What was the most difficult part about leaving home and your comfort zone to embark on your program in South Korea?
For me, it was leaving my family. Growing up we always stayed close together and after husbands and babies came on the scene, my sisters still lived close enough to see each other almost every weekend. That was definitely the hardest part, and the day I left to embark on my journey I was sat on the plane thinking “what am I doing”, but it turned out to be the best decision I ever made and my family have always been there for me. Social media and the internet has really helped us keep in contact. As far as comfort zones go, it never really crossed my mind. In fact, I missed small things from home the longer I was away.
What was the most liberating part about leaving home to live abroad?
The fact that I was in a country where I had no one to turn to and had to figure things out on my own. This experience really proved to me that I have the power and the ability to rely on myself and that I can make it on my own. I have always tried to remain independent and this experience just reassured me that I had the ability to be all along. Also, the sense of working abroad and actually making an impact and difference to the students I taught, I can honestly say that is the best feeling.
Had you done a lot of international travel prior to this trip? Where have you been, if so?
I have always been an avid traveler and have made it a goal of mine since I was young to visit all the continents. I have had the privilege to visit such places like, Turkey, Spain, Venice, Egypt, Tunisia, North Cyprus, New Zealand, Japan and Taiwan. As you can see I am trying very hard to accomplish my goal.
What do you currently do now for work?
In August 2019, I have since returned to Korea to continue teaching English. I am now part of the GEPIK program and work at a Private Institute. I am placed in a town just 40 minutes outside of Seoul and love my new school so much!
How did you feel you were able to make a positive difference as a teacher during the time you had with your class?
As a visual learner myself, I wanted to incorporate all the fun ways to learn English. My students were able to play games, role play, sing and get creative all in English. I feel I taught them to see the fun in learning and not just all the rules that come with it. My students would come to my classroom and try and converse in English and tell me such great stories, this warms my heart seeing them really trying to communicate.
Was this your first-time teaching abroad? If so, why did you choose your particular program/country choice?
My first ever teaching experience was back in 2016, I was with the EPIK program and placed in Pohang, South Korea. I found this exciting experience through GeoVisions and can thank them for their help in steering me towards Korea. I knew I always wanted to go abroad and work but was always a little unsure as to where I wanted to go. Speaking with the people at GeoVisions, they told me all the benefits included in becoming a teacher in Korea. Korea really makes sure they cater for the needs of a foreign teacher as they understand you are far from home and alone in a new country. I always had someone to help me with everyday things and any questions I had would be answered. For the reasons mentioned, I chose Korea, also the EPIK program places you in a public school so you know you are entering a government approved facility.
How did spending time engaging in a different culture impact how you feel now about community and culture?
Korean culture is so rich in value and family oriented. No one is ever left feeling lonely and you get the sense of community straight away. My co workers would always ask if I was okay, and what plans I had on weekends. During national holidays I was invited to family gatherings and welcomed in every school event. I have nothing but praise for the Korean culture and am glad I have been embraced in to for so long. It has taught me the true value of kindness and how to embrace others and work together.
What experiences living and teaching in South Korea stand out in particular?
For me the teaching. The bond you create with your students is unforgettable. I had so much fun with them in class and even after, when they would come to my classroom to dance to the latest K pop song or ask me about myself. They made my experience amazing! Even on homesick days, a smile or a hug from my little ones would make me see that I am truly having the greatest experience and should enjoy it.
In what ways do you feel you were challenged during your program?
I had taken over from a teacher at my schools, and the students were used to her way of teaching. I had to really work hard to get them on board and understand there are so many other ways to learn. Also, there can be times things change unexpectedly like schedules last minute so always make sure you are always prepared for anything or have an activity up your sleeve. Secondly, I am sure this is a given, but the language barrier, although Korea does offer a lot of free courses to learn the language. I am doing rather well and can understand and speak it as an adequate level.
Did your goals change after your Teach Abroad experience? If yes, how so?
Drastically! I only saw myself teaching for one year and then moving on, however I loved it so much I continued for 2 years at my school. I would have stayed longer, however due to some family commitments I had to return to the UK. But I returned to Korea in 2019. I love this job so much, I just had to return to it.
How do you find ways to “do good” or give back in your everyday life?
Teaching English and improving students’ skills to continue their knowledge is rewarding I feel. So many have the dream to work internationally, or study abroad so I feel I am doing good by teaching them a skill that will help them make that dream a reality.
What would you recommend to others who are looking to become a teacher abroad for the first time?
Do not go in with too many expectations. Take it day by day and don’t push yourself too hard to be completely in the know. There will be so many learning curves, and surely mistakes made. There will be days of sheer joy and some of homesickness. This experience is nothing short of a wild rollercoaster ride, but also one you will not want to get off from. It will teach you things about yourself you never knew and give you lifelong friendships and connections. With all that being said, make sure to research about the teaching program, contact others who have been part of them. Research the country and its customs and cultural beliefs. But above all be prepared for the best time of your life!
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