We continue our working abroad series with an interview with Jessica who has been teaching in Korea for 12 years!
Tell us a bit about yourself and teaching abroad?
I’m a teacher from Canada who has been living and teaching in South Korea for nearly 12 years now. I started off teaching at an art and design university for a year and then was the Head Teacher at an English academy for 6 months. I’ve been at my current university for 10 years now teaching conversational English to freshmen students. Most days I really enjoy my job. I’ve had some really great students over the years. My husband who is a chef from the Philippines and our 4 year old son are also here with me. I met my husband here in Korea and our son was born here.
Why did you decide to move abroad?
My brother and his wife were working abroad before me, so when I graduated from university, my family encouraged me to move abroad for a while. I’m an Ontario Certified Teacher and so I was planning on teaching in high crime, low income area schools in Toronto. This is what my teacher’s education had focused on. A lot of the families living in those areas are recent immigrants and so I thought that some time abroad might also help me to better understand my students.
How did you apply/interview for a job teaching abroad?
I can’t really remember! I would guess I probably just sent my resume out to recruiters and any advertisement I saw. I wasn’t really set on moving to Korea or anything like that so I applied all over the place. One of my degrees is in visual arts so when the art and design university came along it sounded like the perfect way to combine my two interests. I never ended up teaching any art though!
Did you teach before you applied for a teaching job abroad?
Yes. My first experience teaching ESL was at a psychiatric hospital one summer. Some of my students had committed crimes but were found not criminally responsible due to mental illness. I taught a ESL to a man with schizophrenia who had murdered his mother. I also did practice teaching as part of my teachers training.
What was a typical day like teaching in Korea?
There are different kinds of teaching jobs in South Korea for people wanting to teach ESL. The main ones are at after school academies, public schools and universities. Universities are the most sought after positions but they’re also more difficult to get. You need to have a Master’s degree these days and experience teaching. So, my “typical day” teaching is not really very typical of most teaching jobs in Korea. I have a lot of flexibility and freedom. Plus I’ve been at the same job for 10 years so I’ve had a lot of time to develop my routine and such. I go to work, teach, and then go home. In my free time I plan my lessons or mark essays.
Did you get to travel much and if so, where is your favourite place to visit and why?
I have vacation time in both the summer and the winter when the students are on their holidays so we try to go someplace then. The rest of the year we take road trips locally. Myanmar was absolutely amazing and so was India. I loved the food, culture and history in both places. My favorite place to visit might be Japan though. I’ve never lived in Japan but I’ve visited 4 times. It always feels like coming home. I feel incredibly comfortable in Japan. If ever I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed with things, a trip to Japan helps me get back on track.
Were you able to save much money after expenses and travel?
Yes! Well, before we started to travel much, I paid off my student loan ($45,000 + interest in 5 years) and put my husband and I both back through school. We’ve got a good chunk of savings. It could be more but when our son gets older we won’t have these same opportunities to travel with him. School, friends, clubs etc. all get in the way. I don’t think it’s necessarily because I get paid a lot in Korea though. My salary is ok but we live very simply. We have a small apartment, buy things used, repair old items, are debt free, etc.
What is the best thing about living in Korea?
The flexibility it allows me. I get to spend a lot of time with my son. I also really enjoy my job.
What is the most challenging thing about living in Korea?
Since I’ve been living here the air quality has been getting worse and worse. When we eventually leave Korea that will be the main reason why.
What has travelling and working abroad taught you?
Geography! There are so many countries which I had never heard of before.
I’ve also become a lot more critical of the news and history. When I first moved to Korea I used to get messages from family and friends back home who were freaking out about what the news was showing them. Apparently, we were on the verge of war with North Korea! Except here in Korea everything was the same as usual. One time there was a video of this big protest on a major news station back home but the images here showed there were only 100 people in attendance.
Traveling to Vietnam was also a real eye opener. It was the first communist country I had visited. I don’t know what I expected a communist country to be like but when we arrived in Vietnam things were pretty much the same as in non-communist countries in the area. None of the propaganda I had seen as a child. It was really unsettling hearing about the “American War”. To us in the West it is the “Vietnam War” but to the Vietnamese it was the “American War”. Hearing the events through the perspective of the other side was hugely educational.
It has also caused me to look more critically at my own country. Before I went to Korea, I truly believed that Canada’s free healthcare was one of the greatest things our country had to offer! Now it’s one of the things that I worry about moving back home. The wait times, lack of options and cost of prescription medication are real concerns.
What advise would you give to others looking to teach abroad?
I’d encourage it. What a great way to see the world AND make some money! But if you do, be prepared to have difficulty going back. The longer you are away, the more difficult it is to go back “home” both in terms of employment and culture shock.
We are so excited to teach abroad this year and this interview has got us super excited! Thank you Jessica! Any questions, experiences and comments – leave them below! 🙂