In celebration of the release of my first book “The Waygook Book: A Foreigner’s Guide to South Korea” from Monday Creek Publishing, I wanted to share a blog post on a topic that’s very dear to my heart: teaching English in a foreign country. Simply put–teaching English abroad is one of the easiest and most exciting ways to become a ‘waygook saram,’ or ‘foreigner’ in Korean. As a foreigner, you will have the opportunity to learn more about the world and, just as importantly, learn more about yourself. This blog would not exist without the two years my wife and I spent teaching English in Korea through English Program in Korea, or EPIK, a government-run system designed to place native English speakers in public schools throughout the country. Let me tell you why.
Before we left for South Korea, I had been outside the country twice: once to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls (OK, I walked across the border for an hour a second time) and once to the Holy Land with a church group. I knew very little about Korean culture, cuisine, or politics. What’s more, what I knew about anywhere Not America came from entertainment or what other people told me. I was not a worldly person or seasoned traveler in any sense of the term. I was certainly out of my element the moment we stepped off the plane at Incheon International Airport to begin our lives as Native English Teachers.
But then, you start piling up vocabulary words. You try different foods and know what to order, or what not to order, next time. You memorize bus routes. You remember faces and, hopefully, the names and personalities that go with them. You become familiar with procedures and learn what to expect. You find the right apps on your phone to help you out. You find friends to help with the rest. Suddenly, what was new is now normal.
While in South Korea, we traveled extensively within the country as well as in the region. With each trip, even if it was somewhere completely new, I found myself more at ease with being in an unfamiliar place. You just learn to figure out where to start, you know? You figure out how to read signs or subway maps and not get flustered by them, how to order tickets, how the local currency works. I remember thinking, soon after arriving from the airport, as we were walking through crowded sidewalks in Hong Kong that at one point in my life I would have been completely overwhelmed with being somewhere so different from home. As it was, I had traveled enough to not be so afraid of new places.
As unattractive as this sounds, the hardship of living overseas is usually where the most rewarding growth happens. It’s in the frustration of taking the wrong bus that you discover a new part of town. It’s in the inconvenience of a new policy at school that you learn to let the little things go. It’s in the embarrassment of not knowing the local language well enough that you learn to recognize small kindnesses from your colleagues and return them in favor. You learn to live with less and expect more from yourself.
As an English teacher in South Korea, you get to do all this while having fun in the classroom. You get to invent games, dream up English camp themes, and sing songs (if you’re an elementary school teacher like I was). It’s rewarding to see kids take a liking to English. They have to learn it anyway, so you might was well make it fun.
These days, I’m back at home and in my element. I don’t have the time or resources to travel like I did while I was in South Korea. That doesn’t mean I stop looking for new things–new cuisines to try, new parks to hike, new cities to explore. I’m at liberty to learn more about my fellow man here at home just as I was overseas, but it’s a skill that is sharpened when living where they don’t speak your language.
Still not convinced?
Why Consider Teaching English Abroad
- It’s about the most structured way there is to travel and earn money at the same time.
- You will make contacts from around the world, which if you play your cards right, will turn into free places to stay later down the road when you’re traveling.
- By watching how another country operates, you will either gain new appreciation or criticism for your home country. Or, you’ll just see another way things work. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, so I’ve heard.
- Your comfort zone will expand, and that will help you anywhere.
- Learning a new language is sexy, and there’s no better way to learn a new language than being forced to use one out of necessity.
- As a minority that doesn’t speak the language, you are going to feel small and insignificant. This is a good experience to have under your belt for humility and empathy reasons.
Why Consider Teaching English in Korea Specifically
- The EPIK program and other similar government-run programs are well-organized and trustworthy.
- South Korea is a safe first step outside of the country. There is very little crime, it’s easy to get around, and the level of English is getting better every year.
- South Korea is well-positioned for further travel within Asia and Oceania.
- Contracts typically include a free apartment, health insurance, and ample vacation time, making it easy to save money to travel, pay student loans, or whatever else you do with money.
- Eating out, going to sporting events, and other activities are typically cheaper in South Korea than in Western countries.
- Hangul, the Korean alphabet, is very easy to learn.
For the best reason to become a ‘waygook’ and teach English abroad, look no further than the quote that inspired the title of my blog–a quote from Mark Twain:
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
If this statement were true 150 years ago, imagine how true it is today.
Learn more about The Waygook Book: A Foreigner’s Guide to South Korea here.