My Kindergarten Job in Korea

When I taught in Korea in 2015, I worked with elementary and middle school students. I figured out almost immediately that middle school was not an age range I enjoyed. So, when I decided to come back last year, I accepted a job teaching kindergarten and elementary.

I work at a private academy (or hagwon), which is different from government-run schools. My working hours are from 9 AM to 6 PM, with 10 days of paid vacation (determined by the school), national holidays off (there are quite a few), health insurance, and a rent-free apartment near school. I am currently the head foreign teacher and make 2,300,000 won/month before taxes. 2,100,000/month is an average starting salary.

My kindergarten classes are between 9:30 AM and 2:30 PM. After that, I teach elementary classes. At my school, I have one homeroom class that I spend the majority of my time with. They are seven years old. I teach them language arts, writing, and project where we do research on a specific topic for two week periods. Additionally, I teach art to my homeroom class as well as the four other kindergarten classes during the week. It completely worked out by accident that I ended up being the art teacher, but I’m really happy about it. It almost feels like I’m using my college degree.

Kindergarteners also get snacks and lunch provided by the school (teachers get lunch, too). It’s usually a well-rounded meal with rice, soup, a protein, and veggies. Most of the time it’s traditional Korean food, but we’ve had things like spaghetti and chicken tenders before, as well. Our cook is freakin’ awesome. I love being able to try different foods at school every day that I might not have been exposed to otherwise.

Fridays are usually special days at school. Sometimes we do cooking classes. Other days, we do field trips (we’ve gone to the whale museum in Ulsan) or have events (we recently did a huge water gun fight). We also have a big birthday party once a month.

After my regular kindergarten classes end, I teach an accelerated reading class to two students twice a week. I also teach two lower level reading classes and a more advanced reading/writing class. For the most part, curriculums and materials are provided. However, I like to supplement with materials I create or find on my own. I’m really grateful that there is a lot of room to do my own thing at work.

This job is so different from the one I held in Korea previously. I am so happy to work here and look forward to coming in every day.

Do you have any questions about teaching in Korea? What’s your job like? Feel free to leave me a comment!

Dreams of Becoming a Digital Nomad

Hey guys! I know it’s been a while, but I’ve been focusing most of my time on the food blog I share with Matt (which can be found here) as well as our Instagram page (which can be found on our blog page). I wanted to come back to my personal blog, though, to write about what’s been on my mind lately.

Recently, I started binge-watching The Amazing Race from season one and it has seriously reignited my desire to start traveling again. I’ve been scouring the internet to see how some people have made their dreams of living abroad and traveling long-term a reality. Some blogs I’ve found truly inspiring are The Intrepid Introvert and Nomadic Matt, as well as Eat Your Kimchi (who I have loved since before I lived in Korea.)

Then, I started thinking of things that I could do to make income while living abroad. Of course, the first thing that came to my mind was teaching English since I have experience and I have passion for it. So, I started researching some purely online options to teach. After making a post on Facebook and talking to a couple I knew in Korea, I think I am going to try and apply with VIPKID. The hours are flexible, they provide all the teaching materials, and they offer a great base rate of $14/hr.

Ideally, I’d love to travel while teaching to support myself. There are so many places I want to see and things I want to do. Sometimes I feel stupid being 26 years old and not having a stable 9-5, but I don’t think that is something that is ever going to make me happy.

Does anyone else teach English online through a platform like VIPKID? Please tell me about your experiences!

Or, if you are traveling abroad and working remotely doing something else, tell me about that too!

5 Month Update

Today, I’ve officially been in Korea for five months. Only seven more to go!

Despite the bitter cold and my recent string of complaints, things are going pretty well. Right now, I am looking forward to my trip to Tokyo, which is only nine days away. I think a change of scenery will be good and I can’t wait to see my friend Eri and explore her city.

I honestly don’t have too much else to report. Although my office situation pretty much sucks, I love my classes and my students. I have a new elementary phonics class which I really, really enjoy. The kids are all very low level, so I get to have fun and be silly with them. I do a lot of pronunciation exercises and we play games like Pictionary.

In one of my higher level classes, I have four students who I had last semester. They love doing tongue twisters and I’ve even rapped for them before. Yesterday, they shared chestnuts with me and didn’t want me to leave when the bell rang. So two of them kind of attached themselves to me and followed me back to the office. I also recently taught them to stop starting sentences with “and” and “because,” and they’ve kept it up! It’s little things like that that make me feel like I’m making some kind of difference. Even if it’s a tiny one.

That’s it for now!

Exploited

Some days, I feel very exploited working as a foreign teacher in Korea. Today is one of those days.

I don’t often complain, as I love my students and love teaching them. However, there are certain aspects about work culture here that are beginning to exhaust and frustrate me.

First of all, most teachers are expected to work long hours with little time for breaks. Some days, I only have six classes all day, with two hours worth of breaks in between. Others, I teach six classes back to back, have less than thirty minutes for dinner, and then have three more back to back classes.

Additionally, I was also just told that we will be beginning “phone teaching.” This means that I will have to call students at home and ask them questions about a story they were supposed to have read.

Then, there is the lack of preparedness and communication. Today, I walked into one of my elementary classes and, to my surprise, none of my students had their story book. After running downstairs to ask my boss why, she told me it was time for a new book. No one notified me or gave me one. I practically had to beg for the new book so I could get back to class for my lesson. This happens constantly and foreign teachers are also the last to find out anything.

Furthermore, there is complete and utter disregard for the wellbeing of employees. My two foreign coworkers were horribly ill today (and have been since last night). There is no “calling out sick” in Korea, despite the fact that we all have two sick days allowed in our contracts. No teacher should be in a classroom endangering the health of students and coworkers. I find this mentality extremely ignorant and selfish on the part of the employer.

To make matters worse, my office and classrooms remain at frigid temperatures all day. The heat does not get turned on and I am forced to teach in my winter coat while my fingers freeze. The students sit in their coats, as well. The windows in the halls and bathrooms are also kept open. If someone tries to close them, they are promptly opened again.

I really don’t have anything else to say right now. This has been a rant.

Christmas Cards and Cheer

Yesterday was absolutely fabulous! I got to spend the majority of my day making Christmas cards with my elementary students. The school provided colored paper, markers, and crayons. I printed out some reference pictures (like Santa, elves, reindeer, Christmas trees, etc.).

These kids were so excited. Some of them brought scrapbooking scissors, stickers, and glitter glue. They went all out. I even made a little sample of my own and they all gasped “Wow! Teacher good!” It was so cute. I loved working with them and helping them glue things and write little notes.

At school, we also have a Christmas tree and a giant singing Santa Claus. It’s actually quite festive.

My middle school classes weren’t allowed to make cards, but instead of doing text book lessons we did a conversational lesson about Christmas instead. They told me what they do with their families, asked me about Christmas in America, and we talked about movies and sang songs. They all seem to love Home Alone. Which is awesome. Because it’s my favorite Christmas movie, too!

After work, Steve and I went out for shabu shabu which was the best possible dinner choice since it was so ridiculously cold. We literally sat in the restaurant with our hands over the boiling broth while everything cooked. I don’t think I’ve ever been so cold in my life. My school hardly turns the heat on: kids and teachers walk around in their coats (and sometimes blankets). They also keep the windows open. Especially in the bathrooms. It’s bizarre. I guess that’s just how they do it here.

Monday

On Monday evenings, I teach a middle school class with four boys and one girl. They are very shy and rarely speak. However, I can tell that the girl’s English skills are very good based on her written work.

Tonight, I got to my classroom and she was the only student there. I decided to postpone my original lesson and have a conversational class with her instead.

Within the first ten minutes of class, I was so impressed by how much she was talking. She speaks very well with some simple grammatical errors, but we were really having a conversation. I asked her why she never participates. She told me that the boys make her too nervous.

We talked about school in Korea. She said that middle school and high school students are required to wear uniforms and are not allowed to individualize them at all. She told me that one time, she wore a ring to class and her teacher took it off her finger and threw it in the trash. I was in shock.

She went on to say how she wishes she was American-born because there is so much more freedom in America. It broke my heart to hear this from a 14 year old.

We also talked about music and books. She loves fantasy books like Harry Potter. I asked her if she liked unicorns. (Because I love unicorns and I have to share my love for them. Obviously.) She did, so I told her about The Last Unicorn and wrote it down for her. We also talked about traveling and cooking.

At the end of class, she told me she had fun! Fun. How awesome is that?

I really hope she stays positive and at least tries to participate more in class. Her speaking skills are among the best out of all my students, and I can’t believe it’s taken nearly four months for her to use them!

Highs and Lows

I know that living abroad is not without challenges. However, sometimes I feel like I can go from being extremely happy to extremely sad in an instant. I don’t know if I’m homesick, or sad about missing Thanksgiving, but today was just horrible.

First of all, I’ve been kind of sick for the past week. It didn’t help that when I was feeling particularly yucky last week, I wasn’t allowed to go home. To top it off, two days later I came in to find out that a Korean teacher was home sick and it was my responsibility to cover her classes in addition to mine. Like, what? Here comes the cynicism and feelings of exploitation…

Anyway, back to today.

I woke up in a bad mood. Steve and I went out for brunch. It was just so cold and windy, though, and I was not having it. I pretty much complained through the entire meal. Finish up, go home, whatever. I Skyped with my girlfriend Alysa which was really nice. Bitched some more.

I got to work and the office was freezing, windows open. Why? Whyyy? I had to keep my coat on! I also discovered that there was some kind of testing going on so I didn’t even have most of my classes. I tried to read some Huffington Post, but I was starting to feel stuffy and dizzy and terrible.

Naturally, I went to the bathroom to cry. What exactly was I even crying about? I don’t know, but it helps sometimes.

When I finally emerged, the head teacher came and asked if I was sick. I just told her yes (in the hopes of going home early) and we went to the hospital. What a mistake. Long story short, they gave me a shot in the butt and prescribed me a series of horse pills that I absolutely refuse to take because I have no idea what the fuck they are.

I had to pay for them, too.

I got to go home at 7, instead of 10. Which I felt was still ridiculous because we went to hospital at 4 and I had nothing to do for another three hours. So I sat at my desk, in my coat, and read about Thanksgiving leftover recipes online.

When I got home, I made myself a pot of macaroni and cheese and ate the whole damn thing, about which I certainly have no regrets.

I still feel like shit and I’m seriously fighting to urge to pack up everything I have here and get on the first flight out of this country.

 

The Substitute

Today, my morning was a little bit different than usual. One of my friends is taking some time off to visit family in Canada, so she asked me to cover for one of her morning classes. I said “sure” and she told me all I had to do was read some news articles with her students and discuss them afterwards. Cool, no problem.

I wasn’t ready for the incredibly enriching experience I found myself in.

The class was made up of five women: one about my age, the other four probably in their 30s or 40s. The first woman who came to class has actually been living in Australia for the past few years and was working as a welder! She recently quit her job to come home and study English, although she said she will probably go back to Australia soon.

The second woman to join was the one about my age. She was very shy and didn’t talk much. At 10 AM, we began reading our first article about prison inmates training dogs. Halfway through, a third (impeccably dressed) woman walked in. After she caught up, she couldn’t stop talking about it! She loved the idea and talked about how much she loved animals. She mentioned she grew up in the country and had dogs and chickens and goats. After her favorite cat died, though, she swore never to get another pet because it hurt too much.

At around 10:30, two other women joined. Our second article was about a little boy who saved his grandmother and Chihuahua from a burning house because he had learned to call the fire department because of a recent program at his school.

This led us to talking about education in both South Korea and America. I was very surprised to hear that most of the women do not like how much is expected from Korean students regarding academics. The woman from Australia had very strong opinions on the fact that children  are pushed so hard and go to bed so late. She thought that kids need more time to just be kids.

This was also coming after the most important day for students in Korea. Yesterday, November 12, high schoolers took their college entrance exams. This is taken so seriously that businesses are not allowed to open until the exams are finished and even planes have to be grounded or rerouted as to not distract testers.

After, we moved on to talking about technology. It was interesting to see the love/hate relationship. Some of the women really like how easy smartphones make it to find information and talk to family and friends, while others think that it’s too distracting and making us lazy. Their English was very good and we had a really insightful discussion.

They also began talking about how things were 20 and 30 years ago and how much has changed since then. One woman kept saying how the past is the past and we have to live in the present, and another asked her if she was a liberal. She said she was and proceeded to tell everyone how she constantly fights with her super conservative father-in-law. It was great.

Near the end of class, everyone asked me about where I’m from, how I’m liking Korea, etc. Naturally, we just ended up talking about food. They asked what my favorite Korean dishes were and if I like to cook.

It was a really fun class and I loved hearing so many different perspectives from Korean women. I never thought I would enjoy an adult class, but I had such an excellent morning!

Conflicted

Today, I was required to teach a lesson on abortion to one of my classes of 6th graders. Not only was it uncomfortable trying to explain what abortion was to a group of children who don’t speak your native tongue, but it only got worse and worse the more we discussed it. I had to go over words like “pregnancy,” “termination,” “fetus,” “miscarriage,” and others. I did not want any part of it.

For one of the activities, the students had to make a web of reasons a woman might want to have an abortion. Maybe it’s just me, but I felt that this was much too advanced for the group I was teaching. Most of them were confused and said things like “not enough money” or “woman can’t grow baby.”

Then, we moved on to talking about alternatives for abortion. The answer I was looking for was adoption. I had one kid raise his hand and say “mother kill herself.” I just started saying “no” over and over and over again. It was unbearable. However, my school is very strict about making sure all the work is completed in the textbooks. The Korean teachers check. The students’ parents also check and complain if they see that things have been skipped over.

I’m just concerned that these students are not learning what they should be. Many of them have pretty low literacy from what I’ve seen. They need more instruction on grammar, writing, and speaking. Not discussing concepts like abortion.

While most days are good, it’s days like this that get me upset. I know that private English academies are a huge business in Korea, but I feel like students aren’t truly learning English. Parents are shelling out cash for what seems to be something of a status symbol. “Oh yes, my child goes to a private English school!” Unfortunately, very few of my students can actually have a conversation with me or write a coherent essay.

It’s frustrating.

I Promise to Listen to My Teacher

Children who do not respect their elders are dealt with very seriously here. In fact, judging by what I just witnessed at work, I would go so far as to say corporal punishment in schools is alive and well in Korea.

I had been having a very difficult class earlier this afternoon. Two of my students absolutely refused to pay attention or do any work. The same two students have been giving me trouble for the past few weeks. Today, though, I was very tired of them talking while I was talking, poking other students, not speaking any English (in English class, mind you!), and audibly laughing every time I wrote something on the board or had my back turned.

That was the last straw. I told both of them to stand up and that we were going for a walk downstairs. Immediately, the pleas of “sorry, teacher! Study!” came pouring out of their mouths. Nope. The head Korean teacher was going to deal with them. We walked downstairs and I handed them off to her. She was not amused.

I stood in shock as I watched what happened next. The head teacher balled her hand into a fist and punched them both in the side of the head. Hard.

My heart sank.

I was expecting a 100 lines of “I promise to listen to my teacher.” Or something. Anything, really. Just not that.

The head teacher asked me to return to class, where I drilled the rest of my students on verbs, nouns, and adjectives. Through the window, I could see my other two students standing outside the door with their arms raised above their heads while the head teacher yelled at them.

I wanted to cry.

After class, I returned to my desk where I began planning for some tests on Friday. A few minutes later, the students who had been punished came in to apologize. I thanked them for their apology and told them to be good next class.

I think I am mildly traumatized. Actually, genuinely distressed.

I really don’t know what else to write.