TEFL adventure in South Korea? – Read Gráinne’s story

Tell us about yourself. We’d love to know your background and what drew you to teaching abroad.

My name is Gráinne, and I spent a year teaching English in Seoul, South Korea. I graduated from UCC with a degree in Korean studies. I was extensively involved with the UCC Korean Society, and my time studying the Korean language and culture inspired me to teach there!

Is South Korea your first teaching placement? If so, what advice would you give to students looking to go?

My first teaching assignment was in South Korea. I would advise anyone considering teaching in South Korea to learn as much as possible about the culture and to learn at least a few words of Korean. You’re going to need it!

Did you experience any culture shock when you first arrived?

No matter how familiar you are with a nation, you will always feel culture shock. Respect and hard labour are essential to Korean society, and you must adhere to social conventions. You will undoubtedly have to work hard in your career, but there will be plenty to keep you entertained outside of work. Also, be aware that groceries can be costly, and in some areas (such as Seoul), eating out is much cheaper than cooking at home!

Ornate town street in South Korea

Did you have time off to do some sightseeing?

Given my hectic work schedule, I would spend Saturdays running errands and Sundays relaxing or socializing with friends. If you want to go sightseeing, I recommend committing your Sundays to it!

Did you travel alone? If so, was it hard to make friendships?

I travelled alone to South Korea but immediately made acquaintances at work and outside of work. Many other instructors were also new to the school, so we were able to bond over our experiences living abroad and assist one another in settling in. I’ve kept in touch with a few of them, and it’s lovely to have friends on the other side of the world.

Can you tell us about the highlights of your experience, both inside and outside the classroom?

One of the most memorable aspects of my career was a summer vacation to Seoul’s Olympic Park. The entire school spent the day in a beautiful sunny field, playing games and eating together. We took a lot of pictures and built memories that last a lifetime. Outside of work, I thoroughly enjoyed the Itaewon nightlife and could attend events and concerts that I would not have otherwise been able to participate in!

What’s your school like?

I worked at a private English academy with an excellent work culture. I used to teach four and five-year-olds. Session sizes were small (8-12 individuals each session), allowing for more focused learning, and each class had a Korean co-teacher to assist the pupils.

What has been your most rewarding experience as a teacher abroad?

The bond I developed with my pupils has been the most rewarding aspect of my teaching experience. Introducing them to Irish culture and watching them become interested in Ireland was pretty satisfying. Understanding your pupils’ educational needs requires getting to know them individually. It will also help you become a better teacher! I was incredibly fortunate to have a class full of friendly, kind, and hilarious students who I believe taught me as much as I taught them. Be personable and patient, and create a welcoming learning environment. It will be worthwhile!

What do you do on your day off?

The Korean school year is substantially longer than the Irish school year, so teachers have much less spare time. I would try to do as much sightseeing as possible with pals on weekends and holidays. There are infinite activities and attractions in Korea, so you will never be bored on your days off.

What advice do you have for someone who is thinking about doing TEFL?

As I previously stated, I would advise anyone considering TEFL to prepare as much as possible for living in a new country, especially South Korea. You will still face culture shock, but having a positive attitude toward new situations can assist you tremendously. Make time for dinner or a day out with your coworkers regularly; this will help your group dynamic at work. It’s also essential to have pals outside of work so your job doesn’t take over your life. You may experience homesickness – I certainly did! – therefore, maintain regular contact with your friends and family. However, work hard and play hard! Yes, you’re there to educate, but you’re also there to learn about another culture. Be open to new experiences! But, above all, be proud of yourself. Moving overseas can be frightening, but it is a very bold thing to undertake. Best wishes!

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