January Update: Where I’ve Been and What I’ve Been Doing

January has been quite a crazy month for me, and I have to admit, I haven’t been able to dedicate as much time to blogging as I would have liked. Amid all the winter camp chaos and using my weekends to catch up on everything I wasn’t able to do during the week, I had to put my blog on the back burner. But I’ve learned, and now when the next camp rolls around I’ll be more prepared.

Winter Camp

The first full week of the month started Winter Camp. Planning for camp started way back in the fall, and by the end of November my lesson plans were finished. Despite having written down how camp would go, I really had no idea what to expect. I would be teaching a different level, and multiple classes a day. Even prep time was minimal throughout the day, so I spent most of December and the last week before camp making sure I had everything I needed made and ready to go.

Naturally, I was nervous about camp, as I tend to be nervous about most unpredictable circumstances, but after the first day, I was back in the groove. Teaching lower level elementary students turned out to be a lot of fun. While they were filled to the brim with energy, they also really seemed to enjoy being in class.

Each day, we read a page or two in the book I chose for the class, The Sword in the Stone. We also played large group games with the other classes, and did in-class activities, games, and crafts.

In the early evenings, I had a group of middle schoolers. These students were also a lot of fun, but it took a bit more coaxing to get them to come out of their shells. But by the end of camp, the students were having fun with the games and activities. They even surprised me on the last day with a note they all wrote little messages on for me. It was incredibly thoughtful and very kind.

So even though I spent the majority of my days at work, the last three weeks of camp have been a lot of fun and a great experience for me. I hope the students feel the same way. Come next week, it’ll be time to start thinking about the spring semester and getting a head start on planning that out.

Graduate School

Another exciting life event that happened this month is that I officially went back to school. I knew when I completed my undergraduate degree I didn’t want to wait too long to go back for my master’s degree. I hadn’t anticipated that I could complete it online, or that I would be living in Korea, but life has a way of surprising us all.

I spent a good amount of time back in September researching different online English programs in order to find the best one for me. I knew I wanted to pursue something that would equip me with the knowledge to teach at the college level and allow me to take courses in literature. I settled on a program that allows for specialization in college teaching in conjunction with literature and writing courses.

When I received my acceptance, I was incredibly excited. The thought of going back to school for a degree I wanted to pursue was satisfying. Even when I was stressed about finding my textbooks and wondering whether or not I would get them before the semester starts, I just had to keep reminding myself that it would all be worth it. And it will be. I’ve already started reading my textbooks and am frequently checking the online learning portal to see if any assignments have been posted yet. It really is a great feeling knowing I’m finally doing what I’ve wanted to do since my senior year of college.

Everything In Between

Aside from working and eagerly anticipating graduate school, I’ve also kicked off the new year with some new habits. My coworker Sam and I have been going to the gym after work every day. Living and working in a city allows me to walk everywhere, and since I live and work downtown, everything is accessible. While gyms are far more expensive in Korea, I decided the investment in my health would be worth it. I actually look forward to going to the gym at the end of the day. And that includes all those days I was at work for twelve hours.

I’ve also been working on some other projects that I’ll hopefully be announcing within the next month. So far, 2019 is turning out to be the year I finally stop dreaming and start doing all the things I’ve wanted to do for far too long.

Adventures in Teaching: Fall Semester

I still remember my first two weeks of teaching. More specifically, I remember how much of a train wreck I felt like. I always seemed to have extra time at the end of class and I didn’t know how to explain grammar structures in a way that made sense, nor did I include enough activities that helped to reinforce everything the kids were learning. I just tell myself everyone’s first two weeks are like that.

By the end of the semester, my kids were having fun in class. We played lots of games and I finally got them to speak in full sentences, through constant reminder and lots of encouragement. We did lots of worksheets and examples on the board. I finally figured out how to use warm-ups to tie lessons together. By the time my last day of elementary class rolled around, the kids didn’t want to go home. Instead, they asked to play one last game — a spelling game — before it was time to say goodbye. I was even given thank you notes and small gifts from some students. 

I learned a lot this first semester as a teacher. The most important thing I learned is to be flexible and to always have extra activities planned. Working at Jinju Academy has given me experience with so many different age groups, including pre-school, elementary, and middle school. By far, middle school is the group that challenged me the most. In many ways, working with all these age groups will continue to help me growing as an educator who is dynamic and flexible.

But now, the fall semester is over. I’ve said all of my goodbyes to the kids, and it’s time to prepare for what comes next: Winter Camp. Then, the Spring semester will begin. 

I’m so grateful for all the ways I was able to grow in the Fall semester. Teaching is a challenging career, and I have a newfound admiration for the teachers in my life and all the teachers I had growing up. I especially admire my high school German teachers, one of whom even took the time to give me advice in teaching foreign languages back in September when I was struggling to find my footing. Teaching isn’t easy, but every day it gave me a reason to smile. 

Life in Jinju: Two Months

Day in and day out, it’s easy to lose track of how much time has passed. As each day comes and goes in my new life, I sometimes forget that it’s already been over two months since I first arrived in Korea: excited, hopeful, and a little overwhelmed.

Now, as I sit in my 4th floor apartment, it truly feels like mine, and in turn, feels like home. As much as I would like to admit it has been smooth sailing since the day my flight touched down, that would be a lie. While the majority of my experiences in Korea have been positive, there have been moments of hardship. The most prominent was the bout of homesickness I experienced the weekend of my university’s homecoming, an event I always enjoyed attending. The first few weeks of teaching also overwhelmed me as I adjusted to working with two incredibly different age groups and skill levels doing something I had never done before.

But for each moment I felt overwhelmed, I’ve experienced abundant happiness. In my two months in Korea, I’ve made incredible friends from all over the world and have spent my free time exploring and making memories with them. My best friend took the long journey to spend a week with me, allowing me to show this amazing place to someone else. I’ve even found a great church community after spending time church hopping, hoping to find somewhere I would want to go every Sunday. Teaching has become easier, although it will never be easy, and I feel overjoyed when I see my kids understand something they didn’t before. My desire to see the world and learn more about this vast, dynamic planet I live on, grows each day, and in my free time, I travel around my city, this country, and soon, I will venture outside of Korea.

If you had asked me a year ago where I would be right now, I’d have told you I would be completing applications for PhD programs back in the States. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine becoming an expat, but now that I am here, I couldn’t see my life going any other way. I can’t wait to see what the rest of 2018 has in store for me.

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Life in Jinju will be a series of posts about living in Jinju, South Korea. Posts from my travels within South Korea and other Asian countries will not be apart of the Life in Jinju collection. 

Living in Korea: How I Got Here

When I first applied to teach English in South Korea I had no idea how lengthy or intense the process would be. While the first few steps went rather quickly, there were many weeks spent in waiting for one thing or another before I could move further along in the process.

If you have considered teaching English abroad, don’t become discouraged–while the process was lengthy and some steps were incredibly overwhelming, the peace that comes over you when you finally land in South Korea is incredible, and makes the entire process worth it. There’s something incredibly calming about feeling the wheels of the plane touch down and the little voice in your head whispering, You did it. You’re finally here.

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So, why Korea?

For the purposes of transparency, one of the biggest factors that led to me seeking employment abroad was a quarter-life crisis. I had spent the majority of 2017 and 2018 doing research on graduate PhD programs in English and studying for the GRE. When I took the GRE again for the second time and came out with identical scores to the first time I took it, I panicked. My scores only qualified me for two programs, programs that had acceptance rates below 10 percent. It definitely didn’t help that I really disliked the town I was living in and felt that I didn’t have the means to get out. So, in fear of getting stuck somewhere I was incredibly unhappy, I applied to some recruiters with the encouragement of one of my friends.

How I Got Here

When I began looking into teaching Korea I chose to go the route of using a recruiter rather than searching and applying directly to jobs. I applied to a few recruiting agencies, but heard back from Korvia within 24 hours about an intake interview. The next recruiter I heard back from after I already had an interview set up with a school. Since I didn’t know much about the process and didn’t really know anyone else who had taught abroad, my recruiter at Korvia helped me to navigate the entire process, from an initial intake interview where they got to know a little bit more about me to aiding me in filling out and submitting my appliation to the school where I sought (and gained!) employment. While I can’t speak to what it’s like to just apply for jobs on your own, I can say that using a recruiter made the process a lot less stressful for me.

The applications to teach in Korea are pretty lengthy and they can seem overwhelming, especially when they ask questions about your weight and how many tattoos you have. When I read that question I wondered if I should even both applying considering I have a few visible tattoos, some easier to cover than others. But after reading some blog posts and other websites, I decided to keep moving forward.

Another part of the process was putting together a video introducing myself. I watched so many videos from past and current teachers on YouTube so I would have a better idea of just what should be included in the video and how to make the best impression.

After Hiring

I still remember where I was when I got the job offer from my school. I was sitting in my office at my current job, and the first thing I did was call the two people who wrote my letters of recommendation. Then I went to my director’s office and told her about the job offer, and that I would be accepting the job offer the following day after reading over my 18 page contract. She was one of few people at Misericordia who knew I was considering taking a position overseas, and her support never wavered. I am still incredibly grateful for her support.

So after I accepted the job, I had a long list of things to do before I could leave for Korea less than three months later. First, I had to get an FBI background check, apostilles for my background check and for my college degree, copies of transcripts, and more passport photos than I could keep track of. Along with working full time and getting all the documents I needed, I also needed to finish my Teaching English as a Foreign Language Certification. To teach overseas, you need to complete a 120 hour online course, and some schools require a classroom component as well. I did not have to complete the classroom component, but spent countless hours completing my online course and taking many notes. I received my certification from myTEFL.com.

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Once all my documents made their way back to me, I completed my certification, and got all my passport photos taken, I sent everything off to my recruiter in Korea. Not long after, I received my Visa Confirmation Number and made my way to New York City. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to live close enough to the consulate in New York, so I took a bus in to apply for my visa. The following week, I returned by train and picked up my passport. I would leave for Korea in just under three weeks, so having my passport back was a huge relief. My flights were booked, my bags were packed, I said goodbye to my friends and coworkers at Misericordia, and I had moved out of my first apartment and spent a few weeks visiting family and friends back home. It was finally time to go to Korea.

If you are considering teaching English abroad, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have and point you in the direction of resources I used regularly before coming to Korea.

 

Adventures in Teaching: My first two weeks as an educator

After two weeks of teaching, all I have to say is that teaching is hard. Quite possibly, it’s one of the hardest things I have ever done. I tried not to kid myself going into it; I knew that my babysitting experience and time as a tutor for other college students would pale in comparison to what it was like to stand in front of a classroom full of children who have a limited working knowledge of the English language. While I knew what my experience wouldn’t be, I didn’t really have expectations for what it would be.

So far, teaching has been a learning experience, probably more for me than for the kids. Every day, I’m challenging myself in new ways to get into a different headspace. My first task as a teacher was making lesson plans for the first week of class. My perception of time has never been great, but the entire first week, I found myself with extra time at the end of lessons, at a loss for what to do next, which usually just resulted in rushed games of hangman and pictionary. I like to think that over the last two weeks I have gotten better at predicting how long activities and lessons will take, but it isn’t an exact science.

Another area I’ve been struggling with as an educator is determining what it appropriate for each age group. At my academy, I teach elementary and middle school students. What works well with one group obviously doesn’t work well with the other, so getting in the right mindset to make lessons for each one is difficult. It seems like finding the right balance between instructional time, learning reinforcement, and fun activities to really help the concepts stick is another area where there isn’t an exact science. While one grammar lesson may take 15 minutes to present, another may take 25 minutes.

One moment that sticks out in my memory from my first week as a teacher is the day I realized that some of the words I use regularly are not words my kids are familiar with. I was teaching a grammar lesson and as a part of a comprehension check, I asked “does everyone understand or is this confusing?” I got a lot of blank stares and eventually one kid asked “what is confusing?” My response was, “I don’t know, I need you to tell me what’s confusing.” That went on for a while before my co-teacher told me that the kids were asking what the word “confusing” means, not that they were confused with the lesson. Talk about an embarrassing but enlightening moment.

While teaching hasn’t been easy, I like to think I have gotten better with each lesson. My understanding of what my kids know and how to present new information to them has improved. It’s so rewarding when a concept clicks for the kids or when they come into class with smiles on their faces ready for a new lesson. As a teacher, I’ve seen each day as a new opportunity to stretch myself and grow in my new role, and as a chance to make a lasting impact on the kids I work with. Each one of them is so dynamic and eager; I am so grateful for the opportunity to educate them, and I am excited to see how far we all come by the end of this semester.

Life in Jinju: Week One

I can’t believe an entire week has passed since I touched down at Incheon Airport in South Korea. Getting here was enough to make me avoid getting on another airplane for a long time, but I am happy to report that I have settled into my new home quite nicely.

 

After arriving in Incheon, I had some downtime before I boarded a bus to Jinju, the city where I would be living. I knew little beyond the fact that I had an apartment to myself somewhere within walking distance of the school where I would be working. After getting off of the bus in Jinju, I was taken to my apartment where I dropped off my belongings before going to dinner. I was exhausted and quite honestly was in desperate need to a hot shower, but it was nice to get to know my new coworkers and supervisor.

Once I got home, I took in my new living space–an apartment similar to a studio with a small kitchen, bathroom, living space, and laundry area, which may be my favorite space in my whole apartment. While my new apartment is definitely smaller than the one I had back in Wilkes Barre, my new space is cozy, bright, and the perfect size for the more simplistic life I am working to embrace. I am fortunate that the former teacher left behind a good deal of furnishings and supplies in the apartment, so when I ventured out to emart and Daiso, I was able to spend less on necessities and pick up a few things to make my space feel like home.

I spent my first weekend exploring Jinju. Saturday I was able to take in a lot of sights as well as experience the traditional market downtown. Sunday I spent the day trying out different churches in the city, including a Catholic mass that was completely in Korean. Between church services, my coworkers and I had some of the best pancakes I have ever had at a cute coffee shop. That night, I experienced a traditional Korean BBQ–almost. While my coworkers ate pork, I was able to get tofu and mushrooms to grill up. The side dishes were also veggie-friendly. While it’s harder to find veggie-friendly options here than it was back in the States, it’s definitely doable.

This past Monday I started work–the real reason I am here in Korea–and I couldn’t be more excited for classes to start on Monday. Each morning I walk about 15 minutes to work, rain or shine. I love that each day I have no choice but to move around and be active on my walk to and from work. Yesterday and today I got to meet some of my students through level testing. The rest of the time I spent developing lesson plans, coming up with games and activities to play to help the students learn English, and finding worksheets online to reinforce grammar points. While I’m nervous to find out if my lessons were planned well, I’m also excited to just get into the classroom and get to know my students.

Even though it has only been a week, I feel incredibly at home in Jinju. I can’t to see what else my time here has in store for me and all the amazing places I will get to see while I’m here.

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Life in Jinju will be a series of posts about living in Jinju, South Korea. Posts from my travels within South Korea and other Asian countries will not be apart of the Life in Jinju collection. 

Why Korea? And Other Questions

Since making the decision to move to Korea I have gotten a lot of questions. Some of these questions come from friends and family, while others are from complete strangers who overhear a conversation I am having. I decided that answering these questions all in one place would be helpful for those who may be curious, but nervous to ask about why I chose to move to Korea and what I will be doing there. So here we go!

Question 1: Why South Korea?

I decided to move to South Korea for a few reasons. One of the biggest reasons was that I felt like I was in a rut. While I loved my job, it wasn’t enough to cover the expenses of living on my own with student debt. Not to mention I felt trapped living in NEPA and needed a way out. After taking my GRE again, my hopes of grad school were slashed. While I was a great student and had a laundry list of extracurriculars and conferences I had attended, I knew that test scores and the school you went to for undergrad played a huge role in an admissions decision into a good program. Even the schools where I qualified only had acceptance rates between 8-9% each year, and I didn’t feel comfortable wagering everything on such a slim chance.

So after talking with a close friend, I decided to look more into teaching English in Korea. One thing led to another, and now I am leaving in exactly two weeks!

Question 2: What will you be doing there and how did you learn about it?

I will be teaching English as a foreign language at a language learning academy. The school works with different age groups, like pre-school, elementary school, and middle schoolers. I found this position by applying to recruiting agencies in Korea. The agency I worked with, Korvia, is one I found after reading an extensive blog post by Drew Binsky, who has since become one of my travel idols. My recruiter at Korvia is amazing, and she has helped make this process smooth and stress-free.

When I applied to Korvia, I didn’t really know what to expect, but within 24 hours I received an email requesting an interview with the company. I passed the first interview, and a week later I had an interview with my school. Three days after that, I was offered the job.

One thing to note about working with a recruiter–Korvia is free. People often ask if I had to pay the recruiter to find me a job. I did not. I did, however, incur other expenses, such as getting an FBI criminal background check done, and getting certain documents apostiled, which is just a fancy way of saying I got an official stamp from the US government that allows the Korean government to accept my documents as authentic.

Question 3: Do you speak Korean?

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I do not speak Korean, other than a few phrases. As I get closer to my departure, I have gotten a lot more serious about learning Korean. I have been teaching myself Hangul, the Korean alphabet, as well as learning important phrases, like hello, my name is Christine, nice to meet you, thank you, you’re welcome, yes, no, and excuse me. I really enjoy learning languages, and Korean has certainly been a challenge. Some of the resources I have been using to learn Korean are: Duolingo, Drops, Talk To Me in Korean, Korean Class 101, and learn-hangul.com. I also low-key love k-pop, which is a great way to just expose myself to the language as I’m driving or cleaning out my apartment.

Question 4: Have you been to Korea before? Have you traveled outside of the US?

No, I have not been to Korea, or any Asian country for that matter. But I have traveled abroad. When I was 17, I was an exchange student in Germany, and I went to Ireland after my junior year of college, just for fun. On those trips, I also got to visit Austria and Northern Ireland. Both of these experiences abroad were formative for me, and I do not feel apprehensive about moving to Korea.

Question 5: Are you going with anyone?

If I waited for my friends to travel with me, I’d never go anywhere.

But in all seriousness, no. My friends and I are all on different paths in life. Some are getting married, some are starting graduate school, and some are still finishing undergrad. A lot of my friends are in medical or STEM professions, which means teaching English isn’t really on their radar.

I would never expect anyone in my life to abandon their dreams or career to uproot their life and move to another country with me. That is both selfish and unrealistic. While I am not going with anyone I know, I have started getting to know the other girls who will be arriving with me who have also never taught English abroad before. This experience is new to all of us, and I think that’ll allow us to bond, and of course we will be there to look out for each other.

Question 6: Are you nervous? Scared? Excited?

I honestly don’t know the last time I was so excited for something happening in my life. I don’t feel nervous or scared, primarily thanks to the world of youtube. I have spent hours watching youtube videos from other Americans who have moved to Korea to teach English. So while I can’t predict exactly what my experiences will be, I feel prepared to head to Korea and educated on what to expect when I get there. And once again, my recruiter, Jina, has been amazing and helpful every step of the way.

Question 7: Do you have a teaching certificate?

Yes, I am certified to teach English as a foreign language, which means I am certified to teach English abroad, but not here in the US. I did not major in education or receive an education certificate from MU. I completed my TEFL certification online back in June. Again, I used Drew Binsky’s recommendation (and coupon code) regarding where to get certified.

Question 8: Where will you live?

My school is providing me with a furnished apartment. I’ll be able to walk to work each day or take a bus on those rainy and chilly days. Oh, and I’ll finally have my own washer!

Question 9: What are you doing with all your stuff?

I sold it, donated it, and only kept what I needed.

Question 10: Will MU hold your job for when you come back?

If and when I move back to the US, I will not be coming back to NEPA, at least not for anything more than a visit. So no, they are not holding my job, and I wouldn’t let them even if they offered. My time has come to leave NEPA and not look back. My job was a great starter position and it allowed me time to figure out my next move, but I think my time working in admissions has come to an end.

Question 11: What is the weather like there?

Well, Korea, like NEPA, has four seasons. The caveat here is that I will be further south, so winters won’t be nearly as cold as these mountain winters, but the summers will be hotter. And humid. So when I packed my bags, I had to pack for four seasons: shorts, sweaters, coats, tank tops, jeans, hats, gloves, scarves, flannels, etc. Packing a year’s worth of stuff has been somewhat stressful, but now that I have packed everything I need into two checked bags and one carry-on, I don’t know what I’ll ever own anything more than that.

Feature image from: http://freeassembly.net/news/kiai-to-visit-republic-of-korea/korean-flags-2-500/

 

The Great Discontent & A Leap of Faith

I knew I needed to get out of Northeast Pennsylvania. I’ve known for years, persistent feelings of overwhelming isolation and sadness being a pretty clear indication that something just wasn’t right. But after graduating college, my first job offer was from the university where I had just completed my education, and while I love my alma mater, I knew I could not stay long-term. Well, unless I wanted to fall into a never ending pit of despair. I know, it sounds incredibly dramatic, but I think I spent more time laying on my futon staring at the wall than doing anything productive in the time I’ve been living in my own apartment.

So once I took the GRE and realized my score wouldn’t get me into any of the schools on my list, I panicked. I could not, would not, get stuck in NEPA. I did what any rational person would do and I decided to apply to teach English in South Korea. It seemed like a crazy whim to ride everything on, but within two weeks I had a job offer from a language learning academy in Jinju, South Korea, and without hesitation I accepted the job offer. It seemed right. My heart was content.

As I went through the process of applying for a visa, gathering my documents, and completing my Teaching English as a Foreign Language certification, I noticed that the discontent that had been lingering in my heart for so long had settled. I started reading again. I felt a sense of relief as I parted with material items that were cluttering my life. The Great Discontent had passed. And in its place I found that a desire to dive deeper into my spiritual life had taken over. This dramatic change in my life was not entirely a result of my own making, but a divine intervention, taking me down the path where I was needed most. While to some, the belief in a higher power orienting me in another direction might seem crazy, it is the most sane explanation I can come up with. Sure, I have never been afraid of taking chances and going abroad is something I think about with childlike excitement. But rather than seek a higher paying job within my current industry, within my own country, I took a leap of faith and completely changed directions, put aside all of my fear about living somewhere new where I don’t even speak the language, and dove in head-first. The burden I felt was lifted, and I just knew.