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!

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A Broken Contract and a Midnight Run

I’ve been back in New Jersey for twelve days. I was debating over whether or not I should write about why I chose to leave Korea, and I’ve finally decided that I would.

Working in Korea was making me very unhappy. Not the kids or being in the classroom, but my superiors and their actions. I felt anxious all the time, to the point that there was a constant knot in my stomach. For those that don’t know, many hagwons use CCTV to watch students and teachers. Whenever I tried to do something fun in class, my boss would pull me aside after and tell me “no games, we must promote more study.” I’m sorry, but how are you supposed to teach a nine year old without the use of games or activities?

I was also getting very tired of seeing other teachers hit and discipline students so harshly. That’s something I’m not used to seeing in America and, by sitting quietly on the sideline, it made me feel like I was condoning child abuse, which I most certainly was not.

Additionally, the Korean teachers at my hagwon kept to themselves and there was very little communication. Often, I would walk in and find papers or new schedules on my desk with no explanation of what they were or what I was supposed to do with them. Sometimes, I would be given about five minutes notice that I was supposed to administer a test to a class. If I got courageous enough to ask someone for help or clarification, I mostly got blank looks. And, of course, still no explanation.

My breaking point came after two events. First, I was given a new class with very little notice and was expected to come to work about an hour earlier than I had been coming in all year. There were also no materials and the other foreign teacher and I were supposed to find time to make some from scratch (we had no knowledge of the level of the students, either). Second, (I will not go into this in great detail because it is not my tale to tell) one of my coworkers was berated and belittled in front of the office for standing her ground on a matter that affected her personally. In response, she was called names and was denied the things she asked for.

For me, this was absolutely a toxic environment and I had to remove myself from it. I packed up all my belongings and left without telling anyone at work.

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.

This is the New Year

Two weeks into 2016, I don’t have any resolutions. I don’t have anything particularly exciting to report, either.

The newness of Korea has finally worn off and I go about my days here. In the mornings, I might go to the supermarket. Or do my laundry. Or clean my little apartment. Then, I go to work from about 2:30 until 10. I love being in the classroom. I love my students. It might sound cliché, but seeing their smiling faces really brightens up my day. I get hugs and candy while I teach them new words and songs and tongue twisters. They like to ask me questions and I like to answer them.

Sometimes, kids are gross. Like the kid who sat in class licking his knuckles and then rubbed them all over his face. Sometimes, kids are mean. Like the kid who said a bad word to one of my favorite little girls, but then the rest of the class stood up to him. Which was awesome.

Some days, Steve and I will get dinner after work. On the weekends, we might do some exploring. Last weekend, we finally got around to seeing a movie here. We saw Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch (which was only released in theatres in Asia). It was good, but we were pretty confused because neither of us had ever seen the TV series. Other days, we’ll just stay in and eat snacks and watch old BBC shows on Netflix.

I can’t wait to go to Tokyo to visit my friend Eri. She wants to take me to the Ghibli Museum, Asakusa, the Tokyo Skytree, and Tsukiji Market. I’d also love to visit some other temples and museums, see Shinjuku and Harajuku, and eat copious amounts of sushi. It’s so easy to travel here!

There are so many things left on my Korean bucket list, as well. Steve and I are constantly talking about traveling. We may or may not a wanderlust problem. Our ideas and and plans seem to change regularly. Should we go to the Philippines? Or Taiwan? (I really wanted to do Thailand and Vietnam, but by the time my contract ends it will be wet season there.) The possibilities are endless!

I still have plenty of time left in Korea, despite the fact that it seems to be going by rather quickly. I’m really looking forward to seeing what this year has to offer.

Also, I just want to say thank you to my mom and all my friends at home for always being here for me even though we’re so far away from each other physically. I appreciate the e-mails and the Skype sessions and the cards and the gifts. I miss everyone so much, but I am so grateful for the Internet because it makes everything a whole lot easier. You’re all freakin’ amazing.

How is everyone else’s 2016 going so far?

 

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!