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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!