A Letter to Prospective ESL Teachers Pt. I

2 Jun

Every couple of months a friend or a friend of a friend asks me whats its like teaching over there (Korea-specifically Seoul). I after the first three I got to thinking how awesome it was how each letter was different because I was obviously learning new things every day. Here is a letter I wrote back in January when I was 3 months in- now I can tell you the plans I had at the end have totally changed but I guess that all part of the processes.


First off I have to tell you Seoul is great! Currently I’m in my almost 4th-month of teaching at a Hagwon (English Academy). There seems to be hundreds here, especially in the suburbs where I’m located. I live in Nowon-gu which is a 45 minute subway ride from the center of Seoul. I can tell you from experience that if you want a decent apartment be willing to live outside of the center of town definitely helps..

My job entails teaching 15 different classes, 1-2 or sometimes 3 times a week. If I teach one particular class of students three times I will usually teach them twice a week in one subject and then once in another. Having 15 classes does make learning their names really hard but they are all given english names so its not that bad. Some terms are easier than others. The schedule for terms is usually the same through I have to be at work at 2:30pm everyday. I start at 3:15 on Monday, Wed. Friday and 4:45 on Tuesday and thursday. Every day I’m done at 9:40pmm I do have at least one 50 minute class off every day- but every Wednesday I was teaching 6 classes in a row and then got my break- that was difficult at first. Also during the normal term you only have 5 minutes between each class while during intensives you have 10 in the morning and then a massive 90 minute lunch, then it goes back to 5 minutes between classes. So far as training goes I came in the middle of a term and had one day of shadowing and that was it. Its kind of trial by fire but everyone gets through it and just accepts their first 2 weeks just kind of stinks. Right now I’m doing intensives. Its when the kids are on break from school so they come academy from 9am to 4:10, so as I teacher I’m there 8:30 to 5pm. M, W, F I have a 90 minute lunch break and Tues./Thurs. I have the same break plus one period off on Tuesday and 2 afternoon periods off on Thursdays. With intensives the breaks are nicer and I feel like I’m creating less worksheets right now, however you have to work on Saturdays. Its not too bad tho, its only 9am to noon for a month.

I’m one of 2 foreign teacher at my academy, my director and 6 other co-workers are all korean. My old director could barely speak english- this is apparently very common. The other girl I worked with said at her old academy there were only 2 korean teachers and every one had to speak english. It’s a mixed bag here and everyones got there own “right way” of doing it. I love my co-workers tho- they’re all girls around 27 to 35 and just really sweet nice people who will go out of their way for you. I feel like most Koreans will do just that- I wasn’t expected everyone to be as nice and generous and even as genuine as they are. The only reason I will probably not be renewing my contract is I’m trying to get into this 4 week intensive CELTA course in Vietnam- also I can’t miss another Christmas, my parents, particularly my mom would kill me. That another thing I wasn’t prepared for. Christmas isn’t a big deal here so at my academy the last day of the final schedule was christmas eve-eve and the first day of the new term was the day after christmas therefore I go a very firm no when I requested christmas off 2 months in advance. But my friend who works for a private international school did get to go home for 10 days.

Seoul is self was a bit of a shock for me- I’m from seattle and I wasn’t used to the pollution here. The city smelt like like diesel and sesame oil as I was driving through the city on my way, coupled with the humidity left over from an indian summer- the air feels so heavy. I was sick for almost 2 months with in a week of arriving. It was probably just that “new country cold” but I’ve never been sick for that long. Good news tho! All teachers get health insurance here, they are also very generous with the cold medicine. My doctor at the hospital didn’t have the best english but it was functional and I got this massive baggie of individually wrap meds to tied me over till I got to the pharmacy. As far as the weather goes- its 18 degrees F right now and its a very dry cold, I get nose bleeds at least every couple weeks. They do have a monsoon season here- apparently lat year it rained for almost 2 months straight. Flooded streets, etc. nothing like the flooding in SE Asia this fall but still, it can get bad. In the summer its apparently very tropical- just hot and humid so I’m expecting something like Louisiana in July/August. The city isn’t the prettiest place I’ve ever been to or the ugliest. It does earn the name concrete city. That being said there are tons of museums, great restaurants, things going on all the time so you won’t get bored. I live in the north east corner of the city and there are mountains all around me, its really great.

Regarding applying for jobs- have you heard about the TALK program? Its specifically for associate degree holders and I believe they set you up with a public school. If I read it right. Most schools start in late feb early march or late august early february. I would definitely check it out. Heres the link I found- www.talk.go.kr. I also know people who don’t have ANY kind of post high-school education and they found great jobs in China. So with you degree and certificate you would make possibly more than you would make in Korea.

I’ve attached some pictures of my apartment. I definitely lucked out. Some of my friends closer to the city have tiny places they had to completely furnish themselves. However I have yet to meet someone who said their apartment was over run with bugs or rodents. Its a very westernized country with, what I feel like, is a very good standard of living. We are however ogled- a lot! Its pretty much guaranteed that if someone if over 40 and hasn’t been to school past high school here- they will not be able to speak english. So whenever I have a problem I find the youngest person I can and ask them- its usually some 10-12 year old guy/girl. I get stared at by the older people on the subway all the time. I even got told off last week by this old man for laughing- not even loudly. He came right up to us and said- “This is not your living room”. I would say my one complaint is subway culture…. you just keep your eyes averted and don’t say much of anything. Other than that everyone is so nice and so patient while I struggle through my broken korean. A few universities and community centers offer free survival english lessons which I’ll be start next week so I’ll let you know how that goes. There are Korean Language academies and also intensive University course and they cost about the same ($1500).

Please let me know if you have any other questions, I’m happy to help.

Good Luck!



So when I finish in October, I’ll spend 2 weeks at my friend apartment here, then head to Hanoi- hopefully pass and get my CELTA then December with the folks and definitely back here in Seoul by January. I’m getting the CELTA because I want to try teaching adult and maybe get a university job down the line. Those are apparently the best kinds of jobs. A friend I have here teaches at seoul national university but shes also got a masters in TESOL. I’ve heard its easier to get Uni jobs with just a degree and CELTA out in the country or even China. So we’ll see what happens.

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