TEACH ENGLISH ABROAD: Read up On My amazing adventures as an ESL Teacher in South Korea & China For Over 5 Years!
My first journey to Southeast Asia as an ESL Teacher was in December of 2009 for an English winter camp in Seoul, South Korea.
My adventure had actually begun taking shape a year before in November of 08’ during my college tenure in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. While one day searching for summer jobs across the Internet, I happened to stumble upon an ad for a 1 month ESL Teacher opening in Seoul and immediately shared the information with my roommate who was graduating in December.
We had no clue as to what an ESL Teacher’s duties exactly entailed, but having both always dreamt of traveling to Asia, specifically to Japan, to explore the lifestyles in the region, technologies, and plethora of historical and cultural landmarks, I thought it’d be great for him to grasp the opportunity, especially considering its perfect timing. After an interview and a few weeks of careful follow-ups with the organization, he boarded a plane and set off to the world’s second largest metropolitan area.
Within a month’s time he returned and had nothing but positive things to say about the ESL program, the city, and the overall experience. He shared a wide collection of photos and videos of his students, Korean colleagues, cuisine, customs, and popular landmarks he visited. Realizing how spectacular the opportunity was, it was then that I knew I’d make the same trip in the near future.
Fast-forward to the summer of 2009 and, having graduating in May, I had landed an internship position with William Morris Endeavor (WME), the biggest talent agency in the world, in Los Angeles, which is also my hometown.
The English camp had come around again for a summer session and this time another friend of mine had taken up the chance to teach in Seoul. Upon his return to the States he also gave high praise for the program and adamantly recommended that I’d join the next upcoming winter session. And thus, after the conclusion of my internship in July and doing a brief 3-month stint as a salesperson at Footlocker in the fall, I aced the interview, cleared all of the necessary checks, gathered my passport, packed my bags, and hopped on a flight to Seoul on the 26th of December, less than 12 hours after Christmas day.
I remember that the first impression I had about Seoul after landing was that it was freezing cold; in fact, over the course of the entire month there’d be piles of snow about a foot high at each and every turn. Nevertheless, the Asian city was just how I imagined: buildings were stacked together and riddled with signs and bright neon lights on just about every block. Advertisements were crammed with traditional Korean scribe and in-between modern-day, bustling districts jam-packed with office space and commercial retailers sat long standing historical structures molded from ancient oriental architecture.
Furthermore, the hostel I was situated in came equipped with insanely small rooms with signs advertising noodles for breakfast. “Welcome to Asia!” I thought.
Before long I’d have the chance to meet my expat colleagues and we’d spend some time exploring the city on our own, dining on delicious street snacks at Seoul’s popular night markets, hitting a bar or two, and following local traditions by climbing a mountain to watch the sunrise on New Year’s Day. It was a truly awesome experience!
After the holiday we finally had a chance to meet the rest of our colleagues, start our training, and fully immerse ourselves into the English camp, which was held on a university campus.
We worked from 9am-5pm Monday to Friday and each teacher was given was given two main groups of students that they’d stick with throughout most of the day, and another two groups that they’d rotate to and teach a specific subject such as Arts and Crafts or Social Studies. The students were aged between 5-12yrs. old and I was given the oldest bunch and a group of 8-10yrs. olds.
Meeting my ESL students for the 1st time was an interesting experience; after all, I had never taught outside of the US before—or taught students period for that matter—and despite being a little nervous myself, I was eagerly anticipating ‘getting the party started’. Luckily I had a few fun and engaging icebreakers planned for the first couple of days and my efforts went without a hitch. The students managed to open up, participate, and become more playful as the days went on.
To my surprise, their English speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills were already quite good. They were way past the phase of singing the ABCs, learning phonetic sounds and using flashcards to help with identification. In fact, at this point they had been learning English at the same rate as your average American youth of the same age, so it was quite easy to communicate. Whoo hoo!
Each day we’d usually go over some reading material, review vocabulary words, make sentences, and play a few games covering the content. The students would then rotate to another teacher in the afternoon to have a creative subject.
Additionally, everyday we’d take the students out to the campus’ cafeteria for lunch and eat a meal consisting of rice, meat, vegetables, a small bowl of kimchi, and a bottle of Yakult, a popular probiotic drink. Eating together became a perfect way to bond more with students and truly appreciate the cultural experience.
They’d ask me questions about America, for instance, and we’d play dinner table games and I’d even teach them how to Moonwalk when we lined up.
Over the course of the next weeks we’d have a lot more fun in class. In between breaks I’d let the students play “The World’s Hardest Game” on the Internet and show them clips from some of my favorite movies. I’d also let them take out my phone to snap a few pictures. Of course, we’d always get back to doing class work when it was time, and I rarely had any problems with their behavior.
Around the 3rd week of the camp we hosted a cake making competition. Each class had the chance to decorate their own cake using whip cream, M & M’s, Oreo cookie crumbs, you name it, and we’d vote on which was the most creative. It was a blast!
On the last day of the camp we held a closing ceremony for the students’ parents. Each class put on a special performance—acting, singing, and dancing—that their teachers arranged.
My group of 8-10yrs. olds performed a fairly complex dance routine to Fool’s Garden’s “Lemon Tree” song that was very successful, while my older students danced to High School Musical’s “We’re All in This Together” in an embarrassing fashion.
After saying our goodbyes and snapping a boatload of photos with the students, most of the staff gathered at a nearby restaurant to cap the night off with food and tons of Soju shots. My first go around as an ESL teacher had come to an end and it was such an epic experience.
Teaching English in Seoul was exactly what I expected it to be and more. I was not only able to work in another country, explore a new culture, pick up some of the language, and dine on exotic cuisine, but also experienced cooperating with the local staff, meeting teachers and expats from across the world, teaching an amazing group of students, and having an overwhelmingly positive overall experience. With that in mind, the 1-month English immersions camp was the perfect opportunity for me because I was able to learn about and sample the overseas ESL teaching experience without having to commit to a long-term contract. And in the end, I looked, I tasted, and I absolutely wanted more.
Following the camp I’d return to Los Angeles and serve as a Site Manager for an after-school homework, tutoring, and enrichment program for middle school students over the next year and a half, racking up more experience in the field of working with young learners before I would eventually venture back into Asia.
By November of 2012 I had accepted a 1-year teaching position with Kid Castle English Training Center in Kunshan, China, and thus, my short time in South Korea had come full circle and I was ready to begin my next ESL adventure.
Here’s the deal: if you are between the ages of 22-30 and are yearning to travel across the world and experience new cultures while making a decent salary but aren’t quite sure as how to achieve your goal, I want you to consider teaching English abroad. There’s a high demand for ESL teachers throughout every corner of the globe, with Asian countries and regions such as South Korea, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau, Japan, and Thailand providing the most opportunities.
Teaching English overseas is a great opportunity to go on an adventure, immerse yourself in a new culture, learning a new language, meet people from across the world, gain a new perspective, save money, enhance your resume, and challenge yourself. Thanks to my initial “test” experience in Seoul, I can proudly say that I have now accumulated over 5 years and counting of ESL teaching experience in China as of this writing and have developed a great sense of gratification that is unmatched by anything I’d be doing at home.
So, feel free to take a look around my website, Don’s ESL Adventure, to check up on the experience I’ve had as an ESL Teacher and the travels that have come along with it. Everything posted here is meant to inform and inspire. If you have any questions, leave a comment or shoot me a message in my contact form. Who knows, maybe I’ll be reading up your own experience someday in some exotic part of the world!
Safe and happy travels!
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About the Author: Don is from Los Angeles, CA, USA and has served as an ESL Teacher & Foreign Department Manager in both China & South Korea!
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