As I reflect on this whole experience up to this point, there is so much I would like to share. But I will try to keep it as short and direct as possible without cutting out the aspects and experiences that I think or that I have found to be so important. I want to share some of the experiences I have had while living and teaching here in Korea as well as share some insight that I have found to be helpful to me. There were also a lot of people that helped me along this wonderful journey and one of the most important people in this whole experience was my recruiter and recruiting agency that I worked with. My recruiter, Mr. Don Kwon and his recruiting agency, ESL Job Link really helped me with almost everything. I would not be having this awesome experience that I am right now without all of these factors coming together and for that I am very grateful.
I knew I wanted to teach in Korea, but I was not exactly sure how to go about finding and hopefully obtaining a teaching job in Korea. Sure, I had some ideas and loosely searched the Internet for teaching recruiting agencies but I felt that I was not really getting anywhere. Enter Don Kwon, who I have really grown to respect and appreciate. It was so nice and reassuring to have a local based recruiter that I could meet face to face with rather than communicating long distance over the phone or through email. To me, nothing can replace face-to-face interaction and communication.
Speaking of communication, when I first came to Korea I will admit I was pretty nervous about the fact that I really could not speak nor read or write the language. However, Korean I think is very easy to learn to write and read and if you work hard enough at it, the spoken part of the language eventually comes along as well. Of course I still have many times where a Korean person will speak Korean to me and I’ll just have to shrug my shoulders and smile, but the language can be learned. In fact, my students are one of my sources for learning new Korean words or phrases.
The students have been and continue to be so full of energy and fun. This is why I enjoy teaching so much. It is to see these students work so hard every day to try and learn a crazy difficult language that is English. I look forward to going to my school each day as my students are great and so are all of my co-teachers and co-workers. I feel that I have really lucked out with my school and my co-teachers compared to other foreign English teachers. Being around a Korean educational environment and living in Korea has given me new perspectives about this country and culture. I have come to appreciate Korean culture and societal ways more since living and teaching here. One thing that really sticks out to me is how respected teachers are here in general. Most students will slightly bow to you as they pass you in the hallways and parents will show their thanks to you for teaching their kids. Because I was a teacher in Minnesota before I came to Korea to teach, this has been a nice change to be recognized more so for all the hard work that goes into the teaching profession.
Korean society does place a lot of emphasis on studies, work and careers. It is stressful at times. However, I have noticed that being a “foreigner” working and living here, the societal norms and pressures are around me, but they do not have the same “direct” effect on me that they may have on a Korean person. For example, the Korean language has two ways to talk with people, a formal way and an informal way. If you are meeting someone for the first time, or if you are talking to someone older or in a higher position than you, you need to speak to them in the formal way. Well this can be stressful sometimes because you are always trying to think of the right way to say a word in Korean in the polite formal way. However, I do not personally feel as much stress if I mispronounce or misuse a word in Korean and neither does the Korean I am speaking to because they know I’m a foreigner and that Korean is difficult to speak. Also, different people find different ways to cope with and overcome the challenges of working and living here so really just finding things out here by trial and error is sometimes very effective.
Lastly, I would just like to offer some advice and things that I personally found helpful while looking for teaching jobs here in Korea and also advice on things you may also want to think about doing. The most important thing when searching for a teaching job is BE OPEN to everything. It’s great to have personal preferences, but you may find that a teaching job offered to you in the city of Ulsan or Busan instead of Seoul might have many advantages. Also, do not rule out a city or teaching job just because it seems there are no other foreigners around. I promise you will adapt quickly to your new city and job. This idea of being open is also my punch line if you will for living here in Korean. That and being flexible here will lower your stress levels immensely. Korean culture is very spur of the moment or not as planned out in advance as American culture so being flexible is almost a prerequisite.
Thank you for reading and listening to my thoughts and experiences about living and teaching in Korea. I hope you find some parts of this useful as you begin your own journeys and create your own memories in this very cool, modern yet traditional country and culture.
By Cory Becker, History major, St. John’s University, Class of 2010 (Cory is in the middle of the picture.)