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.

Annyeonghaseyo, that’s all I know

I do this funny thing in my head whenever I imagine someone speaking to me in another language. In my mind, they are speaking German, because I know German, but it’s still a foreign langauge to me. So whenever I imagined scenerios that could play out in Korea, the person was always speaking to me in German, and I understood them. Reality is far different than these made up scenes I play out in my head because in Korea, the people actually don’t speak German, but Korean. Shocking, I know.

What I have found so far living in a country where I cannot speak the language outside of a few phrases is that it is not as hard as I thought it would be. That being said, I have had a few run-ins where my lack of knowledge and technology has failed me.

Perhaps the hardest thing for me to do without knowing Korean is go grocery shopping. This is an activity I prefer to do solo simply because I can’t just pick and choose anything and hope for the best. There is a LOT of meat in Korea. And sometimes it’s just thrown into things for fun, so I go through every single item I pick up and translate the lable using the photo option on the Google translate app. Of course this generally only applies to pre-packaged foods. Although I have also learned it would be a good idea to translate the lables of paper products so I don’t accidentally buy scented toilet paper again.

Going out to eat can also be difficult as a person who doesn’t eat meat. I have learned how to say “tofu” in Korean, which is a start, and in my wallet I carry a slip of paper that reads “I am a vegetarian, no meat or fish please.” Having this slip of paper has been a lifesaver, especially when I went out for dumplings and the two options that looked meat-free ended up having small bits mixed in.

Outside of food, the language barrier between myself and others hasn’t been too bad. I’ve only had two run-ins where I felt utterly overwhelmed by my inability to speak Korean. The first was going to Mass that was entirely in Korean. I know, what was I thinking? I was thinking I should be familiar enough with the Order of Mass to follow along. I was wrong. The other was just walking around downtown one day on my own. I really wanted facemasks from Daiso, and on my way home, I passed by some sort of protest. I was led to a table and asked to sign a petition. I did, even though I have no idea what it was for, but couldn’t explain to the person that I don’t have a Korean phone number and that I actually don’t know my address. After flailing my hands around a bit, I was handed one of those tiny Korean smoothies that Lara Jean’s little sister drinks in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and went on my way.

I hope that with time, I can learn enough Korean to get by, that these instances of confusion and inability to communicate lesson, and that the language barrier diminishes, even just a tiny bit.

Why You Should Major in the Humanities

Every morning I wake up and the thrilling thought goes through my mind: I am living in South Korea. While it was a long and winding road that brought me here, I know that the underlying factor that ultimately landed me in Jinju is the fact that I chose to major in something I loved, despite the constant questioning and criticism of pursuing a discipline in the humanities.

After working in admissions for the past year before moving to South Korea, I can state with confidence that there is little regard for following one’s passion, and high regard for only pursuing money. Yet to only study something because you know it will result in a high paycheck, even if it comes at the expense of your happiness will have lasting consequences. In my four years as a student and my year as an admissions counselor I met so many people who would have been better off studying something within the humanities, but chose to pursue a career in the medical field or a STEM profession because they were led to believe there were no job prospects within the arts and humanities. Even in reading news articles about higher education I find this attitude littering the comment section. But I am here to say with confidence, if you love the arts and you love humanities, don’t let that go, pursue that.

The world needs people in the humanities, because these people, by nature of their studies, understand what it means to be human. Without the understanding that at our core we are all human and all one, my journey to South Korea would look drastically different. In fact, it may not have happened at all. Even in my brief interactions with the students in level testing I could feel the desire to understand–to understand me, and for me to understand them. That desire is present in all of us–but it is in pursuing the arts and humanities that allows us to nurture that desire and satisfy the longing to connect with the world around us.

So if you are someone who, like me, cannot quiet that voice inside of you that longs to understand the people around you, to understand what it is that makes us all human, study the humanities. Despite the well-bolstered narrative that you will not find a job or you will be working for a fast food chain, there are endless possibilities out there for someone like you. You may just have to search a little harder than others, because a job post isn’t just going to jump out at you and say “ENGLISH MAJORS WANTED.” Instead, you will find your place as a content writer, editor, social services provider, media coordinator, admissions counselor, resident director, engagement analyst, event planner, year of service volunteer, public service representative, or maybe even as an English as a foreign language teacher halfway around the world.