I really wish I had more time to decide!!
July 22, 2010 7:21 AM   Subscribe

Having some issues deciding whether I should take this job. I need to make a decision fast - help me decide what to do (long, sorry)!

A quick breakdown of my current situation first: I've been working as an ESL teacher in Seoul, South Korea for the last three months. Prior to my current stint overseas, I spent four years working as an engineer. Surprisingly, I generally like my current surroundings. My last job was in a smallish suburban town which I could not stand, and since moving here I've realized that I'm very much a big-city person who belongs in a place like this.

As for my current job, I have mixed feelings. The advantages are that my boss and co-workers are really great (by far the best I've ever had at ANY job), I really love working with the kids, and the location is spectacular (I live in central Seoul and my "commute" is a 10-minute walk down the street). That being said, there are several aspects of the ESL industry I'm not crazy about: The days can be long, I'm probably not the best teacher, I don't make a lot of money (although the low cost-of-living partially makes up for it), and the job can be downright exhausting at times. I also don't have a lot of friends in this city, although I keep reminding myself that I've only been here for a few months.

The new position in question is in Washington, D.C. working for the federal government in the Foreign Service. The job pays way better (but the cost-of-living in D.C. is way higher), has those spectacular federal benefits, and provides a degree of career stability.

In an effort to look at things more objectively, I've compiled a list:

Reasons to stay put:
* My job is decent, and my boss and co-workers are AWESOME. Leaving right now would massively increase their workload and give them a lot of headaches.
* I agreed to an 18-month contract when I took the job. Breaking it is certainly possible, but again will cause the school and my co-workers a lot of problems if I can't find a replacement.
* I really REALLY love working with the kids, and feel like I'm just now getting into the groove of teaching. I'd hate to leave just when I'm starting to enjoy this job.
* I've moved three times in the past year in an effort to find work, and am honestly getting a little tired of being a nomad. I'm not ready to settle down yet, but being able to stay in one place for a year or two and make some friends would be kind of nice!
* The new job is in the northern Virginia suburbs (at least for the next 1-2 years), not an area I'm crazy about. I would have a rather long (like 30-40 minute) commute if I get a place in D.C., and I would no doubt have to buy a car.
* There's a reasonably good chance I could get hired in March 2011, although that's dependent on the 2011 hiring budget.

Reasons to leave:
* I was planning on leaving to take this job in mid-2011, so I might as well leave and take it now.
* Money + long-term career stability
* I MIGHT get hired sometime in 2011, but I think I have a BETTER chance of getting hired in September, due to the FY 2010 hiring budget running out in September.
* I would be closer to friends and family back in the U.S.
* I am currently single, unattached, and own very few possessions. In other words, I'm highly mobile.

So that's where things stand. I told the government HR rep last week that I wouldn't be available for a few months due to contractual obligations, but I think I could go back and explain that my situation has changed. However, if I'm going to do that, I need to tell her SOON (as in by this weekend) if I want a shot of getting hired in September. The catch is that, due to weird hiring rules, starting dates are non-negotiable. If I tell HR then get an offer for September, I HAVE to either take the offer or forget about this job altogether.

So help me decide MeFi, what should I do??
posted by photo guy to Work & Money (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Take the job.

I taught in South Korea for three years and I agree that it's a great gig. Like you, I didn't feel that I was the best teacher and it took me a few months to find a great crew of friends. But once everything fell into place it was the time of my life.

I am also now a foreign service officer. And let me tell you, this job is WAY more rewarding. I get to work with incredibly intelligent people on fantastic issues. Kids are great, but tiring as hell. And the whole hagwon industry starts to grind you down after a while. There are few perfect schools, although it sounds as though you've found a good one (I don't want to be cynical, but just wait for the other shoe to drop - hagwon business practices can be a little....shady), but on the whole working as an ESL teacher in Korea is pretty static. After a while I felt as though I was spinning my wheels and knew that I had to leave because I wasn't making any headway in life. Living like a student worked well for a while, but once I was pushing 30 it felt almost creepy.

The foreign service is awesome. I say take that job and don't worry about leaving your school in the lurch. There's always another teacher looking for a job and it's not hard for them to fill those positions.
posted by fso at 7:29 AM on July 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

The number of stay bullets is not only higher, they also resonate more. Emotionally and psychologically you sound like you'd rather stay.

So I say tell them you'd love the job, but you can't leave yet, please keep you in mind. Chances that a similar job will be around later are decent, and you'll have been able to stay with these people and place you really LIKE for awhile.
posted by ldthomps at 7:30 AM on July 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Having lived abroad in Asia, and having made some similar decisions, I say:

Take the job. You can always quit and go back to Seoul. If you leave now and do so on good terms, making an honest effort to find a replacement, there should be no reason you couldn't come back. It'd be a hassle, sure, but if you really wanted to, I'm betting you could. I think your reasons to leave are solid.

Think of some ways you could incorporate the positive aspects of your current job into your new situation. I'll bet there are some kids that need teaching in the D.C. area - maybe a Big Brothers/Big Sisters program, or even some ESL as a private tutor in your free time. Do your lesson plans during your long commute.

Good luck, and congrats!
posted by xiaolongbao at 7:31 AM on July 22, 2010

Will the Foreign Service send you to Afghanistan or Iraq or some place where you might end up miserable? Or do they tell you ahead of time where you'll go?

Some people we know who work for the govt in jobs that send them to far flung places have no say in where they go and they seem absolutely miserable or at least disappointed. It sounds great, until they end up in the middle of a horrible situation.
posted by anniecat at 8:09 AM on July 22, 2010

Response by poster: @anniecat - they give you some degree of say, but yes, getting sent to some war-torn backwater for a tour is a risk of Foreign Service life. However, that's really getting off-topic from my original question - should I go for the job or stay in Korea?
posted by photo guy at 8:15 AM on July 22, 2010

Best answer: Stay. Living situation trumps all. From your use of the phrase "have to buy a car" I have a gut feeling you will be miserable in Northern Virginia.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:53 AM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Where in the suburbs? That commute you think is 30-40 minutes could very well be over 90 minutes with traffic. Alternatively, it could be sandwiched in one of those magical places where you can live in Virginia within a stone's throw of work, and be right near a Metro line, which lets you glide effortlessly into DC when you want to. There are also plenty of "good" suburbs in VA.

Having good coworkers counts for a lot. I'm pained to say that you probably won't rave about the work environment in the federal government, but you also probably won't complain about it -- it's usually a remarkably unremarkable place to work.

Rereading your post:
If you were planning on leaving in 2011, but don't know if you'll be able to get a job at that point, leave now. The job market isn't getting any better.
posted by schmod at 9:06 AM on July 22, 2010

Seems like it can be boiled down to this: Which is more important to you? Personal happiness, or money?
posted by MexicanYenta at 11:01 AM on July 22, 2010

Best answer: I would take the job, because it sounds like it presents you with a lot of future opportunities. As much as I love and respect teachers and am delighted to hear you enjoy this job now, teaching is something you could always go back to.
posted by lizbunny at 12:21 PM on July 22, 2010

Do you see teaching ESL classes as a long-term career? (personally, I wouldn't). If not, then take the foreign service job.
posted by leahwrenn at 1:05 PM on July 22, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers, please keep them coming!! I'm leaning towards trying to get the September offer right now if they're still willing to consider me.

@fso - Leaving my school in a lurch is my #1 concern, mainly because they've treated me very well. I have a possible replacement but she's a bit leery of the hours (2pm-10pm). I do agree with your assessments regarding the hagwon industry - while it's not a bad way to spend 2-3 years, it does grind you down after a while. Working evenings and having limited vacation/sick time makes having a social life kind of difficult, and don't even get me started on the constant schedule changes :(

I REALLY don't look forward to having the "it's been fun, but now I'm leaving" conversation with my boss given all he's done to help me adjust to life in Korea. It's even harder when you consider that I've only been here 3 months and I might only be able to give 1-2 week's notice when I leave. I'd love some suggestions on how to "soften the blow", particularly considering that I might not be able to find a replacement in time.

@mrgrimm, schmod - If it sounds like I hate owning a car and living in the suburbs, it's because I do! I'm a huge proponent of mass transit, and can't see myself living in a city where car-free living isn't an option. That being said, I think D.C. might be a bit more bearable - I will be working in several locations throughout northern Virginia, most of which are within the Beltway on Metro/bus routes. Actually I'm okay with owning a car, I just don't want a really long commute (I had a 45+ minute commute at my last job, and I hated the long drive).

@lizbunny - The fact that I don't really have a proper "career" at the moment has crossed my mind on several occasions. Doing ESL is fine for 1-2 years, but if this Foreign Service job wasn't an option I'd still want to transfer to either a desk job or something teaching older students (NOT hagwon work) once my employment contract is up. I really want to keep working with kids, but I'm not nuts about the industry.
posted by photo guy at 9:23 PM on July 22, 2010

Believe me, teachers leave all the time. It's nothing new. The schools deal with it and generally don't have trouble finding replacements.

At the end of the day, this is a pretty big decision that could wind up charting a whole new path for you. Do you really want to miss out on a potentially amazing opportunity because you're worried about how your hagwon will deal with it? Look out for yourself first, then consider your school.

As for softening the blow, I would say that giving them as much notice as possible is the biggest concern. Because you haven't been there that long they'll probably have to pay them back for the cost of the airfare over there, but you can weigh if that's worth it to you or not. Generally, the contracts for these schools aren't worth the paper they're written on, but as a foreigner you always have fewer rights than Koreans do. So you want to part amicably. That being said, they can't prevent you from leaving if you want to.
posted by fso at 9:06 AM on July 28, 2010

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