Everyone comes to Korea having read the blogs of the bitter teachers and vows to never become one of them. Even before you’ve set foot in the country, you’re thinking about how grateful you would be to even have a job here or have the opportunity to teach. Here is the reality. Korea is an amazing country to live and teach in, but people who come here to avoid reality or feel like they are “delaying” their adult life will find the work load to be harder than most. Here are a few tips for staying sane.
1. Do as much as you possibly can when you first arrive. Try new foods, meet new people and hell, even occasionally have that cheeky soju on a weeknight. The memories you create and the sense of awe you feel while discovering new places will help to tide you over when you are having difficulties.
2. Do not isolate yourself from other English teachers. I know many teachers here who are hell bent on not wanting to spend time with other foreigners and insist on only hanging out only with Koreans. Now this can be really helpful and reduce your time for learning the language, but it can also feel quite lonely. Other teachers are in the same boat as you, they understand your worries, your concerns and your perspective that a Korean teacher may not understand. Sometimes a good venting session is all you need and it is much easier to vent to a friend as opposed to a member of staff whom you might offend.
3. Try to make friends outside of the expat community. It will be an interesting cultural exchange and great opportunity to learn about a culture which is so incredibly unique. For example, the practices for pouring drinks in this country boggle my mind and I could never imagine doing them at home, but I absolutely love practicing here!
4. Don’t be afraid to be negative sometimes. Don’t worry if your friends are having a completely positive experience and you are having ups and downs. People are too afraid of being labeled the “bitter Epik teacher” and trust me, there are plenty of those! It’s best to just try to be realistic. You are living in a new country, teaching in a system unlike your own, of course you are going to have down days and days where you question “Why am I here?” Let yourself have them. There is nothing wrong with that, but always try to end the school day on a positive note.
5. Make your apartment comfortable early on. A bad apartment can lead to a lot of homesickness, especially in the early months. When I arrived, I didn’t have a bed and I found myself incredibly stressed about the prospect of getting one. A few days in, I asked my co-teacher, who was able to give me the bed that our school had in storage. With my first paycheck I went to E-Mart and bought colorful comforters, shoe racks and decorations to make me feel more at home. I was also quite proactive after finding cock roaches in my apartment…which is a really horrible situation and a definite deal breaker for many people. A little boric acid and some creative re-arrangement and I basically love coming home to my apartment.
6. Do not create a “us” and “them” feeling between yourself and your students. The best part of my job is getting to know the personalities of the different kids and sharing myself with them. Be firm enough that they understand you are their teacher and superior, but do not scare them so much that they are uncomfortable speaking or see you merely as a dictator os punishment.
7. Spend some time having fun with your students! While it is important that your kids learn English, feel free to have a little fun some times. Lesson planning and constant curriculum can burn out even the best of teachers, not to mention your students. Occasionally, after a quiz or exam or even sometimes at the end of class, my students and I will watch Kpop star, Korean quiz shows or funny youtube videos. Even with the language barrier we all have a good time and feel much closer bonding over what we are viewing.
8. Take up a sport or hobby! Just because you are in a new country doesn’t mean you have to give up the things you loved at home. I have played rugby for a good portion of my life and can’t imagine myself without it. Proactively research things to do in your area as there are a plethora of other expats also looking for the same activities!
Korea has so much to offer and there are many excellent things to try if you keep an open mind. You’ll only be miserable here if you let yourself be! Well alright I’m off to eat some dumplings, enjoy your weekend everybody!
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