Tell us a little bit about yourself?
Well, I was born in Seoul, South Korea but was adopted by an American family and brought to the U.S. when I was less than a year old. So, I’ve basically lived in the U.S. for most of my life, excluding my one and a half years teaching English in Korea. I was largely raised in suburban Denver; my family didn’t move around much. So, I had the typical American lifestyle and was completely clueless about all things Korean when I came here. Actually, that’s not entirely true. Since I majored in International Affairs and studied other countries, coming to Korea wasn’t as big of a culture shock as it could’ve been, but it was definitely very foreign, despite being born here.
How long have you been in Korea?
About a year and a half. I came here in February 2006 and am leaving in July 2007.
Where have you worked in Korea?
Since I have an F-4 (Korean ethnic) visa, I’ve had the opportunity to work at a variety of jobs and get experience teaching many different things. My first real job was teaching English to elementary and middle-school students at a popular language institute called CDI. After that I went to Daeil Foreign Language High School to teach TOEFL. And after my contract ended with them, I taught TOEFL for awhile at Columbia Language Institute, a smaller hagwon.
What is your fondest memory of Korea?
My best memories here are just hanging out with people and developing relationships with them. I really recommend building relationships here if you can, especially with Koreans that can speak English. If you just make friends with other foreigners, your hang-out times might only be comprised of complaining about Korea and why such and such isn’t as good as it is in your home country. Also, if you can’t speak or understand Korean, then it’s very easy to feel isolated and detached while living here, so making friendships (even with just your co-workers) is really important to keeping your sanity.
What is your worst of Korea?
My worst memory? I don’t know if I really have any horrible memories. I would say many times I felt really lonely, even when I was around other people (at a gathering for instance). I think because of the language and cultural differences, it can sometimes be difficult to connect with other people. I mean, I could sense the good intentions and fondness that others around me had for me, but it’s not quite the same as when someone can express it to you in words you understand and can go beyond just smiles. I’d say one of my biggest frustrations was that although I had a ton of relationships with many different people, most of my relationships were stuck at an immature phase because of the inability to communicate. So although I had a lot of genuine, good-hearted relationships with people, I had very few deep relationships where I could really know the other person and they could really know me. Luckily though, I did have a handful of close friends (both Korean and foreigners) and that helped me a lot while I was here. One thing I learned from all this though (from experience, not just a mental understanding), was the value of the bond between humans.
Do you have any advice for future English teachers in Korea?
I would say one of the most important things for living here is learning Korean. Unfortunately, that’s not an easy thing to do as far as time goes, and for some people, learning another language is just plain not easy. But it can help with making friends, exploring and having a more satisfying experience overall. Aside from that, try to get involved in things where you can meet people, whether that be church, university clubs or anything else. Seoul has a lot of big churches where you can get involved in bible groups and meet other foreigners. And if you find a university club, you’ll be very popular among the students, as most of them are very interested in improving their English.
Thank you so much for providing your experiences and advice to us.