How I ended up in Jeju

Daejeong, le 8 mars 2021

My wife has always known what she wanted in life.  At the very beginning of our relationship Stephanie told me she wanted more children.  So came Simone.  When Simone was a little girl Stephanie told me that when our daughters would be older, more independent, she would eventually go back to university.  So she did.  When Simone, our youngest of five daughters, turned thirteen, Stephanie started classes for a new degree in TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) at Concordia University in Montréal.  This was a four year program.

By then, we had been together for a little over fifteen years and we had started thinking and talking about our future, our retired years together.  Meanwhile, I had founded a business to manage non-profit housing.  Stephanie had left her job to join me in this thriving enterprise in 2000.  Also, I was involved in politics.  I became a municipal councillor with numerous responsibilities taking a lot of my time.

So, both Stephanie and I are very busy with our five daughters, our business, her studies, my politics but we do find time for vacations.  The more we work, the more we are busy, the more it becomes important for us to find time for us.  Stephanie and I, sometimes with the children, sometimes without, find ways to vacation and travel once or twice a year.  We travelled to Central America, Europe, many of the United States and all the Canadian provinces but Newfoundland.

In our reflexions on what we would do in our later years, travelling always came back on the top of the list.  Stephanie and I travel very well together.  We enjoy similar things like outdoor activities, good food, new cultural activities, museums, music and discovering people, their way of life, their habits.  We also both appreciate cities and nature.  After some consideration for moving to a country cottage, we quickly conclude that we will want to travel.  We also realize that, so far, we have travelled as tourists for no more than a few weeks at a time.  Though quite enjoyable, these trips did not permit us to integrate ourselves in the different cultures we encountered.

Stephanie recently reminded me that many of these reflexions between us happened during our frequent walks in Verdun alongside the majestic St-Lawrence River.  As time went by and as we got older, our project became more realistic.  I came up with a suggestion.  We would move into a community for some months, hopefully meet some local people, learn about their culture, the history, geography, politics of the country, discover food, habits, ways of living, see how far we could integrate this community.  After some months, we would come back home for a while and start over again somewhere else and continue this until we were ready to settle again.  

Then the question of how and when do we start this came.  I was still an elected member of the Montréal City council.  I was hoping that this commitment would continue for two more terms which would bring me to 64 years old.  I would then retire and be ready for full time travels.  Stephanie, had just started her new teaching career and, though it was a real challenge, she was loving it.  Also, being seven years younger than I am she would not be ready for retirement yet.  How could we manage this most motivating project before I am too old to enjoy it all?

We had a few years to find out the how and when but, pretty much then, in 2013, I lost the election.  I suddenly became free but Stephanie and I agreed that she should have more teaching experience in Québec before we travelled.  I then found a job leading a non-profit organization developing social housing.

Through some of Stephanie’s student colleagues who were teaching abroad we found out that teaching English could be a means for us to travel around the world.  After consulting with some of them and doing our own research, we decided we would not want to deal with second rated shabby organizations.  In 2018, Stephanie registered with an international job search organization for teachers.  We both attended a Job Fair in Toronto in December 2018.  We thought we would make some contacts and also attend the Boston Job Fair in February 2019 to have a better idea of the possibilities to slowly prepare ourselves for the summer of 2021 or 2022.  

This Toronto Fair was a big deal.  About 60 International schools were there.  Stephanie had prepared a port-folio introducing herself.  We quickly went through the list of the schools before getting there and made a preliminary list of interesting schools she could teach in and places we agreed we could live in.  We were just looking.  On site, we realized how popular Stephanie was for a good number of these schools.  She met with seven schools situated in the Bahamas, Saudi Arabia, China, Koweit and South Korea.   After those interviews, she got two job offers.  We never expected that so soon.

That evening, we sat on the floor in our hotel room and went through what had just happened and decided, just for the heck of it, to consider these two offers from Jeddah in Saudi Arabia and from Jeju in South Korea.  The top school on Stephanie’s list was BHA.  She was very impressed by the Empowering Women slogan.  The package from Jeddah was slightly better.  They also offered me a job managing their housing complex.  Would we do this starting summer 2019?  We decided YES!  We thoroughly examined both schools.  No doubt, Branksome Hall Asia was the best school.  We thoroughly examined the environments surrounding both those schools.  We knew nothing about Jeddah nor Jeju.  Jeddah, on the Red sea, seemed an ideal place to travel from to Africa and Eastern Europe.  But it is in Saudi Arabia.  How would we fit in such a conservative country?  We went on Google Maps and travelled through the city.  We saw that only about 25% of people on the streets were women and more than half wore the burqa.  How would Stephanie, a five foot nine blond Scandinavian woman fit?  On the other hand, Jeju, which we had never heard of, seemed extraordinary.  An ancient volcanic island in the middle of the East China sea with many many beaches and more nature paths to walk and cycle than we ever would have time to do.  A fantastic starting point to visit Eastern Asia.  Also Korea being one of the most occidental countries of Asia seemed more appealing to us.  Korea would be more comfortable for us for this first long journey away from home than Saudi Arabia.

We decided Jeju was a go.

3 thoughts on “How I ended up in Jeju”

  1. Alain, your story and your adventure remind me of what a college professor told our class on the first day of our college adventure:
    You may think you know where you are going and what you are going to do in life, but you had better be prepared for people, places and adventures that you cannot even imagine in your wildest dreams this morning!

  2. This is a fascinating timeline of your journey from Canada to South Korea. As I read I thought no way could I survive in Saudi Arabia. The culture is just too anti-women. I like the advice Anita’s professor gave her. My husband and I talked about moving out of the US, but I have a brother who lives in our basement and who can’t live in his own, so for now we’ll stay out for him.

  3. Thanks for detailing this process! I would love to do this when I retire from my current teaching assignment. I know my husband wants to sit back and relax, so we can go wherever I want to go. 🙂

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