In the video below, Rowan, an Oxford Seminars grad, shares his travel memories from his adventures as an English teacher in South Korea and Cuba.
His experiences teaching and traveling abroad not only changed his outlook on life, but allowed him to save enough money to spend a relaxing 4 months living the hammock lifestyle in Nicaragua.
In Cuba, he experienced an entirely different walk of life from what he had known, and a generous, welcoming culture he will never forget. As an English teacher in South Korea, he was able to pay off his student loans, make lasting friendships, and fund future travels throughout Asia and Latin America. Watch the video and read the transcription below!
New Found Love for Cuban Culture
“It really changed my outlook on what is really important. Not to mention my new found love of salsa dancing, the joy of Cuban rum and late night dominoes.”
Hi, my name is Rowan and my first experience teaching abroad was when I participated in a three-and-a-half-month volunteer program in Cuba after high school. I deferred my university acceptance so that I could move to Cuba and work as a high school gym teacher. I also coached the basketball team, taught English to the Cuban program participants, and helped with giving free English lessons in the community.
That was really an eye-opening experience for me, living in a place where some people still traveled by horse, where you saw more ’57 Chevys than Japanese cars, and people lived on little more than government rationed rice and beans. My host parents were so generous with what they had. Like, they insisted on buying me ice cream cones from the street vendors, even though they earned as little as $20 a month. I would walk past the crowds of chatting and laughing people in the street every morning on my way to work, just in wonder of how people who had so little lived so happily.
It really changed my outlook on what is really important. Not to mention my new found love of salsa dancing, the joy of Cuban rum and late night dominoes.
Transitioning After Graduation
After I graduated with my Bachelor of Journalism degree, I worked as a reporter for a few years and, while I enjoyed it, the travel bug never really left. I often wondered when I’d ever teach abroad again. Well, I guess sometimes life has a way of steering you on a certain path, because my longtime girlfriend broke up with me and I needed to find a place to live, pretty quickly, and didn’t really feel like moving back with my parents.
I remembered a couple of friends had just returned from teaching in South Korea and really loved it, so I started applying to schools and within about a month and a half I was on a plane to Incheon airport.
New Languages in South Korea
I didn’t really speak a word of Korean before I got on the plane, but I had a phrasebook and lots of TV and movies to watch on my flight, and before you know it I was landing in South Korea and just overwhelmed by the strange sounds of a language I never heard before, and signs in a language I couldn’t read.
It really took me a few weeks to get a grasp of where I was and what I was doing there, but once I settled in I realized what a beautiful country it was.
Building Life-Long Friendships
“It was really easy to get to know people by just saying ‘hi’ in the street or on the bus and I was able to develop some pretty good friendships in the first few months. In fact, I met my wife in South Korea at a friend of a friend’s party.”
I remember being amazed right off the bat when a Korean colleague took me to a professional baseball game in Daejeon; we had great seats behind home plate for about $10, and were able to get fried chicken delivered right to our seats from a Kyochon chicken restaurant a few blocks away.
Even though I lived in a small city of 100,000 people, which is rural by South Korean standards, there were still about 50-60 other foreign English teachers working in my city at any given time and being obviously not Korean, we stuck out like sore thumbs.
It was really easy to get to know people by just saying “hi” in the street or on the bus and I was able to develop some pretty good friendships in the first few months. In fact, I met my wife in South Korea at a friend of a friend’s party.
Travel Adventures around Asia
On weekends, we did a lot of traveling throughout Korea. We enjoyed so many nights of Korean BBQ, Karaoke renditions, and bath house visits. We loved going to Daecheon Beach, including the Boryeong Mud Festival, which is probably the most popular event of the year for English teachers in Korea.
I still love Korean food, like kimbap, bulgogi or bibimbap. But if we wanted a taste of home we’d be off to Itaewan, which is full of American-style restaurants. We spent holidays on Jeju Island, climbing Hallasan volcano and visiting Sunrise Peak and the waterfalls in Seogwipo.
Being a short flight to China, I was also able to jet over and see a friend in Beijing over new year’s.
Relaxing and Living the Hammock Lifestyle
“After my year in South Korea, with my student loans paid off, I was able to check another item off my bucket list when my girlfriend and I moved to Nicaragua to live the hammock lifestyle for 4 months.”
Of course, the students were great, the money was good and I learned a lot about how to be a better teacher, but the travel memories stick with me the most.
After my year in South Korea, with my student loans paid off, I was able to check another item off my bucket list when my girlfriend and I moved to Nicaragua to live the hammock lifestyle for 4 months.
We’re now married with a kid and living back home, but we often talk about where we’ll go next. We don’t know when, we don’t know how, but Ecuador seems to be calling!
Want to start your adventure teaching English abroad?
Written by Rowan Lomas
Rowan Lomas has taught in Cuba, South Korea and online to Korean students. He has been assisting Oxford Seminars TESOL/TESL/TEFL certification course graduates in finding teaching jobs abroad as a member of the Job Placement Service since 2010. An Oxford Seminars graduate himself, Rowan has also earned a Master of Education degree and remains keenly interested in the field of international education.