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Teaching in Korea Advice For Teachers Going Abroad


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Teach abroad and explore new cultures, foods, and languages. Watch how you blossom and feel your senses heighten while discovering a new world outside of home. Traveling and working abroad can always be a lot of fun and excitement for the everyday adventure-seeker to the sudden vacation-taker; teaching abroad is even better. It's perfect for the outgoing/spontaneous types looking for a new thrill while earning some extra bucks (U. S. tax free) and affords you a great feeling of aliveness when in a foreign country. Teaching in Korea is just the ticket if you've got the urge to teach overseas!

Teaching Abroad - Research Before Departure

I made the mistake when I first decided to come to South Korea by jumping into a contract with a private institute that I thought was well-established. The next thing I know, I received an email stating the school no longer had any funds to hire me. By this point I was devastated. I purchased my passport, internationally mailed a couple of packages (mail rates are from $60-90 US), purchased my transcripts and several ID photos, plus emotionally focused on this one goal for three months; (my fault) I was crushed. Luckily, I was able to get a refund and all my materials returned within the next week; but some people are not so lucky.

Hagwans or Government Schools in South Korea

Usually teachers will find better pay, more vacations and nice incentives at government public schools and universities (also more organized). Private institutions or hagwans can be a hit or miss. I have a friend whose pay is decent at her hagwan but works from 9am-8pm everyday. Some universities will have you work on weekends too. Make sure to check out your contract and decide what works best for you; you have a choice. Also, if you want to sample Korean-life for a short while without committing for the whole year, find winter/summer English Camps at universities and established hagwans.

Comfort Level When Submitting Materials

When finding a school in South Korea you will have to go through a fairly long process. Obtaining copies of transcripts, updating resume, taking 2-4 pass port photos from FedEx Kinkos, and applying for a passport early, will help you through the long process. A new Korean Government rule states that teachers now have to send over original diplomas from an accredited college in order to proceed with hiring. I was extremely leery about this, (I still haven't told my mother) but found it to be safe and a normal practice. I received my materials the first day I landed in Korea.

Speaking ‘Korea-Glish’ with Students

As told by my assistant Korean teacher, Jesse, some children are quite versed in their own version of the English language. They will speak a combination of English and Hangul, but in reverse, which is similar to their native tongue. (Example: verb noun subject/ Hot the boy is now).

I also noticed a small number of store fronts with ‘Korea-glish’ titles; see if you can figure them out: Take On Me, Roni Pasta, or Steak Pan Fried. While teaching English in South Korea it'll be your job to help guide students with structure and pronunciation flow.

Eating with Students

It is custom to eat with your students during lunchtime. The teacher will always be served first and this will feel slightly awkward if your the type to nurture kids before your own needs. Before the students begin eating, since you would be the elder at the table, kids wait for you to begin eating before they can begin (but not always for the younger kids).

Know English Games

There might be times when class has come to an obvious stagnation and you will need to liven things up. My school suggested in our contract to bring ideas for some American games. At first, I miss understood and purchased the game ‘Twister, ’ which still came in use, but later, landed students attention with words games such as: word Suduko, Mad Lib's, team spelling contests, seven-up, hangman (clean version) and even duck, duck, goose for the little ones.

It's Showtime!

Every school will at some point have a school performance at one point during your teaching career. It will either involve dancing, singing, reciting English, a speech contest or showing art of some kind. Some kids embrace this and do really well, others will be reluctant up until the day of the show, then show a stellar performance because their parents are in the front row. Also, performing and being creative is a nice break from the everyday learning experience.

Kids are crazy in Any Culture. . . but that's the Fun Part

You will soon notice after the first week of teaching English in South Korea that (or maybe second if they're nice) children will start blossoming into their true selves. Not much discipline is put into play so it will be up to you to settle things down. My advice is to set the tone early, gain respect, then soften up later (my mom's approach as well). Kids get really excited and want to play once they feel comfortable around you. They will try and ask personal questions, want to take pictures of you with their cellphones (yes, they all have them), draw people dying on the board (not sure why they are obsessed with killing), sing songs, tell jokes and pretty much act like regular kids would. Here are some practices that work for me: stay very still and stare down the loudest one, try counting down from 5 to 1 really loud and whoever is last to sit gets negative points, have a negative and positive point system, talk to parents, inclusive fun time for well-behaved students after lunch, small gifts for positive reinforcement (not bribery), or try looking on the Internet for more ideas.

Most importantly, have fun and don't forget to site-see on the weekends - (you originally came to travel and explore a new world).

Note: If you are looking for the big city lights, western infused-style foods, subways, loud music, and a dense population, then the major metropolitan of Seoul, S. Korea will be your Asiatic New York City.

If you are looking for rich Korean foods, folk artisans, villages, hills and country try any school outside of the Seoul.

Working abroad, whether it's teaching in Korea or volunteering to build shelters in Honduras, can be the most rewarding experience imagineable. The decision to go abroad should not be taken lightly though. Learn what you can about working overseas before buying airline tickets, talk to others who have had ESL jobs, and do a thorough job of researching prospective employers before accepting a position. Learn much more about teaching abroad from Lisa Jenkins, who writes for the free website, JobMonkey.


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