28 countries in 8 years….on a teacher’s salary! Our guest today isTEFL Teacher and World Traveler Kimberly Rodriguez. Kim joins us from Busan, South Korea where she has been living and teaching for over eight years. She has worked in the Korean public education system for a long time as both an Elementary Teacher and University Professor and currently holds a position as Visiting Professor for a Korean National University where she teaches English as a second language.
Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with TEFL Teacher and world traveler Kimberly Rodriguez. (@lil_miz_kimbo)
Transcripts may contain a few typos. With interviews ranging from 1-2 hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
Peter Kersting: Welcome to Alone with Peter, I’m your host, and despite what the name of the show seems to imply, it isn’t really all about me. Alone with Peter is a variety show for and about aspiring entrepreneurs, digital nomads, creatives, and people seeking personal growth.
Peter Kersting: Each guest on this show has something different to offer. They come from a variety of different professional disciplines, and they’re all in different stages of their careers. Each episode tells a specific chapter of our guest’s journey, helping us understand what motivates them, who they are, and how they developed their talents over time.
Peter Kersting: Today’s guest is Kimberly Rodriguez, who is joining us from Busan, South Korea. Kim has been living and teaching abroad for over eight years. She’s worked in the Korean public education system for a long time as both an elementary teacher and a university professor. She currently holds a position as Visiting Professor for a Korean National University where she teaches English as a second language. The hope is that if this guest’s journey resonates with you, that they can provide actionable, practical tips for you on your own journey. With that in mind, I want to introduce today’s guest, Kimberly Rodriguez, who is joining us from Busan, South Korea.
Peter Kersting: Kim has been living and teaching abroad for over eight years. She’s worked in the Korean public education system for a long time as both an elementary teacher and a university professor. She currently holds a position as visiting professor for a Korean national university where she teaches English as a second language.
Peter Kersting: Kim is a devout Catholic, an avid traveler, and a fellow foodie; three things that helped us connect when our paths crossed in South Korea. If you’re interested in seeing what Kim is up to on a regular basis, you can follow her on Instagram @lil_miz_kimbo
Peter Kersting: I’ll put links to Kim’s social media on my website PeterKersting.com where, by the way, you can check out the full transcript of the show and links to any relevant information. Now, I mentioned before, we do three-part interviews with our guests. So, one final note I want to mention about this particular interview with Kim. In Part 1, we’re going to be talking about living abroad long-term and what it’s been like for her surviving the pandemic as an expat in South Korea.
Disclaimer about Covid Information
Peter Kersting: Now, the situation with the coronavirus is constantly changing. So as of the time of this episode, things probably don’t look the same as when this was recorded. Lucky for us, Kim is willing to give us an update about her experience with the current state of events in South Korea after these three interviews have played out, so stay on the lookout for that.
Coming up on AWP
Peter Kersting: Next week on Alone with Peter, we’re going to be talking about Kim’s back story, why she decided to teach abroad in the first place, and what are some of the challenges she’s experienced over the last eight years as a Catholic expat in South Korea.
Peter Kersting: And finally, in Part 3, if you’ve ever been interested in teaching abroad or becoming a digital nomad, you’re not going to want to miss it. Because Kim is giving us the layout of the last eight years what she has learned as a temple teacher in Asia, and some takeaways for you if you’re interested in doing the same thing.
Part One – Kim Now – Living Abroad Long Term & Surviving the Pandemic as an Expat
Peter Kersting: Without further ado, I want to introduce Kimberly Rodriguez and ask a question. How the heck are you Kim?
Kim Rodriguez: I’m good. Surviving, surviving.
Peter Kersting: Yeah.
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah.
Peter Kersting: That’s great. As I briefly mentioned in the intro, this is a three-part interview. I thought we’d take a slightly non-linear approach to your story, by starting with what it’s like to live abroad long term and what it’s been like for you as an expat during the pandemic. So why don’t we start with that?
Kim Rodriguez: Okay.
Peter Kersting: You’ve been teaching abroad for eight years now. What keeps you in Korea?
Kim Rodriguez: So I’ve been here for eight years in August. And honestly, what keeps me is it’s the lifestyle. Korea’s a really great country to live in when it comes to teaching and being an educator. There are a lot of perks and benefits of living here. One thing in particular is they pay for your airfare to get here. They pay for your housing, so I’m not paying rent. You have health insurance. Usually furnished apartments. You have pretty decent vacation, depending on the type of school that you’re working in. There are pros and cons to public school versus private school when it comes to vacation periods. And yeah, just the freedom that I have and the type of work that I do, it just provides me with a really stable lifestyle. So that’s one thing that’s definitely keeping me here.
Peter Kersting: The freedom and the lifestyle, is that something that you feel like you couldn’t find somewhere else or?
Kim Rodriguez: I think that if I was back home in the States, I wouldn’t be able to do as much as I’ve done here. Here in Korea, you don’t need a car to get around. You can walk, bus, subway, taxi everywhere you go. But in the States, it’s almost impossible unless you live in a large city to get around by public transportation. So I do think that a lot of the freedom that I have here I would not have back in the States. I definitely have a lot more opportunity here, not having to pay rent for example, having pretty solid vacation times. Those are things that I don’t really see my friends having back in the States, especially the ones that are teaching.
Peter Kersting: You just look at what other people are doing and you say, I don’t know, “I feel like I could do it better,” there?
Kim Rodriguez: Here in Korea?
Peter Kersting: Yeah. That’s what I’m saying.
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah.
Peter Kersting: If you ever… You just look at going back to the States and you’re like, “Eh, I don’t know. At Korea, I can do it better here.”
Kim Rodriguez: I just… The whole 40-hour work week doesn’t appeal to me. Why work so hard when you can work smarter and not harder?
Peter Kersting: Yeah.
Kim Rodriguez: And I feel like living here, that lifestyle is definitely a work smarter not harder type of lifestyle and I really like that.
Peter Kersting: Yeah. I’d be curious to hear… Maybe we’ll talk about it a little bit more later on.
Kim Rodriguez: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Peter Kersting: But when you first came, were you thinking that teaching was what you wanted to do, or was it just a way to get there?
Kim Rodriguez: I always kind of liked the idea of teaching, but I never thought that I would do it for as long as I have been. I didn’t think it would be my career.
Peter Kersting: Eight years is a long time.
Kim Rodriguez: Eight years is a long time, especially when I came with the intention of only staying two years. My goal was always, “I’m going to go to Korea for one or two years, and then I’m going to come back to the States.” And after my second year, I started doing my master’s degree and I just… I decided, “Let me stay until my master’s degree is finished and then I’ll leave because I’ll be ready by then. By then, it’ll be four years.” And that is what I did and I ended up coming back.
Peter Kersting: Did you ever leave?
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah, I left for one year in between. I’ve been here for eight. I left after the fourth year and had no intentions of returning. But I just was home in the States and I got itchy feet, scratchy feet, I don’t know the expression. And I decided to apply to a couple places. And I had a friend working at my current university and he swinged it somehow for me to get the job.
Peter Kersting: You were teaching elementary before and that’s when you first started as a professor, right?
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah. So I taught elementary school in the public education system for four years in the rural country side of Korea.
Peter Kersting: [foreign language 00:5:44].
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah. In Gangwon-do. Gangwon-do, yeah. And so this is a type of thing that a lot of people come and they’re like, “I don’t want to live in the countryside. I want to live in Seoul. I want to live in the big city. I don’t want to live rural.” But honestly rural life was the best.
Peter Kersting: Well, Busan is not rural. When you look back on that first, you said the first four years were more rural.
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah. First four years.
Peter Kersting: What were the… Could you kind of compare the two? What was it? Do you miss anything about being rural?
Kim Rodriguez: So I will say my first four years in Korea were really great because I had a really awesome circle of friends. I was very fortunate to have 10 other English teachers living in my town and we were all really close. We did things together. We had game nights, we went to eat dinners. We did dumb things around the city because there’s not a whole lot to do in countryside. We would go on hikes and we would do trips to Seoul, trips to bigger cities together. So that was a really nice thing compared to Busan. Busan is a large city, it’s the second largest city in Korea. And it’s really great because there’s an awesome public transportation system. I’m a 30 minute cycle to the beach. I can take the train or the subway to the beach. There’s definitely a lot more things to do, but it’s a lot harder to make friends. And you wouldn’t think that because there’s more expats.
Peter Kersting: Yeah.
Kim Rodriguez: But everybody is very established in their own groups. So as a new person coming in, it’s kind of hard to get into some of those bubbles, especially if you’re someone that’s only going to be here for a year or two. A lot of the people that are here are older expats. So they’ve been here for maybe 10 years or longer, and they’re very established in their communities here. So they’re not really trying to make friends with someone that’s only here for one year or two. So it’s kind of hard, really.
Peter Kersting: That is a really interesting way to think of… I actually never did think of it that way, but it makes sense. When you’re in the countryside, typically, it’s a newer teacher that ends up there to begin with. I started out as pretty much as rural as you can get. [foreign language 00:07:54] is pretty small. Did you ever… I don’t know if… You never got a chance to visit me there, but-
Kim Rodriguez: I didn’t. I didn’t have a chance.
Peter Kersting: But that place is… I felt like I loved it because I felt like a celebrity in the countryside. It goes literally the one white dude in town. I remember going into Starbucks in South Korea and having babies stare at me like, “What is that?” And I don’t know, some people maybe don’t like that, but I thought that was amazing. Where else but the rural countryside of South Korea could you get compared to Captain America and Ben Affleck at the same time?
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah, yeah.
Peter Kersting: I was just getting compliments thrown at me left and right. “Oh, you’re so tall. You’re so big. You’re like Captain America.”
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah.
Peter Kersting: I don’t know. I just… You don’t get that in Busan even.
Kim Rodriguez: No, there’s too many foreigners here in the big city. But in the countryside, you definitely have a different experience versus in the city because I feel like you learn a lot more in the countryside. You’re kind of forced to immerse yourself more in the culture and just experiences are different. You’re walking down the street and people will say hi to you. In the city, nobody cares about you. You’re just another person in the city. But in the countryside, people will stop and talk to you, ask you where you’re from and invite you to their house, invite you to have food. You don’t get that here in the big city.
Peter Kersting: Honestly, I think that’s pretty uncommon in Korean culture in general. At least from my understanding that it’s not as normal to just go to somebody’s house.
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah, it’s not. But it does happen. It does happen.
Peter Kersting: I got a chance to do that a couple times too and it was not lost on me. But I guess maybe that’s a good place to move to… I’m curious, what are some of the bigger hurdles that you’ve experienced because you’ve been there a while? What are some of the things that have been really challenging for you coming in and then are hard for you now?
Kim Rodriguez: So coming in, I would say, I didn’t really know, I kind of researched before I came about Korean culture. But researching and living it are very different. I know that in Korea, there is a hierarchy so you are meant to speak to people that are older than you with a much higher level of respect. So that’s not hard for me because I feel like I treat everyone with respect when I talk to them, but I could see how that would be an issue for someone.
Kim Rodriguez: The concept of personal space is almost nonexistent in this country. There’s just a lot of people and you’re going to be touching shoulders a lot of the time, you might stand in the elevator in the corner and someone might come right next to you and there’s so much space but there right next to you. And for us, it’s so annoying because we’re used to having our space, you don’t get right next to someone. But in Korea it’s called nunchi and it’s a really normal thing that if everybody’s standing on the left and you enter the room, you need to go to the left because there’s a reason that everybody’s on the left.
Peter Kersting: I’m curious because nunchi is a really big concept in Korea and maybe you could give our listeners an idea of what nunchi is. And also how you as a foreigner, how do you deal with that kind of thing? Or how easy is it for you to just be like, “Oh yeah, this is part of the culture,” versus like, “No you’re in my space, man”?
Kim Rodriguez: So nunchi is kind of almost exactly how I described it. It’s kind of like a… I want to say its kind of like a common sense type of thing, but it’s a very Koreanized common sense thing. So it’s just knowing how to read a situation or knowing how to read room. So if you go into a place and everyone is lined up, that’s a very Korean thing. If you’re walking by a restaurant and you see a queue, people will stand in the line and they don’t even know what they’re standing in line for. It’s just the thing to do. You could literally fool people into doing this. You could literally just point up at the sky and people will all stop and look. I did it yesterday actually, I was walking home and I was looking for four leaf clover in a patch of clovers and I had five people come and stop and look at the ground to see what I was looking at.
Peter Kersting: I think that’s kind of cool, personally, or at least funny, you got to like laugh at some of those differences, right?
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah, yeah. It’s fun. I like it. I think a lot of those things don’t bother me. I’m a very chill person, but I could see people getting upset. Another thing that can kind of bother you here is that people stare. People will stare at you for no reason at all and they don’t break their eye contact, and they just look at you for a solid five to 10 minutes, and you just look back at them and they keep looking at you.
Peter Kersting: One time-
Kim Rodriguez: Why? Why?
Peter Kersting: One time I was at a concert on the beach and this Korean guy was not looking at the concert, he was watching me, I just… and he was filming me. So I was filming the concert, but then I just slowly turned my camera and started filming him back and we just kind of went back and forth for a few, 30 seconds maybe before he stopped filming me.
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah. They get really weird about stuff. I had a guy in the airport do that to me.
Peter Kersting: Yeah.
Kim Rodriguez: I was sitting on the floor, charging my phone in Incheon airport and an old man came and started taking pictures of me sitting on the floor charging my phone. And I was like, “No, no, no. Don’t take pictures of me.” And he thought it was funny so then I got my camera instead to taking pictures of him, he got so mad and I was like, “But dude, you’re taking pictures of me for just sitting here charging my phone. I’m going to take pictures of you too.”
Peter Kersting: That’s interesting.
Kim Rodriguez: It’s illegal now. You’re not allowed to take pictures of people.
Peter Kersting: The pictures thing is definitely a no-no.
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah.
Peter Kersting: I’ve definitely heard about… the story behind that is pretty interesting as well.
Kim Rodriguez: I think it’s a good change because they’ve been doing some bad things with pictures of people. So I’m all for that.
Peter Kersting: There’s problems with privacy, especially with women, I know. But-
Kim Rodriguez: Yup.
Peter Kersting: I guess some of that stuff is people being rude, but some of the stuff is… It [inaudible 00:14:12] our own, I guess, foreign level of nunchi and the sense of understanding like, “Hey, you know what? I’m living in a different country and they do things differently here and I might find that frustrating sometimes, but I have to respect that to some degree.”
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah.
Peter Kersting: Because what do you… Would you agree with that? What do you do when there are those cultural-
Kim Rodriguez: Clashes?
Peter Kersting: Yeah. Clashes. That’s a good word for it.
Kim Rodriguez: So I think most of the time I’m pretty respectful of it. It takes a lot for me to get upset about things. I generally try to ignore when something like that is happening. If someone’s getting really close to me on the subway, I’ll kind of just move away, I’m not going to make a big scene about it. There have been times where I’ve made a big scene, but it’s not a big scene. I just say out loud like, “What are you doing?” And they get scared. And they’ll get off the very next train.
Peter Kersting: Because you said it in English.
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah. Well, one you’re saying it in English, but a lot of the time, they’re just genuinely curious about you. They look at you and they want to know who you are, where you’re from. And sometimes they’ll come up to you and they’ll ask you and they’ll be like, “Where are you from?” And you tell them, “Oh I’m American” and they’re like, “You’re not American.” And I’m like, “Oh I’m not? Thank you. Where am I from?” “Oh, you’re Indian.” “Oh, you’re Filipino.” I’m like, “I’m not. I’m American. I was born in America.” And they’re like, “No, no, no, no. You don’t look American.” I’m like-
Peter Kersting: That’s so funny.
Kim Rodriguez: “You don’t know what American look like.” But most of the time you just kind of live without being rude or disrespectful. I am a guest. At the end of the day, I am a guest living in their country.
Peter Kersting: Right.
Kim Rodriguez: It would be messed up of me to be fighting every single person just because they stare at me or because they ask me a question because they don’t have a lot of interaction with foreigners. So maybe I’m the first time they’re ever interacting with a foreigner and imagine if I’m rude to them, they’re going to think all foreigners are nasty people.
Peter Kersting: The flip side, you can be really teaching them like, “Hey, there are people who are from the United States who [crosstalk 00:16:23] differently than who expect.” But it is an interesting culture because… The way that I kind of explain it to people is, of all the first world countries, it’s one of the still most homogenous. Even Japan, I’d say has at least more like foreign exposure in some sense. And Vietnam has a lot of mixed culture. Thailand has a lot of mixed culture, even though they’re lesser developed in some ways. I think they have more exposure. It’s changing now, I guess. But I think they just don’t see as many foreigners in Korea. So actually even that term, when I first heard it always threw me off because foreigners sounds so negative to me.
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah. And I think it’s just, they’re just genuinely curious and [crosstalk 00:17:12].
Peter Kersting: You’re different.
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah, we are different.
Peter Kersting: What are you? If you’ve never seen somebody like that before, it’s kind of hard for us to wrap our heads around that. But it’s… I don’t know.
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah. We come from such a diverse, a lot of us come from diverse countries and cultures and backgrounds, but for them, they are all just Korean and the families that are mixed, those are relatively new. You’ll see a Filipino Korean family or Vietnamese Korean family, Chinese and Korean. But those kids, their experience in school is going to be so different versus if they were just purely Korean. So it is a big thing for them when they see and interact with someone that isn’t from their country.
Peter Kersting: Were you able to make any… Have you been able to make any close Korean friends?
Kim Rodriguez: I have a couple Korean friends, especially here in Busan. I didn’t really have a lot of Korean friends in the countryside because I hung out mostly with foreigners and there wasn’t a lot of young people in my old town. It was children which are too young to be friends with or ajumma, ajusshi which is older people, aunties and uncles as we call them.
Peter Kersting: Right.
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah.
Peter Kersting: Is there something you miss from being back in the United States? Is there anything that you wish you could do that you can’t while you’re living there?
Kim Rodriguez: I guess the thing I miss the most is definitely my family. I miss seeing them. I miss food. You know I’m a foodie and I love to eat.
Peter Kersting: I know. Honestly, what is the number one thing that you’d be like, “Oh my God, Peter, if you could ship me this today, I would be so happy,” food wise?
Kim Rodriguez: I want really good Mexican food. I miss tacos and just everything. I love food. And they don’t have ingredients so it’s hard to make it. I can cook that stuff, but I’m very limited to what I can access when it comes to fresh ingredients. One lime here is $3. One avocado can be sometimes if you’re lucky, it’s a $1.99. It’s a lot of money for those things. Family. Food.
Peter Kersting: So when you have gone home, that’s the first thing you do? Is eat Mexican food or what?
Kim Rodriguez: I always eat In-N-Out Burger or tacos. Those are always the first things that I eat.
Peter Kersting: I love it.
Kim Rodriguez: Right out of the airport, my dad, or whoever picks me up. My brother picked me up and took me to a taco truck last time, it was bomb. And then usually it’s that or we stop on the way home and get a nice burger from In-N-Out.
Peter Kersting: That’s so funny. That’s so funny.
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah. Yeah.
Peter Kersting: I could definitely relate to the Mexican food thing. So we talked a little bit about some of the difficulties of living in different countries, specifically about the culture and stuff, but what are some of your highlights? I guess if you could give us a quick highlight reel of what are the things that you’ve been either able to do in Korea with your career or because of your job? What are some of the big things that you go like, “I would never be able to do this otherwise, this is like a highlight of my life here”?
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah. Oh, I’m going to say that living here has pushed me to further myself as an educator. Not to say that I wouldn’t have done that if I was in the States, but I think it’s provided me with the financial security to be able to do that. After my first two years, I started doing my master’s degree and I was able to pay that off in full without having to take out a single loan while working full time, studying full time, and still having a social life. That’s insane. My school was so supportive, they would tell me, “You know what, after lunch today, you don’t have to worry about anything. Just go and do your homework.” And I would sit at my desk for four hours a day and just do homework at school.
Kim Rodriguez: And they were able to work with me so that I was able to go home for five weeks to do a practicum in the States for my master’s degree. And they allowed me to that because it’s for education. They were like, “Well, you’re trying to become a better teacher. How are we going to tell you, you can’t go back to further yourself?” So I think those are things that you wouldn’t be able to do in the States. What job is going to let you take time off? Five weeks. Five weeks, that’s a lot.
Peter Kersting: That’s a long time.
Kim Rodriguez: That’s a lot of time you take off. Yeah. And they paid me for most of that. And then maybe five days of that was unpaid. Five days out of five weeks. That’s a lot of time off.
Peter Kersting: That’s pretty awesome. Well, that speaks to your relationship with the school as well though, because I don’t think every school is going to do that.
Kim Rodriguez: No, definitely not. Definitely not. I was very fortunate. I was in the countryside at a school that was very small and it was lining up with vacation time. So everything kind of just went together and I was very lucky about that. I would say you can get lucky here with the school that you end up in and you can also have a really bad experience. I have friends who’ve had bad experiences, but I think we’ll talk about that maybe later.
Peter Kersting: Yeah. I think we should talk about that a little more later. And especially because I would love to hear your opinion, how much of that is luck of the draw versus how you react to the situation? I have my own personal opinion on that, but I would love to discuss that with you. But clearly you’ve been able to travel a lot while you’re living there, what have been some of the big trips you’ve done while in the eight years you’ve been there? Where have you been?
Kim Rodriguez: So man… Actually I counted before we started the interview. Prior to coming to Korea, I had been to nine countries, which is pretty good.
Peter Kersting: That’s pretty dang good.
Kim Rodriguez: That’s not bad. That’s pretty good. But in the eight years that I’ve been in Korea, I’ve been to 28 countries.
Peter Kersting: That’s crazy.
Kim Rodriguez: That’s a lot of countries.
Peter Kersting: Where have you been since moving to Korea?
Kim Rodriguez: So I’ve been all over Asia. I’ve done almost every country in Asia. Obviously, there’s a huge chunk that I haven’t, but I’ve done a lot of the countries here.
Peter Kersting: List them off real quick, just a couple [inaudible 00:23:28] way.
Kim Rodriguez: Philippines, Vietnam. Japan, several times. Philippines, several times. Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, Malaysia, Indonesia. I’ve been down to Australia. Singapore. So pretty much all of the big… Cambodia. Laos.
Peter Kersting: Yeah.
Kim Rodriguez: Haven’t had a chance to hit-
Peter Kersting: And on a teacher’s salary. That’s something that if you’re not, if you’re listening to this and you are not aware of the TOEFL teaching massive interest that people have, this is why. It’s one of the only [inaudible 00:24:09] I can think of where you can live in another country, rent free depending on the country, and not even be making that much money, but be in a situation where you can afford to leave.
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah.
Peter Kersting: For two to four weeks of the year, just to travel and then have weekends off. It’s kind of a crazy situation that I honestly don’t know if it’s going to… If the world’s become closer and closer, so in some sense, there’s still a huge need for that. But I kind of… And in the mind that, you got to take advantage of that while you can because who knows how long that’s going to be a thing. At least the perks that you have teaching in Korea are amazing. The Korean government really does a huge deal to incentivize teachers to come there.
Kim Rodriguez: Yes.
Peter Kersting: I know with my academy, at least, an international TOEFL academy that I went through, it’s the number one place. The number one destination for teaching abroad, if people are trying to actually live another country. I kind of wanted to talk a little bit though. Because speaking of the way the world is changing so much, I don’t want to belabor the topic of the pandemic, but I think a lot of people would be interested to hear, how has that been for you the last year and a half, two years? Because I left right before things really started changing.
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah. And you got out in time.
Peter Kersting: I got out just to quarantine over here. I didn’t really get… I actually wish I was still there. And I’m curious to know, first of all, what do things look like for you right now?
Kim Rodriguez: Yes. So I’m going to say, I have been teaching online for a year and a half. I have not set foot in a classroom to teach my regular, normal classes that I normally teach for over a year and a half. I was just told yesterday actually, that we will be online for Fall 2021. So that’s another three month or six months. And pretty much it’s going to be two years that I haven’t taught my classes in person. I am paid regularly. I get all my benefits. I still have my health insurance, my housing. I have overtime opportunities because I’m able to do overtime classes via zoom. And right now that’s the situation with work. With lifestyle, do you want me to get into lifestyle right now or?
Peter Kersting: Well, I’d be curious to know. Did we ever worried about losing your job? Was it pretty obvious that they were going to keep you around?
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah, so I was very lucky. We’ve pretty much been guaranteed our jobs no matter what. Since I work in a national university, there are always students that are coming into school. The one thing that everybody has been afraid of is that with teaching online, the big fear for us in the university system is that the universities can actually get rid of us physically being present and just hire teachers from abroad to teach online. So that’s a very relevant fear for a lot of the teachers that are here right now. Because it would be easier, they wouldn’t have to pay for our airfare, they wouldn’t have to pay for our accommodations, they could literally just hire anyone. They could hire you from back in the States and have you just teach on the time here.
Peter Kersting: 16 hour time difference is pretty huge though.
Kim Rodriguez: But people do it. A lot of people do VIP kid-
Peter Kersting: True.
Kim Rodriguez: And those things are all kids in China.
Peter Kersting: [crosstalk 00:27:40] I get paid a lot more that way.
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah. So that’s a very big thing that we are afraid of, but we’re not afraid of… My school at least, we’re not afraid of losing our jobs. We have a pretty solid admin department and they’re very set on keeping us and they try to work with us. It’s not always perfect, but we’ve been very lucky in my department.
Peter Kersting: What about your friends in other teachers that… Is it a similar experience? They’re not worried about losing their jobs or do you have any idea what their situations have been like?
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah. So I know for other friends that are teaching in other types of universities, they are worried because they’ve had a decrease in students. A lot of their students were international and it’s almost impossible to be an international student right now with all the restrictions due to COVID.
Peter Kersting: Yeah.
Kim Rodriguez: So a lot of those students are not coming in and therefore the school has low enrollment. I know, I have a friend that told me her school was actually recruiting senior citizens to be students and offering them a free year of education just to sign up for enrollment, to boost the numbers at their school.
Peter Kersting: Wow.
Kim Rodriguez: I think it’s great for continued learning. I think that’s really nice. But at the end of the day, they’re not really students, they’re kind of just there for a number. In-
Peter Kersting: It’s indicative of the situation at least.
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah. To at least keep their school afloat. That’s what they’re trying to do.
Peter Kersting: Right.
Kim Rodriguez: For elementary school, in private school and in public school, I think it’s been harder for them because I guess the pressure from parents is very high. Parents want their kids in school, just like in the States. Parents want their kids in school, but at the same time in Korea, it’s very different. School’s kind of like daycare. So in a way, if the parents aren’t able to watch the kids, it’s kind of not a big deal in Korea because kids are actually a lot more independent. You’ll see third graders and second graders walking around the streets by themself here. It’s not uncommon, even to see a kindie, a kindergarten are walking by themself, to and from school. That’s almost unheard of in this States. I feel like-
Peter Kersting: I almost… I remember thinking about it almost as if it’s like, you ever read Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn when you’re in maybe high school or middle school or whatever. I almost feel like that’s what it’s like to be a kid in Korea. They just [inaudible 00:30:12] no supervision, use to ride your bike wherever the heck you want, hang out in [inaudible 00:30:16]. I guess, unless you have a class or something, but it is interesting to watch how that works.
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah.
Peter Kersting: But tell me a little bit more about for you, what has your sense been about safety, mobility? I imagine you haven’t really been traveling.
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah. So I feel pretty secure for the most part. I always wear a mask. I don’t think it’s a big deal to wear a mask. I don’t know how your listeners will feel, but I personally, it’s not an issue for me because I live in Asia and it’s normal. It’s normal to wear a mask.
Peter Kersting: It’s really normal-
Kim Rodriguez: You wear a mask-
Peter Kersting: Before COVID you wear a mask all the time-
Kim Rodriguez: Before COVID.
Peter Kersting: Because of the air quality. Yeah.
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah. The air quality is really bad here. And if you don’t wear a mask, you’re just messing up your lungs. So you’re wearing a mask when you have a minor cold. You wear a mask when you have a major cold. You wear a mask when the air is bad. So it’s never been a big issue. I think it’s just, it is inconvenient, no one loves wearing it, but I wear it every day, all the time. And mobility-wise, I personally try to avoid public transportation at all costs unless I absolutely have to take it.
Kim Rodriguez: I am a cyclist. So I will cycle 99% of the time, I’m going to ride my bike somewhere versus taking the bus at the subway or I’ll walk. Depending on the weather, it’s currently monsoon season. So it’s hit or miss on if I can ride my bike because I might get swept away and it’s not a joke, the stream overflows really bad. So that’s kind of what I do now. If I do have to take the bus, I always get a seat with the window and I always open the window. And if I do have to take the subway, I try not to sit down and I try to stand as close to the door as possible so that I can just get some air and also not be around as many people. I think those are the answers to those, right?
Peter Kersting: Well, I’m just curious, you felt the same way about subways and stuff before, are you saying specifically because of the current situation?
Kim Rodriguez: Because of the current situation, I try not to take a subway. I just… You’re in an enclosed space and it’s much easier, I think for things to spread in a small space. I’ve also seen nasty people on the bus or subway, I saw a guy picking his nose and then touching the button to get off the bus and I’m just like, “Ugh.”
Peter Kersting: It’s bringing me back. Some of the… I think the sounds in Korea, the things that… You don’t hear here anymore.
Kim Rodriguez: They hack so much, it’s so gross here. It doesn’t. [crosstalk 00:33:10] But your listeners know. They need to know. They need to know. People love to spit in this country and it’s not even just spitting quietly, they hack up like they’re dying. They’re smokers, a lot of people smoke here. So they have that smoker cough and then they have that smoker spit and they’ll just spit anywhere, anywhere at any time, and it so gross.
Peter Kersting: I hope everyone can visualize that because it’s very clear. It’s very clear in my mind having seen it enough. It’s just… What you’re going to do? You’re in a different country.
Kim Rodriguez: Cultural difference. Cultural difference.
Peter Kersting: It’s like chewing with your mouth open versus close.
Kim Rodriguez: They do that here too.
Peter Kersting: But this is not to [inaudible 00:33:51] on Korea show, okay.
Kim Rodriguez: No, no, no, no.
Peter Kersting: We both love Korea.
Kim Rodriguez: It’s a great country.
Peter Kersting: We both love Korea, but some of those things, you just have to be prepared for.
Kim Rodriguez: For us, it’s a very strange thing to walk around the street and just see piles of spit.
Peter Kersting: I would not do that here in the United States. That’s very true.
Kim Rodriguez: One time I have done it here, I got looks from people and I was like, “How come I get in trouble? But you guys are allowed to do it.”
Peter Kersting: I’d love it. You should do that more often. I think that’s hilarious.
Kim Rodriguez: I’m very lady-like, is it? I was cycling in [inaudible 00:34:25] and a bug went in my mouth and then I didn’t know there was a guy behind me, so I turned to spit and he’s right next to me and I was like, Oh no.”
Peter Kersting: That is so funny.
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah. Yeah.
Peter Kersting: All right, Kim. Well, I think we got to start wrapping up this first section. But it’s obvious that your experience as an expat continues to be a really defining characteristic of your… This is just a defining chapter in your life right now. So I’m hoping next time you can… I’m hoping right now, in fact, you can take us back to the beginning. What led you to take that leap to teach broad?
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah, we’re raised, I don’t know how everyone was raised, but I know in my family I was raised to study hard in school so that I could go to a good university and after university get a good job. I’m the first child in my family to attend university. My parents didn’t attend university. So there was a lot of pressure on me to go to school. So post university, I was in between deciding do I want to go back to school and try to be a nurse? Or do I want to go back to school and do my master’s in psychology? And I took a year off to decide and I was trying to study for the nursing test and I was also prepping stuff for graduate school. And while doing that, I was working three different jobs at one time.
Kim Rodriguez: So working three jobs, part-time, no benefits, killing myself to just get by. Thankfully, I was living at home so I wasn’t having to worry about rent, but I still had car payments and gas and my phone bill. I had other things to pay for. I just thought to myself, there has to be a better way. There has to be a better way than struggling like this. Why am I working three jobs? And let me tell you one of my jobs, I loved it. But I worked at a donut shop at five in the morning. And it was on the weekends, so I had no social life and if I was going to have a social life, it had to end by 10:00 PM so that I could get up at 4:30 to go to work at 5:00 AM. All of that being said, working three part-time jobs, basically as a full-time job, it kind of gave me that push to find a better thing and that’s how I ended up in Korea.
Peter Kersting: Wow. I’m learning so much. This is very exciting to me to hear this part of your story. And as we wrap up this first part of our interview with Kim on Alone with Peter, I want to thank everybody for joining us and invite you to tune in for Part 2.
Next Week on AWP
In Part 2 we’re going to dive a little bit more into Kim’s backstory. That’s just a little taste because I do think everybody’s kind of got this hero’s journey, right? This trajectory of their life that you’re still on, obviously, but it’s really interesting for me to hear, “Okay, what happened? How did you grow up? What was going on in your life that led you to the place you are in right now?” So we’re going to continue on this incredible journey with Kim, the TEFL teacher, as well as talk about some of those unique challenges she continues to experience as a Catholic expat searching for love. I know that sounds really cheesy, but I had to put it in there. Coming up on the next episode of Alone with Peter!
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