Anna is one of my childhood friends and newly turned English teacher in South Korea! Here is what she thinks of her time there:
1. Where are you from?
I am from Newport, OR USA
2. What made you decide to teach in South Korea?
I studied abroad in Seoul, South Korea during my junior year of university and absolutely loved it. I wanted to go back and teaching English seemed like a great way to do that.
3. Is this your first time in South Korea/how hard was it to adjust to moving there?
Because I studied abroad in Seoul I had lived in Korea for 6 months before. Because of this my culture shock was not as bad as it may have been for others who were coming to Korea for the first time. But being an exchange student and actually living and working in Korea are very different.
The hardest parts about living abroad are all the little everyday tasks that are so easy at home, but become much more difficult when you don’t speak the language well enough to communicate the things that you need. Ordering food, taking a taxi, meeting new people…those things are easy. But calling your landlord when your laundry machine is leaking or going to the hospital when you are sick become much more difficult with the language barrier. I was very sick about a month ago and had to spend 3 nights in the hospital. Except for my doctor and one nurse who could have simple conversations, no one in the hospital spoke more than a few words of English. It was very frustrating and stressful to be sick and not fully understand what was going on. Back home in the US I could simply ask someone “What are all these pills I’m taking and what are they for?”. But instead I had to trust that whatever drugs and IVs and shots they were giving would be helping me get better. At one point I was taking 10 pills 3 times a day and except for tylenol I had no idea what I was taking. I’m better now, so whatever they gave me must have worked!
Even though it was difficult at times, it was an overall good experience. Everyone in the hospital was extremely friendly, especially the 3 ladies I shared a hospital room with. We even had a few conversations in my limited Korean and one of the older ladies shared some snacks with me that her husband had brought. Even though it can be difficult at times I love living in Korea and the positives definitely outweigh the negatives.
4. Which program hired you/what region were you placed in?
I was hired through EPIK (English Program in Korea). As I am an extremely talented procrastinator I actually decided to go through one of the few recruiting agencies that recruit for the EPIK program called Korean Horizons instead of applying directly with EPIK myself. I could not have had a better experience. My recruiter, Alistair, was amazing. He kept me on schedule with all my paperwork by giving me deadlines and was always available to answer any questions I may have had. He would schedule times to talk on the phone or video chat to make sure I was understanding everything and that I didn’t have any questions. Korean Horizons also provides a pickup service at the airport as well as a nights stay at hotel before the official EPIK orientation starts. It was nice to know someone would be waiting on the other end when I arrived in Korea late at night after a long days travel.
The EPIK program also does a great job of preparing you for your job as an English teacher. They have a week-long mandatory orientation which was a great opportunity to meet other new English teachers who would be living in your area as well as learn about what life would be like once you arrived at your school. At the end of the orientation your Korean Co-teacher meets you and takes you to your apartment and school.
Which reminds me! What exactly does the EPIK program provide? EPIK recruits native English teachers for the Korean Office of Education. So with an EPIK contract you are working for the public school system. Every EPIK teacher works with a Korean co-teacher at a Korean public school and is provided a salary of approx 2,000,000 korean won/month plus a one room apartment rent free. There is also paid vacation, sick days,etc. You can check out the EPIK website for more details.
When I applied through EPIK I put Busan as my first choice of location. I had already lived in Seoul and wanted to have a new experience, while still being in a big city. Luckily I got my first choice and am living in Busan! The best city in South Korea! Busan has a population of approximately 3.5million and is located on the southern tip of the Korean peninsula. Located on the ocean it is the perfect mix of mountains, city and sea. Despite being on the opposite end of the country from Seoul it is easy to hop on the KTX (bullet train) and be at Seoul Station in about 3 hours. You can also hop on a Ferry at the Busan ferry terminal and head off to Jeju (a popular island vacation spot in Korea), Fukuoka (Japan) or Tsushima (an island of Japan just of the coast).
5. What grades do you teach?
In Korea kids start learning English in school in the 3rd grade. So I am teach 3rd-6th grade English classes at an elementary school.
6. Have you worked with children in education in the past?
I have never done any kind of teaching, or even worked with children at all in the past. I did take a TEFL certification course before coming, but even with that I was actually terrified before coming that I wouldn’t be able to do it, or that I would be bad at or hate teaching. But I am having an amazing time. The kids are amazing and make me laugh and smile everyday. And I just know that I am going to cry when the 6th graders graduate and head off to middle school after next semester. I work at a smaller elementary school which means that I am able to teach ALL the english classes in the school. Some EPIK teachers who are placed at larger schools may only see each class of students once a week. My school has only 2 classes for every grade which means I get to see the 3rd and 4th graders twice a week and the 5th and 6th graders three times a week. I feel very fortunate because this allows me to really get to know my students and build more of a relationship with them.
7. What is your favorite part of the job?
My favorite part about my job is the kids. Honestly, I don’t really like kids very much…generally. But I love my students! Obviously there are good days and bad days. But most days they just make me laugh and smile. I wake up every morning groaning to myself about how early it is and how I wish I could just sleep in. But as soon as I get to school and hear “hello teacher!” and see their bright smiles it makes everything worth it.
8. What is your least favorite part of the job?
My least favorite part about the job is the language barrier. I hate that if I see a kid crying or being teased there isn’t really anything I can do about it. My Korean isn’t good enough to really help any situation and it breaks my heart whenever I see a kid crying because of bullying or stress. I want to comfort them and help them. But it’s really hard to do that, especially with the younger kids whose English abilities are very limited. My co-teacher helps with that a lot, but I wish there was more I could do myself.
9. How long do you plan to teach in Korea?
My contract is for one year. And I am probably going to renew if my school asks me and stay for a second year. After that, who knows!
10. What is your favorite part about living in Korea?
My favorite part about living in Korea is the speed of life. There is always something to do, somewhere to go, people to meet, and something to eat. When I was back in the US it was so easy to just stay in and not go anywhere. But when I’m in Korea the culture and the way of life here just doesn’t allow for that. I also love that Korea puts me out of my comfort zone every single day. It forces me to do things I never thought I would ever do and doing these kinds of things really changes you as a person and helps you to become more confident and independent. I love who I have become after all my experiences in Korea.
11. Do you have a favorite word or phrase you’ve learned?
I don’t know about my FAVORITE word. But I really like the word 썸 (seomm). It is a slang that is used to describe the phase in a romantic relationship between friendship and dating. That time when you aren’t just friends, but you aren’t in a relationship yet either. The word is derived from the English word “something” as in “those two have something between them”.
12. What advice would you give a prospective English teacher interested in Korea?
Just do it! If you’ve even thought about teaching even for a second, but are having second thoughts because you aren’t sure if you will like teaching or the culture, just throw those doubts out the window! If you hate it, oh well, it’s just one year and it will go by fast. And chances are you are going to have the best experience of your life!
Thank you so much, Anna! Good luck with your future adventures!
If you are a volunteer, language assistant, or English teacher abroad and would like to participate in an interview, let me know via the contact tab!
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