Alumni Spotlight: Amy Lee

Amy is Vietnamese-American and an English teacher in South Korea. She grew up in Massachusetts and received her degree in Psychology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She loves living and teaching in South Korea and plans to stay for a few years until she's ready to go back to school for a Masters in School Counseling.

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Why did you choose this program?

I remember for my ninth birthday, my friend gifted me a mixed CD. On that CD, she included a bunch of BoA and Sechs Kies songs. I was hooked on Korean music since then. Fast forward to college, I was lucky that UMass started offering Korean courses my junior year. I jumped right in and took three semesters of Korean to learn the language and culture.

My mom never really had the money to take me anywhere so I really wanted to travel as much as I can before settling down with a career. I already knew a little bit of Korean so why not go to South Korea? Not even two weeks after graduating, I signed up for a TEFL course and landed a teaching job in South Korea a few months later.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

Korvia went above and beyond my expectations as a recruiter. They were on top of their game in correspondence and were completely professional during the entire process. They were true to their word and only sent me offers based on my preferences. They answered my questions about potential schools and followed up after each interview.

They even helped me prepare all the documents I needed, researched a good flight to take, and even arranged an airport pickup service. I've had bad experiences with other recruiters for my first year, so for my second year, I knew exactly what I wanted, and Korvia delivered.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Do your research. Be open-minded. And just go for it (after doing your research of course.)

Going abroad is a life changing experience so make sure you know what you're getting yourself into. I cannot stress out how important it is to do your research. Make sure the school is a good fit for you. Research the school and try to get in touch with other teachers if you can.

Research is something I wish I had done my first year. Honestly, I took the first job I was offered and just signed the contract without really thinking about it. Within my first month at my school, there were three teachers who pulled a midnight run, and the fourth teacher got fired. I remembered thinking “what did I get myself into?!”

Yes, my first school was terrible, but no, I did not regret my decision to come to South Korea. Yes, I should've done more research before jumping in but it was a good learning experience for me. I became good friends with my remaining co-teachers and had the sweetest students so they made my year bearable.

Just remember that you are living in another country with different cultural norms and expectations than what you are used to. Be open-minded, and keep in mind that one year is not forever.

Don't let one bad thing ruin your perception of a country. And when you've done your research, just go for it. Living and working in another country is truly life changing.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

I work at a hagwon (private academy) so my hours are pretty late. I usually work from 2 PM to 10 PM but I'm a night owl so I'm okay with this. I'm at my school for 40 hours each week but my actual teaching time is about 30 hours with the rest being prep time and dinner breaks.

From 2 PM to usually 7 PM, I teach lower level classes with students who are anywhere between first grade to sixth grade. In the evening, I teach the higher level and advanced classes with students ranging from fourth grade to ninth grade.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

It sounds kind of silly but I think one of my biggest concerns was the food. What can I eat? As a child, I was a really really picky eater. I was SO picky that I didn't eat my first slice of pizza until my freshman year of college (that was when I stopped being so picky!)

My pickiness eventually led to me becoming a vegetarian. I was a vegetarian for eight years before finally reintroducing meat back into my lifestyle. At first, I kept getting sick because my stomach wasn't used to digesting meat. However, I was living in another country, and I didn't want this to stop me from enjoying the food here. I kept trying and trying all different kinds of meat until I got used to it.

Now I am able to eat most foods. I still have a huge preference for vegetarian dishes but South Korea taught me to just enjoy life and eat good food. So that's exactly what I'm doing.