By: Elizabeth Feyh
Some people are born adventurers; wanderlust is in their blood. They love not knowing where they’re going or how they’re getting there. For others, that is the definition of a nightmare. Those who thrive off the thrill of the unknown or enjoy being a fish out of water may not understand the trepidation of those born more cautious.Many of us have a desire to do something adventurous, but are held back by fear, uncertainty, or (insert your reason here). There is a range of emotions you will feel when making the decision to teach abroad; and even more when choosing the country where you will teach. Fear of this being the right decision. Uncertainty over whether your family and friends support your decision. Worry over what will happen if you fail. Uneasiness over what happens if you get sick, hurt, or something bad happens while you are in (name of country). Doubting or being cautious may be part of your personality, or maybe it stems from your life's circumstances. It’s normal to experience fears and doubts when making a big decision, however, don't let these fears and doubts prevent you from an amazing opportunity to push yourself into a place of discomfort; a place for growth.
I wasn't born with wanderlust in my veins. I'm fiercely independent, yet cautious; tenacious, yet compliant; extroverted, yet hesitant. I've never known what I wanted to do with my life, but when I get an idea in my head, I run with it to see where it will lead me. In 2012, my best friend put the idea of teaching English abroad in my head. My plans were full steam ahead until life got in the way, and my new-found dream was put on hold.
In 2012, one month after turning 24, I was diagnosed with stage 4a thyroid cancer. My faith carried me through, so my concerns weren't about the treatment process, how the Big C would affect my life, or the bright red scar in the middle of my neck; I was crushed that I couldn't go to Korea to teach. Fast-forward a year, I was cancer free, had a signed contract, and was finishing the paperwork for my visa; that was until my one-year check-up showed that my cancer was back and spreading. This had to be reported on my health check for my visa. I lost my contract, but I didn't lose hope. As with most people who face difficult diagnoses, my perspective had changed. Wanderlust was now coursing through my veins. With the stubbornness of a mule, I negotiated with my doctor to let me go. My recruiter found someone willing to hire me. Everything was back on track. In February 2014, I went to Korea and never looked back.
Eight months into my contract, I realized teaching ESL/EFL really was my dream. In typical over-planner fashion, I spent two months researching different TEFL programs. I found International TEFL Academy and attended their Chicago TEFL class in June 2015. I returned to Korea after a six-month hiatus, with a stronger desire to teach (and better preparedness) after the TEFL course. Yes, I still have cancer. Yes, I am being monitored by doctors. No, this hasn't stopped me from living out my dreams. I realize my experiences aren’t typical. Most people who teach abroad are relatively healthy, or at least they don’t have what most people would deem a serious illness.
I wanted to share my story as a form of encouragement for anyone who may not see themselves as the type to just pick up and go. I understand the need to have everything planned out, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t do your homework. I’ve just seen what fear of taking the next step looks like. It looks like missed friendships. It looks like missed travels. It looks like a missed opportunity to see who you could become.
As someone with a naturally cautious personality, I encourage you not to let emotions or life circumstances get in your way. What you gain from overcoming fear, doubt, and worry is far greater than what you keep by always playing life safe. You gain assuredness, trust, and a sense of wonder. You learn what it's like to truly step out on your own. You realize life isn't that scary after all. You find that there can be light in darkness. So to those of you out there who weren’t born with wanderlust in your bones, I say jump into the unknown and see where you land. It’s oddly freeing to release control.
**Disclaimer: I do not condone ignoring medical advice. If you have a serious illness, please check with your doctor about your options for traveling/teaching/living abroad.**
Elizabeth Feyh is 28 from Lewisburg, WV, with a BA in Social Sciences from Florida State University in 2010. She has been teaching English in Korea for the past three years. Her next steps are still unknown, but she looks forward to the next adventure. For more, read: Teaching English in Bucheon, South Korea: Alumni Q&A with Elizabeth Fey