A Travellerspoint blog

Teaching English in Korea

sunny 27 °C

Well, I am coming to the end of my second week of teaching here in Jeonju and I thought i'd write a bit about my experiences so far...

I teach at a private english language institute, known as a hagwon, called English General Hospital(!) or EG. EG is one of two schools based in our building. Sullivan, the other school, starts with very young children and teaches basic english, from the alphabet onwards. EG is a more advanced school, with an entrance exam, therefore all of our students have some english abillity and we are teaching them more advanced skills.

I teach 13 classes of varying ability, but all elementary or middle school age groups - 8-14 years. I teach them reading and listening primarily, but i also have a few speaking and vocabulary classes. The only thing i do not teach is writing, because these classes tend to go to teachers who have studied english at degree level.

The types of classes i teach cover quite a range - from practising listening skills with ten year olds watching Mulan, to explaining enzymes and cell structures to my older reading classes. My classes only run til 10pm, but there are a number of classes that run til midnight several times a week.

Korean parents place a huge emphasis on education and therefore a their kids are under a lot of pressure to do well. At the same time, the parents put a lot of pressure on the school to teach their children well. They want to know everything that we teach and will always check their child's homework and timetable. So we regularly receive phone calls from parents checking up on their children and on our teaching. This makes the Korean teachers and staff we work with very nervous! They worry that if we don't meet the parents' standards, they will simply remove their child from the school and enrol them somewhere else. Unfortunately, because there are so many hagwons in Jeonju, there is a lot of competition between schools. And, at the end of the day, a hagwon is a business and it has to have enough students to make money.

The teaching itself is mostly what I expected and I really enjoy it. When you have a really good class, you come out feeling excited and enthusiastic. Of course, when you have a bad class, you come out feeling awful and like you're never going to get the hang of teaching. In some regards we are lucky because we the term is planned out for us, and we are told exactly what materials we are teaching, but the preparation is still time-consuming and quite complicated some times. All of the problems I have had so far seem to have been related to getting confused about what I am preparing for the class.

It doesn't help that I have had almost no training. I had one full day observing the teacher I was replacing and then I took over her classes. After that I think everyone forgot I was new - especially as a second new teacher, Rachel, arrived about 4 days after me. But, because I have made mistakes this week, I think I am starting to get a bit more support and I'm having a lot of my classes observed (which is really nerve-wracking!). But I have only been here for two weeks, so I am not expecting to know exactly what I am doing for a while yet.

Posted by claire14 07:48 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

Hiking, BBQs and Drinking

sunny 24 °C

So here's what I got up to on my second weekend here...

Firstly I got up ridiculously early on saturday morning, as we all had to meet at the bus station for 9am. There were 13 of us going to Byeonsan Penninsula National Park for some hiking, and possibly also stopping over for the night. As usual I had to make sure I packed everything I could concievably need for one night staying over, so my bag was pretty heavy. But at least, I had some sensible footwear, as I had left behind loads of clothes in order to make room in my suitcase for my walking boots.

All week we had been planning this trip and talking about going to the beach, and swimming in the waterfall that was at this national park. But when we woke up saturday morning it was pouring with rain! It was like your typical Bank Holiday weather in the UK. But we decided to go ahead with the trip and if the weather stayed bad we would come home instead of staying over.

We all piled onto the bus, after the one member of the group who could speak Korean got all of our tickets for us. First we were headed to a town about an hour away called, Buan. Then, we changed buses in Buan for one that would take us to the park, which was on the coast. The weather was still quite miserable-looking at this point, but it wasn't cold and it had stopped raining. I hadn't eaten any breakfast before I'd left because i was still half asleep, so by the time we got there I was pretty hungry. But there were some serious hikers in our group and they wanted to get started straight away, so I grabbed a bag of weird tasting multigrain crisps and ate them and we set off. The park entrance itself was 1km away and we had to walk up a reasonably steep hill to get to it. I was already tired by the time we got to the entrance! I am so unfit! But, believe me, if I keep hiking like this, I won't be unfit for much longer :)

We had barely got inside the park, when we had already lost most of the group ahead of us. They had started walking, before some of us had even paid to get in, so we never had much hope of keeping up with them. Left behind were myself, Nicky, Carmel and Theresa because we were the least experienced hikers. But we decided, 'sod it, why bother trying to keep up with them? Lets walk at our own pace and enjoy ourselves.' So we took our time and chatted and got to know each other as we were climbing up extremely steep rocks, to get to the top of the mountain. Once at the top we hoped to see a Buddhist temple, but as the people who knew where they were going were in he group ahead of us and they were nowhere to be seen, we didn't entirely know where we were going. Fortunately, being a national park, the route was well-marked, and, hiking being the favourite national hobby in Korea, there were plenty of Koreans around that we could have followed if necessary. We didn't try following any though, because a some of them were practically running past us!


It took us about an hour and a half to two hours to get to the top, and we saw some spectacular scenes on the way. Have a look at the rest of the photos on www.flickr.com/photos/claireinkorea. We got to the top and there was, what we thought was, the temple. We had a look around and took some photos. Then, very proud that we had made it that far, we decided to press on and try and find the waterfall. Unfortunately, as we set off back down the other side of the mountain, the heavens opened. I was prepared for the rain, as I had my funky, flowery waterproof with me. But it wasn't so much getting wet that was the problem. The rain was making the rocks we were walking and climbing on very slippy and poor Nicky didn't have any trainers or boots with her, so she was having to walk in flip flops. It took us another two hours to get down the mountain, across some pretty treacherous rocks. Where we discovered that we made an excellent team, because at many points along the way, we all had to stop and hold hands, to help each other, as we negotiated our way across particularly difficult or dangerous places.

By the time we got to the bottom, I was exhausted, dehydrated (I'd only bought a smal bottle with me, because I understood there were places to get water in the park), and very hungry. I vowed never to go hiking again without bringing lots of food and water with me! When we got to the bottom, we found a sign telling us that the waterfall we were looking for was about another 2 kms away. We also discovered that the temple was another 4kms away and what we had seen was a hermitage, but we were too tired to make it that far. After a rest, we pushed on, in hope of seeing this beautiful waterfall...

...We finally got to it maybe half an hour later. Only there was no waterfall! It must have been the wrong time of year because there was no water! It was such an anticlimax. We were really disappointed. But there were some very nice Koreans who had stopped for a picnic there and they gave us some food. I didn't want to stay long though, because I was too tired and i still really needed some water. We decided we would head for the park entrance that was about 3kms back in the direction we had just come from. We had no idea if the others were waiting somewhere else for us or which way back they would have gone. We also didn't know if we would be able to find a bus to take us home from this entrance as it was a different place to where we had arrived.

Fortunately, when we got to the car park, there was both a bus waiting there, and some taps for water. Theresa went to find out where the bus was going and the driver said he could take us to Buan, where we could the get the bus home. This driver turned out to be a lot of fun and he was asking us all where we were from. I have learned that my reponse to that question is 'yonguk', which means 'english'. Like all Koreans this man was very proud of his country and proud to be showing it to foreigners or waeguks. So when we were driving across a bridge with a pretty view he pulled the bus over (there was only one other person on it at this point) and he urged us to get out and take pictures. He then took pictures of us as a group as well. It was a fun end to a tiring day.

When we got back to the apartments, we agreed to all spend an hour or so relaxing and then we'd meet up to watch a movie. And as, a few in the group had never seen Willow, we watched that :) Of course, there was alcohol involved and after the movie finished, some of us stayed up talking. I wound up not getting to bed til gone 3am. Despite the late night, we all met up at 12pm on sunday for a proper cooked breakfast at an American-owned bar in town. Of course, you know me, I don't like anything in a cooked breakfast apart from the bacon, so I had a bacon sandwich.

After breakfast, we went to Deokjin (Duck Gin) Park and had a walk around. It was quite funny to watch all the Koreans in the park staring at the huge group of foreigners walking around together. It was a beautiful day and the park looked gorgeous. Unfortunately, I was there a couple of weeks too late to see the famous annual blooms of the giant water lillies (or are they lotus flowers? I'm not sure) that cover half the park's lake. It is one of the things Jeonju is famous in Korea for.

After our scenic walk around the park, we decided to take advantage of weather, before autumn settled, by having a BBQ. So everyone went off and bought loads of food and beer and we met back up on the roof of our apartment building, where we have tables and chairs, and a gas bbq. Unfortunately, we'd only been cooking for about ten minutes when someone noticed a flame coming from underneath the BBQ. After a little bit of investigation, we then discovered that the flame had started to melt the rubber tube leading to the gas container! Obviously, we then had to give up on using the BBQ. So four of us, using two kitchens, cooked all of the burgers and sausage for everyone. It still turned out to be a good night, and when it started to get cold outside, a bunch of us carried on the party in my room. Once again, I wasn't in bed until about 3am :)

Posted by claire14 21:24 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)


sunny 23 °C

Just to let you all know that you can check out photos from my travels on the following website:


Posted by claire14 10:33 Archived in South Korea Tagged photography Comments (1)

Gatwick to Dubai and en route to Korea

Answers for Loraine

sunny 20 °C

Ok - Loraine asked me a few questions about life here in Korea so far so i thought i'd put the answers on here:

1. How was the journey?

The journey was tiring, emotional, scary and exciting. I was exhausted before I even got to the airport because I had not only spent the previous 3 days camping at the Leeds Festival, but I also had a horrible cold. However, the excitement and nervousness I was feeling at finally leaving was helping to keep me awake. My parents drove me to Gatwick and I got there with plenty of time to spare. Which was lucky, because I found out that my laptop bag was too big to take on board as hand luggage, due to the new restrictions they have in place. So I had to go and buy a new bag before I could check my luggage in. It wasn't too much of a disruption though. Mum and Dad stayed with me through the check-in etc, but then decided they would leave when I was ready to go through security, as they could not come through to the departure lounge. Mum was quite emotional and I started crying too, so i really appreciated it when Dad said they would leave. It was really hard saying goodbye to them, but I really didn't want to get too upset at the airport because I still had 16 hours of flights ahead of me.

Once I got through security, I had an hour to kill, so I didn't what i normally do when I am feeling low - I went shopping. In the duty free area I bought some Jean-Paul Gaultier perfume, 3 tops from Mango and some DVDs in HMV. I wasn't sure I'd be able to get perfume at the airport with all of the restrictions on liquids and cosmetics, but once you were through the security area, you could purchase anything you wanted and carry it on board, so I was able to pick up some toiletries as well.

The first flight was about 6 hours long - and because I was feeling quite vulnerable and emotional, i spent a couple of hours watching Pretty Woman on the in flight entertainment. The plane and staff were lovely. Each seat had its own TV screen and everything was complimentary. My favourite part of the whole flight was looking out of the window throughout of the flight, because I had only ever flown at night before. It was a beautiful sunny day, so it was great to watch the english channel going past below and then europe, and then watching the sunset.

I arrived in Dubai at midnight and had three hours to kill in my second airport of the day. I was feeling tired and was desperately missing my make up, which was packed at the bottom of my suitcase. So what did i decide to do? I found an Irish theme pub in Dubai airport and sat chatting with two scottish lads who were on their way out to Australia. By the time i got back onto the plane all I wanted to do was sleep, and I managed to sleep almost the whole way to korea, only waking up to have some food. I'm glad I was able to sleep because it meant I didn't have too much time to think about everything that lay ahead and how i would cope with it.

Well, I'd hoped to answer all Loraine's questions tonight, but its now 1am here so I'm gonna go to bed and I will continue soon....

Posted by claire14 08:10 Archived in South Korea Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

Greetings from Jeonju City!

Still jetlagged!

overcast 25 °C

Hello all - sorry it has taken me a little while to write, but i don't have internet access in my room yet, so I have to come into an internet cafe to update my blog and email at the moment.

I am well and slowly settling into life in South Korea. I have been here for just over 5 days now. I arrived in Jeonju last wednesday, after roughly 16 hours on the plane and a 3 hour stopover in Dubai (which I spent in an Irish theme pub with 2 Scottish lads on their way to Australia!). Despite my hopes of having Thursday and Friday to acclimatise (did i spell that right?), I was, in fact, in work by Thursday afternoon. I was exhausted, jetlagged and somewhat bewildered but it wasn't too bad. I spent Thursday and Friday observed classes with Catherine, the girl I was replacing, and then she left at the weekend and I began teaching on Monday.

My working day is a bit of an odd one. I get into work at 3pm and spend an hour doing preparation for the day's classes. Then the standard classes run from 4pm-10pm. You may have up to 7 lessons during that period and you only have a 5 minute break in between each. There is no equivalent to a lunch break. If you are lucky, you may have one or two free periods, but you are expected to use these for marking anfd further preparation. If you are really unlucky, or if you are doing overtime, you may find yourself working until midnight. And bearing in mind that we are generally teaching kids aged between 10 and 14, that means the children are studying until midnight, then they go to standard school the following morning and have homework to do, on top of the lessons they do with us.

This also means that my average day will involve getting up about 10/11am, going to work from 3-10pm, coming home and having tea for about 11pm and going to bed at about 1am. It'll take some getting used to - but i never was much of a morning person! It also apparently means that on Friday nights we all go out after work and can stay out all night, getting in at 7am. Which again suits me really :) I found this out last friday when we all went out for a meal as several teachers and Korean staff were leaving. We had a traditional Korean meal, where you have to leave your shoes at the door and sit cross-legged at low tables. After that we went upstairs to the restaurant's noraeybang, which is a karaoke room, like the ones they have Japan, or in some Chinese restuarants in the UK. That was great fun, because I am sure you all know how much I love karaoke. I was also introduced to soju, which is a Korean spirit, a bit like vodka. It tastes like methylated spirit on its own, but with coke its not bad. That, followed by the jack daniels and coke I was drinking in the foreigner bar we went to afterwards, resulted in me not leaving the bar til 5.30am and having a terrible hangover all day saturday.

The other teachers here have all been very nice. To my surprise the English teachers are in a minority, the majority seem to be American or Irish. Though strangely two of us English teachers are redheads, and one American who just left was a redhead, so we're not as unusual as I expected us to be. Their are about 20-25 english-speaking teachers altogether I think, but we are at different schools across the city, all run by the same organisation. We all live in one of two apartments blocks though, so we can easily get to know teachers from the other schools. In my school there are about 8 of us, 6 girls and 2 boys.

My accommodation is a nice studio room/apartment. For the first three nights I was put up in motel, while i waited for another teacher to move out. This was very amusing to the teachers because in korea motels are not the same as in the UK, they are known as Love Motels, and therefore generally only used by couples for the night :) It wasn't tpo bad though - it was comfortable and had a decent TV and computer. I moved into my apartment on Saturday - whilst extremely hungover! Peter, the guy who had been in it before me, had left me loads of stuff like books, maps on the walls and stuff for the kitchen, so it wasn't completely bare. I have some photos which i will try and put on here soon. Most of the room is taken up by a rather dodgy looking black leather bed, but it is very comfortable. I have a shower room rather than a bathroom, in that there is no bath or sink, just a toilet and a shower, but the whole room is the shower, there is no cubicle seperating it from everything else. My kitchen is nice but small, with a fridge freezer, 2 ring hob, a sink and 3 cupboards. We will be eating out fairly often though so thats all i need really.

I have a crazy TV - it is american so it has to have this huge transfomer box that it plugs into, which looks a bit like car battery. I have to turn on the transformer, then the TV and then the cable TV box, which i have to use to change the channels, because there is no remote for the TV. I have about 80 channels, roughly 10 of which show films and programmes in English. I've seen loads of movies since I got here and I've even caught episodes of The X Files, The A Team and Friends too. We all went around to one teacher's apartment on Sunday night to watch the film Team America but that channel wasn't working, so we wound up watching Predator instead!

One thing I am looking forward to a lot while I am here is travelling around Korea on my weekends. The weather has been really hot since i got here, but today it had cooled down quite a bit, so autumn is on its way. However, we are hoping to get a last 'summer' trip in this weekend. We are going to a national park on the coast where there are mountains to hike in, but also a waterfall we're going to swim at and a beach. It sounds lovely. There are also plans to go away at xmas, as we have a week off then. During their summer holiday, all the teachers who were here went to Japan for a week, so over xmas they are planning to go to Malaysia, and as long as I have the money I'll be joining them.

Anyway, I'll sign off now as I have to start getting ready for work, but I'll be in touch again soon.

Posted by claire14 13:57 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

(Entries 16 - 20 of 23) « Page 1 2 3 [4] 5 »