Two years ago, I arrived in Ottawa from Gangneung. I had just completed four consecutive contracts at Gwandong Middle School, as a Native English Teacher, and that was on the heels of three consecutive contracts at a private academy in Daegu. My exit from Korea had been in the works for a while, and had been carefully planned (much like my intention to go to Korea after graduating from Dalhousie). After spending seven very formative years abroad, teaching EFL, I arrived in Ottawa feeling like an outsider.
Things didn’t make sense. The cultural and social norms were different. The vocabulary was different. How people interacted with each other was different. I was an expat returned home, but not really. I’m Canadian, but not from Ottawa. When people asked me where I was from, I would offer Halifax as a response. I had lived there for nine years, the longest of any of my father’s military postings, but that wasn’t strictly true. I actually lived in Porters Lake, however since no one had heard of it, I gave the name of the capital city where I attended university.
The transient nature of my life made for a confusing identity. I had split my life between military postings in Ontario and Nova Scotia. I was born in Ontario, but identify as Nova Scotian. To further complicate matters, I now live in Ontario, and haven’t seen Nova Scotia since 2007.
If there has been one stable element in my life, it has been teaching, and the journey to become a better educator. I didn’t know how long the journey would last when I departed Halifax for Daegu, a decade ago. Yet, April 2017 saw me reach one more milestone: graduating with a B.Ed.
I came into the university program with a lot of practical experience under my belt. Teaching overseas had been good to me, and it allowed me to help others in my program’s section. Many a confusing assignment would require clarity, and years of juggling different EFL classes definitely helped. Because I felt I had such a good handle on things, I would often volunteer for different initiatives.
This degree wasn’t an easy one, though. It challenged me in ways I wasn’t expecting, and in ways I would never have been challenged in Korea. There were times I feared I had taken on far more than I could handle, and wouldn’t be able to live up to my commitments. There were times I had to reach deep down and find something in myself I didn’t know was there.
In the process I discovered more about myself than I had previously. I knew that at my core, there was a really good teacher. That was something to build off of. I had discovered my love for teaching overseas, and I knew that I was great as an EFL teacher. Coming in to Ottawa, I wasn’t sure if my success over there would translate to anything measurable. Teaching EFL in Korea can be a very specialized skillset. A healthy amount of self-doubt allows you to push yourself to overcome challenges, and in the end it made me a better teacher.
It was a collaborative effort. As much as I lent a hand to others, outstretched offers of support were also there for me. One of the most unexpected treasures of a two year professional degree was being with the same group of people in all my classes throughout the program. What started as a bunch of disconnected strangers, became a tightly woven family. With that foundation strongly in place, I stand firmer against the uncertainty of what tomorrow might bring.
Two years later, the reverse culture shock is wearing off. Where I am from isn’t as interesting as where I have been, or where I am going. I’m still a former expat, and a Haligonian living in Ottawa. I’m also a teacher, and that hasn’t changed.
If you have been along for the ride since the beginning, you might be wondering what comes next. Essentially I am in the process of submitting an application for the Occasional Teachers list at a school board (that means working as a supply teacher, or a substitute). I am preparing for interviews, and other things that may come my way.