by Rachel Johnson
Ashley Perez is a beautiful woman, a talented writer (she’s got her own rockin’ blog and she’s written for Wonderfully Made’s blog), a seasoned traveler, and an aspiring educator. She just recently moved to South Korea to teach English, and she’s here to share her insights and advice. Read on, and take a bite out of all of the fantastic food-for-thought that Ashley offers throughout the piece.
Q: Ashley, I love being able to feature you on Wonderfully Made’s Spotlight Series. Give readers a little insight into your life in South Korea – tell us what you’re doing there and what life is like across the world.
I am currently working as an elementary school teacher in Daegu, South Korea, through an organization called EPIK (English Program in Korea), which is a program created by the Korean government to get native English speakers from all around the world into Korean classrooms. Part of what drew me to this program was the fact that the Korean government is so dedicated to giving their children the best English education they can receive in order to prepare them to be better citizens of the world.
Q: What are you learning from your new hometown and from the children you teach?
The culture shock of being immersed in a collectivist society is one that I haven’t truly experienced before. In some ways it is a bit daunting, especially coming from America, the epitome of an individualist society, but I think there are many things to be learned from the way Koreans live. They love their country and their community, and they are always looking out for one another. Just recently I was walking in the subway line and a young man came running up to me to return a coin I had carelessly dropped. It was only the equivalent of 50 cents, but in Korea it is important to protect each other.
Q: Have you always known that you wanted to teach in some capacity, or did this path present itself to you just recently?
I don’t think I ever explicitly decided that teaching was something in my future. I am very drawn to the idea of mentorship, and teachers, because of the nature of our job, spend just as much time mentoring and instilling wisdom as we do cultivating knowledge. After graduating college, I had no idea what I wanted to do, so I began to apply to anything and everything that interested me, all the while praying that the Lord would bless the path he wanted me to take. So after applying to jobs in all over the world, the opportunity with EPIK was the one that kept popping up. That’s how I ended up here, through something I like to call divine serendipity.
Q: We were classmates at Pepperdine University (go Waves!), an institution that has an excellent study abroad program (okay, I’m a little biased – but, readers, I promise it’s true). How did your experiences abroad during college impact your decision to move to South Korea?
While I was at Pepperdine I had the opportunity to study abroad twice, once in Lausanne, Switzerland and once with the University of Virginia’s Semester at Sea, a unique study abroad experience where 700 students live on a ship and literally circumnavigate the globe. Once you’ve been abroad, it’s impossible not to keep traveling. Stepping outside of your comfort zone in any capacity forces you to gain a new perspective on life. For me moving to South Korea is an incredible opportunity to see the world through a different lens. It was simply a chance I couldn’t pass up on.
What is funny is that I never really saw myself as a “writer” until very recently when I started keeping a blog, and I found out that people were actually reading and responding to my stories. To me, writing is free therapy; it allows me to get inside my head in a way that our busy lives don’t often allow. For now writing will remain my most passionate hobby, and if someday it turns out to be my career, well – nothing would make me happier.
Q: What has been the most difficult challenge you’ve faced in South Korea thus far?
Something I am learning daily is that staying true to yourself, your values, and your beliefs is a lifelong journey that must be traveled every day. Being in South Korea has brought a sharp contrast to my daily routine back in California, and it is only when you step outside of yourself that you truly begin to see who you really are. I have come to realize the real value that comes simply by sitting down at the start of each day and deciding exactly what type of person you want to be. I think we often take for granted the fact that character doesn’t come easily or automatically – we have to make the choice to stay true to the core of who we are every day in every situation.
Q: How has this life choice to move to South Korea to teach English shaped your faith?
Since I’ve been in Korea, I have been confronted daily with the importance of finding a good community. A few days after arriving to Daegu, I began sincerely praying for some sort of community. The very next day while riding the bus to school, I realized that they were opening a Christian coffee shop literally less than a quarter of a mile from my house. Coming to Korea has made me realize that there is nothing in this world that can separate you from the love of God. I am continually amazed at God’s guiding presence in my life, and the love he shares with me daily in even the most seemingly mundane moments.
Q: What advice do you have for readers who have the itch to move abroad and make a difference in a community and culture entirely different from their own?
Jump in. If you ever have the opportunity to immerse yourself in something outside of your comfort zone, do it. And don’t be mistaken – being abroad is not the only way to gain a new perspective on things. Above all else, seek God in prayer; that way, no matter what you do or where you go, the Lord will always go before you.