I think that most English teachers who plan to stay in Korea for more than a few years hope to eventually get a university job.
There are reasons for this. A lot of what passes for common knowledge among foreign teachers in Korea exists as a sort of grapevine of oft-repeated truisms, and the word on university positions is this: low hours, high pay, long vacations. This grapevine, by the way, is often not especially accurate, and in the case of university jobs, the truth is that conditions vary quite a lot. But for my job, I’ve found it to be mostly true. I have 14 contracted teaching hours per week and 8 weeks “official” paid vacation – although with gaps in the schedule there are usually a few more weeks on top of that. Outside of my rostered classes, I am free to set my own schedule, coming and going as I please. There are lots of overtime opportunities, with enough variety that I can pick things which are interesting to me.
There are also some things about teaching at a university that I find less satisfying than teaching at a Korean public school. Despite the rumors, my monthly pay is actually less than I’d make teaching at elementary schools with the same qualifications (although it is higher when viewed as an hourly rate, or if you include overtime). As I said, it varies: my university is pretty stingy and other universities pay more. Beyond the grapevine “facts”, I’d say that I don’t feel university teaching provides me with the same sort of culturally immersive experience that I got teaching at public schools. There, I was part of an institution that was integral to the local community; I was also the only foreigner, and always thoroughly “in” Korea. At my university there are many other foreign teachers, and the Korean staff we work with directly are all fluent in English. I also feel that as a university teacher I have less of a chance to have a positive impact on the lives of my students. Teaching Freshman English is more of an act of triage: trying to address the worst of the repairable damage caused by thirteen years of English education of uneven quality. Each semester I do have a few students who I feel I have helped a lot, but there is simply less that you can do as a teacher when you come in at the end of your students’ education, rather than at the beginning. And this is probably why I have written less about teaching university students than I wrote about teaching elementary school kids.
There are things I miss about teaching in elementary schools: the kids, the grandparents who hung out in the shelters on the school playground, the teachers who spoke no English but nonetheless drove me home and showed me kindness, the ajeossi teachers who smoked with me in the hidden places at the back of the school. But overall, university work is unquestionably better. I like my job a lot, and so do most of the other teachers who work here. I like the freedom and the extra time I have. The Korean staff I work with are great, and the other foreign teachers average quite a bit better than the usual run of waegukin you meet in Korea. Look, before I came here, I worked for three different Korean elementary schools in three years. Each of those jobs was wonderful in their own way, and I don’t regret any of them; but the fact that I’ve stayed in my current university job for three years should tell you something. So while I’d still recommend public schools as the way to go for anyone new to Korea, I would have to agree that if you plan to stay in Korea long-term, you are better off looking to transition to a university job eventually. Read more
Many years ago while traveling in Europe, I picked up, at Shakespeare and Co in Paris, a second-hand copy of Tender is the Night by F Scott Fitzgerald, whom I was in the process of discovering at that time. I didn’t know a lot about the book before I bought it; only that it took him ten years to write it and that it was about how his wife went crazy.
The next stop after Paris was Nice, and, after unpacking, I took the book down to the beach. I sat on a bench looking out at the French Riviera, opened the book, and with no expectation of what I was about to read, read this: Read more
When I started this blog, this was one of the first topics I ever thought to write about. It’s an obvious question, and people come here looking for information on this topic. It’s a topic I’ve thought about a lot; in all my travels in South Korea, I’ve always kept a mental list of cities that I wouldn’t mind living in, if I had the chance.
But I’ve never written this post. And the reason is this:
If I ever went for a job in one of these places, I didn’t want to be competing with all of you. A good percentage of people interested in teaching in South Korea do visit this blog sooner or later, and I didn’t want to advertise my secret places. Sorry.
What’s changed? Well, at this point in my trajectory I think I’m unlikely to be competing with first-timers who have never been to Korea; I would probably be after different jobs. And anyone in Korea probably has their own list, or at least has the option of traveling to a place and checking it out. So I thought I’d finally tell you all my favorite cities to live in and teach in, in Korea. Read more
There’s some good news for people who are applying for EPIK’s Fall 2015 intake. After the fairly dire Spring 2015 intake, which was so small that EPIK never announced official numbers for it, it appears EPIK has had something of a rebound. Read more
I made a flowchart! For everyone who thinks my blog doesn’t have enough pictures, here you go. Read more
For as long as I’ve been in Korea, the consensus has been that the public school programs are in terminal decline and will soon be axed altogether. This was true when I first came back in 2009, a time now looked on as a Golden Age of teaching in Korea. Today, it’s still what a one year veteran English teacher says to a newbie after two beers at the local foreigner bar.
I’ve learned to be pretty sanguine about it. People keep coming, despite the doomsayers. But the trend has always been towards budget cuts, higher standards, and increased competitiveness, and in the last six months or so there have been more provinces and cities that have experienced budget cuts (Daegu, Chungcheonbuk-do, Incheon). Jeollanam-do (not part of EPIK) has also had a budget crisis. It would be easier at this point to list the provinces and cities that have never had at least one round of severe cuts. Read more
Due to doing a good job with the high-level middle school kids at last camp, I got to teach high-level kids again this camp. Doing a good job with the high-level kids is considered important, because high-level kids have high-level parents with influence and vocal opinions.
That’s fine with me, as I love teaching bright kids. Teaching low-level kids can be rewarding, but I love working with kids with smart minds and imaginative ideas and high personal expectations and weird, quick senses of humour. Teaching them has its own challenges, although those challenges usually don’t relate to learning English. For that, you set them difficult but achievable goals, give them honest feedback but not excessive praise, then stand back and watch them do amazing things. Instead, the challenges relate to helping them learn how to navigate their own paths socially, intellectually, and in society.
This time I was teaching elementary kids, rather than middle school kids. There was another difference. Last time, there were only two middle school classes, so I was teaching the top fifty percent of students. But there were nine elementary school classes, and I had the top class, so these kids were the best of the best. In four years in teaching in Korea, I’ve never had a class so highly selected. Usually, even the smartest classes are a mixed bunch. These kids weren’t just good at English; they were fiercely, intimidatingly bright. Even so, one girl stood out as the smartest. Read more
Imagine that you are out somewhere and you meet a cute Korean of the compatible gender. Being the suave individual that you are, you exchange Kakao IDs. So easy! So much less pressure than exchanging phone numbers! You congratulate yourself on your suave ways, go home, and, after an appropriate time, decide to send your new crush a message.
You want it to sound casual. You consider, “Hi, how’s it going?” before realizing that they might not be familiar with that English expression. If so, you’re going to get a confused, awkward reply. “How what goes? Sorry, my English is not good ㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠ”.
So you decide on “Hi, how are you?” Simple style!, as my students like to say, whenever they do a half-assed job on something. To make it seem more friendly, you decide to append a KakaoTalk emoticon to the end of the message. You consider – what character expresses my casual tone best? Apeach, with its ass-like head, or
Black Jay-G**See the postscript, the vaguely racist squirrel thing with an Afro? Read more
Last summer vacation I taught middle school kids during my university’s English Camp. There were a couple of firsts in this for me. It was my first time teaching middle-schoolers, and my first experience with a “real” English camp.
What I mean by a “real” English camp is this: the English camps I had taught previously in Korea were fraudulent. They were fraudulent because there was no camp. When I first came here, the phrase “English camp” brought many things to my mind. I imagined cabins, overnight stays, playing English language games by a lake, perhaps by the light of a bonfire. But what “camp” turned out to mean was this: extra English classes during vacation. I thought this was a mistranslation thing – one of those Konglish words that end up meaning something else in Korean, like “fighting”. But actually, it wasn’t. I found this out when I taught the second graders, who were attending their first ever English camp.
They were good sports for the first few hours. Then, around lunch time, they questioned my co-teacher.
“They want to know, where is the camp?” my co-teacher said, and laughed. Apparently the second graders, too, had been expecting horseback riding and frolicking in the woods, and weren’t too thrilled to discover that English camp was just more classes in the English room. Poor bastards. They thought they’d been suckered, and I didn’t disagree. Read more
Note: I originally wrote this a few months ago, and it was going fine until I discovered that in President Obama’s most recent visit, he used the word “애도” – condolences – when expressing his sympathy for the victims of the Sewol disaster. That took away all my enthusiasm for this otherwise fairly light-hearted post. So, I’ll just note that he said it, he said it fine, and pass up the opportunity to link it.
You might assume that the President of the United States would have little time to devote himself to the study of East Asian languages. In the case of Barrack Obama, all evidence suggests that you would be correct in this assumption.
Despite this, on a surprising number of occasions, Obama has managed to memorize, more or less, a short Korean phrase and drop it in to a speech.
Here is a complete history of Barrack Obama speaking Korean, or at least all the examples I could find. If I’ve missed some, please let me know. Read more