The "Teach and Learn in Korea" (TaLK) program allows prospective "TaLK Scholars" (English Teachers) the ability to teach, travel, and reside in South Korea. Airfare and accommodation are taken care of by the provinces and a generous stipend is paid to the Scholar on a monthly basis. While certainly not an extravagant salary, it is very fair considering the amount of hours worked (15 per week) and the country's cost of living.
Hands down, the best part of the TaLK program, for me, were the new people I got to meet. As part of TaLK, you are assigned a co-teacher - sometimes more than one - native to your region who assists you in managing your classes. It was a pleasure getting to know and work alongside these people. Not only were they a massive help in the classroom but they were selfless outside of it too. They acquainted us with our region, were our gateway into the Korean culture (e.g. introducing us to the language & cuisine), and were always there to lend a helping hand if we needed one. I can't say enough good things about them. They were some of my closest friends while abroad and the highlight of my experience.
Getting to experience Korea, firsthand, was my second favorite aspect of TaLK. I was located in Jeju which is an island off the southern coast of the country. Comprised of blue beaches, caves, cliffs, waterfalls, mountains, hiking trails, and greenery, it was the most beautiful place I have ever lived in and will likely ever live in. To get a cursory idea for its beauty, google Hyeopjae beach, Cheonjeyeon waterfall, Jusangjeolli cliff, Donnaeko valley, and Seongsan sunrise peak (to name a few). Four years after the fact and I still miss being a stone's throw away from these places.
My one gripe with TaLK lied in how it was managed. Management (i.e. the Ministry of Education as well as the faculty of one's assigned school), in my opinion, were too hands-off and never clearly indicated what TaLK should accomplish.
When I was in the program, teachers were given complete autonomy over their curriculum and respective classrooms. Management hardly oversaw us. This lack of oversight sounded great on paper but was troublesome for two reasons. Firstly, the majority of people in the program - myself included - did not have a background in education and could have used greater direction while on the job. Granted, we were paired with Korean co-teachers who had insight into the classroom culture of Korea but they, like us, often had minimal teaching experience. Add to this the fact that there were no concrete learning objectives articulated by the program and what you had - to put it bluntly - was a questionably managed, structureless class with no clear direction. The second issue with the lack of managerial oversight was complacency. When you're scarcely overseen and are not working towards specific goals, it's easy to become complacent and fall into a predictable routine. Not knowing what exactly was expected of me, I often resorted to recycling teaching materials and playing ESL games with the students far more often than I should have. Between my students' EPiK classes (another government-funded ESL program in Korea; TaLK's "bigger brother", if you will) and regular English classes, it was difficult to see where my classes fit into the mix.
Another flaw of management lied in how they conducted performance evaluations. Evaluations took the form of "model classes" where the faculty of the school (i.e. homeroom teachers, the vice-principal, the principal, and sometimes parents) sat in on a day's worth of your lessons once per semester. The issue with these model classes was that they were hardly an authentic representation of how the typical TaLK class was run. The first and most obvious reason being was that students would act considerably more composed in front of elder Korean faculty and their parents than they would around a younger foreign teacher (respect for elders is a Confucian value which runs deep in Korean society). Seeing the children on their best behaviour may have presented the illusion that the TaLK teacher was in complete control of the class when, in all likelihood, this was not normally the case. Secondly, the model classes were scheduled well in advance and so it was possible to rehearse their content with one's students to ensure a positive score during the day of the evaluation. A fix to both of these situations would be to incorporate inconspicuous and spontaneous evaluations 2-3 times throughout the semester to get an actual picture of how the TaLK classroom is being run.
The Ministry of Education in Korea likely caught on to some of the things I noted above as the program's efficacy was recently called into question and the program itself nearly got cancelled. Fortunately, it wasn't. I hope it now has a renewed focus. I do think TaLK has the potential to be a great learning tool for Korean students provided it sets clearer expectations of its teachers. It's also a great avenue to experience another part of the world for those who want a change of pace or would like to pursue a career in education.