I’m going to be quite honest here, and say when I applied for a teaching position in Korea, I actually thought Korea was a significantly underdeveloped country ......boy, did I get that wrong!!
From the first day that I arrived in Korea, to now my 14th month, Korea has been one heck of an adventure ....it’s been everything that I could never have imagined it to be.
My first ten days in Korea, were a total blur and i’m not just talking about the soju. I was surrounded by fellow nervous foreigners, living in dorms at Jeonju University, and trying to take in all the information being thrown at us at the orientation. I remember clearly one question going through my mind on a daily basis... “what the hell am I doing? Why have I just left a good job, friends and family to come teach children– something which I don’t really know much about.” This question was slowly answered over the following months....
After a four hour coach journey from Jeonju to Ulsan, the city which I would soon be referring to as home, I was met by my new co-teacher at the Office of Education - a very shy and quiet young lady. I thought I was nervous, but she was definitely more nervous and it was an awkward drive down to my little village, Eonyang (home :-) ).
Even though I was hot, sweaty, tired and nervous, I tried to make conversation with my new co-teacher, only for her to tell me, that she didn’t like teaching and didn’t like English. What more could I say to that? Alot...I just carried on babbling, asking questions, and thinking to myself, well if she already doesn’t like English and teaching then I can’t really do or say much that would upset her.
I would probably describe my first semester at school as being a mish-mash of emotions...I had a co-teacher who barely spoke / communicated, but expected me to have things done. But then, was a god send with regards to all things out of school (sorting out mobiles / internet / banking issues etc).
School was difficult. I had Grade 6’s who hated English, and was teaching after school classes on my own with no direction. The English textbook’s weren’t the best and I was having to sing and dance – which was quite amusing to my students. To be honest, I was totally lost!! But I thank those who created the legendary website, that is waygook.org – long live the administrators and those who contribute to this amazing website. If you need an answer to a question related to either teaching or Korea, your first port of call will always be this wonderful website.
Out of school, life could only be described as Assa!!! Weekends would come along and with it adventures of new places, new foods, new drinks, new people....everything NEW.
I live in a small village, called Eonyang – aka The Centre of the Universe (as my friends and I often like to refer to it as). It is the perfect location, close to Ulsan downtown, Busan (my next favourite city), Gyeongju and the KTX (Korea Train Express – i.e. Korea’s answer to high speed trains) station for Ulsan. In Eonyang, myself and my fellow waygookin’s (foreigners) – of which there are about 12 or so – we are the local, so-called “celebrities”. You find yourself frequenting certain restaurants / coffee shops / banks and supermarkets, and the staff familiarise themselves with you, and use your custom, as an opportunity for themselves to practice their English – once an English Teacher, your always an English Teacher – whether you are in school or out.
Korea is a country of pure beauty in so many forms. Physical beauty, spiritual beauty, cultural beauty...but like they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I have always been quite open minded. Try everything once in life, if I like something, i’ll go back for more and if I don’t then at least I can say that i’ve tried it. And with that in mind, let me just say, that I have definitely come out of my comfort zones and have pushed myself to limits that I didn’t think I had in me.
Then came Christmas. This was by far the hardest thing I have had to deal with whilst being here. Christmas has always been one of my favourite times of the year, time to spend with your family and friends, to eat festive foods and listen to Christmas songs – and I won’t lie, it was hard. But with great friends I got through it. I put up a Christmas tree, played Christmas music and with friends attempted to make our own version of Christmas dinner, oh and not forgetting a dvd of Muppets Christmas Carol.
Soon after Christmas, came the so called dreaded Winter Camps. I had heard a lot about Winter Camps from other teachers and was preparing myself for the worst. But do you know what, I loved it. I had three weeks of fun, even though I was teaching 8 classes a day. Some days I would pinch myself, when I looked around and realised that I am getting paid to play with adorable little children, who want to learn English and who want to learn English from me. There would be days where we would have cooking days or sports day, and this still be considered as teaching.
Following Winter Camp, I had a few weeks for winter vacation, during which time I managed to visit parts of both Japan and Thailand. Allowing me to fulfil one of the main reasons, for me ever wanting to move to Korea, this being to travel.
Second semester, and two new co-teachers, who actually wanted to teach English. Along with the new co-teachers came an epiphany with regards to teaching and what I wanted to achieve. Having been able to spend the three weeks at a different school during Winter Camp, I started the new semester with a new teaching style, and this combined with my new co-teachers enthusiasm and wanting of great success, lead to a fairly successful second semester.
Outside of school, my thirst for adventure and all things new continued. During my first year in Korea I visited a whole host of places, including: The DMZ (The demilitarized zone); Paraeso Waterfalls; Boseong Tea Plantation; several Temples; three different theme parks (Everland / Lotte World / Woobang Land); to name but a few. My experimentation with both food and drink also carried on. Some hits and a lot of misses, but like I said, at least i’ve tried it. My culinary highs and lows have included: kimchi (fermented cabbage); fish stew; spicy octopus; green tea; green tea ice cream ; green tea noodles; Korean-Chinese (which is delicious by the way); black sausage; tofu (of various textures); rice cakes; black bean filling; bubble tea and a whole lot more.
Then came the question – “Would you like to re-new for another year?” It was then that I remembered the question that went through my head everyday when I first arrived in Korea – “what the hell am I doing? Why have I just left a good job, friends and family to come teach children.” Now, after a year, I have an answer: “I came to Korea to experience all things new and to find myself. You never really know yourself, until you take yourself out of your comfort zone and put yourself out there. For me, Korea has been an awakening, for the mind, body and soul. I have discovered so much about this wonderful country, about teaching and about myself. Don’t get me wrong, Korea and teaching isn’t always for everyone – but for those of you out there looking for an adventure and a new lease of life, this could be the golden ticket ” ....and so before I knew it, I was re-signing a new contract for a second year in Korea...and here I am, 14 months in and still loving it.