Alumni Spotlight: Amber Jones


Amber is currently living in Mokpo, South Korea teaching English in a public elementary school. She graduated with a degree in social work from the University of Pittsburgh in 2014. After studying/ interning abroad in Germany and South Africa during undergrad, she decided to continue exploring internationally.

Why did you choose this program?

I chose this program because, when thinking about moving halfway across the world, I wanted guidance, reassurance, and support, all of which this program offered. CIEE had a lot of great reviews and seemed very legit. I wanted to be confident and efficient in making this move and this program seemed to offer qualities that I needed.

I also had friends who worked in South Korea, that of which they loved.

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

CIEE gave tons of information as to what ways you could teach in South Korea, what to expect culturally and how the process works. They provided my TEFL, helped with my application, and corresponded with Korea in sending and validating my documents. There were also webinars and pre-operational pieces of training about how to have a successful transition and move.

There was some additional research I found on my own that was useful like Facebook pages, YouTube videos, and talking with current teachers. Other than that, I just organized my flight, personal documentation, (which they guided me through) and my visa.

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

Though I liked this program and the backbone it gave me, it is very expensive. There are many other much cheaper options if you are on a budget that will give you the same results. Also, with respect to South Korea, If you want the major city, Busan, you will need to get an "in person," TEFL, which CIEE does not offer.

Also, request a mock interview or watch people talk about their experiences/questions on Youtube so you are prepared when you eventually interview for placement. Go to the Facebook page and get in the Kakao chats; other people in this will help you a lot!

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

I usually get up around 7 and get to work at 8:30 am. I work at two schools, one is five minutes from my apartment and the other is 15 minutes. If I'm in my main school (3x a week), I will teach mostly by myself in my own classroom that I'm free to structure how I like (instructionally and externally). The most classes I have in that school is 4 a day (40 minutes each) the rest of my time I plan.

At my other school (2x a week), I teach 5-6 classes a day, but I have Korean co-teachers who make the lessons; I just assist them and plan for a couple of hours. I'm off at 4:30 pm. I usually try and cook but every now and then I'll get coffee at one of the many cute cafes or get dinner with friends.

On Mondays, you'll find me volunteering at a local orphanage from 7:30-8:30 pm. Language Exchange also happens every Wednesday, but I haven't quite made it out there yet.

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

My biggest fear was the language barrier and being a good teacher culturally and professionally. The work culture and method of communication is quite different than America, especially for foreigners from more direct mannered countries. I am still very bad at Korean, but I’ll study if I have time and I try to learn from my kids.

You don’t have to know Korean, but it’s helpful. Reading Korean phonetically is important, considering most kids may still write their names using the Korean alphabet. I overcame those fears by being positive and having an open mind. I also asked those around me to be open about my mistakes or faults so that I can learn, grow, and make my classes better.

How do you get the most out of this program?

Korea offers a lot socially, financially, and developmentally. You need to get organized and BUDGET! You can save a lot of money and have fun, but you have to be intentional about it.

Make a budget, stick to it, plan your big vacation early (see parts of Asia, Japan, Bali, etc.), take days trips around Korea - they are a lot of attractions and beautiful scenery all over; it’s cheap to travel and quick because the country is so small. Make friends, go to the foreigner bars, join all the Facebook pages in your area, volunteer, learn Korean (or at least how to read it, it's easy), connect with your students and colleagues, make an effort!

As annoying as it is to live without ranch or use translation apps for everything, do try and immerse yourself into the culture and try and understand the environment you are in. Reach out to those around you for help.

Overall, do what makes you happy and never waste a moment.