9. The Time Between Graduation and Moving to the UK (1985-1987)
I was very lucky when I graduated university after four years. Firstly, it meant that I did not have to go through national military service, which was compulsory at the time for all Korean men for three years. At the time of my graduation, the top 10% of the 120 students at my university did not have to serve in the military.
The university records all the academic test results as well as the results of attendance for all national and international competitions from years 1 to 4. The students ranked in the top 1-12 (i.e., the top 10% of 120 students) just need to attend a 3 weeks basic military training camp instead of serving the full three years. I was very lucky to be in that 10% and so I only had to attend the basic military camp.
It is a really big thing for me as I saved those three years. Furthermore, the university asked me to take a job as assistant professor. At the time, the role of assistant professor was a very good job, as after 3-5 years of doing the job they were expected to become a full professor which was one of the most respected desirable jobs in Korea. I took the offer and became assistant professor in badminton. At the same time, I had been asked to take a master’s course in Physical Education. I needed to take this course in order to qualify as a professor at a later date.
Over the span of three years (1985-1987), I was working in my role as assistant professor during the day, and doing the master’s course in the evening. I subsequently completed the master’s course and also became Junior National Team Coach in 1985 and National Team Coach in 1987.
By 1987, I was very well prepared and ready to become a professor over the next two to three years. At the time when someone became a professor, it was one of the most respected jobs and it was a job for life. However, I decided not to take the job, and instead I left everything behind and decided to move to England. When I told people about my plan to go to England and leave every opportunity behind, my friends at the university thought I was mad. Why did I do it? There were a number of reasons.
When I took badminton and trained so seriously in high school, I felt that I had a reason and a purpose! I had something to achieve in my life. I was so happy while I was doing such painful training and I felt that I was living my life and every minute was meaningful. No one asked me to do it but it was my decision, and I did something that I truly wanted.
After I achieved my goals in badminton by winning all three fields (singles, doubles and mixed doubles), I did not have any further goals or targets. I did not have any reason to be training seriously in badminton. I felt like I lost myself.
I did not enjoy the four years I spent studying, nor the three years of working as an assistant professor at the same university. I graduated like most Korean males at that age expecting to graduate university. I took the assistant job as it would lead me to become a professor, not because I wanted to be a professor but because it was a highly respected job and job for life. I did not complete the master’s course because I wanted to learn and study more, but I did it because I needed it to become qualified to become a professor.
For the 7 years total duration of my studies and my work as assistant professor, I had absolutely no reason, no passion and no goals to achieve. Instead, I was just doing what others do. I was doing the things that other people value. When I was in high school, my brain and mind were so crystal clear. I had a clear vision of what I wanted and what I was going to achieve, but this did not persist during the 7 years at the university. During my time as assistant professor, I had many wasted and negative thoughts, eventually I concluded that:
1. I am wasting my life!
2. I am living a pointless life.
3. If I do not change it now, I will live my life like this until I die!
I asked myself again and again many times whether I really wanted to leave everything behind and move to the UK to challenge and experience a new life. I had very clear answers from deep in my heart that this was what I wanted. My main thoughts were:
1. I wanted to move to England even if it meant becoming homeless and dying on the street with no money or food. I was prepared to take this risk over living a comfortable life without reason or goals.
2. I wanted to experience a different culture, different ways of thinking and different ways of life.
3. I wanted to know why? What reason? What makes people in England act and behave a particular way?
4. It was so clear - now or never! I was 28 years old and I knew that if I waste another year or two, It will be too late to go and too late to change my life.
And so I made the decision to go to England. Why England? There were a few reasons:
1. I wanted to learn English, and England is the mother country for the English language. Without being able to speak and understand English, I will not be able to understand and communicate with the world.
2. Badminton was well developed in England and England has the longest badminton history, so I wanted to learn about badminton in England.
3. I had heard many good stories about the English when I was young. They are real gentlemen; many best sportsmen are doctors and lawyers and I wanted to know how they can do both so well. England was one of the most powerful countries in history and I wanted to know what makes them like that.
When I made the decision, I did not have much money to take with me to England. I was not able to speak much English beyond saying thank you and sorry. There was no job waiting for me. I just asked BAE (Badminton Association of England) to invite me as a learner (learning about badminton in England). I did not have any friends or relatives in England, and when I told my friends in Korea, everyone thought I was crazy to leave the opportunity to become a professor. It was like throwing away the most respected and well-paid thirty year future career.
I did not know how and why, but I never had concerns about any of the following:
1. Will I be able to survive?
2. What happens if I fail?
3. Will I be able to get a job?
4. Will I be able to speak English?
5. Will I be able to mix with people in England?
6. How will I be treated by the local people?
All of the above did not cross my mind at all. Living the same life continually in Korea was like being a fish out of water. I simply could not live like that. Taking on a new challenge in England was like the same fish jumping back into the ocean. I was very excited, and delighted to go to England.
Today, I can say that it was the wisest and most life changing decision I have ever made in my life!