Holy cow. I can’t believe I’m finished with my first teaching contract in South Korea. It’s alarming how fast time flies…
Six months ago, I had a lot of uncertainties. I didn’t know if I would be happy living in the countryside. I didn’t know if I would be good at teaching. I didn’t know if I would like teaching. And I honestly didn’t even know if I would like kids. (That’s probably terrible for me to admit…)
But even with all those uncertainties, I still moved to South Korea. I took a leap of faith because I knew I was only committing to teaching for a short amount of time. It was comforting to know I could always go back home after six months if things go awry.
Now that I’ve completed my six-month TaLK contract, I wanted to share my final thoughts on my experience.
My experience in rural South Korea:
When I was applying for the TaLK program, my Korean brother-in-law strongly advised me against moving to rural South Korea. He warned me that I would be really bored living in the countryside, and even predicted I would come home before my contract was up. Considering this came from someone who has only lived in Seoul before moving to Oklahoma, I took what he said with a grain of salt. I’ve lived in towns and small cities my whole life so far, so I figured I could survive six months in rural South Korea.
Before moving to Korea, I didn’t know exactly where I would be placed. I only knew what province I was headed to. There was a possibility I could end up in a city within that province. But as my luck would have it, I ended up in one of the most rural counties.
Although I live in the “downtown” part of my county, it definitely does not feel like it. Aside from the norebang (karaoke rooms) and PC bang (computer gaming rooms), there’s no place to go for entertainment. No movie theaters, no shopping mall, no clubs, no bars…nothin’.
This is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is there’s nothing I want to spend money on, and the curse is it’s boring as heck.
So what do I do for fun?
During the week, I just chill in my apartment after work. I’m usually tired after I get home from school, so I like to nap for an hour or two. After napping, I’ll make something easy for dinner. Then I’ll do some lesson planning or study Korean. The day always flies by.
As for the weekend, I almost never stay in my county. I’m always traveling to somewhere else in South Korea. I’ve only stayed home maybe two or three weekends.
The great thing about rural South Korea is it’s relatively easy to escape from there. There are plenty of buses and trains that can take you to the city. If there was no public transportation to leave the boonies, I don’t think I could have survived out here. That’s the main difference between living in the U.S. boonies and the Korean boonies. In the U.S., the next big city could be hours and hours away. Without a car, you would probably be bored to death living in the boonies because of the lack of public transportation.
Even though public transportation is good here, traveling to and from the boonies is definitely harder than traveling to and from the city. I’ve wasted so much time just waiting for a bus or train. Since Seocheon is a small county, not many buses or trains stop through there. For example, to get to and from Seoul, there are only four direct buses a day. That means I have to plan my travels carefully to make sure I can always catch the last bus back home.
Another thing my brother-in-law cautioned me about was safety. He said the countryside could be more dangerous than the city. Despite what he said, I felt safe living in the boonies. In fact, I felt way safer walking around at night here as I did back home in Oklahoma. I didn’t start feeling paranoid until my Korean friend told me about an unsolved murder case not too far from where I lived. The murder case was years ago, but it scared me enough to not want to walk around at night.
Although I would’ve preferred living in the city, living in the Korean boonies wasn’t that bad. With that said, I definitely couldn’t imagine spending my twenties living out here. I’m glad my contract was only for six months…
My experience teaching at my school:
Unlike some other TaLK scholars, I only had to teach at one school instead of two. The public elementary school I taught at was about 20 minutes by bus from where I lived. It was in an extremely rural area.
Although my school was out in the boonies, it was actually quite nice. I was shocked to find the staff bathrooms even had fancy heated toilet seats.
Along with the other cautionary tales, my brother-in-law informed me that Korean teachers may not be friendly to me because I’m a foreigner. Even though I took everything else he said with a grain of salt, I was a bit more nervous that this one might be true.
Thankfully, my worries were unwarranted. The staff and other teachers at my school were really friendly to me. I felt welcomed. After I finished my teaching contract, my principal even treated me out to lunch to show his appreciation. I never felt like they were looking down on me or disliked me.
The nurse at the school became my best friend there. She was super sweet, and we did language exchange a few times a week while I was waiting for my bus.
Aside from a few terrible ones, I had a relatively good bunch of students. Out of the 60 students I had, there were only about five who pushed my buttons. The rest of them were well-behaved, and I didn’t have much trouble managing them.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget my first set of students. They’ve taken up a small part of my heart. To be honest, my students are the only reason I would stay in the boonies. I feel slightly guilty leaving them after only six months. My heart broke a little when one of my students told me she wanted me to stay.
Teaching through the TaLK program was easy because I only had to teach 14 after-school classes a week. The most difficult part was just deciding what to teach. I didn’t have anything to guide me, so it was a lot of trial and error. Once I figured out what the students knew and didn’t know, it was easier for me to plan my lessons.
The last month of my teaching experience with TaLK was the most stressful. I was expected to plan and execute a reading camp and a winter camp with no guidance. It was difficult considering I didn’t have any experience planning camps. For my camps, I was given a Korean co-teacher to help manage the students and explain activities. Although planning was stressful, my camps turned out well.
My overall experience with the TaLK program:
Altogether, I had a great experience with TaLK!
Some of the benefits of TaLK:
- Two weeks of orientation
- Although the orientation was kind of exhausting due to all the lectures, I’m glad I had it. Many English teachers in South Korea don’t get an orientation at all. I would have been more nervous about teaching if that were the case for me. Thanks to the orientation, I also met some of my closest friends here. There were also fun aspects such as a cultural field trip and a talent show.
- 100,000 won cultural allowance *not guaranteed for all provinces
- This is practically free money to spend on any “cultural” activity. (eg. Korean classes, Taekwondo, sightseeing…) I spent mine on a ski trip at the Pyeongchang ski resort.
- Cultural trips
- I had two cultural trips during my contract. The first one was with my provincial office of education, and the second one was with my local office of education. I got to miss a few days of school to do some sightseeing and cultural activities.
- Free time
- I had a lot of free time since I was only teaching 14 classes a week.
- Not having to be at school from 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
- Unlike with other public school programs, TaLK doesn’t require you to desk warm. If you lived close by your school, you could just show up a little before your first class and leave right after your last class. I ended up having to desk warm a couple hours every day because I lived too far away to walk home, and the buses didn’t come frequently.
- Another perk of not needing to be at school from 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. is it’s easier to run errands. Since you don’t have to work during all of working hours, you can conveniently go to the bank or doctor’s office. I know a lot of EPIK teachers struggle with going to the bank because the bank closes by the time they get off work.
Those are just some of the benefits of teaching through the TaLK program. I would highly recommend anyone interested in teaching in Korea to apply for it. It’s more of a scholarship/volunteer program than an actual job, even though you do get paid. Unfortunately, the TaLK program might not be sticking around for too much longer. Some provinces have already been cut from the program.
My plans after TaLK:
Lately, a lot of people have been asking me whether I’m staying in South Korea or going home. The answer is …
I’m staying in South Korea!…but not with TaLK.
Although TaLK is undoubtedly a great program, I’ve decided to switch over to GEPIK for the pay raise and the city life. I’ll write another blog soon about my switch from TaLK to GEPIK.