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Get Steph to Korea! Surviving Quarantine in South Korea

Get Steph to Korea! Surviving Quarantine in South Korea

Quarantine in South Korea

An XploreAsia Teacher Experience

What is Quarantine in South Korea Like?

As we adjust to the ‘New Normal’, teachers from all over the world are beginning to return to their schools overseas, and new teachers can begin their life-changing overseas teaching experience with XploreAsia! However, there are a few hurdles that need to be navigated.  One of the most common questions we get asked is, ‘What is quarantine like?’ Well, we will present first-hand accounts over the coming days and weeks, detailing the planning, arrival, and quarantine processes in South Korea, Myanmar, and Thailand to show you that it’s not so bad and can be done with minimal discomfort!

Today, we hear from Steph, from the UK, who writes about her experiences with quarantine in South Korea, where she arrived to teach English with XploreAsia.

Which Program were you on, and how did COVID-19 Impact your Experience?

I had the pleasure of joining the March intake of the Seoul in-class TESOL / TEFL course, run by the remarkable Kim Le Roux and glamorously assisted by her South African comrade, Enzo Forgiarini. I spent some time researching the different routes available to achieving the TESOL / TEFL qualification. It seemed like a much more sensible idea to invest in an ‘all-inclusive’ package that included work placement, accommodation, visa assistance, and of course, the training program.

It is here in my ‘Get Steph to Korea’ timeline that I’ll note that COVID-19 wasn’t even a twinkle on the landscape of the global health agenda. Even when about to leave the UK for Korea in February 2020, it was still largely isolated in China, and despite the geographical closeness of the two countries, I wasn’t about to let my desire to make this move across the world be tainted by what was, at the time, media-hyped speculation.

Stephanie Dagg's Quarantine in South Korea Experience

It seemed like a much more sensible idea to invest in an ‘all-inclusive’ package that included work placement, accommodation, visa assistance, and of course, the training program.

The course itself was intense. The work schedule was pretty demanding, I guess given the content we needed to cover and the limited time that we had to do it in. But Kim was for want of better words, bloody amazing. She was personable, approachable and always available to answer any of our concerns – whether related to the course, an emotional grievance related to our new lives, or just a friendly chat that encouraged normality. She made everything that could have been grueling fun and as COVID-19 began rearing its ugly head, she assumed the position of ‘Course Confidence-inducer’ (yes, I teach English), and we could deal with the worrying times with greater efficacy.

South Korea was one of the first countries outside of China to experience a surge in COVID-19 cases, owing mainly to the church-related outbreak in Daegu, and quite inconveniently, it happened at the same time that I was on the TESOL / TEFL course.

As our course progressed throughout March, we were given almost daily updates on the state of affairs in neighboring countries, and with that, our list of prospective countries to visit for a visa trip was severely contracting. In fact, it got to the day of our graduation and final decisions had not yet been made. At this point Japan had closed its borders, along with Taiwan, the Philippines, Hong Kong and Thailand. The only options we had were to either fly to Cambodia, or fly home. The rush of anxiety was debilitating, and after speaking to my sister in the UK, I felt the best choice was to do my visa trip to the UK and then fly back to quarantine in South Korea.

What Preparations did you Have to Make for Your Return?

I will skim quickly over the fortnight I spent back in the UK – but with the grace of whatever heavenly body, the Korean Embassy in London was able to turn my visa around in just one week, and I was able to quickly fly back to Korea. At the time, flights were rare, expensive, and stopping at more airports than a Chelsea girl on spring break. Maybe it was because I booked my flight with less than 24 hours to go before departure, but I rocked up at Heathrow Airport with a direct flight to Incheon and an extra-legroom seat with British Airways.

The journey to the airport, the flight back to Korea, and my arrival at Incheon to quarantine in South Korea are all part of one journey that I will never forget. The roads to Heathrow were empty. The M25 is notoriously a car park, but COVID had diminished the need for anyone to drive its highways. My dad was my on-duty chauffeur. Even this was a point of contention – no one wanted to be anywhere near the airport, let alone collect/drop off a person who had been on a flight in the past two weeks, or in a country with such (comparatively) close proximity to China. Nevertheless, father dearest took the job and I got to the airport. With no element of exaggeration, as far as I could see in terminal 2 was emptiness. All shops were closed, with the exception of Boots and WH Smith, where social distancing was implored. The only other people seemed to be the few who had held onto their jobs and those boarding my flight.

The flight was shockingly full – it felt almost as if that flight was part of the last-chance exodus out of the UK into Korea. I was placed in a middle seat between two people, though physical contact was avoided and my personal sanitizer was constantly within reach should our hands touch. 

Stephanie Dagg's Quarantine in South Korea Experience

The journey to the airport, the flight back to Korea, and my arrival at Incheon are all part of one journey that I will never forget.

Stephanie Dagg's Quarantine in South Korea Experience

What was Your Arrival Experience?

Arrival at Incheon was an endurance event. The different queues that we were guided through were endless. I had my phone number tested (luckily I had a Korean number from the course), and my ‘guardian’ as it were, was contacted to ensure that the address provided was legitimate I had been told prior to my arrival back to quarantine in South Korea that I would need to get tested at the airport, though I strolled through arrival area with no issue or guidance towards a testing facility. Here the games began.

I contacted the Korean speaking representative from the XploreAsia team, and within moments, my assigned sticker had changed color three times. When coming through customs, you were assigned a sticker based on country of origin, or whether you were a Korean Native. I was passed around among airport workers, the Korean Army, and men dressed head to toe in hazmat suits, before being escorted to the testing center. 

I was told to stand in the car park at Incheon Airport, armed with three brimming suitcases and suffering from severe sleep deprivation. To further challenge my sanity, I had a swab shoved in my mouth and so far up my nose, it was knocking on the door to my brain. With tears rolling down my cheeks, I was escorted by four more soldiers to the transfer bus headed to a quarantine facility.

I was moody, miserable, and extremely tired. At this point, I had been awake for around 22 hours and was ready to pass out any place I was left for more than ten minutes. After a few other people got on the bus, we headed off on a 90-minute bus ride. Once we arrived at the quarantine facility, I was met again by men in hazmat suits and armed with clipboards. I started to feel incredibly overwhelmed. As I waited for my turn to register, I noticed that the guys were handing out packages to those ahead of me. To my surprise, we were provided with a hot TGI Friday’s lunch, a box of towels, toiletries, and complete guidance in English as to what to expect over the next 24 hours. I got to my room and found that, though basic, it was perfect. Warm, clean, and with enough space for my entourage of luggage. I showered almost immediately, unraveled the Korean ‘mattress’, and curled up to rest. We were provided with another hot meal of fried chicken in the evening and breakfast time was announced in English over the speakerphone the next morning. At 11 AM, a woman came to my door and told me my COVID results were negative, and to expect to leave in an hour and a half. With that, I packed my things, organized my airport transportation, and headed to the transfer. Again, we were provided with food, from Lotteria nonetheless, and taken directly to the airport for our onward journey, which for me was to  Gyeonggi-do province, where I had a 14-day quarantine in South Korea, in my apartment provided by my school. The experience was emotional, but honestly, the Korean government was outstanding in their organization of the whole ordeal. It was comforting, safe, and quite importantly – free, so I know that despite the personal inconvenience, it could have been so much worse. 

Stephanie Dagg's Quarantine in South Korea Experience

When coming through customs, you were assigned a sticker based on country of origin, or whether you were a Korean Native. I was passed around among airport workers, the Korean Army, and men dressed head to toe in hazmat suits, before being escorted to the testing center. 

Stephanie Dagg's Quarantine in South Korea Experience

At 11AM, a woman came to my door and told me my COVID results were negative, and to expect to leave in an hour and a half. With that, I packed my things, organized my airport transportation, and headed to the transfer.

How About Quarantine in South Korea, What are the Conditions Like?

Stephanie Dagg's Quarantine in South Korea Experience

We were supported by a very accommodating school principal who was willing to get anything we needed in terms of food, crockery and anything that would make our experience more comfortable.

Mmm… so quarantine in South Korea. Quarantine…A three-syllable word that still makes my eyebrow twitch and skin turn an unhealthy shade of ashen-white. Firstly, it is fair to say that I was blessed to have secured a teaching position in Suwon, in the Gyeonggi-do province, so the transit from the airport wasn’t too long, and no public transport was required. This was a huge relief, given that those arriving at Incheon, who need for public transport, were siphoned into regional categories and held until there was available space to board the ‘foreign arrival’ carts.

I was also incredibly lucky to have been placed at a school with a girl (now a very good friend of mine) with whom I trained in Incheon. She had opted for the Cambodian visa trip and returned to Korea a few days earlier, and so was able to give me valuable insight into what was waiting for me at my apartment, and more importantly, what was not. (Bedding; bedding was not waiting for me.) 

We were supported by a very accommodating school principal who was willing to get anything we needed in terms of food, crockery, and anything that would make our experience more comfortable. I expected that there would be an absence of a lot of things and so brought with me my home comforts, however, I wasn’t about to pack a saucepan and bring it to Korea with me.

What are you Doing to Keep Yourself Busy During Your Quarantine in South Korea?

Stephanie Dagg's Quarantine in South Korea Experience

I was able to prepare slightly when I was back in the UK, bringing with me puzzle books, a yoga mat and resistance bands in the over-optimistic belief that the two weeks would see the renaissance of Stephanie as a fitness goddess and lean machine…

Stephanie Dagg's Quarantine in South Korea Experience

Once settled into my new surroundings, I was ready to accept the fate that was a fortnight of the same four walls. I was able to prepare slightly when I was back in the UK, bringing with me puzzle books, a yoga mat and resistance bands in the over-optimistic belief that the two weeks would see the renaissance of Stephanie as a fitness goddess and lean machine… The reality was that I managed one HIIT workout, nearly threw up, and decided it’d be best to hang up my resistance bands.

The side effects of quarantine in South Korea (twitch) included a disturbed sleeping pattern, over-reliance on social media, and a Netflix binge to end all others. The Netflix binge played into the disturbed sleeping pattern, where the concept of time was governed by the length of an episode, not the position of the sun – though the position of the sun made me realise I had stayed up for far too long or woken up far too late. The over-reliance on social media made the reality of how far from home I was even more real. Despite incessant scrolling, I missed my loved ones and I guess I started to feel a little bit lonely. 

Within the first week, the Suwon government dropped over a food kit, thermometers and sanitising spray/hand gel – all left at the door with a fleeting knock to avoid any interaction with the potentially virus-infected foreigner living inside. The schedule for twice daily temperature checks was strict, and if I missed a timeslot, my Director would politely remind me. If my temperature varied too much above 36.5, I’d be questioned.

After about ten days, I could feel the light at the end of the tunnel getting closer, I was getting excited again to leave the apartment and explore the city of which I was now a resident. I’d spent some of my time watching people out the window to remind myself that I was actually in Korea and shamelessly attracted to Korean guys. As the fortnight rolled to a close, I had already decided that I was going to spend the last few days readjusting my sleep schedule so that work wouldn’t be a complete nightmare (given my quarantine in South Korea ended at midnight on a Saturday night), and eat something more nutritious than spam and rice.

Looking Back on the Experience so far, have you Learned Anything From it?

My life in Korea is going very well! I have developed emotionally and psychologically in a way that I would never have been able to if I had stayed in my rat-race life back in London. My school is brilliant on the whole and I am really enjoying working for the first time in my life. There was a new outbreak of coronavirus in the Itaewon area of Seoul and foreigner-fear meant that we were not allowed to work until we were tested (my second experience was probably worse than the first), but our Director paid for the test and even took us personally. There are horror stories about other hagwons’ treatment of foreigners during this time, but I feel pretty lucky with how my school handled it (despite the INCREDIBLE annoyance at how prejudiced the fact we even had to get tested was).

I intend on being here long term, learning the language and exploring other options in education and elsewhere whilst I am here. I’ll never forget my experience with, and the memories made on, my XploreAsia course, or the wisdom imparted by Kim during that time. I hope that with time I will turn out to be half the influencer that she is. 

Lucy Frobisher's Quarantine in Thailand Experience - Looking Forward to Seeing These Guys!

Written by Stephanie Dagg. 

Teach in Asia: Becoming Part of the Local Community

Teach in Asia: Becoming Part of the Local Community

Teach in Asia and immerse yourself in the community!

Moving to a new continent can be a tricky transition. Despite different languages and cultures, kindness knows no barriers and we’re excited to share our TESOL students’ stories of their first interactions with locals.

Coming to teach in Asia can be daunting. Lots of people worry whether they will fit into their communities despite language and cultural barriers. In this blog post, our TESOL students in Thailand, South Korea and Vietnam share their stories of heartwarming interactions in their communities.

1. Sam in Thailand: “Food unites people here”

Openness is not something we’re used to from strangers in America. However, humility and openness seem to be defining characteristics of many people in Thailand. Whether they are a street-food vendor or an employee at the local 7-11, a Buddhist Monk or a songthaew driver, I feel as though I’m constantly greeted with a smile from the person across from me, as if I am meeting eyes with a friend. And so went my first interaction with Daang. As I approached his humble restaurant, he hastily produced a menu for me and motioned to a table with a view of the street. Entirely unsure of the type of food offered at this eatery, I hesitated before taking a seat on the small stool he had chosen for me. I decided to put aside any predispositions and simply find something on the menu that I might like.

To make things more difficult, the entire menu at Daang’s restaurant was in Thai. Rather than choose to leave or simply ask for ‘pad thai?’ with hands raised akimbo in the position of a clueless tourist, I stumbled my way through a conversation that led to Daang preparing me whatever he selected. As I watched Daang shuffle seamlessly back and forth across the kitchen, I was immediately impressed by the skill and efficiency of every maneuver. Daang clearly gave each ingredient respect and care. Daang’s cooking represented poetry in motion.

Sam Daniels came to teach in Asia just after the new year and started a culinary adventure!

Not only did he genuinely care about the experience I had in his restaurant, he also seemed proud that I would choose to eat there. Afterwards, we shook hands with the agreement that I would be back the following day for dinner. As I walked home, belly full and a smile on my face, I was reminded of an Anthony Bourdain quote from his first book Kitchen Confidential, which reads: “Good food is very often, even most often, very simple.” Nothing could be more apt in describing this and the subsequent meals I would enjoy at Daang’s restaurant.

The next evening, the scene before me was different from the day before. Whereas I enjoyed a simple dish of noodles and pork then, this evening consisted of several large fish roasted over an open flame, and a table full of Daang’s relatives and friends. Daang introduced me around the table several times; it only validated what we’d learned during our Thai culture lessons during orientation week: food unites people here. If this experience has confirmed anything, it is my belief in the value of winging it. Letting these happy accidents occur is what so many over-organised tourist trips to other countries miss — I’m very grateful to have met Daang and enjoy his food as well as his company.

2. Cam B in South Korea: “The friendliness was contagious”

During my second week of my TESOL course in Korea, I met a man named JunHyuk, AKA Simon, at a gym. Back in New Zealand, I was a competitive power-lifter and I am very focused on maintaining my fitness whilst I teach in Asia. Typically in New Zealand, people don’t interact much while training. However, while I was bench pressing, Simon came up to me and asked me to give him advice and help to train him to get stronger.

Cameron came from New Zealand to teach in Asia and found a local gym buddy in Incheon, South Korea.

At first, I was hesitant so I politely told him when I would be back and assumed he wouldn’t follow up. To my surprise, the next day he was in the gym waiting and immediately came up to greet me with a friendly smile and was ready to begin training. I ran him through a beginner power-lifting routine and helped him practice the correct form whilst also helping him take notes to help him become stronger. He was so thankful and willing to learn; the friendliness was contagious and I was happy all day knowing that I will be able to integrate into and enjoy the culture while I’m in South Korea. After we had finished he asked if we could meet again the next Saturday and bring a couple of friends with him.

Although I didn’t feel comfortable training his friends, I have continued to meet up with Simon, helping him improve and work towards his strength goals.

Simon has also begun to help me understand Korean language and customs much better through frequent interactions. Recently, we went out as a small group for a meal and had a very fun time in a different setting and talking about life. When I do find myself back in Incheon or Seoul, I would like to make time to see Simon again. What I have enjoyed most about meeting and getting to know Simon is that I have been able to help a local achieve something rather than simply being part of a language exchange. I have loved learning about the culture through someone who has lived in it their entire life. I now understand that the best way to learn about Korean culture is through meeting new people and learning first hand. I’m looking forward to meeting more locals and learning from them whilst I teach in Asia.

3. Cameron H in Vietnam: “The quest for power”

I decided to go to a café with my laptop to hole myself away until my lesson planning was done. My laptop is ailing and decrepit and it always needs to be plugged in in order to work. I had heard tell of a local café that had plug sockets, free Wi-Fi and reasonably priced coffee. I went early in the morning and nested in the corner beside one of the few functioning sockets. Slowly but surely, I plodded through my assignments, under frequent glances of some amused locals at my makeshift study camp. I assumed they felt some pity as I was there for many hours sat alone forcing myself to wade through cheesy children’s music to find the right song for a lesson plan.

Suddenly the power cut out – and my laptop switched off. My stomach dropped. I prayed to the technology overlords that my work had been saved. Other people may have taken this as a sign I should move, see some sunlight, and take a break… I felt more motivation than ever to stay until my work was done. I packed up my bags, stood up from my chair, and began to seek a new socket. The quest for power had begun.

Many countries in Asia have a big coffee culture and you're sure to find lots of places to relax whilst preparing for your classes.

I scanned the entire café trying to find a new socket. There were some sockets on the floor, but they were too loose to function. There were some multi-use sockets being shared by others, but there was not enough room for my comically large travel adaptor. I stretched above other peoples’ tables to try and use a couple of spare ones, but the lead was too short to reach the nearest free table. The entire time I was getting in everyone’s way, carrying a bag, books and an open laptop around, and moving chairs to see if there were more sockets on the floor. It’s safe to say the locals’ glances had turned into some outright stares, some giggling and some straight-up laughter.

Eventually, I deemed my mission a failure. I sat at an empty table and began to gather my things to leave. At this moment, a pair of Vietnamese men came over and plucked my laptop out of my hands. For a second I thought I may be the victim of the most brazen robbery in history. They spoke very little English so we combined languages with a lot of mime.

The pair split off, one heading in search for any sockets that I may have missed. In the meantime, his friend inquired about what I was doing by pointing at my books. I was able to respond in Vietnamese that I am a teacher, and his face lit up. I then said that I had moved from the UK to teach in Asia and proceeded to use up the few Vietnamese sentences I knew before I ran dry and we resorted back to mime. At this point, his friend returned and gave me a shrug as if to say he had done what he could.

The guy I had been speaking to then went over to where a group of people were sharing a multi-use socket and started asking other locals if anyone had enough charge to let me take one of their places.

Teach in Asia and explore the ecclectic city of Hanoi!

My British sensibilities caused me to be consumed with embarrassment at being the centre of attention and putting out a stranger at the same time. Yet this caused a ripple of conversation where other locals started chatting both to the two men and to me. Not only did someone give up a socket for me, but I was then sat at a table where I had inadvertently caused strangers to talk like old friends. There was a local woman who spoke English and we were able to have more of a chat about Vietnam. I inquired about where she was from – Ho Chi Minh City – and asked about her life. In the end, fate had forced me to take a break away from my work. My quest for power was successful due to the abounding friendliness and helpfulness of the locals. Now my work is finished, I just need to improve my Vietnamese – and get a better computer!

Teach in Asia with XploreAsia!

Do you want to start your own adventure and teach in Asia? We have in-country TESOL courses in Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea and Myanmar. We also offer teacher placement in China and are excited to soon be opening a TESOL and placement package in Costa Rica, Central America!

Catch up with our global family of teachers through Instagram and Facebook and share your stories of cultural immersion in the comments!

Tips for Teachers Working Abroad for the First Time

Tips for Teachers Working Abroad for the First Time

Do's and Don'ts for New ESL Teachers

Nervous about starting your first job as an ESL teacher? Read some top tips from our TESOL instructor.

Hello! My name is CJ Lewis, a TESOL Instructor with XploreAsia. As we welcome a new group of TESOL students to Hua Hin, I thought I would highlight some Do’s and Don’ts for new teachers heading abroad for the first time. Here are my top tips for teachers new to the field of ESL.

First, the Do's!

Here are some tips for teachers looking to make their new lives abroad much easier.
  1. DO arrive to school early. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. Yes, that’s every day. It really shows the school staff that you take your job seriously and they will respect you for that.

2. DO dress for success. You know what they say, clothes make the man/woman. It will give you confidence, show the students that you are a professional teacher, and show the staff that you are ready to go. It’s a win-win for everyone.

3. DO bring a small gift for the principal of your school. It builds rapport, shows appreciation and its just fun to do.

Do you have any other tips for teachers? Let us know in the comments!
CJ's advice this month includes to dress for success.

I have given baseballs, fruit, energy drinks, even a Lebron James jersey (for a principal who REALLY liked Basketball) and it really made the year a smooth one from an administrative standpoint. Plus, some became friends for life.

One of CJ's tips for teachers is to try to learn the native language so you can bond with locals.
Explore the markets to find bargains and make new friends.

4. DO explore the day/night markets. You never know who you will meet, what you will buy, what you will eat, what music will play. Always a fun experience each and every time you go. No matter which country.

5. DO have an understanding of the native language. When out and about, if you try your best to speak their language, the locals will appreciate it. You don’t have to be fluent, but the if you know some vocab it will help locals to get to know you better. There’s a ton of apps out there to help you learn a new language in a fun way. Don’t be shy, give it a try!

Next, the Don'ts!

Here are some things to avoid if you want to make a good start teaching abroad.

1. DON’T be late. Ever. I mean it. Of course, things can happen. Everything is different and new in the country you have been placed. Buses are late, scooters run out of gas, routes get forgotten. Plan for it, make it a goal to always get to work on time and avoid distractions.

2. DON’T just stand in front of the class and give instructions. I like to tell students that the front of the room is “lava” and if they stay in one place for too long they will burn their feet. Move around! Get the students to talk, ask questions. Just don’t stay put. Be active

Do you have any more top tips for teachers? Share some advice in the comments!
Top tips for teachers: staying active can particularly help to keep the engagement of young learners.

3. DON’T speak too fast. This is one of the most important tips for teachers who are not used to teaching ESL. When we’re around our peers, friends, and family, we tend to speak pretty fast. They are native English speakers and they understand what we are saying. That is not the case when you are teaching ESL. You must pace yourself, enunciate, and take your time to convey understanding. It will take patience, practice and experience.

Another of CJ's tips for teachers is not to neglect your social life. Try to grasp every opportunity whilst teaching hing abroad.
You'll always have your XA family to lean on. Don't be afraid to contact us for advice.

4. DON’T say no to a wrong answer or an invite, DON’T say I cant to an opportunity. Be a Yes man! Get out there and see what opportunities your town can offer when given the chance! I never thought I would be into scuba diving and now I go almost every weekend, because of an invite.

5. DON’T become discouraged when things aren’t working. Lean on your new friends, vent to your family back home (Skype!), chat with your favorite street market vendor, and of course, the XploreAsia team are always here to help! Drop us a line if you ever need a helping hand.

To learn more about our programs, head over to our website. To see updates from teachers we’ve already helped find amazing new adventures, follow our Instagram and Facebook pages.

Three Days in Seoul, South Korea

Three Days in Seoul, South Korea

A Trip to One of South Korea's Coolest Cities

Before I started my internship at XploreAsia, I wanted to see more of Asia.  First on my list was Seoul, as South Korea had been on my bucket list for the past few years.  As a girl who loves fashion and makeup, the trends in South Korea have grabbed my attention. I’ll also admit that I’m a bit of a pop culture junkie, and consequently a fan of Korean dramas and K-pop.   After seeing so many beautiful images of South Korea while watching dramas, I couldn’t wait to see this amazing country in person!

Day 1

Before arriving, I was a bit nervous about getting around Seoul as a solo traveler, as I don’t speak any Korean.  As soon as I got to the airport, however, these fears were calmed.  The airport was organized intuitively, and signs in English were everywhere.  As I took my seat on the cleanest train I have ever been on, I felt the joy and peace that comes with traveling to a new country that just feels “right”. 

I made my way to Hongdae, a neighborhood known for its nightlife and hip restaurants and shops.  I quickly found my hostel, and settled in for breakfast.  Soon after, a group of people came down and we started chatting.  I found out they were all teaching English in South Korea, and were here for a holiday weekend.  They were some of the nicest people I have met in my travels, and they were even kind enough to invite me to join them for the day.

South Korea, adventure, new friends, teach abroad

Our first stop was the Korean War Museum, which was one of the most informative, well-curated museums I have ever visited.  Most of the displays contained both Korean and English descriptions, so it was easy to follow along.  The museum also contained striking art pieces, and a section that simulated what it was like to be on the battleground in the Korean War.  For me, the highlight of the visit came when an older man approached me.  He put Korean flags in each of my hands, and told me to strike a pose.  He then took my friend’s phone and began taking what seemed like hundreds of photos.  He came closer and closer to my face, finishing by showing me one of the extreme close-ups and proclaiming “movie star!”

We then headed to lunch at a Korean-Mexican restaurant.  It may sound like a strange combination, but the kimchi burrito I had there was one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. As we ate, my new friends told me about their lives as teachers and how they had all fallen in love with South Korea.  Almost all of them mentioned staying longer than their original one-year contracts and a few were discussing the possibility of staying there for the next 5 years.  They talked about their placements in the city of Busan and smaller towns, the hikes they went on, and their trips to the lovely coast.  Listening to them, it was hard not to be inspired.  I started to think that I might like to teach in South Korea in the future.

South Korea, adventure, teach abroad, XploreAsia

To finish out the evening, we did some shopping and exploring.  One of my favorite things about Seoul was that shops are everywhere, including at train stations.  Walking to your train, you’re bound to see some adorable tops and skirts.  We wandered and browsed the stores, including Western shops like Forever XXI.  Done shopping, we walked down a bustling street filled with street vendors selling everything from meat on a stick to oddly shaped ice creams.  I found myself quickly falling in love with this place.

Day 2

The next day, we grabbed some delicious green tea lattes then headed back out into the city.  Getting on the train, one of the guys I was with had some difficulties with his transit card.  A Korean woman walked him over to the attendant, and stayed with him until it was worked out.  I was shocked by this level of kindness.  Back in Chicago, a similar situation would have most likely resulted in the person in line behind him getting annoyed.  To see a stranger jump in to help without a moment’s hesitation was a pleasant surprise, especially in such a large city. 

In the afternoon, we went to a local park.  I love when cities have both skyscrapers and green spaces, and Seoul fit the bill.  The park was as pristine as I had come to expect from South Korea.  We walked by the water, and headed towards a bridge where there would later be a water show.

As the sun began to set, we made it to what would be my favorite section of the city.  Large flower sculptures sat on the water, with the skyline as a perfect backdrop.  We checked out the nearby buildings, featuring all kinds of restaurants and souvenir shops as we waited for the show to start.

South Korea, adventure, teach abroad, XploreAsia

The show itself, while nice, wasn’t much to see.  However, the night was still great.  Being in this beautiful new place, with these cool new people, was more than enough.

Day 3

South Korea, adventure, teach abroad, XploreAsia

My new group of friends left the next morning, so I spent my last day in Seoul exploring on my own.  After hearing from multiple people that it was a must-see, I made my way to Gyeoungbokgung Palace.  It more than lived up to the hype.  The palace is made up of multiple buildings, all built in a classic style of Korean architecture.  The grounds are a joy to walk around, taking in the beautiful mountain views and peaking in the windows of different buildings.

Done with the palace, I headed to the area of Ewha, which is located near a women’s university and consequently has some amazing shopping.  I browsed shop after shop, and had to be careful as I easily could have maxed out my credit card there!  I purchased some nice sheet masks for about 1 USD each, and received some free samples of perfume.  I stumbled upon one particularly nice clothing shop, and found an adorable button-down skirt.  The shop attendant, who was wearing green colored contacts, asked if I needed any help.  As we made eye contact, she smiled and exclaimed, “Green eyes!  So lucky!”  She showed me a few other cute items, but I ultimately settled on the skirt.  She looked at me, and as if considering, said, “For you, because you are so pretty, 10% off!”  While I’m sure she gives that discount to everyone, it made my day.

I wandered the neighborhood in search of somewhere to get dinner.  I ended up stopping in a cute little diner.  I ordered some bibimbap, a dish consisting of a bowl of rice and veggies topped with a fried egg.  It is both delicious and one of the cheaper meal options available in Seoul.  As I fumbled with my chopsticks, I reflected on how lucky I was to be there.  I had made it to South Korea on my own, and there I was, enjoying a nice meal in this country I wasn’t sure I would ever be fortunate enough to visit.  My only complaint about my trip was that it was much too short.  I vowed to myself that this would not be my last time in South Korea, and to look into teaching there.  I knew I could easily spend years experiencing this amazing place and culture that I had so quickly fallen in love with.

Gyeoungbokgung Palace, South Korea, adventure, teach abroad, XploreAsia

Gyeoungbokgung Palace

Mary Leonard is an intern at XploreAsia.  You can follow her adventures in Thailand on her blog, Wide Eyes and Wanderlust

Teach in South Korea: Erin’s Experience

Teach in South Korea: Erin’s Experience

Erin Haubrich tell us what she has learned after deciding to teach in South Korea.

Teach in South Korea! Teaching abroad can be a huge challenge. Not only do you teach your students, but you also embark on a voyage of self-discovery, giving you a new bank of skills and uncovering talents you never knew you had. When Erin graduated fro her TESOL course, she decided to teach in South Korea and found exactly that. Learn about Erin’s experiences of teaching and learning below. If you’re inspired to take the plunge abroad like Erin, check out our TESOL courses which all come with a cultural orientation week to get you feeling confident in your home-from-home on day one.

“I am moving to South Korea to teach English.”

Most people were shocked when I told them. To be fair, I had only really mentioned about living abroad for a few months previously and never really knew when, where, or how I wanted to go. I had just completed my business degree and was now talking about moving across the world to teach English. So when, on a Friday evening in July of 2015 I had made the life-altering decision, this was the reaction I got.

Erin was excited to be in her new home.

My first day in South Korea at the EPIK Orientation (February 2016).

Teaching

During the EPIK orientation in February, I heard it was most likely I would be placed in an elementary school. However, on the fateful day when we received our contracts I read: Eoram Middle School. I was to be the only staff member to teach all 24 classes in the school (nearly 900 students), each once a week—with no prior teaching experience.

To say this was overwhelming would be an understatement. Even with a TESOL course and orientation under my belt, there was no way to anticipate how I would feel standing in front of a room full of middle-school aged children and attempting to teach them English. In spite of everything, even by the end of the first week, it felt right.

Each day and week brought something new. Some classes I walked away feeling great because a new game grabbed their attention, a shy kid was able to speak in front of the class, or I was able to make a joke that everyone understood. However, after other classes I walked away feeling defeated because troublemakers acted out, a lesson that worked with other classes failed miserably, or I was frustrated that I couldn’t get their undivided attention.

South Korea is an incredible place to teach abroad with lots of opportunities to learn and get involved in new activities.

Eoram Middle School

Teach in South Korea and experience a different education system.

My English Classroom

Never Alone

Every fellow English teacher I have spoken to has bad days (they happen) but we never go through it alone. There are plenty of groups online to share stories, connect teachers and source advice from those who teach in South Korea with more experience. These groups have been a huge support and a great resource for gathering lesson content and feedback on what works in the classroom.

Learn to teach in South Korea and get advice from fellow native English teachers.

Some of the close friends I’ve made in Korea, fellow EPIK teachers. (Left to Right) Myself, Caitlin Brown, Erin Karp, Grace Taylor.

There are also co-teachers and school staff that ease the burden in the classroom. I work with four different Korean English teachers and my experience with each of them has forced me to overcome personal shortcomings. Teaching with them is showing me how to be vocal about what I need, to be confident in my abilities, and to be a leader in the classroom.

Erin also made friends with her local teachers.

Dinner with my Korean English teachers.

Is it Worth Trying to Teach in South Korea?

As personally challenging as it is to teach in South Korea with no prior experience, the students make it more than worthwhile. It would be impossible not to fall in love with the kids in this country. On my first day at my school, I remember being showered with bows and “I love you teacher” in Korean (a very quick way to a teacher’s heart).

During the first month of teaching, the kids’ curiosity was entertaining. After the honeymoon phase wore off, my days were still made great by the moments in which I got to help my students one-on-one. Whether it was helping with how to pronounce a word, or building a sentence, or explaining a game, it’s heart-warming to see their progress. The look of accomplishment on their faces when they understood put a smile on my face too. By the end of the school’s first semester, I had regular visitors to my classroom at breaks and lunchtime, even if only to pop in and say “Hello Teacher!!”

Teach in south Korea and discover new possibilities.
Erin's pictures from her middle school trip.
Erin has been able to bond with her students.
Eoram Middle School Grade 3 Field Trip to City Hall and Deoksugung Palace, Seoul.

Lessons I Learned After Coming to Teach in South Korea

If you’d asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up when I was younger, my answer was always one thing: a teacher. So, in some respects my drastic decision made sense. I loved to learn and I loved to teach others—in any capacity. Although teaching English abroad may not be something I will do forever it has been a catalyst for personal growth, improving communication skills, and a deeper understanding of the world.

Lesson 1

Moving to a foreign country and into a new job on my own pushed me entirely out of my comfort zone. Growing up things came easy to me; I was good at school and dance and I always excelled at work. But teaching English isn’t easy and isn’t something I am naturally good at. Let me rephrase: I don’t feel naturally good at it. Work is challenging and tests me everyday but I know it is making me a stronger person. It is showing me how to be compassionate, a good listener, patient, and confident. Teaching demands these qualities and therefore has made me grow.

When you teach in South Korea, you can explore the countryside as well as the cities and find hidden gems other visitors might miss.

Ganghwado Island

Teach in South Korea and EXPERIENCE South Korea like a local not a tourist.

Seoraksan National Park

Lesson 2

Teaching in Korea has taught me a great deal about communication. Being immersed in a different language has taught me to observe. I have had moments where I feel illiterate; I don’t understand any written word and rely entirely on facial expressions and gestures. I have had moments where I feel deaf because I don’t understand anything being said and resort to sign language or fear trying at all.

Communication takes patience and my experience in Korea has improved how I communicate with my friends, family, co-workers, and students. I now know how difficult it is to learn a language and how intimidating it can be to try and for this reason I respect my students even more.

Erin's decision to teach in South Korea has made her develop her character as well as her teaching skills.

Gamcheon Cultural Village, Busan

What adventures are waiting for you when you teach abroad?

Seogwipo, Jeju Island

Lesson 3

Living abroad has made me see the world in a new light. The moment I opened my mind to Korea’s culture, lifestyle, and community, I realized just how diverse the world is. We don’t all live with the same experiences, in the same circumstance, or with the same opportunities. Even in my students I see the range of ability, work ethic, and opportunities that affect their academic achievements. I meet fellow expats who teach in South Korea who all have unique pasts, but share the same drive to explore the world and themselves. I have learned to be more accepting of difference and things I don’t yet understand.

Teach in South Korea and explore the country with new friends!

(Left to Right: David McDonald, Caitlin Brown, Grace Taylor, myself) In Busan for holidays.

Meet people from all around the world when you teach abroad.

Emeline Marrier d’Unienville and myself in Sokcho.

Why teach in South Korea?

Because it is important to experience new cultures, to not only learn about others but about yourself.

Why teach English?

Because education matters and by being a teacher I can be a positive influence for the next generation.

What did you think of Erin’s honest account of her experiences in ESL teaching? You can follow Erin’s adventures by reading her personal blog. If you’d like to teach in South Korea, check out our in-country training program that will give you the tools to teach like a pro. Head over to our Instagram and Facebook pages to see what all of our teachers across the world are up to!

Teach South Korea – A Unique Experience

Teach South Korea – A Unique Experience

Why Teach South Korea?

Teaching abroad can be a great chance to be immersed in a nation and culture different from your own, and South Korea is a great place to do so. In addition to great benefits including a great salary and free accommodation, it provides an opportunity to experience one of Asia’s most unique cultures.

 

teach south koreaSouth Korea is a modern, thriving nation built on a mixture of contemporary consumerism and traditional Confucianism underpinned by a strong sense of national identity. One of the most westernized countries in Asia, South Korea stands apart from many of its neighbors in its shedding of historic Chinese influence (though it still maintains a strong presence). From the cuisine to the technology, the many facets of culture are at once uniquely Korean and drawing from influence around the world. The energetic country has a lot to offer for almost any taste and mindset.

 

There is a popular folk song in South Korea called Arirang, pervasive to the point where it’s considered the nation’s unofficial national anthem. The song has stayed with Koreans for a long time due to its malleable form, in which the singer can add his or her own words to make it into their own unique expression. In 2012, it was added to UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, in which they write of its flexibility: “The verses which are sung in connection with this chorus range through the whole field of legend, folklore, lullabies, drinking songs, domestic life, travel and love.” The culture of South Korea, in many ways, follows suit; Koreans have adapted many of their traditions to their new modernized, industrialized nation, keeping up with the world while maintaining their own unique identity.

Teach South Korea: The Food

teach south koreaThis tendency is, perhaps, most apparent in their cuisine. While Seoul and other major urban areas offer a host of world-class international restaurants (along with plenty of casual chains), Korean cuisine is a major attraction in and of itself. The fundamental dish to all South Korean meals is kimchi, a spiced fermented cabbage that’s become a national icon due to its immense popularity in the country. Many foreigners come to love the unique taste, while others are turned off by its strong flavor. Regardless, Korean food has a lot of variety; traditionally, all dishes in a Korean meal are served at once and there are generally a generous amount of side dishes. Whether it’s bulgogi, a dish of grilled marinated beef cooked in front of you or bibimbap, a mixed vegetable, egg, meat and rice bowl, there are a great many fantastic Korean foods to try. Places like Seoul’s Gwanjang Market, hosting over 200 food stalls, are great venues to try out all that South Korean cuisine has to offer.

Teach South Korea: The History

Mixed into South Korea’s contemporary cities are vestiges of history, like Gyeongbokgung Palace and Changdeokgung Palace which are both located in Seoul, the first two of the Five Grand Palaces built during the Joseon Dynasty. There are also less grandiose offerings of Korean tradition; Hanok coffee shops are located throughout Seoul, small cafes built in the elegant style of traditional Korean architecture. Of course, South Korea features impressive modern architecture as well, like the N Seoul Tower. Sitting on Namsan Mountain, the tower is the highest point in Seoul and stands as a shining beacon over the city at night.

 

teach south koreaSeoul is the first city that comes to mind for most foreigners that think of South Korea, but the country has a lot to offer. The port city of Busan is nestled between mountains and the coast and offers fish markets to stroll through, high-end cafes and tent bars to lounge at and a great many opportunities to hike and see Buddhist temples. For those interested in history, the city of Gyeongju will hold a great deal of interest; known as ‘the museum without walls,’ Gyeongju has more temples, pagodas, tombs, burial mounds and various ruins from South Korea’s middle ages than anywhere else in the nation.

Teach South Korea: Xplore

teach south koreaThere are many places to see throughout South Korea; wherever you are, the country teems with history and possibilities to be discovered and explored. There are few ways to see the country so completely or in as meaningful a capacity than as a teacher. Getting the chance to educate in this growing nation is a wonderful experience where you’ll meet countless new and friendly people, see locales you’d never dream of, and make a real impact in one of Asia’s proudest nations.

If you’re interested in teach abroad, perhaps South Korea is already on your list.  Head over to our South Korea page for more information on how you can get started!

 

11822575_10153619730912994_2945524493077268783_nDavid has recently returned to the States after his internship with XploreAsia.  David formed an invaluable part of the research/writing team that you will be seeing a lot more of in future.  Currently studying at DePaul University, David hopes to further his career in writing.

 

 

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