A good friend recently pointed out how sick he was of our blog. He said that all we do is gush about how awesome our lives are, while making him jealous with our wonderful photos. It’s true, we do gush. Because we truly do love our lives right now. We are exactly where we want to be.
However, I understand his point and thought that I could bring the blog down to earth by outlining some of the not-so-magical aspects of teaching English in Korea. This by no means brings this experience down from the pedestal we’ve placed it on, but it may give a more realistic account of our day to day lives, without all the pretty pictures and superlatives.
So here you have the realities of teaching English in Korea.
One of the reasons we chose South Korea over places like China or Japan, was that we had heard it was a place that you could really settle in and feel at home. We really have felt accepted and befriended, by our co workers and even random strangers. And we feel very much at home here, which we have heard is hard to feel in other places where the culture is so very different and the people are a little more foreigner-shy. However, while sitting down to eat at lunch amidst a sea of Korean faces and sitting at our desks in silence while everyone else converses in Korea, you cannot help but feel like an outsider. This is not so much a negative as it is a simple reality. Hopefully as we learn more and more Korean, this will become less and less true.
Korean surprises in all their frustrating glory.
In this job, about 85% of the time, you will have no idea what the heck is going on. I have a feeling that I have had classes cancelled as often as I have taught them. You will go to school all prepared for your awesome new lesson and be told that the 5th grade have a medical test, and then on the other hand you will come to school prepared for a day of desk warming and find that the 6th grade are no longer practicing for the school performance and you have to teach them in 10 minutes. You learn to get used to this last minute culture pretty fast though, and more often than not you can tell that such schedule changes are as much a surprise to your colleagues as they are to you. It sure keeps you on your toes!
Korean surprises often lead to the big D
Desk warming. Both a killer and a blessing, depending on how you look at it, this wonderful teacher activity basically refers to the time that you don’t spend teaching, i.e. at your desk. This time is great to spend on lesson planning, Powerpoint making and researching how best to get 12 year old boys to listen to you. However, over time you will quickly become a PPT master and finish all your lesson related chores in just a few hours. Many people hate it, others are ballsy enough to take the time to really make their desks warm by sleeping on them and then others are superhuman enough to find motivation to complete Masters programs during this time. The reality is that you will be doing it a lot, so you better find your own way of trying to be productive so as not to end up doing nothing. Although I prefer the active teaching time, I enjoy having time to really plan lessons and not have to take home work with me.
The kids won’t immediately worship you.
We were lead to believe, in orientation and general word of mouth, that on arrival at our school we would be greeted by a sea of instantly adoring, cute as hell kids who constantly give you gifts and smiles and compliments spoken in perfect English. In reality, they may be fascinated for about a week and then realise that you are just another foreigner who will make them do reading and writing activities and not play games every lesson. This is, thankfully, not true of first grade kids who I think will adore me until the day I leave! Their hugs and high fives on the way to lunch each day make my heart happy.
If you are reading this as a prospective English teacher, don’t worry. I have a feeling I am about to come out of the other side of the U shaped curve of motivation as the kids are starting to respect me and my ‘sometimes-but-not-always-fun’ lessons.
And the biggest downside of them all…
We are thousands of miles from home, or 5,605 to be exact, and it sucks to be away from our friends and family. We try and speak to them at least once a week but it isn’t the same as chatting to your mum as she gets ready for work or a quick cup of tea with friends or a home cooked meal by grandma. We miss you guys!
Every job has it’s downsides which, if you are lucky, won’t take away from the highlights and being an English teacher in Korea is thankfully brimming with positive points. From the joy of actually getting through to your students, to having ribs and fried chicken for school lunch, to having time to email family and write blog posts, to the wonderful pay and free housing, to special new friends, to the ease of travel and the kindness of Korean people- if you are at all interested in teaching or in living abroad, this experience is absolutely wonderful.
Woops I gushed again.
Do you have experience teaching in Korea and have something to add? Or do you teach elsewhere and have had similar experiences? Talk to us in the comments below!
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