Why did you decide to come to Korea to teach English?
Like most university graduates fresh out of school, work prospects in Canada didn’t seem very promising. I had been toying with the idea of teaching English abroad since my second year of university, and after a year of fruitless job-hunting in the city, I decided there was no better time to move overseas. That’s how I ended up in Korea!
How did you find the process of applying for work and getting all the paperwork ready?
It was very straightforward. My agency gave me a checklist of all the documentation I would need to gather: university transcripts, reference letters, criminal background check, etc. Once I had everything I needed it was just a matter of going down to the consulate and getting the visa.
I was a minimalist. I moved to Korea with one suitcase (only half of which was clothing), one backpack, and a ukulele.
I regret not bringing more SHOES! It turns out Korea does not make shoes in my size, and I’ve even tried shopping in the men’s section! Some shop keepers just shake their heads when they see me coming, others just laugh at the situation and try to give me hugs to feel better…awkward.
What was your first impression of Korea?
Everyone was really friendly. Whenever I stopped to look at a map in the subway station or to look at my guidebook on the street, Koreans would approach me and ask me if I was lost or needed directions. I usually knew where I was going, but it was nice having strangers be so kind to this new foreigner.
Did you have culture shock? What sparked it?
I can’t say I was culture shocked, but one of the first things that I immediately noticed was how modern and advanced Seoul is. Heated floors and heated toilet seats, the smartphones, a subway system that puts Toronto’s to shame, and even robots that warn you of construction work on the roads. It’s like I’m living in the future!
Travelling across the country on the slow train and taking in the countryside. Exploring the rural towns and rice fields. Eating copious amounts of sundubu jjigae – a delicious spicy tofu stew. Exploring Seoul’s older neighbourhoods where hanok buildings (traditional houses) dot the crooked alleys. Those are the memories I’ll take away with me.
If you had to give one reason as to why one should go teach in Korea, what would it be?
If you’ve never travelled or lived overseas before, then I think Korea is one of the safest places to give it a go. It’s modern enough that you won’t be completely out of your element, yet different enough to posses an exotic allure.
I taught myself how to read hangul before I came out to Korea. It’s such an easy alphabet to pick up; you can learn it in two days! It has been very useful in terms of ordering food in restaurants, figuring out bus routes, and doing groceries at the supermarket. My speaking itself is lacking – a lot! I’ve learned a lot of random words from my students, but I haven’t gotten past basic pleasantries.
How long are you planning on sticking around?
Just a matter of weeks! I signed a one year contract which is quickly winding down. Starting March 1st I’ll be hitting the road with the boy, Nomadic Samuel. While we don’t have solid travel plans, we know we want to slowly backpack our way around Asia. First up is a month in Malaysia, and we’ll see where we go from there!
Do you think you’ve made a strong impact in your students’ English?
Oh, this is a tough one! I’ve definitely seen them expand their vocabulary and improve their speaking abilities, but then there are simple words that I’ve been trying to drill in all year and nothing! Things like ‘beach and not beachy’, ‘finished and not finishy’… I’m going to miss those kids!
Audrey and I met while studying German in York University. Korea brought us together again over burgers and fries. She is just finishing up her contract in Korea and afterwards she will travel indefinitely with her boyfriend. On her travel blog, That Backpacker, she writes about her Korean and other worldly adventures, cat cafes and her awesome Engrish finds.