Presenting: Karla Aguilar Perez – World Traveler, Philosopher and English Teacher in Korea

paese, my beloved ITALY!

I took the train from Zurich to Milan. I met up one of my best friends from the university and we went to Venice. I believe we stayed there for about 4 or 5 days. It was out of this world. We also visited some islands like Lido, Murano and Burano. They were simply beautiful.

My friend was studying in Bologna, so we went there after leaving Venice.  While she studied, I hung around and visited this great city. We took little trips on the week-end to nearby cities and the Adriatic Sea of course. One comes to mind: Rimini. It’s very nice.

I had to leave Italy because I had to make my way back to England to leave back home (and pick up some suitcases I left at a friend’s house.)

Playa El Zunzal, El Salvador. Image by Karla Aguilar Perez.

So I left Bologna, made a short stop in Florence on the way to the South of France.  I was in Monte Carlo, Monaco and Cannes for a few days. Then headed towards Barcelona, Spain: the final destination on my Itinerary.  I fell in love with this incredible city. I ended up staying a couple of weeks until I took a plane back to England and headed back home to Canada.

What an unforgettable, incredible and sensational trip of a lifetime that was! I learned so much in so little time, mostly to go out there, discover, admire, appreciate and respect nature, nurture friendships and also grow mentally, spiritually and personally.

I was definitely bitten by the travel bug, which is a disease I never want to be cured of! 😉

5. There was a moment in Italy when you realized “Wow, this is where I want to be”. Where was this, and what thoughts did you have?

As I mentioned earlier, I made a stop in Florence on my way to Spain. I had to change trains but I had several hours before that (I had to take the night train). First I went to this town above Florence, in the Tuscan hills. It is called Fiesole. I remember taking the No 7 bus and getting off. I remember time just froze for me as I contemplated the magnificent view from there. I was home. I said to myself “I want to live here one day”. It is such a charming town, rich in history and the location, hard to beat! 😉  I came back from Tuscan heaven and headed to the major sightseeing spots in Florence. I thought it was definitely a place where I would love to live in. It’s the place I would like to call home in the future.

 

6. After this long trip you went back home and took a job in Ottawa. Please tell us about that time.

Well, I came back home in late October and I had to find a job in field of studies. I had previously worked for a language school at home in Montreal. The main branch was located in Ottawa and I had helped them out with bids & proposals for the Federal government.  Now I had mentioned to the director that I was looking for employment and she offered me a position at the school. I gladly accepted it and moved to the capital within a few weeks. I taught both English and French as Foreign Languages to government employees and international students. I worked there from November until April 2001. I would normally come home every other week or whenever possible as it was only a 2 hr drive. I did enjoy my experience there but I thought the city was a bit calm for my liking. Then an incredible opportunity knocked at my door….

 

7. As luck would have it, you got to go back to Italy on a scholarship. What was this trip all about and what did you get from that experience?

I had visited the Italian Cultural Institute several times to meet other Italian speakers and students. I applied for a full tuition scholarship and to my surprise I was granted one! That was one of the happiest moments of my life. The only thing I needed to do was to buy a return ticket! So I flew to Amsterdam and then on to Rome. I had a few days before the classes started, so I enjoyed a fabulous week in the eternal city. How good it felt to be back on Italian soil! I also made some day trips to Napoli and Pompeii. I was taken back in time.  I then reached my destination for the month of May, Castelraimondo, a small town in Le Marche province. It was a peaceful place, quite small for a big city girl like me. So we were about 50 international students coming from Germany, Finland, USA, Mexico, Japan, Argentina and we were 3 Canadians. The program included language, cultural and cooking lessons but the best part was the trips during the week-end!  We went to Assissi, Florence, Venice, Rome, small cities nearby, outlets and so much more! I don’t recall having so much fun while studying. It was definitely one of the best things that have ever happened in my life! I learned how to cook, appreciate, make and drink wine and I was fluent in Italian by the second week. Most importantly I made 2 special friends; they are in Greece and Thailand.  We had such a great time along with our other classmates. We remain in contact until this day.  I left a few days before graduation (to go back to Switzerland & to the top of Europe, Jungfraujoch) but I had my certificate in hand. I will never ever forget this period in my life.

Jungfraujoch, Switzerland. Image by Karla Aguilar Perez.

 

8. Then you went back home and not long after in 2001 you decided to go to Korea. Please tell us about that first teaching experience in Korea. Where and how did you live? What was your daily life like?

I had a friend who was working in IT and was offered a temporary position in Seoul, South Korea. One day she mentioned that there were many teaching jobs available. I started to look into it and by August 2001 I was ready to leave Canada.  I used the services of a recruiter who found a position for me.  So everything happened so quickly that before I knew it I was on a plane bound for South Korea in mid-August. I looked forward to visiting the South Asian continent. I was making another dream come true.

 

9. Did you ever have culture shock living so far away from home? What about homesickness? How did you deal with these issues?

Quite frankly I had never experienced homesickness until I got to Korea. I remember that the first three months were the most difficult because everything was foreign to me. The language was incomprehensible, the food was really spicy and soon I was missing and craving what I had become used to it. I did not have any friends and the people that I worked with at the school were not the kindest to me. The workload was too much but I was bound by a contract, so there was not much else I could do. I did not get any proper training when I arrived. So I was basically just thrown into the ring and I had to just pull tricks out of my magic hat! There were moments, both personally and professionally, that I simply found myself feeling misunderstood, puzzled, shocked, sad and almost in a state of despair. I think the adjustment period, the first 3 months were quite difficult, painful and I did think of going back home but I knew I had to do something about it.

So I started to change my attitude & saw this challenge as an opportunity to put my skills & knowledge to the test and to good use. I made plans & looked for activities to do with my children at the school. Little by little I was seeing progress and a difference in them. I also joined a language club in order to learn Korean and also make friends. I remember how funny it was, not being able to communicate with one of my first Korean friends, Andie. She spoke zero English and we used hand signs to talk to each other 😉  This helped me greatly and little by little we were speaking both English and Korean.  I made more friends as time went by and there were also more positive experiences. I had overcome those obstacles and It helped me get past those difficult times.

Insadong, South Korea. Image by Karla Aguilar Perez.

 

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