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Korea's Lessons

By: Erin Haubrich

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

Most were shocked when I told them. To be fair, I had only really mentioned about living abroad for a few months 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.

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, the fateful day we received our contracts I read: Eoram Middle School. I was now 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, 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.

Eoram Middle School

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. Groups online were quickly formed to share stories and advice among foreign English teachers. These groups have been a huge support and a great resource for lesson content and feedback on what works in the classroom.

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.

Dinner with my Korean English teachers.

Worth It

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

The first month of teaching, the kid’s curiosity was entertaining. After the honeymoon phase wore off my days were made great by the moments I got to help students one-on-one: whether it was how to pronounce a word or help repeat a sentence, or explain a game. The look of accomplishment on their faces when they understood put a smile on my face. 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!!”

Eoram Middle School Grade 3 Field Trip to City Hall and Deoksugung Palace, Seoul.

Korea’s Lessons

When I was young, if you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up 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 continue doing 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.

Ganghwado Island

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.

Gamcheon Cultural Village, Busan

Seogwipo, Jeju Island

Lesson 3

Now living abroad I see the world in a new light. The moment I opened myself to Korea’s culture, lifestyle, and community I realized just how diverse the world is. We don’t all live with the same privilege, in the same circumstance, or with the same opportunities. Even in my students I see the range of ability, work ethic, and opportunities to live abroad affecting their school achievements. I meet fellow teachers and expats with equally challenging and unique pasts but all with 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.

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

Emeline Marrier d’Unienville and myself in Sokcho.

Why?

I think I am in Korea to be a role model for my students. With my experience and privilege, I can teach them to have compassion for others, to be curious about the world, and to believe in themselves. So,

Why 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.

This experience has changed everything, in the best ways possible.

To be kept up to date with Erin on her travels head on over to her personal blog:

www.eatlovetravel.ca

For more information on the Teach South Korea program follow the link below!

Teach in South Korea

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