Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Teaching in South Korea

I began teaching English at an elementary school in South Korea in November of 2008. What struck me immediately was just how foreign and intriguing I really was to such young students. 

I taught in a city of 400,000. However, it was a little outside Seoul and so the locals were not used to having many foreign English teachers around. Students were amazed to have a foreigner in their school every day and dozens flocked to the English office every recess just to catch a glimpse of me and my two fellow foreign co-workers. It was staggering how many students ran at me at full speed just to scream ‘HELLO’ as loud as possible. 

But I felt an appreciation from parents as much as I did an interest from students. After having taught for about a month, I had an eleven-year-old student ask me if she was allowed to bring her six-year-old cousin into class one day. I was caught off guard by the request but it was then that I began to understand just how much Korean parents valued ESL teachers. 

So the next day this six-year-old boy, Seok Hyun, comes to my class — his parents had obviously made him ‘dress up,’ as he sported a white-collared shirt underneath a rather dapper sweater vest. As soon as he nervously entered the room he silently bowed to me and offered me a can of green apple flavoured pop as a gift — it was nothing short of the cutest thing I’d ever seen. This little guy spoke absolutely zero English but he sat intently through my entire lesson.

By ‘break time’ (ninety minutes in), Seok Hyun had become much more comfortable and saw that I was not going to punish him for playing around. Within thirty seconds of the uproarious commencement of break time, he was laughing while chasing me around the room and stopping every so often to throw punches into the air and show off his Taekwondo


The way he became so comfortable so quickly, coupled with his intent willingness to listen and learn, was a truncated version of the kind of teacher-student relationship I developed with so many kids over the course of my year in Korea. Students like Seok Hyun are why I will always remember my time there.

Top five list of places I visited in Asia:
1. Siem Reap, Cambodia
2. Busan, Korea
3. Phuket, Thailand
4. Vang Vieng, Laos
5. Tokyo, Japan

Wade Fleming is a Laurier student who taught ESL in South Korea

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