am not the first English teacher to go from here to there but I certainly hope to be able to enlighten some of the Waygook crowd to the contrasts.

For now, the pandemonium of moving in about a month has gripped every corner of my life and if I don't go crazy in the process I am sure I will be better off for it. I certainly hope my regular readers stay tuned and perhaps a few others will become interested in my transition.
Stay tuned


Cairo Mama said...

I lived in Egypt before coming to Korea. I've been to Education City in Doha, Qatar where my friend is a professor at the Carnegie-Mellon Branch campus, so sounds like a similar idea to when you are going in Abu Dhabi. There is a lot going on in the places with money, plus there is so much to see nearby like the Pyramids in Egypt, Petra in Jordan, the Med, the Red, the Dead Seas and the Arabian Gulf. You are very close to Europe as well and can do an affordable African safari from there.

Arabic is a lot easier than Korean. It is more distinctive. Take a class to learn to read. Unless you are very disciplined, it is much easier if you do it in a class.

Safe trip, Inshallah (God willing, they add this phrase to everything).

Noel said...

I don't know if the previous commentor has ever tried to learn both Korean and Arabic but I assure you that the latter is much more difficult to learn. My mother is korean and my husband is an Arabic linguist who studied at DLI. However, learning the language will get you a long way.
After having lived a short time in Doha, I can honestly say no matter how progressive some parts of the Gulf are becoming, it isn't a good place for an American woman to live.
Be prepared for some passive agressive hostility from the nationals, especially since your wife is Korean. All labor in the Gulf is made up of foreign workers, mainly from south and south-east asia.
As for your family, I speak from experience, international schooling is the only way to go and please try to help your wife establish friendships and connections. Not only will this make her happy but it'll prevent a lot of issues that come with marriages in which a spouse works/lives abroad.
Fortunately, the Gulf is quickly becoming a hub of international business and tourism. I'm not sure about educational advances. 90% of Arab nationals send their children abroad for secondary schooling and beyond. There is much to see and do and if you and your wife get bored, a trip to Dubai where the flights are quick and cheap and there is plenty to do for a "westernized" couple eases the pain. Oh and for 9 months or so out of the year, be prepared for HOT HOT temperatures (we're talking 90-130 degrees F) and humidity.

Noel said...

If my post made the Gulf sound like a miserable place, it isn't. However, the longer you live there the more apparent it becomes that it is a very different culture from anything you would find in the US and Korea. VERY different. Living in the middle east was a learning experience and something I don't regret. I would do a few things differently (such as care less about the social "norms" of a woman) if I ever go back. I wish your family the best of luck and I hope you take the opportunity to do a lot of traveling while in the area.

Fencerider said...

Thanks for the comments. It's interesting to hear from people who have been there. I know very little about the place I am going (though I have done some reading).
The international schooling is provided for in my contract and I understand that there are plenty of things to do there. We are looking forward to the adventure.