Teaching English in Korea Archives

Health and Fitness while Living Abroad.

The decision to teach ESL overseas, or study overseas can be a significant one filled with excitement, promise and adventure. It also offers a personal challenge to many, as leaving home to travel 10 000 kilometers around the world to a foreign land can be a very frightening proposition. While there is no one way to eliminate the possible feelings of anxiety and stress associated with such a life changing experience, there are ways to manage them, so that your time overseas will be a fulfilling one.

The most important advice I can pass on is to stay active. Find some type of physical activity that you enjoy doing and do it regularly. Regular exercise not only keeps your body physically fit, but also keeps your mind sharp. Being so far from home, home-sickness and depression sometimes take hold, and lead to a potentially miserable experience. Exercising at regular intervals will raise your confidence and self-esteem and keep away most negative feelings. Exercising with a friend is also a great idea, as you can motivate each other.

Exercising can be as simple as going for a brisk walk or involved as getting a membership at a local gym. Often, even the smallest towns have fitness facilities of some type; whether swimming pools or martial arts studios. During my stay in the Republic of Korea (ROK) I had a membership at a local gym, took regular Kung Fu classes, ran regularly and swam on occasion. I had a positive outlook on the entire experience and rarely dealt with any feelings of anxiety or stress.

Another benefit of regular exercise is decompression. Life in certain Asian societies can seem very hectic, fast paced, crowded and chaotic at times, compared to North America. For those of us from the West who are suddenly immersed in this type of culture it can be quite a shock and the stress levels can mount quickly. Being able to get away from it all, even for an hour a day, and focus on your own health and well-being is essential to your success overseas.

While working in the ROK I found it necessary to devote some time every week to just being alone physically and mentally. I would often go for long walks in the country side early in the morning to get away from it all. I always came back refreshed, clear headed and in a positive frame of mind. Take some quiet time for your self, the benefits are real.

On that note, before traveling overseas to work, know where you’re going. Will you be working in a city of ten million or a town of thirty thousand? What are you more comfortable with? Where did you grow up and what are you used to? Every area has its pros and cons, however, many negatives will be magnified in a large city. Air pollution, noise pollution and crowded conditions all conspire against the health of those living in the larger Asian cities. My advice would be to avoid the mega-cities if at all possible.

Being so far away from home for the first time can be an invitation to disaster if you aren’t careful. You will meet people from around the world, all with different backgrounds and experiences. Some will be good, others will be bad. You will also have a lot of money in your pockets, perhaps for the first time. Regardless of the country, illegal drugs abound, and in some countries illegal drugs are considered equal to murder. Not convinced? Watch the movies Midnight Express or Brokedown Palace, they hit the mark. Unless you are willing to pay dearly for a momentary pleasure, stay away from all drug activity and those who partake in it. Just by being with a group of people doing drugs you’re guilty by association, plus the fact that drugs offer you nothing in the form of real relaxation and stress relief. Regular exercise and proper diet are the best alternatives.

In most Asian countries cigarettes and alcohol are fairly inexpensive. For example, a $12.00 pack of cigarettes in Canada would cost roughly $2.00 in South Korea. If you don’t smoke already, don’t use this as an excuse to start. The same goes with alcohol, if you must drink do so in moderation, but remember that alcohol impairs judgment and you don’t want to find yourself in a potentially dangerous situation thousands of miles from home. Coffee is very popular in some Asian countries, so if you drink it, also do so in moderation. Caffeine provides you with no real health benefits. I would suggest simply drinking bottled water. You’ll appreciate it during the muggy Asian summer months and you’ll be giving your body something it needs anyway.

As part of your lifestyle get plenty of rest and sleep. Avoid late night parties as they become easier when you’re working late afternoons and evenings only and have the mornings free. Sleep well at night and use your free time to do something active as mentioned above. Don’t let yourself turn into a couch potato; this will affect your mental outlook as well as your physical condition.

Indulge your palate when living overseas. Try all the local cuisine and forget about your North American diet. Asian cooking is much healthier than the foods we have typically become accustomed to here in the West. An overall focus on fresh fruits and vegetables, soups, steamed rice, light sauces, fish and small amounts of meat make Eastern cooking low calorie, low fat and nutritious. Although all the fast food outlets are available, avoid them. Did you travel half way around the world to eat a grease laden Big Mac? If you stick to the local cuisine you will lose inches around your midsection in a very short period of time, without even trying. Add regular exercise to the mix and you have a real recipe for success.

Stefan Ferron B.A., B.Kin., B.Ed., also an English teacher (South Korea, Canada) – owner Kettlebellrevolution.net

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Don’t Miss out on the Korean Pension Program: make sure you talk to your boss about this right away!

If you are North American and teaching in Korea, you are eligible for pension and should make sure that your boss sets it up for you. It will be included in most contracts, but some bosses “forget” to set it up, because it involves doing some paperwork, and paying out extra money. Simply put, for the pension program you and your boss both pay about $100 per month and it goes into a pool. At the end of your one year contract you can collect all of the money. So pretty much you pay $100 a month and get to collect $2400 after one year! It is a great way to save money or to have some money to travel when you leave Korea.

If your boss is late setting it up by a few months, don’t worry. Pension is retroactive, so even if you don’t sign up for 3 months, you and your boss can pay $300 each and be on track for the $2400 payout after the year is over. I have watched countless friends miss out on this even though it was in their contracts, so be firm and bring up your contract if there are any problems. If you are going into a job for the first time, make sure that pension is included in the contract before you go.

To collect pension you can go to your local pension office a few weeks before you leave Korea. You MUST have an airplane ticket with you proving that you are leaving within the next month, plus your passport, foreigner ID and bank account information to the bank you want the money transferred to (it can be your bank back home).

Post Credit: Mitch Benvie 

Old Korean ladies are so sweet!

One day it was raining heavily, and unfortunately, my school was a 20 minute walk from my apartment. Since I had arrived in Korea, there wasn’t much rain so I didn’t have an umbrella. I was standing in the entryway of my apartment building looking out at the  torrential downpour, wondering what my coworkers would say when I showed up to work completely soaked. Just like an angel, this sweet 60 something lady came walking in from the rain and handed me her umbrella. At this point the only Korean I knew was Hello and Thank you, but I tried to refuse this great act of kindness. She insisted that I take it, so I thanked her several times and got to work without a drop on me. Never saw the lady again to somehow pay her back. During my time in Korea I have been on the receiving end of many random acts of kindness like that. Whether it be someone completely inconveniencing themselves just to show me how to get to where I am going on the complete other side of town, or spending a half hour straining themselves by pushing the absolute limits of their English ability (and perhaps patience) to explain some dumb random thing to me.  It is funny, and it seems that these generous acts are easy to forget for a lot of western English teachers, as we often catch ourselves complaining about some of the quirky things that bother us about this country.  The fact is, all countries will have their good and bad.   Overall, the experience living in Korea for a few years was great, and wouldn’t trade it for anything.  Those are the things I enjoy remembering, and if she happens to be reading this (not likely)…, but anyhow, “Thank you!” (kamsa-hamnida).

Post Credit: Mitch Benvie 

Below is a list of Korean Consulates in Canada and USA.

Korean Consulate in Montreal: (for applicants from the Atlantic Provinces and Quebec
Korean Consulate General – E2 VISA PROCESS
1 Place Ville-Marie, Suite 2015, Montreal, Quebec H3B 2C4
TEL: (514) 845-2555
http://www.koreanconsulate.qc.ca

Korean Consulate in Toronto: (for applicants from Ontario and Manitoba)
555 Avenue Road, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M4V 2J7
* located on the north-east corner of Avenue Road & St. Clair Ave. W
TEL: (416) 920-3809
http://www.koreanconsulate.on.ca/en/

Korean Consulate in Vancouver: (for applicants from British Columbia and Alberta)
#1600-1090 West Georgia Street, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada V6E 3V7
TEL: (604) 681-9581
http://can-vancouver.mofat.go.kr

Korean Consulates in the USA:

Korean Consulate in Washington D.C. (Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia)
– 2320 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20008
– TEL:(202) 939-5654

Korean Consulate in New York: (Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania)
– Visa Section: 460 Park Ave. (57th St.) 6th Fl. New York, NY 10022
– TEL: (646)674-6000

Korean Consulate in San Francisco: (Colorado, Northern California, Utah, Wyoming)
– 3500 Clay Street San Francisco, CA 94118
– Tel : (415) 921-2251

Korean Consulate in Los Angeles: (Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, South California)
– 3243 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90010
– TEL: (213) 385-9300

Korean Consulate in Boston: (New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont)
– One Gateway Center 2nd Fl. Newton, MA 02458
– TEL: (617) 641-2830

Korean Consulate in Chicago: (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin)
– NBC Tower Suite 2700, 455 North City Front Plaza Dr. Chicago, IL 60611
– TEL: (312) 822-9485

Korean Consulate in Seattle: (Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington) 2033 Sixth Ave., #1125 Seattle, WA 98121
TEL: (206) 441-1011

Korean Consulate in Atlanta: (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virgin Islands) 229 Peachtree St., Suite 500 International Tower Atlanta, GA 30303
TEL: (404) 522-1611

Korean Consulate in Houston: (Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Texas) 1990 Post Oak Blvd., #1250 Houston, TX 77056:
TEL: (713) 961-0186

Korean Consulate in Honolulu: (American Samoa, Hawaii) 2756 Pali Highway Honolulu, HI 96817:
TEL: (808) 595-6109

This is a sample of a typical ESL teacher contract.

This does not represent the contract you will receive, but will only give you an idea of some of the things you may find in your contract.

This EMPLOYMENT AGREEMENT has been made this by and between; SCHOOL ; a Korean company having its address AT AN ADDRESS IN KOREA (hereinafter referred to as “employer”); and TEACHER NAME _, a citizen of TEACHER COUNTRY whose domicile is at TEACHER ADDRESS, (hereinafter referred to as “employee”).

Employer and employee, in consideration of the mutual promises and covenants contained herein, agree as follows:

1. Employee accepts employment from employer to teach the English language under the terms and conditions set forth here in this agreement for a period of full and consecutive teaching sessions. Employment commences from the first day of orientation and finishes on the last day of the teaching session covered under this agreement. Contract period is from / / to / /

2. The “Place of Employment” is at the address above. Employee may be required to teach outside the place of employment. In such case, employee will be reimbursed for travel expenses incurred beyond those expenses normally incurred in travel from the employee’s home to the place of employment.

3. Terms of Agreement

3.1 Employee agrees to discontinue residence in Korea under the visa status sponsored by Employer within five (5) days of termination of employment. *(YOU WILL EITHER GO HOME OR TO A DIFFERENT JOB, SHOULD YOU NOT RENEW WITH SAME EMPLOYER).

3.2 Period of employment of employee beyond that covered by this agreement must be agreed to by employee and employer, in writing, at least three months before the expiration of the term of this agreement.

4. Duties

4.1 During the term of this agreement, the employee will be required to prepare for, teach, and carry out all required administrative duties connected with classes assigned by the employer. No regular schedule of work hours can be guaranteed to employee. Employee agrees to attend meetings and training workshops scheduled by employer.

The purpose of meetings and workshops is to inform employee of matters relating to employee’s duties and the institute’s operation, or to assist in employee’s professional development. No payment in excess of or in addition to employee’s monthly salary will be made for attending meetings or workshops scheduled by employer.

4.2 To meet the minimum teaching requirement of this agreement, the number of regular teaching hours will be 30 hours per week.

The number of scheduled teaching days does not include Saturdays and Sundays, public holidays, scheduled vacation days. As well, break time is not included in the teaching hours.

4.3 Teaching hours – refers to the amount of time spent in the classroom only. This does not include preparation time, staff meetings, breaks, orientation etc.

4.4 The employer will have the authority to require employee to perform any classroom duties in excess of the minimum teaching requirement (such as hereinafter called “overtime”). Only teaching hours in excess of the minimum teaching requirement and approved by the employer are considered overtime. Employee will be paid at the rate of 20,000 Korean Won for each teaching hour of overtime.

4.5 At all times during the term of this agreement, employee will directly adhere to and obey all the rules and regulations that have been, or may hereafter be, established by employer for the conduct of employee or generally for the conduct of instructors at the place of employment.

4.6 Employee agrees to dress appropriately at all times when teaching or when present on the premises of the place of employment and to follow the advice, directives and policies of employer regarding what constitutes appropriate dress.

4.7 Employee understands and agrees that, at all times, during the term of this agreement, employee will strictly adhere to and obey all laws, regulations, provisions, instructions, and guidance from the Government of Korea or any local government or officials thereof.

4.8 Employee agrees to be present at the place of employment at least an hour before the commencement each day’s allocated teaching schedule to allow time for organization of teaching materials and preparation for the day’s lessons.

5. Compensation and Other Treatment of Employee

5.1 Transportation: Employer will provide round trip economy class ticket for passage to Korea from an international airport, which is mutually agreed to by employer and employee (henceforth referred to as point of departure). Employer will provide employee’s one-way economy class ticket to depart the home country to go to Korea at the beginning of the contract. The return one-way economy class air ticket will be provided at the time of termination of contract. In the event that the employee continues employment under a subsequent employment agreement with employer, the return air ticket will be provided at the time of completion of the subsequent contract period(s). Air tickets provided cannot be exchanged for cash equivalents or transferred to persons other than the employee. Employer does not agree to, and is not liable for, compensation to employee, whether in cash or otherwise, for air tickets which are not used by employee.

5.2 Orientation and Training: Shortly after arrival in Korea, employee will be required to undertake orientation and training intended to provide employee with the requisite familiarity with institute operation and policies and to ensure that employee possesses adequate knowledge and skills related to duties of employment.

5.3 Salary: Employer will pay employee as compensation for instruction services rendered a monthly salary of 2.0 million Korean won for each month of the contract period with employer. “Month” and “Monthly” refer to a session (4weeks) of the calendar. Salary will commence from the first day of teaching. Payment for part of a month of employment will be calculated on the number of days employed. Payment of the aforesaid salaries will be made in South Korean Won. The taxes and the insurance including Korean income taxes and Korean National Pension Scheme deductions will be withheld. Monthly salary payments will be made on or before the tenth day of the month following the month during which the employment services were provided.

5.4 Bonus Payment: Dependent upon completion of the full (1 year) contract period, the employee will be given an additional 2 million Korean Won full salary as a year-end bonus. Tax will be withheld. In the event that the employee does not renew or extend employment under a subsequent employment agreement with employer, this payment will be made at the time of completion of the contract period.

5.5 Holidays and Vacation: Employee will be entitled to observe public holidays and receive vacation days during the contract term according to a yearly schedule provided by employer before the commencement of the year to which the schedule refers. There are at least twelve (holidays and vacation) in each calendar year (January – December). Public holidays and vacations can only be taken as scheduled and are paid regular wage for these days with no additional deductions.

5.6 Absence from Duties: Salary is not maintained when employee is absent from teaching duties. In the event that employee is absent from duties for whatever reason, monthly salary will be reduced according to the length of the absence. Reductions will be based on basic salary rate. Transference of teaching duties by employee to persons other than employee is not possible without the permission of employer. (Sick leave is paid)

5.7 Sick Leave: Employee is permitted up to 3 days of paid sick leave per year. Unused sick leave may not be taken as annual leave.

5.8 Medical Insurance: Employee may be covered by medical benefits under the National Health Insurance Cooperation , a Government Health Organization or another insurance company. The costs of this coverage will be borne half by employer and half by employee. Payment will be made monthly deduction from employee’s salary, at Present 1.5%, and a like amount contributed by employer. Coverage commences on arrival in Korea.

5.9 Accident Compensation: In the event that employee sustains injuries from natural disaster or fire during the course of normal work duties, the employer agrees to pay all medical and hospital costs in accordance with the medical insurance law of Korea. But in the event that employee sustains injuries from an accident outside the course of normal working duties, or as the result of prior sickness, disorder or mishap, the employee understands and agrees that employer will have no responsibility for, nor obligation to pay medical or hospital costs.

5.10 Housing

5.10 Employer will select and provide furnished living accommodation for employee. The accommodation may be in a two or three-bedroom apartment, or in a two or three-bedroom house. Apartment with two bedrooms are shared by two employees. Apartments with at least three bedrooms may shared by three employees. Each employee will have a private bedroom and will share a kitchen and bathroom.

6. Dismissal or Voluntary Resignation

6.1 Employer will have the right to dismiss employee for unwillingness or inability to meet conditions of employment as set out under this agreement, including neglect of duties. Prior to any such dismissal, employee will be warned in writing of dissatisfaction with performance or conduct and will be afforded an appropriate period in which to remedy the same.

6.2 Employer will have the right to dismiss employee for conduct seriously jeopardizing any student or staff person, or for criminal activity. In such instances, employer has the right under this agreement to execute immediate dismissal and no warning nor time for remedy need by allotted.

6.3 In the event that the employee is dismissed and in the event that the employee breaks this contract prior to the termination of the term of this agreement, employer will be obligated to pay all salary due to date of termination. Employer will have no duty and will not be obligated to pay the cost of return transportation to point of departure for employee, nor will employer be obligated to pay any severance pay. Furthermore, employer will be entitled to withhold the cost of airfare provided for travel to Korea and the housing deposit.

6.4 In the event that war, civil disturbances, or political conditions prompt a directive from the government of the Republic of Korea or the government of employee’s citizenship to leave Korea, this employment agreement will be terminated as of the date of such directive. In such case, employer will provide to employee an air ticket to point of departure, irrespective of length of employment period.

7. Covenants

7.1 Employee hereby agrees, covenants, and undertakes that he/she will not undertake any teaching duties or employment with any persons or organizations other than the employer. Failure to comply with this article is cause for immediate dismissal.

7.2 Employee hereby agrees, covenants, and undertakes that he/she will not disclose teaching materials, syllabus details, or any other information relating to the academic program, whether verbally or in written form, to individuals or corporate entities not employed by employer.

7.3 Unless agreed to in writing, the employee understands and accepts that the rights to use, sale, distribution, or publication of all original material produced by the employee during the course of employee’s employment, and for which the employee is compensated as either regular pay, as overtime, or in an agreed-upon lump sum, remain the sole property of employer.

8. Indemnification Clause: Employee will indemnify and hold harmless employer and employer’s representatives from any damages which employee may sustain, in any manner, through the misconduct or negligence of employee.

9. Governing Language and Jurisdiction: This agreement has been drawn up and has been executed in the English language; and the English language text of this agreement will govern and prevail over any translation thereof. This agreement will be interpreted according to the internal (domestic) laws of the Republic of Korea. A competent court in the republic of Korea will have jurisdiction in regard to any dispute or claim arising out of, or in connection with, this agreement. Employer and employee have executed this agreement on the date indicated below. Intending to be legally bound to, and in witness of, employer and employee have appended their signatures.

 

You are a Celebrity in Korea: You can speak English, and therefore everyone will want to talk to you… Be nice.

After 3 and a half years in Korea I would say the amount of times that a random kid said hello to me was in the tens of thousands.  In a big city like Seoul or Busan this won’t happen often, but in smaller or mid-sized cities children will be excited to see you walking towards them on the street and they will almost always say hello, and sometimes ask more questions.  Sometimes their parents will even tell them in Korean, “look, a foreigner, practice your English…”  You don’t need to stop and talk to them of course, but smile and say hello. It may get annoying over time, but enjoy the celebrity and try not to get annoyed; they are just so interested in seeing non Korean because it is so rare for them.  The impression you give them will result in how they view westerners, so be nice, especially to the kids.

People with more advanced English skills may want to have conversations with you, or ask you within 1 minute of meeting if you can be their friend (seriously). They aren’t trying to be creepy; they just probably don’t know any other foreigners and want to practice their English.  I was on the bus one time and had my headphones in. The young guy next to me would not stop starring at me, so I took off my headphones and said hello. The first thing he asked was, “can I have your phone number?” Then he told me I looked like David Beckham and I must have many girlfriends. Flattering stuff like this happens all the time. haha. It is not worth getting an ego over however, but enjoy it because it probably won’t happen back home.  :-)

Post Credit: Mitch Benvie 

How much money can you save teaching English in Korea?

With the high cost of an education, most of us finish University with a hefty debt for our troubles. After four years of studying hard it would be nice to travel, but how could you possibly afford it when you are in so much debt? South Korea offers a unique chance to travel, see the world and experience a new culture, all while earning a competitive salary.

Now it really depends on how you want to live your life, what you do on weekends and how much you travel to other countries on vacation, but most people tend to put away $500-$1000 per month.

Personally, I ate out 4-5 times a week, went to the bars 2-3 times a week and travelled to other countries on all of my vacations. I enjoyed life to the fullest in Korea and saved about $500 per month.  The great thing about the salary in Korea is that on your last day you get your last month pay, plus a bonus month pay in addition to your pension (if you are from North America). This all adds up to around $6000 in your pocket the day you leave Korea. This could all be used to save, pay off debt, or go on one amazing vacation!

I will break down things assuming that everyone makes, or will make $2000 per month. Many people make much more than this with extra classes and private lessons, but none of those things are a sure thing to have.

Here are your typical mandatory monthly expenses while living in Korea so you can figure out how much you might save based on how you want to live. These bills are estimates based on what I spent, as well as what my friends spent.

RENT-FREE

RETRUN AIRFARE-FREE

Phone Bill- $50

Utilities- $100 (sometimes much lower when not using AC or heat)

Internet-$30

Groceries- $300

Bus-$20

With a typical salary around $2000 a month, minus these basic necessities, you have $1500. Theoretically you could save this much per month, but everyone needs to have some extras.  After what you spend on eating out, drinking, and other entertainment, you can save the rest.

Things like transportation are much cheaper in Korea as well, so this does not add much to your budget. A 30 minute taxi might cost you $20, while the city bus costs $1 and a 1-2 hour bus or train trip to another city costs as little as $5.

You can also save a considerable amount by shopping at local markets rather than big grocery stores. Eating out can also be inexpensive if you go to the right places, especially in University areas. A meal with meat, rice, soup and some side dishes can cost as little as $4.

Drinking alcohol and going out for the night can also range in price depending on where you go. Most western style bars will charge up to $5 for a bottle of beer, while you can go to other more Korean style places and get pitchers of draft for $10 and other Korean alcohol at much cheaper prices. These Korean style bars are everywhere and can be great fun with the right group of people.

Post Credit: Mitch Benvie 

Valentine`s Day, White Day and Black Day! Huh?

Valentines ESL English

Valentine`s Day, White Day and Black Day! Huh?

Valentine`s Day. Just another holiday where the guy must spend his hard earned cash to show his significant other how much he cares about her right? Flowers, chocolate, dinner and a movie; that is an expensive day!

Well guys, if you are wondering where our special day is, look no further than South Korea! Koreans celebrate Valentine`s Day opposite to the rest of the world. On February 14th, the woman must buy her significant other chocolates. Nice! It is also common for the woman to hand make chocolates for her boyfriend or husband.

Now don’t worry ladies, of course the women get their own special day one month later on March 14th! This day is called White Day. On this day the guy must buy the girl candy. Of course chivalry is not lost and this day usually includes dinner and other gifts along with the candy.

So the guy has his day and the girl has her day, so what about all those people who are single? Well, those lucky people have Black Day on April 14th. Don’t think that this is some sort of special day; it is actually a day that some people dread. On this day, if you are single, you should eat some special black noodles.  Of course not everyone follows this tradition, and the noodles actually do not have a bad taste, but even students in middle school do not enjoy being single on this day!

Post Credit: Mitch Benvie 

Big Bang Theory: A Teacher’s First Day on the Job

Coming to Korea provides, for many, a steep learning curve, not only because of its differences in culture and language, but because it is often their first opportunity ever to teach English to children. Most people will see this as a unique but exciting challenge, with plenty of ups and downs from day one. Like many teachers, I remember my first day at school not for what I taught but for what I learned.

I had been given three days of training the week before and, though not fully confident in my abilities, was comfortable enough with the foundation I had to work with. As this was my first chance to meet the kids, it was meant to be a casual lesson and a time for us to get to know each other. Yet, half-way through my first class, standing over 8 wide-eyed seven year-olds, I was already finding myself at a loss.

We had been doing introductions, with each kid telling me their name, age and what they liked and didn’t like. While, admittedly, I was having trouble remembering who was who, what stood out most to me were two simple words:

“So- Big Bang?” I asked again. This was the fourth student who’d told me they liked something called ‘Big Bang’, and I was beginning to question whether or not I was in a class of budding astronomers. Given their age, there wasn’t much hope in inquiring further about galaxies or the origin of the universe. I was struggling to find common ground and was already glancing at the clock, hoping for time to tick by faster. So, with eight pairs of brown eyes quizzically staring back at me, I just asked, “What is Big Bang?”

One student, immediately reaching into his bag for his mp3 player, quickly answered my question. As it turned out, Big Bang was the biggest pop group in the country at the time- the Korean equivalent to the Backstreet Boys, but perhaps even more popular. Beyond giving the students something to be passionate about, Big Bang also used a variety of colourful English expressions in many of their songs, all of which we were able to discuss and laugh about then and in later classes.

With time and effort, my skills improved, but much of that improvement was owed to the connections I made with the students at my school. Learning about Big Bang was just a small step in getting to know my students, but one that taught me a valuable lesson: getting to know them would not only be one of the most entertaining parts of my year in Korea, but also one of the most beneficial to my teaching.

I may have even left Korea with one or two Big Bang songs on my iPod.

Written by: Bruno Passos / Post Credit: Mitch Benvie 

Country Strong: The Perks of Teaching in a Small Town

Many first-timers to Korea stray away from jobs in the countryside, opting instead for big city-living. The reasons for this are understandable: cities often have an abundance of homely pleasures such as Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks, a greater number of English speakers and other expat libations. However, a teaching job in a Korean village provides unique opportunities that many fail to consider before making their final decision.

The most immediate advantage to living in a small town is how direct your contact will be with Koreans and their way of life. While many expats living in cities make no attempt to learn the language, living in a small town forces you to absorb Korean (and perhaps even their own local dialect!). In no time at all, you will find yourself writing and speaking the language at a high level.

Beyond the language, you’ll get first-hand experience with other aspects of Korean culture, such as its delicious cuisine (Koreans themselves often head out into the country for the freshest beef and kimchi) and traditions.

Being so close to Koreans on a daily basis will not only increase the amount of connections you make with them, but also the depth of those relationships. Koreans are very warm and welcoming people, and they especially love those who familiarize themselves with their culture.

Financially, living in a town is also very sensible, as expats can save much more money than if they lived in a city. Many teachers choose the country life for this very reason, pointing out that local bars and restaurants are much easier on the wallet than high-priced buffets and night clubs. In addition, many public school jobs offer more pay to teachers who make their way into the country.

Lastly, while some people worry about the isolation of being one of a few foreigners in the area, rarely will you be alone. Most public schools will be employing at least one native English teacher. Also, due to Korea’s urbanization, a city is likely never more than a 40 minute bus ride away. Even if you do long for more expat contact, there are plenty of ways to meet others. Adventure Korea and other tour operators organize trips every weekend, a great way to make contacts in other cities.

Ultimately, teachers should choose the location that suits them best, whether that is living in a concrete jungle or out in the heartland. Yet, if you’re looking into truly immersing yourself in all Korea has to offer, consider taking a job in a town or village.

Written by: Bruno Passos Post Credit: Mitch Benvie 

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