What’s it like to be an English teacher in South Korea? That answer depends on who you ask, where they’re teaching, and who they’re teaching. Luckily, thanks to EPIK, I’ve been subjected to a variety of experiences.
Whether it’s in our Sunchang gang conversations, the Jeonbuk County Kakao group chat, or our EPIK Spring 2017 or Team 2 EPIK Spring 2017 Facebook groups, somebody always has something to share. Thankfully, that includes lesson plans, too. We’re all in it together, which is a great environment to work in.
One of the top things I love about teaching is that everyone shares a common goal and aims at working together to achieve it as effectively and efficiently as possible. That common goal is simply for students to learn. Sharing ideas, material, lesson plans, and etc. is encouraged because teachers are constantly learning how to improve their techniques and classes. Copying each other’s ideas makes our jobs a whole lot easier, too.
Another one of my favorite things about teaching is that all of the work I do is for a reason, which is genuinely motivating. I can’t teach a class without a lesson plan. The better my lesson plans are, the more enjoyable my teaching experiences are. Putting effort into my job and being good at it is rewarding for both my students and me.
The skill of teaching lays in the constant awareness and evaluation of each student and each class. You can have an English-proficient student sitting in the same class as someone who doesn’t know the ABC’s, an elementary class that knows more than a middle school class, a high school class that yearns to learn right after one that would rather sleep, or 5 students in one class and 25 students in the next. I am facing all of those described situations this semester.
Keeping every student engaged and challenged in a class sometimes feels impossible because of the challenges I just mentioned. Top that off with different classroom management approaches for each classroom dynamic, and you’ve got yourself one difficult but very important and specialized job. It’s important because, as a teacher, you literally have the knowledge of the next generation in the palm of your hand. It’s specialized because you have to have a high level of emotional and social intelligence; you have to adapt to and understand each student’s progress and potential.
This week, I started teaching at the high school. This high school is known for the dormitory of boys who live on campus and are very serious weightlifters. Mr. Lee told me that it is common for students to take naps in class because they wake up very early to train and stay up very late to study; they work very, very hard. Just as anticipated, I noticed students randomly putting their heads down on their desk mid-class and take quick naps, then wake back up and re-join the class. Oddly enough, I don’t feel any sort of offense by them doing this; I know how hard they work and how much academic pressure they face. I was actually told to reward them with 5-minute naps on rare occasions.
Thankfully, my introduction lesson was interesting enough to keep most of them awake. I told them about myself and showed them pictures of my diverse friends and family, and all 7 classes (50-minutes long) asked about my yellow hair and love life. I asked them what they already know about the USA and what questions they wanted me to answer. Here are 10 of the most common and interesting responses that I got:
- Do Americans like Obama more than Trump?
- Everybody has guns in the USA.
- Does USA know about Korea?
- USA is very big and rich.
- What are the most beautiful places to see in the USA?
- What do you think is beautiful? (people’s facial features)
- What are the traditional foods and sports in USA?
- Have you been to New York?
- Famous singers/celebrities?
- Do you have a boyfriend?
Many people in Korea can be very vain, hence why they have one of the top plastic surgery industries in the world. Many want the “Western” look; eye-widening surgery is one of the most common surgeries within the industry, and lightening cream is a particularly popular product. The younger generation tends to have obsessions with celebrities and makeup.
I also thought that their gun comments were interesting/odd… until another teacher told me later that guns are illegal here. Not even police are allowed to have guns in Korea. That’s why they’re so intrigued with the ability for an average civilian in the USA to own a gun.
While answering their questions, I kept having to remind myself to speak slowly and with simple language. That is one of the biggest challenges for me. You don’t realize the complexity of your sentences and range of your vocabulary until you say one thing in a foreign country and see the perplexity of your peers’ faces.
I told them that American school lunches fail in comparison to Korean school lunches, and nobody believed me. Many Koreans idealize Western culture. Most of the Koreans that I’ve talked to think of the USA as this grand place with grand people that do grand things. It’s kind of funny when I tell them how much more efficient the banking system is in Korea or how much nicer the toilets are, and they give me the genuine reply, “no no no,” shaking their heads.
So, for anyone who thinks that what we do in the USA, like marches or protests, doesn’t make a difference… you are wrong. People around the world see us leading these ideas, and they want to follow us. Please don’t doubt how much of a difference you can make by standing up (in any kind of way) for equality and human rights.
Backtracking to my banking system comment, I’m pleasantly shocked by the ease and efficiency of it in South Korea. I learned about it when I signed up for a marathon on Wednesday night! (It’s a marathon to celebrate the cherry blossom blooming, and it’s in about 2 weeks; I’m pretty stoked, but also pretty out of shape, so TBD on how that will go.) Anyways, I signed up for the marathon online, and the other English teacher who I’m doing it with (Ricky) told me that we had to go to the bank to pay the $30,000 Korean Won for it.
I put my bank card in the ATM machine, pressed “Transfer,” entered $30,000 Korean Won, and voila! Apparently, all of your bills for everything are connected to your passport or citizenship number and bank account. If you get a bill, you just go to an ATM machine and press “Transfer” for that amount, and it pays that bill for you. You don’t even enter any information about the bill besides the amount; it just pays the right bill for you… I’m kind of confused how it works, but damn, it’s easy and efficient.
Being an English teacher to Koreans is great, but I really wish I could be an Earth teacher to Americans instead sometimes. Obviously, the size and many other factors of individual countries affects infrastructure development, but Americans could learn a lot by paying more attention to the rest of the world. On that note, how have we not made movements for change towards the use of the friggen metric system yet? Americans are the minority in this case, and it makes communication so difficult with other nationalities while abroad sometimes… it’s so unnecessary.
“The USA is not the greatest country in every aspect right now; we’re only hurting ourselves by not admitting that and by not consistently improving our country through humility and awareness. We have a lot of influence in the world, and that means a lot of opportunities to improve it. The better we become, the better the world as a whole might become.” – Brooke Teacher