I Went to South Korea for the Wrong Reasons

Tyler Michalek

Here's how I'm trying to change the mistakes of my past. 

After a life of traditional motives and success, I was shocked to find dissatisfaction from my desk. On paper, I was doing great. I’d graduated summa cum laude, landed a spot at a prestigious investment firm, and begun contributing to my 401k. I wore designer suits and routinely polished my shoes. But despite the contemporary furnishings in my luxury apartment, both it and I, felt empty.

Every second spent in that cubicle fuelled a deep curiosity. Surrounded by coworkers with crippled desires and deteriorating bodies, every cell of my youth screamed.

“What will you do?” my manager asked in my exit interview.

“I’m really not sure, but I just want to be 22,” I answered.

What followed wasn’t some tale of glory, adventure or discovery. Because rather than fully taking a leap to fulfill my curiosities, I moved home in retreat. For the next year I pondered options, too scared to choose. Then, finally, through a friend of a friend, I discovered teaching English abroad.

I wasn’t particularly interested in the subject, as much as it represented an escape from the nothingness that filled those hot Texas days, nor was I all that interested in the place. I went to South Korea to make money and to invest in future travels. But quickly, I discovered, that travel can be dark, too. It’s not all exciting romances and beautiful sights. Through resistance, travel can include heartbreak, depression and a desire to escape. All of which, I experienced, during my three months as a teacher. Again, I ran away.

Travel can be dark, too. It’s not all exciting romances and beautiful sights. Travel can include heartbreak, depression and a desire to escape.

In Alaska, as a seasonal worker, I found satisfaction as part of a community. A revelation that inspired me to get back out there, with new priorities. With the money I’d saved, I travelled Europe for six weeks.

Days on le ferme included sawing timber and hammering posts. My hands grew blisters, and my back ached. But, during those three weeks as a volunteer farmer in France, I felt a deeper sense of satisfaction than I ever had before.

While hostel hopping across Spain for the second half of my trip, I expected to find constant adventure, but instead I found a lack of purpose. The bar crawls and conversations grew increasingly repetitive, as I longed to return to a place of contribution.

With this revelation of the rewards of volunteering abroad, I returned to the States to recoup the money I’d spend on those tapas and drinks. And all winter, I’ve been haunted by my Asian mistakes. I went to Korea for all the wrong reasons. I wanted to make money to spend elsewhere. I didn’t invest in the experience. I made no attempts to learn the language. I put minimal effort into my lesson plans. And worst of all, instead of facing the challenges, I left.

Since then, I’ve been introduced to the power of perspective and the importance of purpose, which is why I’m returning to Asia, for volunteer work. I’ll begin my journey in Osaka, Japan as a guesthouse worker. From there, I’ll travel to a remote mountain retreat, where I’ll cook and clean. In preparation, I’ve been studying the language, the customs, and the history. With this information, I plan to immerse myself in the culture and get to know the people.

This time, I’m on a mission, to prove that investing in the experience leads to far more satisfaction than any financial reward.

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Published in Volunteer Abroad Blogs
Tyler Michalek

From financial consultant to volunteer farmer, Tyler Michalek has learned to invest in the experience over 401k. Currently travelling Asia through Workaway, Tyler is on a mission to prove that connections through cultural immersion are more satisfying than financial compensation.

Website: analogabroad.com

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