Do you know what the biggest advantage of our time is? We’re no longer limited to dreams when it comes to traveling. Think about it: our parents dreamed to see the world, but most of them stayed in their little towns, believing that discovering the world was for extreme adventurists and extremely rich people. My mom, for example, always wanted to see Provence. She decorated the house and the garden in that style and everything smelled like lavender. But she never got to see Provence.
Now, we all have the chance to see the world. The Internet gives you an opportunity for a remote job. You can make money while traveling, so you won’t have a problem to finance your trips. Or, you can just get a TEFL certificate (sometimes you don’t even need it) and teach English abroad.
I did that. And guess what: I combined my dream of traveling with my goal of gaining a Ph.D. degree. No; I didn’t write a dissertation related to traveling. However, I wrote it while working as an ESL teacher in South Korea.
Yes; being an ESL teacher in a foreign country is basically a full-time job. Yes; the dissertation process is possibly the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced in your life. But yes; you can combine these two things with self-discipline a bit higher than average.
Looking back on this experience, there were a few things that helped me not only preserve my sanity but also enjoy the entire process at the same time. I’ll share those insights, with the hope to inspire you to take on this adventure.
My reasons: Why I decided to go to South Korea
Let’s be clear on this: I was very serious as a Ph.D. student. I didn’t miss lectures (unless something really prevented me). So no; I didn’t find a way to skip classes and still take that degree. After I got through the program, the dissertation was the only aspect left to deal with.
I always knew I was going to travel before getting the Ph.D. I set it as a goal before I even applied for the postgraduate program. Where did that wish come from? You’re guessing it: I learned the lesson from my mother. I didn’t want to spend my life dreaming and not doing.
The only question was: where should I travel? After a lot of research, I had three options on my shortlist: South Korea, Japan, or Spain. Europe is beautiful, but it also takes more time to explore. I wanted to see not only Spain but several other countries as well. So I decided to postpone that option. Japan or South Korea?
Somehow, South Korea was the more attractive option. The decision was subjective: I used to have a South Korean girlfriend during college. She was the funniest, most inspiring, and most intelligent girl I ever knew. So, South Korea it was.
I loved the distinctive urban style of Seoul. However, I also loved the rich history of this nation. The combination of old and new has its ways of trapping your attention.
Plus, I easily found a spot as an ESL teacher in a school in Seoul. The pay was enough to cover my expenses there. Win!
The struggles of adaptation
I didn’t go to South Korea as a tourist per se. I went there to work. So that decision came with its issues. Since I had to work as a teacher and work on my dissertation, I had to plan my time very, very diligently. I wanted to explore the country in all its beauty. I wanted to meet people. I wanted to live, too.
So that first month of adaptation wasn’t easy. I was mostly working as a teacher, working on the initial chapters of the dissertation, and exploring the neighborhood.
But then, I got the courage to start exploring. I made time for it and I started working over the week and traveling around South Korea on the weekends. I made it work.
Tips: How to adapt to an entirely new culture
Oh; the culture shock! No matter where you go, it will hit you. Everything is different in South Korea. I had some experience teaching, but these kids were different. They had more respect for the teacher. Many of them were afraid of making a mistake, so they preferred not saying anything. I had to adjust my approach and it took two weeks before they could trust me.
As for the culture, it took quite an adaptation on my side. These are the lessons I learned:
What would traveling be without observing? You have a unique chance to see new things and make memories. Think of observing as an adventure.
It’s important to be curious and open-minded
Whenever you see something new, ask. People will love to share their explanations and stories. They want to see your interest in their culture, so go ahead and ask. The more you know, the easier it will be for you to adapt.
It’s okay to be anxious
Hey; I’m an extreme introvert with social anxiety. Traveling alone was not easy. However, I realized it was okay to be anxious. When I realized this feeling was normal, it was possible for me to see beyond it.
Let people approach you
Open up! Let your intuition guide you. People will want to become your consultants on this cultural expedition. It’s okay to let them approach you, but it’s still important to stay safe.
How to have a job, travel, and write a Ph.D. project at the same time
Now, this was the hard part. I contacted Ginger Zamorano, a friend who works as a writing tutor at ResumesPlanet.com. That was the best decision I made since her tips made a world of difference. So I have only one important tip for this part:
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Make a specific plan
This was the first thing Ginger said to me: “Okay; you have 24 hours in a day. Eight of them go to sleep. Five go to teaching. We’re left with 11 hours to play with. Two of them will go for preparing and eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Let’s give two more hours of free space, just in case. You can use it for any activity.
Your dissertation is important, so you must work on it for four hours a day. Split them up. So you wake up, have breakfast, do the teaching. You get home and you have lunch. Do the dissertation for two hours. Explore the city for two hours. Go back to your dissertation. Have dinner. Go to sleep. There’s your daily routine, right there.”
This worked. I realized there was more than enough time in a day to cover all these activities. As for the weekends, I traveled around the country and worked on my dissertation for at least 5 hours a day.
Don’t be afraid to take the risk, it’s worth it
Hard work does pay off. All those sleepless nights working on my dissertations were so worth it at the very end. It is like a mother of a newborn says: “When you see your baby, you forget about the pain. It is all worth it.”
The pain was certainly not as real as that of childbirth, but during this time, my dissertation was my child. I suffered through it, fought through it, and made it happen. Because of those few moments of true weakness and struggle, I am now where I am.
And now that I know how valuable time is, I appreciate it much more and handle it with utmost care. The habit of planning my hours has turned out to be a real life-saver throughout the years.
The world is waiting for you to explore it. It has immense beauty to offer, and Google isn’t even close to grasping it. Start traveling! Do it while you’re working on your dissertation. Do some ESL teaching, too. There’s enough time for everything!