A Day in the life of an Englisheee Teacher in South Korea!

It’s just after 7, and the alarm rather rudely wakes me. Even with the fan, which has been going all night ( I would much rather risk the infamous Korean ‘fan death’ than drown in my own sweat) and the fact that  it’s still relatively early, I can feel the heat and humidity starting to build. Its summer in Korea, and while it never gets incredibly hot (30 degrees C is pretty standard) the humidity is a killer. You don’t so much as walk down the road as you do swim through the atmosphere that is incredibly thick and muggy.

While I prepare myself for another day, I put on the TV to BBC News. It’s vaguely reassuring to hear the familiar English drone in the background, and to catch up on the previous days news. A simple, western style breakfast of toast and juice, and its out the door for another day as an expat Enrisheee teacher just outside of Seoul, South Korea.

Mercifully, the walk to work takes all of two minutes. After far too many wasted hours spent commuting in Johannesburg, I really appreciate the fact that the door to door commute takes less time than it does to eat my breakfast. Yet, even on such a short work, I am exhausted by the time I reach my office. And it’s nothing to do with the weather.

As a minor celebrity (as are most foreigners in Korea) I lose count of how many ‘Hello teacher” and “Hi’s” I respond to, of how many high fives are handed out and how many children try climb me like a regular jungle gym. Teaching Elementary school is not for the faint hearted.

And it’s straight into it for me. Before school officially starts, I begin my tour round the Grade 1 and 2 classes, spending barely 10 minutes with a couple of classes per day. At that age (7&8 years old) is mostly chants, songs and clapping, a very familiar theme that will run through the rest of the teaching day.

My English Room

Classes start at 9, and first up, a Grade 5 class. Today we’re doing actions and verbs, so we run through a list of vocab (swimming, hiking, skating etc) before we learn our daily song complete with clapping and actions. This working environment could not be further from the previous job at a financial consulting company, and for the change alone I’m grateful. My school is fortunate enough to have two large English rooms, complete with posters of iconic monuments from across the western World, and everywhere you look are posters and pictures with English written on them. The point is total immersion in English as a language and culture, which is why I happen to be standing in the room. Unfortunately, my co teacher for this particular class is always rather quick to switch into Korean when that familiar look of confusion crosses the kids faces, but it’s well worth it to have her in the room with me. You try explaining the difference between swim and swimming to 35 11-year-old Korean children without using just a little Korean… go on, I dare you.

More of the English room

Anyway, the morning flies by in a blur of flash cards, clapping and song time, and before I know it, it Luncheeeee time!! Now, unlike back at home, free time at lunch is not free time here in Korea. At least not public schools. The whole English staff troops off together down to the Vice principal’s office where all the staff who do not have a home room eat every day. The rather unfortunate home room teachers (in my opinion at least) eat lunch with their class in the classroom,meaning no break for them

Thankfully, I love Korean food. And just as well. Every day is an adventure, never not quite knowing what I’m going to find. these meals are heavily subsidised, and cost me almost nothing. They’re a great way for me to try to discover new Korean dishes, and not having to prepare any lunch for work is a great boon for me. The previous foreign English teacher that I replaced apparently was not a big fan of Korean food, so my Korean colleagues are often quite surprised by how much I enjoy their food. Although, my chopstick skills do leave a lot to be desired, especially with the wicked round style metal chopsticks that are much more slippery than the traditional wooden ones. While my skills they have improved over time, disaster does still strike occasionally, sending them into fits of laughter.

Lunch: Rice and Kimchi (as usual) plus noodle soup and diced veggies.

Afternoons are reserved for prep time, with the occasional extra lesson or focus class meaning more time back in the classroom. For the most part, this is mostly free time for me and most foreigners in the Korean public school system. With very limited Korean ability, and no home room class to administer, admin is mercifully almost non-existent.

This time is devoted to reading, writing, planning my next weeknd jaunt, or the upcoming trip to Vietnam. Also, folks back home are just waking up and starting their days, so it’s a good time to contact those back at home. Add in some English lessons with my principal, prepping some of the kids for an upcoming speech competition, and the odd game of soccer with some of the kids before the head off to their hawgwons, and it’s usually a pretty relaxing afternoon.

Come 4:30 and that’s a wrap folks. A quick stop at home to pick up my dobok, and it’s off to Taekwondo practice. Just down the road, I practice with mainly elementary students since I’m a virtual novice. Not only is it a great and new way to keep fit, it’s also quite an eye opener for me. Considering how much I struggle to learn Taekwondo when its taught to me in Korean, I am able to get a feel for what most of the kids must feel like in my classroom. Despite the language barriers,  I’ve just recent passed my first Taekwondo test, moving on from the novice’s white belt to the yellow belt. And no, I’m sure I got no special treatment at all because I’m a waeguk….

Taekwondo gear. Note the yellow belt!!

Home for a shower and then I’m off. Sometimes it’ll be a quiet night in my neighborhood, visiting the gimbap lady for dinner and trying to improve my Korean with the locals over a beer outside the convenience street. Other times I’ll be catching a bus for the 15 min trip to the nearby CBD area to meet up with a few other expats to grab some dinner. Due to the excessive humidity during the day, night-time is when things happen in the summer, and the restaurant and bars are all open late.

Just another day in the life of an Englisheeee teacher in South Korea.

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Published in: on 22/07/2010 at 12:10 am  Comments (3)  
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