What are your thoughts on Living in Korea?
Absolutely love it here! Of course, it is a little different for me since I spent three years here in the early 70's. But, this is the first time for my wife, and she is enjoying living here as much as I am. We were fortunate enough to be assigned to a very rural area in the central mountains which we just love, although we are somewhat isolated. Knowing how to read hangul and having a little basic Korean language helps a lot.
This is a very different Korea from the one I knew, but in many other ways still the same. Our first three months have been full of fascinating new things, although we may yet go through some culture shock. We eat in the school cafeteria for lunch and dinner most days, so we get a lot of real Korean food which we love.
The Korean people are so very kind. The culture is rich and diverse - more than one can possibly take in during a year or two. We can travel fairly easily and have been to Seoul more often than we really wanted, but have explored a little of our area. There is something here for everyone, whatever one's interests are.
I would say, though, that living here, traveling, and entertainment are not quite as inexpensive as we'd been led to believe, and not as cheap as when I was here before, even adjusting for inflation. Especially with the fluctuating, mainly declining, value of the Korean Won, this is difficult to calculate. If one were paid in U.S. Dollars, I suppose it is getting cheaper. But, the economic downturn is really hurting Korea.
What are some of your thoughts about teaching in Korea, and your school?
Teaching is hard work! I suppose each assignment is different, but it is a lot more than just coming to class and engaging students in casual conversation or playing games. If I hadn't had some actual teaching experience and at least a little ESL experience, too, I'd be totally in over my head! Languages and grammar are my interests which helps. I really wish I had more training in ESL! Of course, we are in a private middle/high school, so things are a little more structured. Our main frustration is that we have to use curriculum materials that are totally inappropriate for ESL! As good as the administration and staff are, they have no training in ESL and the program is not well designed from and ESL point. So, we are struggling to supplement where we can, and teach some English in spite of the limitations. We are really helpless to make any changes.
We are also at a rural boarding school, so we live on campus with the students and faculty. We end up putting in a lot more time in preparation and other activities. But, we have the greatest staff to work with, and we love the students. We'll be saying good-bye to some of them in a few days as this school year ends.
The other biggest frustration is the different style of communication. To our way of thinking, it is a lack of communication. We tried to get information on our teaching assignment before we arrived, but could not get an job description of any kind. As a Christian school, there are more codes and rules of conducts, but, not only could we not get a copy of this before we arrived, but we still do not have one. Trying to figure out all of the unexpressed expectations can be tricky. The truth is, it came as a complete surprise to us when we arrived that we would not be teaching in the large city of Bucheon, but were being assigned to teach at this rural location the first year for the school's new remote campus. Fortunately, we are thrilled to be here rather than in the city, but would have been a problem for most of the new teachers who were hired at the same time we were. We have no idea what to expect for the next two months before regular classes start in March, except that we will be here for two sessions of winter language camps.
Would you recommend:
1) Teach ESL Korea as a reliable recruiting company TEK people have been the best! Everyone was positive and encouraging along the way. As an older couple, we knew that it might be difficult to find a position. As it has turned out, this is exactly the ideal situation for us! I think that this was the first time TESLK had placed teachers with this school, and I know that Jane, our wonderful Korean point person, had made several personal visits to the school. She, Dan, Aggie, and Dawn all worked together as a team to get us through the process and into this great location. The visa application process was long with delays, but they held us steady. I can't imagine having to go through this process without experienced, caring people to guide the way.
Share any advice, experiences, or tips with future teachers:
2) Your school, as a reliable place to work Other than the communication issues mentioned above, which are in large part cultural differences, this is a very satisfying assignment. The curriculum issue is also a concern. But, we have been treated extremely well, with great living accomodations, good salary, and wonderful co-workers. One needs to be aware, however, that this is a very conservative Christian schools and there are several doctrinal statements that one is expected to sign. Also, some of the teachers are teaching subjects other than ESL, though their recruitment process may have been different. For someone who wants to teach in a conservative Christian environment, this is a great school.
3) Coming to Korea to teach for a year - While I can't say this is the right experience for everyone, I would definitely recommend teaching and living here as one of the most enriching experiences one can have. I know that it had a profound effect on me as a young man, and is again making a huge impact on my life. The Koreans are engaging people with a culture that is a fusion of the traditional Asian way of life and the modern global techno-culture. If one makes the effort to engage the culture while one is here, there is much to be gained. The truth is, we will likely be staying for several years. There are a lot of expatriots here who have stayed longer than they ever thought.
Think carefully about the financial aspect of doing this. With the falling value of the Korean Won, working here is not the financial dream that it was a year ago. That 2,000,000 won salary is now worth about $1,400 USD, sometimes less!
Start the process early! Visas approvals often take longer than the two weeks you may have heard about. Be patient and flexible.
Don't try to do this on your own. You need TEK in your corner!
That is the number one piece of advice. The number two piece of advice is to insist on having a personal contact with someone who is already teaching at the school you're applying for. This is the best way to get the kind of insider information that will help you prepare for living and teaching here.
In fact, talk to as many people as you can who are here or who have been here. But, remember that some of what you here is better than other things, so evaluate carefully. I could make a list of things that were different from what I'd been led to believe.
Before you come, learn as much as you can about Korea, its history and culture.
Although there are a lot of English teachers here, and other expats, don't immerse yourself in the expat sub-culture. One could live a pretty insulated life here, especially if one is one a large city, and miss the opportunity to experience the culture. Make Korean friends to hang out with, eat the food, travel, learn.
Learn some Korean early. Even a few words and phrases will go a long way. If you are where you can take classes, do so. The Korean writing system is very elegant and actually quite easy to pick up, and will be helpful even if one doesn't understand the language. Place names, etc. will become more intelligible.
Be flexible! Having lived cross-culturally in several settings, this was the first piece of advice that we gave anyone who was coming for a short or long term. Communication styles are different here. Expectations may not always be clearly communicated, and things are just - different! You'll have to make a lot of adjustments along the way, and may have to have a high frustration tolerance level in some areas.
Bring little things that remind you of home. We're enjoying some of our favorite Christmas ornaments, for instance. (I have more packing suggestions, but I'm already pretty long-winded here). Use technology to keep in touch video calls, Facebook, etc. It really helps. Our students really enjoyed a video call with our oldest daughter, so it can be a great learning tool as well.
Be prepared to get hooked on Korea! It happens more often than not. I'll guarantee that you'll never be the same or look at the world the same way agin.