Teaching at a Korean Middle School

I teach at two, all girls, middle schools. In Korea, middle school is 7th, 8th, and 9th grade. English is taught starting in 3rd grade. When they get to middle school, they have varying levels. Some can speak fluently with me, while others say, “Yes” when I ask them, “How are you?”

I never realized how difficult English is until I started teaching it. A student came to me and said, “My cat got shot.”  I was shocked, concerned, and confused (as guns aren’t thing here). After many questions, I realized she was trying to say, “My cat got a shot.” I explained to her that she has to say “a shot”, or else it seems like the cat was killed by a gun. She kept asking why “a” makes such a difference in the meaning. It made me realize that English is extremely complex, and I am so proud of my students for knowing as much as they do.

My job consists of teaching 22 classes a week that are 45 minutes long. I always plan an English/American music video when they arrive. Then, I lead the English text book lesson with help from and interactive DVD for about 15 minutes. Sometimes, I elaborate on the lesson with a powerpoint about the vocab or topic. Lastly, I always play a game with the students to help them practice and have fun. For prizes, I give out stickers that they can collect, and trade in for candy. I have also been able to teach on interesting topics too like American culture, school life in the U.S., and film making.

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On the first day of school, these girls asked if I could help them with their diction (pronunciation). So we now meet everyday after lunch for a diction club.

School lunch is free for students in elementary and middle school. For teachers, it costs 4,800 won ($4.50) and it is extremely healthier than school lunch in the U.S. I eat it every day, and generally like it (unless it is moving squid or octopus, I can’t do that).

They don’t use heat or air conditioning in the hallways, and even some classrooms. It has been single digits here and snowing, so I have been very cold at work. Everyone wears their winter coat all day and brings hand warmers to school.

Everyone must take off their shoes and wear “school shoes” (sandals or slippers) inside.

Students don’t have lockers, but they have little cubbies in their classroom.

No one fails in school. Everyone passes. I mean, there is no such thing as failing or “getting an F” here. If that was the case in America, many students wouldn’t try, because there would be no consequences for bad scores. Yet here, there is such high pressure to get good grades. Everyone wants to go to the best high school, a great university, and get a perfect job. This is because Korea is a such a small country (the size of Maine) with not many jobs, but there are so many people here to compete with. So, there is no such thing as failing here, because they don’t really need it.

My students are so honest, as are most Koreans, generally speaking. If I don’t catch which team answered a question first, the students always tell the truth and don’t try to steal the points or trick me. If they are doing something wrong and I ask who did it, they always fess up to what they’ve done, rather than someone telling on them.

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My students want to know everything about me. They love hearing about my life in the U.S., my family, and my boyfriend, Josh. Of course, since they are all girls, they think Josh is very handsome and love that he is “188 centimeters”.

My students LOVE kpop music and have gotten me on the band wagon. I am a huge fan of “BTS” now, and I love singing and dancing to it with them! They also love sketching pictures of me while I teach.

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This is my favorite drawing!

I love that I only teach girls. With there being no boys here, the girls seem so free to answer questions freely and not be concerned about messing up in front of the boys. I feel a sense of relaxation, and less worry about their image. Having all girls also gives me the oppertunity to build strong relationships with them, and encourage them. I want to empower these girls, and that has become my daily, and yearly goal.

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This was taken on “Sports Day”, which is like “Track and Field Day” in America.

It also helps that they are in middle school. When I first arrived and found out I was teaching at a middle school, I was sad becuase I wanted an elementary school (simply becuase little kids are cute). However, I am beyond thankful that I got placed where I did, because older students can have deep conversations. Every break, I have students in my classroom wanting to talk to me about something. It warms my heart to hear the things they care about, the things they fear, and the things they want to learn from me. I have only been their teacher for 5 months, but it seems like a lot longer than that.

The school year in Korea is quite different. Their school year ends in February which means the 9th graders will leave to go to high school very soon. I have bonded the most with this grade, so it will be difficult watching them go. I hope I was able to make as big of an impact on them, as they did on me. I look forward to March though, when we get a new group of 7th graders to bond with and teach.

If this job sounds interesting to you, don’t hesitate to reach out, and find out how you can teach in Korea too!

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These 4H students made me a plant for my desk.
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Eun Song (the student in the beautiful dress) had a special violin concert for our city. She invited me, and her two best friends to come support her. She did an amazing job! These three girls are INCREDIBLE at English!

 

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Korean Cultural Norms

You dial 119 instead of 911.

You have to take your shoes off at people’s homes, church, school, and even some restaurants. You can wear shoes (slippers or slides) inside, but they have to be designated for that place and never go outside.

At restaurants, each table has a call button that rings to the servers. They come when you need them, and don’t bother you if you don’t.

You don’t have to tip here. Like, it’s not a thing anywhere; not at restaurants, bars, or any other services.

There are coffee shops everywhere… like, ev-ery-where. It is considered a social activity, so people will go to coffee shops at all times of the day.

Themed cafe’s are very popular. There are cafes where you can make cell phone cases, play with racoons (or dogs, cats, kangaroos, sheep, etc.), make candles or soap, play board games, make jewelry, plant flowers, and my all time favorite the “Hello Kitty Cafe”!

In public restrooms, they do not use liquid soap, but have bar soap instead.

They have very decent and reliable public transportaion. It is so great, because I can get anywhere in Korea without a car thanks to clean and safe buses, subways, and trains.

Taxi’s are very cheap. Like, cheaper than Uber. They don’t have Uber here.

It is rude to talk or make noise on the bus or subway.

Koreans are not concerned with being manerly. They will bump into each other and not apologize, let doors shut in your face, and cough or sneeze without covering their mouth.

Health care is really cheap. I had a really bad eye infection and my optometrist visit was $6. The medicated eye drops and pills were $3 all together. I heard wisdom teeth removal is $100, and a pair of prescription glasses is less than $30.

Korea is such a small country that they don’t have much space to build houses. I have legitamately not seen a single house since I have been here. Everyone lives in apartments or condos.

Most home bathrooms are just wet rooms, which means there is no separate tub or shower. The shower head is on the wall and there’s a drain in the middle of the bathroom floor. You just stand on the floor and shower near/over the sink and toilet.

Most Korean apartments are heated by running hot water through pipes under the floor, rather than hot air through a vent. It works pretty well.

Koreans have washers, but no dryers. We just hang our clothes on racks inside our apartment.

Korean toothpaste doesn’t have flouride in it. They are obsessed with brushing their teeth though. They brush after every meal.

Koreans want to have white skin, so they use whitening lotion that makes their skin lighter.

At the beach, you don’t see any Koreans in swimsuits.  They cover up completely in full body outfits. this is not a modesty thing; they just don’t want to get tan. They even sit under tents at the beach. Like, the beach is just packed with tents. Sun bathing or “catching some rays” is not a thing here.

They also want to have big eyes. They have a very common surgery here that gives them a double eyelid, so that their eyes look bigger and more “western”.

Showing shoulders for women is considered “sexy/provocative” but booty shorts and short skirts are OK. Women will wear a t shirt under everything (even rompers) to cover up.

Men use and wear bags (purses) here!

Couples like to match… and by “match” I mean, wear the same outfit, down to the shoes, coats, shirts, and purses.

Colored contact lenses are “cool”.

Bright red lip stick is the only lip stick

It All Fell Into Place

“Good morning everyone, today’s the day. The sun is shining, the tank is clean and we are getting out of — The tank is clean. THE TANK IS CLEAN!”

I hope you enjoyed that Finding Nemo quote (how could you not? It’s Pixar!) This was my reaction many times the past month, except “the tank is clean” was “the room’s not ready”. Everyday I would wake up thinking my apartment would be ready, and it wasn’t. I persevered though and now I can proudly report that I have my very own place!!! I also have recieved my TESOL certification, and have started teaching. Everything has finally come together and I couldn’t be happier.

Okay, let’s dive right in… I LOVE MY SCHOOLS!!! I am teaching at two, all girls, middle schools. I absoultely love my students. I have about 600 girls that I teach, so it is a lot to keep track of (espeically with all of their names being so difficult to pronounce and remember). Most of my students are very high level. There is about one student in each class that is nearly fluent in English. They amaze me, because it is very hard to find fluent English speakers in Korea.

Everyone wants to talk to me and get to know me. I feel like a celebrity because the students always say hi to me in the hallway, giggle when I wave to them, come into my classroom during free periods to hang out, want to take selfies with me, and tell me how pretty I am all the time. I’ve always wanted to be famous, so if my film industry fame doesn’t pan out, I can just move back to Korea. 😉

The Korean teachers at my school are so nice. It’s been great getting to know them and being included. The English teachers are very good at English which is a huge blessing. Some of the other people in my program say that the English teachers at their school can barely communicate with them (I know, it’s crazy since they teach English). I feel very fortunate to have such great co-teachers.

At both of my schools I have my very own English classroom, and it is the biggest and nicest classroom in the school. I feel very blessed by this. I also have my own desk in the teachers offices.

I teach 4-5 classes a day for 7th. 8th, and 9th graders. In Korea they are considered 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade, middle schoolers. There are 7 periods, so I have many times a day that I can lesson plan or “desk warm”, which means sit at my desk and be bored (or for me – write screenplays, watch netflix, and talk with other teachers).

I eat lunch in the cafeteria, and I am so glad I do. It gives me a chance to try all sorts of different Korean food. It is very tasty, as well as healthy. School cafeteria food in the USA is unhealthy and subpar compared to here. I love it!

Both of my schools give me the freedom and ability to teach the content I feel is best, as long as it ties in to the weekly chapter somehow. As I teach the students English, they want me to teach them about American culture too; things such as: school life, types of jobs, hobbies, entertainment, sports, and family life.

My goal is to really make a dent in their English learning. The English book isn’t realistic, so I want to teach them how we really have conversations in English. I also want to empower my students to know they are strong women, who are capable of great things. I feel so blessed with the schools I got placed in, and I am very, very fortunate in every aspect. I look forward to this year with my co-workers and students.

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Receiving my TESOL certificate from professors!
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The doorway to my classroom aka “English Dreamland”
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My Classroom
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The other part of my classroom.
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The view from my classroom window. I keep the windows open all the time (at least for now, until it gets cold).
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The teachers office (my desk has the turquoise water bottle on it).

Enjoy the Ride – Month One in Korea

The jitters of moving to a foreign country hit as soon as I was about to leave. We were about to takeoff and my heart was racing with both excitement, and anxiousness. The plane sat still on the runway, but I couldn’t sit still for even a moment. I finally heard the airplane engine kick on and the turbines begin to roar. I looked at the monitor, “15 hours to go.” it said. I just wanted to be in Korea already, but I knew I had to enjoy the ride.

When we finally deboarded the plane, the excitement began again. We met up with the other new teachers in our program, and got on the bus to head to our new city called Cheonan. Once on the bus, most people slept as they were exhausted from traveling. Not me though; I was wide awake, bright eyed, and ready to share my life story with anyone who would listen (ahh, the life of an extrovert). I realized that maybe I should shut up and pay more attention to my new country, so as we entered our city, I looked out the window and just enjoyed the ride.

We pulled up to Korea Nazarene University (who is sponsoring us), and the exhaustion began to set in. I was ready to get to my room and put my head on a pillow. I got placed in a room on campus, and it was a good night’s rest.

The next morning I woke up and I was ready to take on the world. Orientation began and I was hearing all about our program, my new job, and the typical life I would be living for the next year. At first, it was all very invigorating; however, it quickly became overwhelming. I couldn’t think straight, I couldn’t remember everything I was told, or make much sense of it either. I began to have more questions than they could me give answers to. They kept telling me that I will learn everything in 3 weeks. However, after 2 weeks, they still were saying, “You will find out in 3 weeks.”

I started to get stressed out, and just when I thought I couldn’t handle anything else, I realized that my bathroom was infected with black mold. To my chagrin, I learned that Koreans don’t think this is a big deal. Luckily, I was told that I can get a new room….IN 3 WEEKS. I have been hearing this for so long now, that 3 weeks doesn’t necessarily mean 3 weeks. They had no where to move me for the time being, so I am stuck living on the floor of a current teacher’s apartment. It was very nice of her to take me in, but it will be nice to have my own place once a room opens up (when current teachers go back to the U.S. in a few weeks). Luckily, I am not the only person going through this, almost all of the new teachers are without a place too, due to the university needing those rooms for returning college students (that’s a whole other fiasco).

Needless to say, it has been tough. I have been quite annoyed, to say the least. In reality I have been ranting about it to anyone who would listen. However, I soon was reminded what had been coming to my mind all along… I have to enjoy the ride. The ride may be bumpy; it may be way longer than I planned for, but it’s still a ride to an incredible outcome. When I finally have my own, non-moldy, place to live, I get all my questions answered, and I start teaching, I will be glad I pushed through the hardships. I just know it.

So, I have been enjoying the ride the best I can. I’ve been eating yummy food (blog post coming soon), going to a singing room, relaxing at a Korean spa, watching movies, learning k-pop songs, playing fun games, trying to say words in Korean (and failing miserably), exploring my city and other nearby cities, going to festivals, and making friends. It has been a whirlwind of fun in the mix of uncertainty.

I wanted to leave L.A. to get out of the mundaneness of everyday life. Well, I got exactly what I asked for. My life here is the farthest thing from mundane. I am experiencing a new culture, seeing incredible places, and getting lots of paid vacation days (which means lots of traveling). I truly am enjoying the ride… I hope you do the same.

Keep me in your prayers and come visit me (once I get my apartment though)!

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Me and My New Friend, Lexy
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At Independence Hall with 815 Korean Flags. Korea gained its Liberation on August 15 (8/15) so that is the reason behind the number of flags.

So, I moved to South Korea

I have had wanderlust for as long as I can remember. I’ve been to 18 countries, lived in India for a year as an exchange student, and always seek out new adventures on the weekends. I was working as a live-in nanny in Bel Air, Los Angeles, and enjoying the new experience. One day, it dawned on me that I could do that anywhere. Thus, the search for a job abroad began. Au pair jobs were available, but didn’t offer much pay, whereas teaching jobs were looking to be a better fit for the salary and paid vacation benefits. Long story short, I ended up choosing a program in Korea. I quit my job, sold my stuff, packed my favorite clothes, and moved to South Korea.

So, here I am. I’ve been here for a week and a half and everything that I’ve experienced is new, and exciting, and nerve-wracking, all at the same time. I am sure you want me to share all of the cultural knowledge I’ve learned and explain how amazing Korea is as a foreigner. Unfortunately, I am unable to do that. The past ten days have been so overwhelming as so much information has been thrown my way. I have asked so many questions, and gotten so many answers, that I can’t even formulate my own thoughts on everything. I know that as things slow down, I will better be able to put into words all of the neat things that Koreans do, and why they do them. I am sure that as I start living that way myself, it will make it so much easier to explain it to you. For now though, it is so new, and beautiful, and personal; and I want to soak it all in. I want to the spices of the new food to dance on my tongue, the scents to make me close me eyes and breathe it in, the sights to reflect in the sparkle of my eye, the sounds to lull me to sleep, and the textures to rub against my skin and sooth my soul.

While I work on putting my new culture into words, let me share with you what I’ve been up to since I arrived. I flew out of LAX and arrived at Incheon Airport, where I met up with the other new teachers in my program. The first few days, we were getting settled in at Korea Nazarene University where we all have our own rooms. After a few months, we will move to our own apartments off campus. Getting used to our new city has been fun too. I enjoy not having to drive and sit in L.A. traffic, but it is hard getting used to the public transportation, especially when the signs are not in English. Besides exploring, we have been going through orientation with our program. It is nice that they want to help our transition go smoothly and explain everything, however, I am antsy to get out and experience the culture and my new job for myself, rather than sitting in a classroom and learning about it. The nice thing about orientation and our program is that they have taken us to some neat places. We’ve been to Independence Hall to learn about Korea’s history, City Hall to learn about Cheonan, and Gakwonsa Temple to see a religious and historic cultural site.

Below are some (unedited) photos from the first few days. I will update again soon!

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The new teachers in our group!
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Independence Hall
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3D Trick Art! It is a completely flat painting on the wall, but it is made to look 3D.
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The view of Cheonan City apartments from City Hall
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The Big Buddha at Gakwonsa Temple in the mountains.