Living and teaching in both laid-back Thailand and fast-paced South Korea has made for an interesting perspective on life in Asia. The two extremes are hard to compare but I think I should at least try. I have lived in the suburbs of Bangkok for about ten months now - almost as long as the year I spent living in urban Seoul teaching English at an elementary school - so I think it is finally fair to approach the task.
First the specifics. I worked for the Korean government as the only foreign teacher in a small school of about 2,000 students. I worked 40 hours a week and made almost 2 million KRW (about 1800 US dollars) a month with my accommodation paid for. I had government health insurance, which was always paid correctly and on time, plus I paid an amount of money (which my school matched) into a monthly pension plan. When I completed my one-year contract, I received one month's bonus, flight reimbursement, as well as all my pension back (it was a good chunk of change.)
Here in Thailand, I work for a small "international" school outside of the city. I work 45 hours a week and make about 47,000 baht after taxes (which I didn't have to pay in Korea.) I get health insurance but worry about if and when I will get my paycheck and I get frustrated with the management on a daily basis. I have a two year contract and if I complete it I will receive 15,000 baht for a bonus. That pretty much sums up all the perks at this job, but hey, we don't come to Thailand to make money, do we?
Living in Seoul was a non-stop party. I spent my entire paycheck every month on shopping, drinking, traveling, drinking, eating and partying. Honestly, the whole year is a bit of a blur. Looking back I always talk highly of Korea and my time there, but it wasn't all fun and games. There were a lot of annoying things about Korean culture (just as there are challenges in this one.) I made a lot of money and my job was pretty easy. I was given textbooks, technology, a Korean assistant teacher in my classroom, and had pretty much no accountability.
There is a reason a lot of expats live in Korea for several years, its a good gig. In Thailand, I have tried to change my lifestyle so I am saving a lot more and going out a lot less. Yes, it is cheap here but its pretty easy to spend money if you aren't careful.
Asians are notorious for being pushy - and Koreans are infamous. In Seoul, a little old lady would push you out of the way in her hurry to get the best pick at the market, and in Thailand a similar old woman might do the same, yet in a less violent way, maybe with a little acknowledgment. Everyone always has some place to be but Koreans are just more aggressive on the roads and in line. Thai people like to crowd around and push just as much, however it is usually just a bit more passive aggressive with some bowing of the head involved.
Saving face is an aspect you cannot escape in any Asian country. It is something I am not used to. I have gotten used to being stared at in the street (both equally bad in both countries), getting blank stares when trying to use their language and showering over my sink. I am not sure if I will ever get used to the passive aggressive nature of my Asian coworkers. I say what is on my mind - sometimes behind closed doors - but I cannot pretend everything is just peachy. I feel that this issue is more present in my life in Thailand as I have to talk to parents more who really demonstrate this cultural norm. It has been rare in both Korea and Thailand to hear people speak frankly and honestly when it comes to important topics. It is something you have to deal with but I don't know if I will ever totally be comfortable with.
To be honest, I enjoyed my job and living in Korea much more than I do here. I had to deal with my fair share of frustrations in Seoul, and others had a much worse experience than I did, so maybe I just got lucky there and I have been very unlucky here.
In Korea I had small disturbances to my day such as class being cancelled without notice, having to teach my youngest students without a co-teacher, and being required to attend school functions, even though I couldn't understand a thing that was being said. I was very angry when these things would happen, but in hindsight I would take a free meal spoken in Korean over having to fight for my paycheck in a second. It is important to note that I worked for the government in Korea so there were strict regulations for native teachers, whereas in Thailand, I am the only one looking out for me. Such is life I guess.
Overall, I think it comes down to the fact that working in Korea was easy, everything was basically spoon-fed to me. Here I have to fight my own way and I feel like I am more of an adult, with a lot of responsibilities. While Thailand may not be the happy paradise I was expecting, I have learned much more about myself and the world and I believe that everything on our journey happens for a reason. Apparently it is time for this married twenty something girl to grow up.
It's funny how you get used to a place and can think of it as home. Now when I crave things from my past life it is no longer Olive Garden bread sticks (ok, it still is) but also red, stinky kimchi and cheap, delicious rice wine. When I move on I will miss buckets of ice with my beer and the plethora of street vendors at my disposal. It is obviously different working in a more developed country than a poorer one but they both have good and bad aspects. Maybe its just time I go home and remind myself what the job market and vacation time is like back there...
If you would like to read more about my life and my adventures, then please take a look at my personal blog site.