My Time in Korea

10603712_10204064881239567_1469052206379522160_nAfter posting some pictures from Korea recently, I received a lot of questions about my time there. I answered some of them here and there, but I wanted to try and address a lot of the questions and share a bit about a 2 year period of my life that totally changed me. I never really knew what anyone meant when they said that an experience changed them for the better, until I moved to Korea.

I am the first to admit that I did complain quite a bit while there, and living in Korea definitely had its share of ups and downs. Looking back on it now, it was easily one of the best experiences of my life. I will start off with a few questions and share some more photos. I don’t want to cover too much, because we could be here forever! So, I will just scratch the surface and focus mainly on teaching there.

How long did you live/teach in Korea?
I lived and taught in Korea for 2 years: from September 2012-September 2014. My first contract was from 2012-2013 and then 2013-2014.

What kind of school did you teach in? Did the students or staff speak English?
I taught in a public school, so I was employed by the Korean government. Korea has different forms of schooling: public and private. I worked in a public school and I was the only foreign teacher. Basically, I was the only non-Korean teacher in my entire school.
The English levels varied, but most people that worked in my school did not speak English.

Did you teach alone? How did you teach English? 
I worked with Korean co-teachers, and most foreign teachers only had one or two co-teachers. My school was a bit of an exception because it was so large. I had 5-6 co-teachers and they changed out every semester/year.

What grades did you teach and how many students did you have?
I taught 3rd-6th grade. Because my school was so large, I only saw two grades every week. So, I taught 3rd & 6th grade one week, and 4th& 5th the following week. I taught about 22 classes a week. Between the 4 different grades, I saw about 1,100 students. Again, my school was the exception because it was SO big.

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I teach middle school here. What was it like teaching there? 
After having spent the last year working in schools in the USA, I have to say, it is very different. The teacher to student relationship is very different and the level of respect is night and day. After getting used to teaching students there, I got used to their “bad behavior” and frowned upon it from time to time. However, they are much more disciplined, more respectful, and it’s just a very different feel in the classroom. In the two years I was there, I became very close with my students. It’s different in the sense that, hanging out with students isn’t weird. Students had my phone number and would text me, I would go to restaurants with them from time to time or get ice cream with them. When I walked to school, I would walk with a bunch of my students.

I always see you post pictures of you with students in the classroom…. was that considered weird?
This goes back and forth, but not like it would be here. Koreans are very addicted to cell phones and my teachers would answer their phones a lot in class. Students were not allowed to have them, and they would have them taken away. However, every single student I knew had a phone, even first graders. I think there were more photos taken in my classes because it was a special sort of circumstance, because I was foreign and would not be returning. I did selfie with my students a LOT and they would take photos of me all the time. You get used to it….. kind of.

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What were classes like there? Was English similar to how it is here?
The answer to that is: NOT AT ALL. Korean public schools had a very set curriculum when it came to teaching English, so many schools within the same city used the same book or an almost similar one. However, my co-teachers and I would make lessons similar to what the students needed to learn, but we would add in our own materials. I felt that the curriculum was sometimes dated, and students would learn phrases we never really spoke about. After teaching for a few months, I came to realize that my students would learn more outside of the book. I taught them a lot about American culture, holidays, American school life, etc. That was when they were most excited, as a lot of my students had this dream of going to the states at some point.

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Did you celebrate holidays there or did you have vacations (I know you have traveled quite extensively)? 
We did have vacations, but they were Korean holidays, which is understandable. So, the first year definitely took some getting used to, as I worked on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Fourth of July, etc. Their winter breaks are much longer than their summer breaks, so a bulk of my traveling was done in the winter. I did have vacation days, which I had to take during designated times that school was not in session. It is nothing like it is here, subs do not exist in the Korean education system.
My students loved Halloween and it was not celebrated there at all unless I celebrated it with them. So, I would dress up to encourage them to dress up as well. We would decorate both of our classrooms, buy candy, do face painting. It was really such a great experience. I celebrated all of the major holidays with them and I taught them about basically every holiday that existed. We had Christmas parties, made Valentine’s Day cards, had Halloween parties, learned about St. Patrick’s Day (clean version), celebrated the Fourth of July. I really tried to teach them about anything that I thought they would find fun.

Was it hard adjusting? How was the language barrier? 
So, I lived in Incheon, which is outside of Seoul. It is the third largest city in Korea and has a population slightly larger than Chicago. People spoke English here and there, but I learned Korean as a survival mechanism. I learned Hangul (the Korean alphabet) and thus could read and write it. Once I learned that, it made almost everything much easier. I rode buses, could eat at virtually any restaurant, but it was still tough. Looking back, I wish I had tried to learn more, in order to communicate more. My friends and I used to pantomime things out a lot.
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This was the view from my apartment window. Although my apartment was definitely small (my bathroom was across from my kitchen), I did live on the 15th floor and had amazing views. My building also had a rooftop with some gorgeous panoramic views of Incheon.

I really do not want to overwhelm everyone, so I will just do a few more questions.

What was your daily life like? What did you do for fun? 
I was quite active. I was usually meeting up with people, teaching English after school, exploring new places/cafes, or just hanging out. I found myself to have a more active social life in Korea, versus my life here. I volunteered once a month at an orphanage, my friends and I traveled to Seoul a lot, and we drank quite often as well. The drinking culture was huge there and you could stay in bars until 9 am the next morning if you really wanted to.

Would you recommend it to people looking to teach overseas? 
If you had asked me my first year in Korea, I would have said no. Now, I would absolutely recommend it to anyone, but you do have to be flexible. It is a very different culture and society, but also very welcoming. I did receive special treatment and a lot of extra help because I was not Korean. I met some of the most amazing people and families there, and they were truly some of the kindest souls.

I do not want to overwhelm you, but I know a lot of people had questions about all of my experiences there. I don’t want to add more questions, for fear of overloading anyone with information. I would be happy to post more about travel tips, teaching, etc. If you have any specific questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to me. Otherwise, if there are more questions about related topics, I will be sure to do another post in the future. I will leave you all with a few more photos!

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The reason we are all in coats is because Korean schools did not always use heating throughout the entire winter. They only used it when it was deemed “cold enough,” so most of my classes were taught in coats and gloves.
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 This was my school playground. That super tall building is an apartment building where many of the students lived. The building all the way on the left was the school for Kindergarten, first, and second grade. It also had the gymnasium on the top floor.

I really do hope you enjoyed this post!

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7 Comments

  1. 9.4.15
    Pam said:

    Such a rewarding experience! Sounds like you learned a lot! 🙂

    Pam xo/ Pam Scalfi♥

  2. 9.4.15

    I LOVED this post, Denise!! Thanks for taking the time to share all of this! I found it totally fascinating, especially the parts about wearing coats due to not using heat, 1st graders with cell phones, celebrating American holidays and drinking culture! (Okay…so that’s most of the post, right?) What an amazing experience!
    Gina || On the Daily Express

  3. 9.4.15

    Aww.. Denise, Thanks heaps for sharing your experience in Korea..
    I really enjoy reading your post and loves how cute your students are..
    I’m also glad that afterall, you learnt something within your stay in there. and that’s such a good memories you might keep looking back sometimes. 🙂

    xoxo
    Jhem | JhemSays.com

  4. 9.4.15

    First of all, thank you for taking the time to write this post and share it with your readers, I’ve always wondered about your years teaching in Korea and how your life was. What a lovely insight on how different the school is in Korea and the part about not using a heater, wow, that surely must be interesting when you first experience it.

    Shireen | Reflection of Sanity

  5. 9.4.15
    Megan said:

    This is so interesting and something I never knew about you. What a cool experience!
    ~~Megan~~
    http://www.poshprime.com

  6. 9.4.15
    Anett said:

    It was great to read about your experience, thank you so much for sharing! I wish I had had an English teacher who was a native speaker when I was in school…

    Bella Pummarola

  7. 9.5.15
    Ramonne said:

    What an amazing experience you’ve had. I know a bunch of people willing to be in a similar position and live somewhere in Asia and teach their kids English or some other language. Again, amazing experience.