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My friends hate, and I mean hate, that I work in South Korea. They feel that it is frivolous, a waste of time, something that started off as a forgivable lark but has morphed into something that now denotes a moral failing. I should buckle down, shoulder some responsibility and find a career in Canada.
Besides, there is a madman next door with his stubby finger on the button, they say (but how often could Canadians say the same thing?). Who could live with that kind of threat looming overhead? Well, millions of South Koreans, who if you voice concern over the North look at you with a touch of pity.
It is not that I don't want to live in Canada. Far from it, I love this country, albeit more as a friend. I have tried to find work here (Oh, come on, you have not really tried). I have joined job services and temp services, sent resumes to every major city in the country. I have two degrees from "prestigious" universities – and one of them (the degree, not the school) was actually useful.
The second degree is the one that frustrates my friends the most. Several times one of them will stop, look at me and snap: "But you have a law degree." It's almost as if they are angry at me for having this precious thing and still riding the subway.
For people my age, a law degree was a guarantee, it would open doors, Canadian doors, not those sliding things in Asia!
"I know," I tell them. I do know. I know that I have this thing that still, right now, people are falling asleep over books to obtain. I also know what we all think, but never (okay, rarely) say aloud. I am white! No way around that. Try as I may to avoid it, one turn on any available dance floor and the awful truth comes crashing down.
So, being white and highly educated, shouldn't the world be my oyster? Sure, and yet the last time I was here I collected both rejection letters and Ontario Works for eight months before throwing in the towel and moving back to Korea with a heavy heart.
And here is why I've been going back for five years now. Ready? Because they hire me! What my friends don't quite get, though they sense it, is that the Canadian landscape changed, not drastically, but enough, while we were busy. Some time between when we started high school and finished university, things went a bit sideways.
A few years earlier and my life might have been a whole lot different. I may have never left Canada, the country I still dream about living and working in.
But if the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, my returning to Canada does indicate a form of madness. Right now I'm back in the pre-Korea cycle of job searching and teeth gnashing. Recently, a good friend offered me work: part time (variable hours). My living arrangements would be sharing a house with two other people (on weekends their kids would visit so it might get noisy), for the low price of $700 a month – plus utilities. It was a kind gesture, but in the best-case scenario I would be able to save a grand total of $100 a month, provided I altered my diet to include a substantial amount of cat food and developed a burning desire to spend my free time meditating.
Canada has become shockingly expensive and there are fewer and fewer good jobs. So why not go overseas and teach English? It pays enough for a semblance of a life. You can learn how it feels to be a minority: character-building, some might call it.
If your friends are like mine, they might shake their heads and mutter about wasting your education, or the problems of growing old in another country, or how you are just going to find it more and more difficult to get a Canadian job the longer you stay away.
All true, but people who have jobs don't understand the reality of those trying to enter the work force now. Staying here means being lucky to get part-time work that barely covers the rent, provides no benefits and has nothing to do with degrees that took several ludicrously expensive years to get. Those same degrees that, after graduation, take a huge chunk of one's paycheque every month to repay and are simply not very useful, sad to say.
For me, teaching in South Korea provides a little bit more than that. Not much, but just enough to give me a little space to breathe.
I have met more and more young Canadians who are staying in Asia, young men and women who feel somewhat betrayed by their country. I envy their commitment, especially those who go full native, falling into the strange state of becoming more Asian than the natives.
Me, I still see myself as a Canadian, if a transplanted one. I have not given up on living (and here I completely divorce myself from reality) in my hometown of Toronto. Never say never.
At the moment, I am looking into government-supported "training" here. But after seven years in university, I am loath to go back to the world of Canadian education. Still, when everyone you know feels that you should not go back to teach English, you start to think that maybe they are on to something. Even if they aren't.
Matt Rush lives in Ulsan, South Korea.