Katie’s TEFL journey on our South Korea internship

Hi Katie! Tell us a little bit about you.

Hello everyone! My name is Katie, and I am 29 years old. I am from Cork, Ireland. I studied to be a chef at CIT and received my bachelor’s degree before working in the hospitality industry for five years. Then I moved on to the interior industry, where I spent the next five years working in various tile shops and interior fabric companies. However, teaching has always been my dream. I intended to become a music teacher when I graduated from high school. Still, an unfortunate injury meant that I could no longer play the piano effectively enough to teach, so now I am finally fulfilling my dream of teaching and living in a fantastic place while doing so! I’m doing the TEFL South Korea internship in Haeundae, Busan, South Korea.

What drew you to our TEFL internship?

I had been considering coming to South Korea for two months. To prepare for it, I watched a million and one YouTube videos and read countless articles about it. After purchasing my TEFL course, I discovered that The TEFL Institute offered an internship in South Korea. Having someone to guide me through all of the stages and answer my questions would give me peace of mind, and honestly, it was a no-brainer to choose support over going it alone.

TEFL teaching wearing a mask

Which one of our TEFL courses did you complete?

I’ve finished the 120-hour TEFL course, the 180-hour level 5 Ofqual course, and three 30-hour courses in Teaching Young Learners, Advanced Grammar, and Teaching English Online.

Tell us about your path to teaching abroad. Was it something you always wanted to do?

I’ve always wanted to go on a trip. It was a big reason I chose to do TEFL initially because I wanted a course I could work with abroad. I did travel around Europe on mini-breaks and such, but for some reason, despite my original plan, I could never commit to leaving Ireland to work. However, during the pandemic, I had a lot of time to consider things and think about what I wanted to do as my 30s approached, and music, like many other things in my life, was the catalyst that brought Korea back into my mind, and I haven’t looked back since.

Why did you choose to teach in South Korea?

Like the rest of Asia, South Korea has long been on my travel wish list. Coming from a culinary family and growing up in a home where my father was a chef, Asian food has always been a favourite of mine, so I’ve always wanted to try authentic Asian cuisine. Also, I have a family friend who has taught English here for over six years and always spoke highly of it. However, as I previously stated, music is at the heart of many activities. Listening to Korean and Asian music on YouTube during the pandemic led me to a video from a girl teaching English in South Korea. Everything fell into place quickly.

South Korean food

How are you finding your experience?

So far, I’m enjoying my time here. My job is a lot of fun, and the kids are hilarious. Monday through Friday, from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., I teach in the evening at Hagwon. Because my school is a franchise, we follow the set curriculum in the books, so less lesson planning is required. However, I still plan how my lesson will go and always have a few filler ideas ready in case we finish a little early. I am currently residing in Haeundae, Busan.

Busan, like Cork, is Korea’s second-largest city, and it is located right on the Southeast coast, so we get a lot of sunshine and warmer weather most days. It also takes me less than three minutes to walk to school, which is incredible. Also, the food here is out of this world! Korean BBQ is an experience, but the local street food is also delicious.

Did you experience culture shock moving abroad? Or face any challenges? How did you overcome these?

I researched Korean customs and dos and don’ts before I came, so I think I was better prepared for many things. Learning Korean for almost ten months before coming here aided me greatly, allowing me to get by with the basics. One of my few culture shocks was how safe and polite South Korea is. If you miss the post or delivery, your packages are left outside your door, and no one notices. I’ve seen a large television delivered outside someone’s door and left untouched for two days. Also, the public transportation here is spotless and efficient.

Any advice for someone wanting to teach abroad in South Korea?

If I could give someone doing the South Korea internship some advice, I would say the following. First, learn essential Korean words such as the bathroom, shop, bag, station, etc. My second piece of advice is to be comfortable in your own company. I am a homebody and would have spent a lot of time alone at home, which was good because I am currently the only English teacher at my school, so I spend many of my weekdays alone preparing for classes. If you want to meet people, there is always some event for ex-pats, and meeting people here is relatively easy. Finally, this may seem obvious, but ensure you like children and want to work with them. This is still a job, and you must be prepared to work here and with children for 6 hours a day, five days a week, many of whom will speak very little English, so you must be patient and put in the effort.

South Korea beach

How did you find the TEFL course you completed? Did it prepare you for your teaching experience?

My 180-hour level 5 course provided me with an excellent foundation for teaching. The course was elementary to follow, and the modules were well-explained with relevant examples. I’m glad I took the advanced grammar course before I started the South Korea internship because words like (A), (An), and (The) don’t exist naturally in their language. Their sentence structure is also different, so having the extra course made me more comfortable in front of my students.

What is your favourite age group to teach and why?

I teach students aged 10 to 15 in Elementary grades 4,5, and 6, as well as Middle School 1 and 2. My sixth-grade classes are my favourite to lead overall. In middle school, Korean students are typically shy and reserved, and younger students may struggle to understand, depending on their levels. However, 6th graders are at a point where they are confident enough to speak without becoming shy, and their age means they have a lot of unqualified opinions on things. I’ve had a lot of amusing conversations with the kids about everything from food to TV shows to military service.

South Korean town skyline in the day

Tell us one thing you never expected about teaching.

I always knew you could develop feelings for your students. To be honest, I never expected it to be so powerful. It’s difficult not to be proud when they correct their errors and they can’t wait to tell me about it. Or how delighted they are when I recall the new Korean word they taught me this week. I have a little ritual with each class when I walk in, and it’s just a great experience.

What has been your most rewarding experience?

Two experiences stand out in my mind. I have one student who has a difficult time remaining still. He has trouble concentrating but recently had to give a short speech. He was aware that he might become distracted and asked if he could finish his speech regardless, which he did. In addition, I have a middle school student who rarely speaks in class. He is usually shy and quiet, and he keeps to himself. When I first made him laugh in class, his Korean teacher couldn’t believe it! I’ve also noticed that he’s become more engaged in providing answers and information.

Any plans for the future?

I plan to stay in South Korea for at least another year or two. Despite this, I will leave Busan. I live in Haeundae, a beach city in South Korea. I can’t lie and say I don’t appreciate that the beach is always only a 10-minute drive away. However, next year I would like to work in an elementary school. Or a daytime Hagwon to get more involved in lesson planning.

In general, you don’t need a degree to teach English abroad or online. Our certification stands alone and you can get employment without pairing it with a degree. However, some TEFL employers do prefer their teachers to have a degree. More importantly, for some countries, it’s a visa requirement. This means you can’t obtain a work permit without a bachelor’s degree or higher. Some of these countries include China, Japan, UAE and Vietnam. 

Our advice is if you have your sights set on a certain country, look into the visa requirements first before putting time and effort into finding a job there. This will save you time and disappointment. If it’s a school preferability, and not a visa requirement, there’s sometimes some leeway. 

You do not need any prior teaching degrees or experience to teach abroad. Once you have your TEFL certificate, you can secure work as a TEFL teacher. A BA in Education would enhance your CV, but it’s not a necessity. Completing a TEFL course that includes teaching practice, like our Hybrid TEFL Courses, will also help your CV.

If you want to experience different cultures and see the world, teaching English abroad is for you. Not only will you get to explore new places, you’ll also meet new people and get the chance to make a difference to the lives of language learners. A TEFL certification lasts a lifetime. So, you can dip in and out of teaching abroad whenever you feel like it. 

It is not necessary to speak any other languages. You’ll be able to find a job and work comfortably without knowing the language spoken in your chosen country. Of course, it is always an advantage, even if it’s just the basics. We recommend learning a few phrases before you move abroad like hi, thank you, goodbye and sorry.

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