Sunday, July 27, 2014

The first farewell

Over the next month there are going to be some big changes in our Jeomchon community.  We have four people leaving Korea and one person moving to Seoul.  It's going to be a huge change without these people here, so last night we had the first of what will be two farewell events for them.

School has been completely consuming my life for the past month, so I really haven't seen anyone in ages.  Just about everyone I saw last night greeted me by saying "where have you been?!"  Needless to say, it was a breath of fresh air to be social again.

One things that has really impressed me about Jeomchon is the amount of effort people put into planning events.  We've had some great birthday parties throughout the year, so I knew that this "Lip-sync off" was going to be quite the event...and it was.

A bunch of people prepared performances, which covered just about every genre there is.

Yes, this was Thriller. 
Naturally after the performances were all hung out (and of course had a few drinks).  
One of my favorites in Korea.  James has been here for 6 yeas and is leaving in August. I'm not sure what I will do without him!

Marize is another Korea veteran and is returning to South Africa after four years in Korea. 

James, Katelyn, and I have the best Kakao chat group ever.  I spend the majority of my days talking to them off and on. We've already informed James that he has to keep up with our messages...even when there's a 12 hour time difference. 

Romeo has been in Jeomchon the longest (7 years), followed by James with 6 years. I love them both dearly, but luckily Romeo lives in Vermont and James has family in NH and VT, so planning reunions can easily be arranged.    

I don't think the changes coming in the next month are really going to hit me until after I get back from vacation...or maybe not even until I say goodbye. In the meantime, I'm going to try to enjoy every last minute with these fabulous people.

Friday, July 25, 2014


It's official! Camp is over!

Needless to say, I'm exhausted and without doubt looking forward to the weekend.  Camp was a lot of work, and while I really didn't like all of the planning, I did have a lot of fun doing the actual teaching this week.  Overall I'm really happy with how my lessons went. I should mention this is pretty much the story of my life as a teacher.  I hate planning and grading, but after it's all said and done the pain of the tedious hours spent planning is washed away by the much more positive experiences of interacting with students. I really had a great group of students, and in a lot of ways I'm feeling in denial that my time with them is pretty much over.  Do I really have to go teach elementary school NEXT MONTH?  Ah, definitely not ready.

In other news, it's only ONE WEEK until I fly home. Wow.

Oh, and also it's currently 9PM, but it's still 90 degrees (and feels like 95 degrees).  Have I mentioned Korea has the most humid weather I've ever experienced?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Locked doors, mozzarella sticks, chopsticks, and tea: A glimpse of my daily life in Korea.

I walked to school around 2PM this afternoon, as I have been doing all week because of my camp schedule.  Given Korea's summers are not only hot, but also oppressively humid, by the time I get to the top of the hill my school is located on the only thing I can think about is the blast of cool air I'll feel as soon as I open the door to the air-conditioned teacher's room.

However, today there was just one problem.  As I shuffled into school and went to open the door to the teacher's room, the door wouldn't open.  Was it stuck from the humidity?  I pulled a little harder.  No luck.  It was locked.

As many times as I've opened that door this year, it's never been locked.  Ok, I thought.  I'll just go to the door on the other side.  This meant I had to go back outside and to the other side of the building--not the most thrilling idea at the time, but I didn't have any other choice, so out I went to try door number two.

I gave the door a pull and again. It didn't open.


With no other ideas, I just went straight to the room I'm teaching my English camp in.  I turned on the AC there and let my sweaty face dry, figuring that eventually someone would have to go to the teacher's room and since my camp room is essentially right next to the teacher's room I would hopefully be able to notice when they did.

I was right.  About 15 minutes later one of the ladies who works in the admin office came in and started saying something I couldn't understand in Korea.  I figured it meant she was telling me to come into the teacher's room, so I gathered my things and went to my desk.

So there I was.  Sitting at my desk, but there were no other teachers around.  This NEVER happens at my school because there are always classes, and the teachers are always at their desks swamped with work.

Where was everyone?! What was going on?! It was uncomfortably eerie being there by myself.

Then, about ten minutes later the same admin lady from before and the school nurse returned to the office. The next thing I knew I was being summoned over to the table in the middle of the room to eat something (this is a REALLY common occurrence in Korean teacher's rooms), but what was not so common was the food being served. Usually it's fruit, bread, or rice cakes, but not today.  I was given a pair of wooden chopsticks as per usual, but the food being served today was mozzarella sticks.

Seriously? Since when do they even have mozzarella sticks in Korea?! I have no idea, but out of the foods I've had to eat in the teacher's room, this is among the best.

At long last, some of the other teachers returned to the teacher's room, at which point they were also summoned over to eat some mozzarella sticks.

As if this day hadn't already been off to a random start, the same admin worker (who is so cute in case you can't already tell), brought my over a cup of tea.

Tea, mozzarella sticks, and chopsticks.

Only in Korea can you get that combination.

The start of my school day was so random and I had no idea what was going on.  However, the thing is, days like this are actually totally normal for me in Korea.  Even after being here for a year, I still find myself constantly thinking "what the hell is going on?"

This my friends, is what daily life in Korea is really like.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Camp: Day 1

This week I'm teaching English camp with a group of about twenty first grade students.  For lack of any better ideas, I decided to do an "Exploring the World" camp, which will focus on a different English-speaking country everyday.

One of the things I love doing most while teaching in Korea is teaching students about western culture.  In our western-centric minds, we tend to let our egos get in the way and often assume that hey, everyone must know about our culture.  However, that's obviously not the case and I love introducing the students to the world beyond Korea.  Yes, I guess my inner social studies teacher is still lurking around after all.

Anyway, today I kicked off the camp with America...basically because I knew it would be the easiest to plan and I wanted to transition into the camp madness somewhat easily.  I started the class by breaking students into groups and giving them a bunch of questions about America to see what they already knew.  I also gave them a map of America and asked them to label any of the states they knew.  This turned into a fun competition and the results were definitely intriguing.

Here, my friends, is the United States according to Korean high school students:

Boston is next to Texas...who knew?

Note: Harvard and Yale are states. Mississippi is also a northern state.  

You'll notice the only state on here is Vermont.  That probably seems incredibly random, but actually it's not.  My friend who taught this particular group of students in middle school is from Vermont.  And we think they don't learn anything from our lessons--turns out they do pay attention! 
These are just a few of the maps, but you get the idea.  It's a good reminder that America's not the center of the universe.

And to be fair, of course the majority of Americans probably can't label the whole map of America, and I certainly didn't expect all of my students to be able to.  Not to mention, I'm sure the majority of Americans can't place Korea on a map. Geography seems to be a universal skill that is lacking.

Oh, and I should mention things just kept getting more entertaining when we went over the answers to the survey I gave them.  To end this post I'll give you a little excerpt from that part of class.

Me: Does anyone know what America's national bird is?
Student: Pigeon!!!

Just another day in Korea.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Limping to the finish line

If I had to choose one emoticon to display how I've been feeling recently, this would have to be it. Teaching in Korea has made one thing abundantly clear to me over the past few weeks:

Having school during the summer is just wrong.

I remember way back in the winter one of my friends here said that every July she wants to quit her job.  I now can understand why. These past few weeks have been a bit of struggle.

To start with, Korea's summers are really hot and humid, so by the time I walk to school each day I'm pretty drenched with sweat, which pretty negates the shower I take each morning.  It's not the most glamorous way to being the day, and the school itself is only sometimes air conditioned.

Secondly, despite the fact that finals were two weeks ago, we have been continuing with classes as normal, just with students who are less motivated and more exhausted.

I spent the entirety of last week trying to finish all of my grades for the writing class I did with the first grade girls.  Grading always takes a long time, but it takes way longer when you're reading essays written by students who don't speak English as their first language. At times it's exhausting to figure out what the intention of each sentence is, and it takes the mental exhaustion that comes from grading to a new level.

Nevertheless, I'm so glad I did that writing class this semester because I saw so much improvement in my students' writing.  At the beginning of the semester they struggled to write one paragraph.  By the end, they wrote two five paragraph essays.  I feel like a proud mama when I see so much improvement in their work.  These are the things that make me love working in education.

Of course, grading is grading and I don't think I've felt so overwhelmed with work since teaching back in America (and that's saying a lot!)  We're talking non-stop working, staying up crazy late busy. Last week I told myself all I had to do was get to the weekend....but it hasn't slowed down a bit this week.

Next week I'll be teaching an English camp at my school.  Although the last week of regular classes is this week, of course my students are still in school for the rest of the summer.  Actually all EPIK teachers are responsible for doing an English camp during school breaks, which essentially is just what is sounds like. You pick a theme and teach kids for an extended amount of time each day.

Yesterday I found out my camp will be next week from 4-9.  Yes, that's right.  4-9 PM.  Gross.  And since the camp will be with the same group of students each day, that means I have four hours of lessons to prepare for each day.  That's just a lot of planning...and a long time to be spending with the same group of kids.  Given it usually takes me hours just to plan one lesson, I'm feeling slightly overwhelmed by the amount of work I have to do to prepare for next week.

Of course, it would be a bit better if I didn't have a teacher's trip this whole weekend.  Not to mention, my three-hour Wednesday planning block is non-existent this week because my CT told me today that I need to go to Gumi to renew my ARC tomorrow during that time.  Since I teach ALL day Thursdays and we leave for our trip on Friday, I can't help wonder: when exactly am I supposed to get my materials together? Did I didn't even get home from school until 9:30 tonight...

After my camp I'll be teaching a conversation class the following week...which I think they think will be easy, and maybe it would be except the class will only have about five kids.  As anyone who has taught a small class before knows, you have to plan A LOT more when classes are that small.

The past few weeks I just feel like I've been drowning in school work.  It's the feeling you get when you look at your to-do list and your free time and you know that there's no way to cross everything off besides losing a lot of sleep.  It's the feeling when you keep giving yourself goals ("just finish this project and you'll have some time to breathe")....only to finish your project and realize that actually there is just way more waiting for you and in reality the finish line is WAY further down the line.

This semester has, in general, been extremely long and exhausting.  Today I was reflecting and trying to figure out why I feel so burnt out.  Then it hit me--in America we have school vacations about every two months.  Now here in Korea we are going on five months now with only one five day weekend.  Now I know to people who don't work in education think this sounds normal...but truly school vacations exist for a reason and I can now tell why.  Students and teachers in Korea both are going through the motions but there isn't an ounce of energy left in anyone.

On top of everything it probably doesn't help that this is my last week with most of my students, and I'm bracing myself for some difficult goodbyes with friends coming up in August.  I can't quite wrap my head around what it's going to feel like here without these people, and quite honestly I'm trying to put it out of my mind for the time being, but it's still always there behind everything else. Just a bit of emotional exhaustion on top of everything else.

In the meantime, I am thinking about home constantly and my main motivation to plow through my absurd workload has been the countdown I have going on my phone (18 days and counting!)  The work is going to get done somehow or another, and I can't think of any sweeter way to end this marathon than with my friends and family, in a place where for the first time in a year, I'll be able to understand everything.  I can't quite wrap my head around that yet.

Since I started this entry with a rather depressing emoticon, I suppose I should finish it with one that is a little more uplifting. So ladies and gentlemen, here is an emoticon that depicts just how I feel about coming home:

And yes, he has a butt crack on his head.  Why? Because, Korea. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014


So there I was.  It was a typical post-exam Friday afternoon.  It was one of those classes where quite honestly, I had no idea what to do with my first graders because...well, exams are finished, yet we still have two weeks of classes during which time every other teacher in Korea is allowed to show movies, but of course at our "rigorous and prestigious" school we're not allowed to.  This means that the kids have no motivation for class and are expecting to watch movies, yet forced to continue on with their classes as normal.  You can imagine how fun these two weeks are for all the teachers at my school.

I try to think of fun lessons to do during these weeks, because let's face it...the students need a break.  Not to mention the weather has become incredibly hot over the past few weeks, with highs around 90 accompanied with insane humidity every day.  Who wants to sit in school during that kind of weather? Certainly not I, and definitely not y students either.

Friday I was super busy finishing grading things for my writing class, so I figured why not play Scattergories with my students. I mean, who doesn't like Scattegories?

During one of the rounds one of the categories was "breakfast foods", and the letter was "M".

What did students respond with?

Mushroom soup and milkshakes.

There were two other answers and I can't currently remember what they were, but they were just as great as mushroom soup and milkshakes.

However, most notably, not one group said what most Americans would think....muffins!

Yes, for Koreans mushroom soup would be a totally normal breakfast food because in Korea breakfast food isn't really any different from food you eat at any other time of the day. Soup and rice are common breakfast foods, whereas muffins are just what you eat at a coffee shop, maybe as a post-dinner food.  Love those cultural differences.

Later in the day I gave another one of my classes the letter "S" for the same categories and answers included:

--sushi (most groups disagreed with this answer, but they argued that in Japan this would be a breakfast food...)

Yes, who doesn't want salad for breakfast?  My students told me it's actually commonly served for breakfast in Korea.  Who knew?

Anyway, that's what I did on Friday.  And yes, I get paid for sometimes playing Scattegories at work. I guess this job isn't that bad.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Reach to Teach Blog Carnival: Making the Decision to Become an ESL Teacher

Today I'm hosting Reach to Teach's monthly blog carnival. The blog carnival is a monthly series that focuses on providing helpful tips and advice to ESL teachers around the globe. If you'd like to contribute to next month's Blog Carnival, please contact Dean at, and he will let you know how you can start participating! 

One of the things I love most about meeting expats while living abroad is hearing about how other people decided to jump into the world of ESL teaching. Despite the different places we've been in the past and the different directions we're headed in the future, we all somehow managed to stumble upon the same career for at least a short period in our lives. 

Given my fascination with hearing these stories, this month bloggers were asked to write about how they arrived at the decision to become ESL teachers. I hope you enjoy reading these stories as much as I have! 
_____     ______     ______     _____     _____     ______     ______     _____     _____
So there it was, one fateful dinner with my yoda-but-not-yoda aunty had once again put me on the path to my future. So I took this new found destiny and I played with it and shaped it, stretched it, twisted it, and slowly but surely molded it into my own version of what I wanted it to be.  That is how I came on to the idea of teaching abroad in ESL.

My name is Dean, I have been traveling for around 4 years now with a small stint back in my home country. I’m from the UK and I began my teaching career on the island of Bali. I then made the move to Taiwan where I currently reside. Here I have the joy to fulfill my passion for writing by providing ESL/travel related articles to the Reach To Teach website.
A reader question is answered for all; advice on facing your fears about teaching English abroad.

Jessica has taught English in both Thailand and China, and she now recruits teachers to do the same at Teach English: ESL. She also continues to travel and write about it at MissAdventure Travel.

I never set out to become an ESL teacher. Although I always wanted to be a teacher when I was younger, I never realized ESL was even a subject one could teach. Through a series of events and circumstances described in this post - and less thought than you'd think - I have now taught ESL in Madison, WI; Madrid, Spain; and Yongin, Korea.

I’m a Wisconsin-native currently teaching English at a rural elementary school in South Korea.  My Spanish skills aren’t quite as useful here as they were when I lived in Madrid, which is where my Spanish nickname Rebe (Ray-bay) stuck.  I have an itch to travel, craft, learn, and read – and to make the world a better place!

Before teaching abroad, I wanted a career working in a foreign country. When that didn't work out as I had planned post graduation, I had to carve a new path.

Liane is currently working in Texas as a High School Social Studies Teacher.  She attended Texas State University for International Relations and has since been working abroad for two years.  From 2011-2013 she worked as an English Teacher in Thailand, Georgia, and The Czech Republic.  

How I attempted to use ESL teaching to sneak my way into my dream career and travel the world and how it changed my life.

Mary Ellen has taught English in Peru, Georgia (the country!) and the Dominican Republic. She now lives in New Orleans where she dances to brass band music, eats jambalaya and only wears Mardi Gras beads when it is Mardi Gras, like every sane, non-tourist person.

Ten great reasons to become an English Teacher. #9. You’re addicted to that feeling you get when you see the light go on in a student’s face, that moment when a topic clicks for them and they really understand it; it’s like watching Isaac Newton getting bonked on the head.

I've been on the road, on and off, for seven years and counting. I've backpacked through South America, lived in a caravan in the Australian outback, traveled with my mum in South East Asia, and taught English in Taiwan. I'm currently tutoring high school students and teaching business ESL in Canada. This summer I'm doing a trek to raise money for the Roots and Wings foundation in Kyrgyzstan:

I've always wanted to travel, so after I obtained my degree in Secondary Education I was instantly interested in teaching abroad.  However, after I landed a teaching job in my home state my plans were put on hold for a year.  Here's how I made the decision to leave behind an awesome life in America to pursue the unknown in Korea.

I am a New Hampshire native and a proud graduate of the University of New Hampshire. After teaching at a high school in New Hampshire for a year, I decided to leave my life behind and move to South Korea.  I am currently teaching at a High School in Mungyeong, South Korea with amazing co-workers and students alike. I am currently enjoying the challenges, surprises, and lessons that come with living abroad, and I couldn't be happier about my decision to move to Korea!

Sunday evening sunset

Sometimes it's great to travel on the weekends. Other times, it's nice just to stay home and enjoy a beautiful view right from home.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Living Without Regrets: Making the Decision to Teach ESL

Today’s article is written for the Reach To Teach Teach Abroad Blog Carnival, a monthly series that focuses on providing helpful tips and advice to ESL teachers around the globe. I'll be posting a new ESL related article on my blog on the 5th of every month. Check back for more articles, and if you'd like to contribute to next month's Blog Carnival, please contact Dean at, and he will let you know how you can start participating!

For over a year of my post-college life I struggled to feel comfortable with an answer to one short, but complicated question:

Should I move abroad and enter the world of ESL teaching?

Although this is a yes or no question, it was anything but easy for me to arrive at an answer.

Teaching abroad as an ESL teacher was my original plan in my final months of my college career.  Although I gained my Social Studies teaching certificate right after I graduated, I knew that my prospects for actually landing a legit teaching job were extremely slim due to the slow economy and budget cuts in just about every school district.  Not to mention, I wasn't sure I was ready to settle down into a permanent career in NH just yet. When you're only 23 years old, the idea of staying at the same job until you're well into your 60s in just slightly overwhelming.  For those reasons and many more, teaching abroad was naturaly an attractive opportunity for a teacher who has always dreamed of traveling in the midst of post-graduation confusion.  My short-term plan was to work for about six months to save some money, then move to another country to teach ESL.

However, everything changed when I somehow miraculously landed a full-blown teaching job in my home state of NH.  To this day I'm still amazed that I ever got that job, especially since I got it one week before school started.  It was probably the most unexpected thing that has ever happened to me, and it is remains one of the experiences in my life that I'm most thankful for.  I learned a lot over that year, and in many ways I'm glad I didn't dive right into expat life right away after finishing college. 

So after a year of teaching stateside, what brought me back to the idea of ESL teaching? Was I fired from my job?  Was my first year of teaching that traumatic?

No, not at all. Actually, I had a great year of teaching.  I still am most passionate about teaching social studies, and I'll be happy to return to that career once I am back in America.

However, I suppose like many people who venture into ESL teaching, my decision making was again prompted by a lack of job security. As the future of my position at the school was uncertain (ah, the joys of public school budget allotments as a first year teacher!), I knew I had two decisions.  

1)  Stay in NH and hope that there would be a job for me in the upcoming year.  
2)  Go abroad.  

When I had initially started researching ESL teaching while I was finishing my master's degree, I read multitudes of blogs written by people who were currently teaching abroad.  When I read about their experiences from both traveling and teaching, I knew I wanted a part of it.  

I wanted to experience something totally different.  I wanted to live outside of my comfort zone.  I wanted to work in a different school system, eat new foods, and celebrate different holidays.  I wanted to see new things and make friends with people who live on the other side of the world.  At the time I was only 23.  I felt far too young to be so complacent in my life.  

I was way too curious and way too free to stay in the US. When it came down to it, there was really only one question that mattered:

Will I regret it if I don't take the chance to move abroad?

The answer was without doubt, yes.

Don't get me wrong, at just about every step along the way-- whether it was submitting my EPIK application, completing my interview, submitting my documents, getting my visa, or getting on the plane in Boston, I had some SERIOUS doubts. Just about every time I mailed documents out I remember the feeling of sheer anxiety as I thought "Am I really doing this?!"

So why would I leave a perfectly good life behind?  I had a wonderful life in NH.  Great friends, family, and everything else I could need. I had no idea where I would be living or working in Korea.  In many ways, I felt like I was being a bit reckless with my life.

But then again, that didn't change my answer to the major question.  If I didn't go, I would have always wondered "what if?"  I don't want a life full of "what ifs". And that alone was enough for me to commit to ESL teaching, even through the extreme doubts I had at points--and even through the tearful farewells as I said goodbye to my best friends and family.

When it comes down to it, my decision to join the world of ESL teacher was centered around the fact that  life is short.  It's so easy and far more comfortable to sit back and let opportunities pass you by.  Living in your hometown is way less stressful than getting on a plane and moving to a country you've ever been to....when you don't even have any idea about where you're be living....or what grade you'll be teaching...or who you'll be working with.  However, as I read other people's blogs about their experiences, I constantly thought: why shouldn't this be me?  This doesn't just have to be someone else's life.  I can do this too.

As cliche as it sounds, life is what you make of it.  It's certainly easy to let things pass you by, but it's much more rewarding to take control of life. Being young, healthy, college-educated, and a native English speaker puts you in a position of extreme privilege.  Even with my enormous debt, there are so many opportunities for me that pay enough to live, pay loans, and travel.  Why let such great opportunities be left for other people?

As I approach my one year anniversary of being in Korea, it's hard to imagine that I ever could have not been here, and that it would have been so easy to let this experience pass me by.  I can't imagine my life without this experience--without the friends who have become my family or the students who have left an indelible mark on my understanding of education.  For the rest of my life, Korea won't just be a country "over there, somewhere near China and Japan."  Korea is a place I've seen and lived life--with all of its highs and lows.  Not every day is perfect, but when I look back on it, I wouldn't have changed anything about this year. If I had to do it all over again, I can confidently say that I wouldn't do anything differently.  I haven't seriously thought "what if?" the entire time I've been in Korea.

That alone is proof enough that I made the right decision.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Brilliant Korea: Emoticons

While regular text messages are pretty much the standard in America, just about everyone who lives in Korea uses a program called Kakao Talk instead of standard text messaging.  Kakao is an app that allows you to text/call others for free.  I've come to love Kakao for many reasons, especially since it allows me to text friends and family back home for no cost whatsoever.

However, I think besides the easy and free communication, the other reason I absolutely love Kakao is because of the plentiful EMOTICONS!

Yeah, iPhones have emojis, but emojis have NOTHING on Kakao's emoticons.  

Seriously, there are emoticons for any emotion you want to express.  Plus, companies often make emoticons that can be downloaded for short amounts of time (usually 45 days).  Of course, you can buy emoticons too, but it's totally not necessary because there are always tons you can get for free.

I have to admit, I didn't use emoticons at all for probably my first five months in Korea. However, my friend Jen basically started demanding that I download them, and now I'm so used to them that when I write something I automatically think of the perfect emoticon I can use to send along with my message.  Not to mention, when I use other messaging systems like facebook chat, I now often feel like I'm missing the Kakao emoticons (ok, maybe the whole emoticon obsession is becoming a bit unhealthy?) Needless to say, when I'm talking to the right people, sometimes conversations on Kakao can go a little something like this:


All in all, Kakao is absolutely my lifeline to my friends here in Korea. I don't even want to say how many texts I spend during the course of one day (I think this is just what happens when you can't communicate with your co-workers and you have a ton of time to just sit around at your desk). However, it's the little things that keep life interesting, and the little extra entertainment of new emoticons always helps break up the monotony of a day.  I can't help but wonder: how will I ever go back to boring imessaging?