After graduation, Witsies are faced with many options: study another degree, look for a job, take a gap year. Some Wits graduates venture abroad and teach English to children in various countries.
South Korea and Japan are popular destinations for them and they pursue this option to earn money, make new friends and to learn more about the Asian culture.
“I wanted to learn the language and I wanted a different experience,” said Wits Vuvuzela staffer Leigh-Ann Carey who taught English in South Korea from 2009 to 2011.
For others, South Korea’ salary rates played a deciding role. “I wanted a change and I chose South Korea because they pay very well,” said another Wits Vuvuzela staffer Emelia Motsai.
South Korea is listed third in the top five countries to pay the best salaries for TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language), teachers with salaries ranging from R16 000 to R22 000. Japan forms part of the top ten destinations for these teachers, according to the website www.busyteacher.org.[pullquote align=”right”]“The western media is just pumping it up for ratings.”[/pullquote]
But, recently North Korea’s missile launches and threats of nuclear war toward South Korea had escalated, causing increased concerns in the United States, United Kingdom and even South Africa.
With all the tensions Witsies have had mixed feelings about going abroad to teach in South Korea and Japan. Carey and Motsai said they would go back to South Korea and teach again.
Motsai said her friends in South Korea don’t pay much attention to international concerns: “It’s business as usual, nothing has changed.”
Witsies who are still considering the option had contrasting views. Sasuke Asanda (BA), said his decision to Japan would depend on whether there was an actual nuclear war at that time or there had been an attack on Japan and South Korea.
Witsie Tayla Prinsloo said she had thought of applying to go and teach abroad at the end of her studies. “There is no need for immediate alarm. That region is volatile but it’s only volatile from one side.”
Others feel that the tensions are escalating rapidly. Monique Bennett (BA), said she would not go, as she is fearful that she would be attacked for being a Westerner. “They will think I’m American or British. They won’t think I’m a South African.” Bennett added that she thought Kim Jong-Un knew that “to start nuclear war would be suicide”.
The view of South Africans currently in South Africa
South African teachers and young graduates currently teaching in South Korea do not seem too worried about the situation.
When asked about the threat of war, Mark Schulz said: “The western media is just pumping it up for ratings.” But he said he had seen few pieces of military equipment being moved north a few weeks ago and helicopters flying around last Saturday.
North West University graduate Bennie Fourie shared Schulz’s sentiments. “Personally I feel like the media is blowing up the story very badly and warning every second day that a missile would be fired.”
Fourie said the South Koreans and foreigners are relaxed as if nothing is happening. “No one is making urgent plans.” Fourie said it might be that citizens are too used to the same stories from the North that they don’t take it seriously.
The only steps the teachers and other foreigners have taken, was to register with their embassies. People register and give their personal contact details so the embassies can contact them in case of an emergency.
One specific complaint of the teachers was that with the threats the Korean money currency, the Won became weaker for a while which meant South Africans got fewer rands when they sent money back home.
“The North’s threats are stronger than before, but until a bomb falls, the people don’t worry too much,” said Fourie.