Where’s time gone? My first week teaching EFL has flown by. You may be wondering how it went. I wanted to give here a chance before saying anything.
My hagwon‘s organization placed me in Sillim, an interesting location on Line 2 of the subway system. This first week teaching EFL, I’ve realized there are a few pros and cons about this experience.
What Are the Benefits of Living in Sillim?
After some research, I have figured out a few things about Sillim. First, living here is great if you like to go out at night to the bars, as the scene here is prolific. Universities are nearby, so many young people come out at night to hang out. Second, Gwanak mountain is nearby to hike and I hear it’s gorgeous in the fall. If I don’t want to go all that way, Boramae Park, one of Seoul’s nicest, is just a 15-minute jaunt from my door. Plus, Sillim is well-known for being the location of Sundae Town in Korea (though before you get excited, sundae is Korean for stuffed pig intestines). And did I mention that an amazingly delicious bakery is right outside my school’s building?
Furthermore, the location itself is great. Only 30 minutes from Gangnam, Hongdae, or the guy we roomed with during orientation, I can easily get to many exciting centers of entertainment whenever I need. Most importantly, Danny is only 50 minutes away. While not perfect, I am happy he is so close and not in a place like Busan. However, if I were to critique one thing, it’s the suddenness with which you are whisked away from Main Campus off to your local branch and the lack of support once there.
Wake Up, It’s Time to Say Goodbye to Orientation
My biggest problem with the hagwon is that we didn’t know where we were headed until the day before we left. As such, there is little orientation can do to prepare you for the sudden change of pace. I wish we would have had more time to explore our actual location before being told to begin.
Yes, you spent two weeks getting to know some great people, working hard each day but having fun each night. At times, you feel like you’re back in college, especially since most of your peers are that age. Then after two weeks, you wake up, a stranger picks you up, and he drives you to your new location. He may speak English, or he may not. In my case, the person who picked me up was my director and his English was okay. We didn’t have a full-on sustained conversation for the one-hour 30-minute drive that it took, but not everyone is a conversationalist. You get dropped off at your apartment, and maybe you got to see your school, maybe you got to meet a coworker, but then the rest is up to the gods.
Navigating a New Area with No Data Stinks
Do your coworkers have time to show you around? Do they even want to? What is your comfort level in navigating a completely foreign area with no data service on your phone? I paint a grim picture, but for me it was pretty decent; lunch was bought for me that first day by my director. Later on when I tried exploring, I got a bit lost in a few twisting side-streets. Luckily, I found WiFi and my coworkers led me back to the apartment and school. They were a huge help that first day, from helping me buy trash bags (in Korea, it’s complicated) to where I should shop. Some of my friends had it worse than me but for some, it was better.
It really just came down to the branch itself, which I think is true of most hagwons that you can sign yourself up with in Korea. But honestly, I’m not sure it’s better trying to go through EPIK or SMOE where similar problems can arise.
Anyways, all this can be a little disconcerting after the aforementioned two-week orientation. Well — I guess it’s time I prove my worth.
Thinking Positively About Your Situation Is Important When Abroad and Teaching EFL
In such an environment, try not to have a glass-half-empty view of your situation. Even as a positive person, I found myself thinking only of what I didn’t like. For instance, Sillim didn’t seem too clean in the cross-streets, and it’s a pretty popular area for “love motels,” where people can attract the services of young women. Plus, my schedule was rough and I was afraid I’d never see my friends. Yeah, I got pretty down on myself during the first week.
Teaching EFL in Korea can mean long hours if you decide to choose a hagwon over a public school. They both have their benefits and detriments, but maybe if you’re in love with the idea of an 8-5 schedule, you should choose the public schools. My schedule is all over the place. Only three foreign teachers (including myself) occupy the school, which means we have some bizarre schedules to accommodate. I ended up with what is called an ABC schedule for at least the next two months. That means I work in the early morning, afternoon, and evening. See below:
- 50-minute Morning Classes: 7am, 8am, 10am
- Afternoon Junior Classes: 3:30-3:55, 4-4:45, 4:45-5:25, 6:15-7
- 60-minute Evening Classes: 8:10pm
As you can see, only my lunch break has much use of the four given. This frustrated me at first. But having said that, the nearby park I found called Boramae has a track, exercise equipment, and beautiful scenery. I exercise there to get some fresh air. And if I’m looking for a silver lining, I can use my other breaks to write in this blog, catch up on my reading, or study Korean.
But What About the Students?
If anything, the students make it worth it. My adults are funny, hard-working, and genuinely interested in learning a new language. Additionally, their generosity is unbounded. Many have volunteered their help in finding information for me on when things like the Fireworks Festival in Seoul are. A few have even given me food, and I’m not one to turn that down. As I mentioned in my last post, perhaps I will be able to make friends with some of them!
Otherwise, my second junior class makes teaching EFL fun too. These four kids crack jokes and are so curious. I’m happy to be their teacher and to help them learn, especially when Colin, the silliest of the bunch, yells, “Teacher, teacher! Help me practice my words!” and then has me quiz him on spelling. This will probably change. They will probably frustrate me at times. But for now at least, I truly enjoy them.
Minor Revelation: If You’re White, You’re Handsome (I Guess?)
The strangest thing that has happened has been everyone and their mom calling me handsome. My first day teaching, a Korean coworker called me handsome. Later, I was called handsome by two women in different morning classes. Then, a man told me he knew one of my morning students thought I was handsome, and after his own inspection, he agreed. Have I entered the twilight zone? At this point, they have to be playing a prank.
That night I was cornered by a Korean couple in their mid-twenties who were so nice. We ended up talking for half an hour even though I was dying to sleep. But three minutes into talking with him and her, the guy grabbed me around the waist and called me handsome to his girlfriend. It was just another example of how different Korean culture can be from American culture. Behavior like this is especially common in younger people, where guys go around with arms around each other’s shoulders and girls walk hand-in-hand, displays that can be a bit disorienting for an American.
Either way, it’s been a week and a busy week at that. But I’m looking forward to the weekend. Danny and I are excited because we’re going hiking with two of our orientation friends.
Also, I’ll upload a video of my ridiculously sized apartment in a soon-to-come post.
What About You?
If you’ve gone abroad, what was it like when you were finally teaching EFL on your own? Did you find anything strange about the culture that welcomed you? What difficulties did you have at first? I’d love to learn from your experiences. Leave me a comment below and follow me!
But one last thing. Funny photo of the week goes to…