Q&A: Teaching in South Korea

Former study abroad student Missy Muser has returned to South Korea to teach English after recently graduating from EIU in 2013. Read on to find out more about what it is like to live and work in another country! Missy Abroad

1. You loved South Korea so much that you just had to return! What is the best part about teaching in South Korea?
One of my favorite things about Korea is how friendly people are.  Every time I’ve been lost (which will happen at some point any time you travel) someone was always willing to help.  Half the time, I didn’t even have to ask.  They just saw my look of complete panic or distress and would try to help.  Another fun thing about Korea is that it is different from the States.  You really do get to experience a culture that is different from your own.

2. Teaching abroad can be quite different than studying abroad. What was the most difficult part in adjusting to your new job?
Teaching and studying abroad are very different.  I studied abroad in Korea just for the summer so it felt almost like a holiday.  It was easy to meet people through the program or on campus.  I still find it fairly easy to meet people because other foreigners are often in the same situation as you are, and many Koreans are intrigued by foreigners.  I don’t know how many random conversations I’ve had walking down the street or waiting for a bus or train.  Obviously, they aren’t always lasting friendships, but not everyone you meet back home would be either.  The major difference is the amount of free time; full time jobs are serious work.  Just writing this makes me miss the flexibility of university life.  I’m a little outside of Seoul and work until 9 pm so during the week I can’t do as much.  The weekends are where travelling and meeting new people really comes into play.  Or meeting up with those awesome people I’ve connected with that sadly don’t live right in my area.  Public transport is easy and affordable here thankfully.

3. How prepared were you when beginning this new job, and what do you think could have helped prepare you even more?
I did not go to school even remotely for teaching English so I took an online TEFL course to help feel a little more prepared for the actual job aspect.  For the day-to-day living, I studied abroad first so I could get an idea of Korean living.  On a personal level, I felt very prepared to live abroad and to take the leap away from family and friends.  Technology makes it easy to keep in contact and a year goes by quickly.  If anything, I loved the challenge of being forced to be completely independent.  I knew I could handle living abroad on my own, so I was more worried about actually teaching.  I was nervous the first few days, as everyone is at a new job, but it becomes routine quickly and you learn all the ins and outs fast.

Missy Abroad2

4. What is it like teaching in a South Korean school?
Korean schools can vary.  There are public schools which offer more vacation and can be a little more secure, and then there are Hogwans (private schools) that are easier to get a job in but you do want to pay close attention to your contract and to try to make sure your school is a good school.  If there is already a foreign teacher at that school, try to get as much information from them as you can. Also, manners are quite different in Korea compared to the US.  Try to be as respectful as you can and your boss or co-teachers might give you some hints towards how to act.  Just be polite and they usually understand you have different ideas of what manners are.

5. What is it like where you are living?
Now I’ll be honest… I don’t absolutely love the town I live in.  It’s pretty grey and there isn’t a lot of nature incorporated through the city.  But it is easy for me to travel into Seoul which I do like.  I also wanted to be near the town I studied abroad at so I could visit friends and walk down nostalgia lane. All cities surrounding Seoul seem to have plenty of coffee shops, food joints, bars, buses, and are usually close to some form of outdoor trail or hiking area.

6. What do you do in your free time when you are not teaching?
I enjoy hiking and reading a lot.   I can easily spend a good majority of my time doing either of those.  Korea does have a lot of baby mountains and they are fairly big into hiking.  Sometimes it can be more stairs than trail, but it’s still beautiful and a great way to spend the time. There are also a lot of groups that do hiking trips, kayaking, ultimate frisbee, language exchanges, etc through social media networks.  Awesome way to meet people who have similar interests as you. Also, you get to meet people from all over the world.  I love being in a group and being able to listen to all the different accents or languages. And, of course, there’s always food.  Now some food you will miss with a fierce sort of ache.  Normal tacos or a killer homemade sandwich would be glorious at the moment, but there’s so much food to be had here.  They have restaurants everywhere and a wide range of types of food.  My first time trying Vietnamese, South African, or Nepalese food were all here.  And they were all delicious.  They have cheap street food you can get for a dollar or Korean barbecue for maybe 7. Again, the public transport is simple and cheap so it makes it possible to travel around and see new areas.

Missy Hiking

7. ​What advice do you have for other EIU students that are considering teaching abroad?
Do it!  Seriously, just go for it.  You learn so much about yourself and about others.  It’s a great chance to earn money, travel around, make friends with people you may never meet otherwise, and, if you are an actual teacher, you get the added bonus of experience.  Even those, like myself, who have no future plans of being a teacher, the experience here has still taught me a lot of skills that will be beneficial to any future jobs.  The Internet makes it so easy to keep in touch with those that matter back home.  Also, if they matter, they will still be there a year or more from now.  It’s a great way to get into the travelling mindset.  I’m already making plans for a year in New Zealand, a month in Europe, a summer in Alaska, moving west coast in the States, looking into programs in South America… and so forth.

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