For some reason I’ve always been drawn to moving to Korea to teach English. I first heard of the idea when I was perusing Pinterest during one of my boring classes in university (c’mon don’t lie, you do it too!). I stumbled upon a blog, That Backpacker, where the author had moved to Korea right after her undergrad to teach for a year. Her blog talked about all the adventures she had had whilst living there, the amazing work she was doing, and as a huge perk, all the money she had been able to save during her time there. This seemed like a dream come true! I mean, who wouldn’t want to live abroad, have a fun job and make tons of cash?! And so began my eager research into the world of teaching ESL abroad.
Fast forward two years and here I am, living my dream of teaching in Korea. I’ve been here for about 3 months now, and I won’t lie, it’s been a hell of a ride. I’ve had some major ups and downs, my thoughts going from “OMG this is the greatest thing I’ve ever done!” to “I just want to go home and hug my mom.” all in one day. That said, I’ve found these past few weeks that I’m getting used to my life here more and more and that my thoughts usually float around the “This is the best decision I’ve ever made!” mark.
So what’s my job really like here in Korea? This is the question I get most often from friends and family back home, and the one I’ve taken the longest to answer since I really didn’t know how I felt about it when I first started. I read so many things online before coming here, ranging from stories of euphoria to people making it sound like hell. So I really had no idea what to expect in my small town of Hwasun.
Keep in mind that everything I write is strictly based on my own experiences. If you are reading this as a prospective ESL teacher I am sorry to tell you that your experience may be quite different from mine. It all depends. On your school. Your colleagues. Your students. Your apartment. Everything.
Since I didn’t really know much about the Jeollanamdo Language Program (JLP – this is a recruitment process similar to EPIK – find out more about it here) or Jeollanamdo province, I really had no idea where I wanted to live. Since Jordon and I had originally wanted to live in Seoul, we opted to try to get a placement in Jeollanamdo Province’s larger cities: Suncheon, Mokpo and Yeosu. Honestly, now that we’ve been living in Hwasun for about 3 months I am so thankful that we were placed here, and even more so that we decided not to live in Seoul. Korean cities are just not somewhere I would want to live and I am much happier living in the country. That said, our little town is quite close to Gwangju, Korea’s 6th largest city, meaning we really have the best of both worlds here.
I had originally requested a placement in an elementary school, but now that I am here I see that my placement in a middle school was a blessing in disguise. Students are young enough to still have lots of energy and have fun in class, but are old enough to have quite a high level of English and can follow rules/directions. That said, compared to most schools in the province mine is very large – it has around 900 students for only 3 grades (grades 7, 8, 9)!! Since I teach all of them it’s been quite a nightmare to remember their names (3 months in and I only remember the names of about 15 students). As for my colleagues, lots of students means lots of teachers and school administrators. This has inevitably made it hard to get to know everyone, but I sit with the third grade teachers and everyone has been so nice! Though it can be hard to communicate at times since only a handful can speak fluent English, they try to include me in all of their activities, from after-school dinners to inviting me to their wedding (seriously!).
In terms of the teachers I actively teach with (i.e. co-teachers), they have all been fantastic! I basically have free reign with activities in class so long as the content follows the textbook provided by the school. My co-teachers are great at helping with classroom management, translating when needed, helping me with games and giving me feedback (which I so deeply desire since I have no previous teaching experience!).
P.S. Other than 1 native Chinese teacher I am the only foreigner at my school which is great since I feel like I am fully integrated into Korean culture, but it can get lonely at times since it can be hard to communicate.
Ahhhh my school schedule. What an enigma. I honestly feel sorry for the teachers that are putting it together on a daily basis since it’s, shall we say, “dynamic”… By this I mean that it changes on a daily basis, sometime 2 or 3 times (or more!) in the course of one day. This means that I have developed a great knack for thinking on me feet since I never know what they’ll throw at me.
Here’s an example of my schedule on a typical week:
It’s a good thing that I was already a super organized person before I came to Korea! However, now that I’ve gotten used to the rhythm of things here I really don’t mind the “dynamic” aspect of the schedule – it keeps things interesting! But not gonna lie, it threw me in for a loop when I first got here!
In terms of teaching hours, I usually teach 24 hours per week / 4 hours per day. 20 of those hours are regular classes, 2 are for English Conversation Club and 2 are for Teacher Workshops. The rest of the time I am either planning future lessons or recovering from a particularly draining class. I get to school at 8:30 AM and leave at 5 PM meaning I normally have about 4 hours of ‘down time’ during the day.
If you want to apply to JLP, you can find the information here.
Are you thinking of applying to teach English in Korea?
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