Home

 

Getting Experience

- # of # Filtered -

Insight And Education In Korea

Q&A with Drew: Taught English in Korea
Share this
Print this
Drew
Taught English in Korea
His thoughts on The International Workplace
As a foreigner, I'm at the bottom of the hierarchy chain. The good news is that I am flexible and quickly adapting to the culture. It's just how Korean society functions, and I'm along for the ride!
His thoughts on The Right Attitude
I consider myself a very adventurous eater, but I was put to the test when they served duck feet and octopus soup. I was a little intimidated, but I got over it and it wasn’t all that bad!
His thoughts on Motivation
What really kicked off my travel addiction was studying abroad in Prague. It was the single best experience of my entire life.

When and where did you teach abroad? Did you go with a program?

I am currently teaching English in South Korea. I teach in a city called Pyeongtaek – about 45 minutes south of Seoul by train. My contract is one calendar year long.

The program that I am teaching with is called GEPIK: Gyeonggi English Program in Korea. Gyeonggi is the name of the province that I live in; it’s the most populous province in South Korea and it surrounds the capital city of Seoul. GEPIK has been outstanding to work with so far, and they provide their teachers with great benefits (rent and flight reimbursements, health insurance, year-end bonuses, etc.).

I got lucky during my application process. When I was finishing up my undergraduate studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I realized that my school had an affiliate program with GEPIK, so I was able to apply directly through my school and they set everything up for me. If you aren’t so lucky to have a special “lead” like I did, don’t worry! The online application process for GEPIK is very straightforward.

What made you want to teach English abroad?

Since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to be a traveler. I grew up in Arizona and traveled all over the US for family gatherings, hockey tournaments, road trips and vacations throughout my childhood. In college, I traveled overseas for the first time in Israel with a program called Birthright. It was an awesome time in my life. I learned a lot about the history of Jewish culture, and some of the closest friends I have today are people that I met in that program.

But what really kicked off my travel addiction was studying abroad. During one spring semester, I studied abroad in Prague, Czech Republic. It was the single best experience of my entire life. Studying abroad in Prague was the first time I had really been immersed in a truly foreign culture. I didn’t even know it was possible to have that much fun exploring Europe. After my program ended, I went on a month-long backpacking trip, starting in Dubai and ending in Switzerland. By the time I returned home to the US, I’d visited over 20 new countries and I could sense that the travel bug was just getting started!

To date, I’ve been to 40 countries and 44 US states. And now, I’m looking forward to traveling all over Asia during the next 12 months!

What is the biggest surprise about your teaching experience abroad?

The biggest surprise about my teaching experience so far is getting used to Korean lifestyle. Not necessarily the language, but rather the way in which Koreans live their day-to-day lives. Things are completely different than what I am used to at home. Here are some specific examples of what my life now includes:

  • Trying to improve my chopstick skills…I have rarely seen a fork since arriving.
  • Bowing every time I greet someone.
  • Getting stared from in every direction because of my red hair.
  • Taking off my shoes every time I enter a home, my school or other places meriting respect.
  • Getting used to alternative garbage disposal methods!
  • Getting asked to get my picture taken because I am a foreigner.

I could go on, but these are just some of the major things that stand out on daily basis. Having been here now for less than two months, I feel like I am adjusting well to the culture, because I’m prepared for anything unusual that comes my way.

How did you finance your trip abroad, and did you find any creative solutions to stay on a budget?

I get paid on salary through my program, GEPIK. As I mentioned above, GEPIK gives some awesome perks to their English teachers. They cover my monthly rent, pay for my flights both ways and provide me with health insurance. Despite all of these benefits, I still need to budget myself. Here is a breakdown of how I do it:

I get paid on the 17th of every month. The second I get my paycheck, I put a quarter of that money into a separate account – my “travel fund.” I use this money for all flights and travel expenses for future trips. I also put another quarter of the money into a savings account that will remain untouched during this year. The other half of my paycheck goes to daily expenses and activities such as food, public transportation, partying, concerts, shopping, etc. During the week, I hardly spend any money. It is on my weekend trips to Seoul that I spend the majority of my cash. So far, my budget is working out perfectly!

Is there anything from your workplace that gives you particular insight into your host culture?

Yes, there are literally thousands of things from my workplace that give me insight into Korean culture. I will share with you my favorite, and that is the school lunches.

Everyday at 12:30, I eat lunch with the students. The different foods served at lunch are a highlight. Every lunch consists of rice, kimchi (spicy Korean cabbage), some kind of locally grown vegetables, and a variety of meats (usually one or more of: beef, pork, chicken, shrimp, octopus, duck and sausage). Korean food is absolutely incredible and I haven’t really had a bad meal yet. With that being said, I consider myself a very adventurous eater, but even I have been put to the test during school lunches when they served duck feet and octopus soup. I was a little intimidated at first, but I got over it and I ate the meal alongside everyone else. And it wasn’t all that bad!

The most challenging thing about school lunches is the fact that no one drinks a beverage with the meal. Given that Korean food is almost always spicy, I sometimes choke on my food and there is never any water to wash it down! It was really hard for me to get used to this at first, but now I am slowly coming around and I have trained my body to drink after the meal is finished. In the end, you live and you learn and now I am used to it.

How did you deal with cultural divide during your time teaching abroad?

This is an interesting question for me because Korean culture is based very much on systems of hierarchy, meaning that society is marked by social status. When two Koreans meet each other for the first time, they subconsciously (or willingly) determine who has a higher status. It is always men before women and the old before the young. Therefore, the oldest Korean men (like my school principal) are treated with the upmost respect by all others.

How does this affect me? Well, I am at the complete bottom of the hierarchy chain because I am a foreigner. My opinions at school aren’t considered relevant, and I am always to do what I am told. For example: There are frequently schedule changes during the week and my co-teachers inform me five minutes before the class starts. They will say something like, “Sorry, but this class is changed to tomorrow morning at 7am, and this other class is cancelled this week.”

The good news is that I am flexible and I am quickly adapting to the culture. I am making adjustments when necessary and I am always aware that I really don’t have any power. It really isn’t as horrible as it sounds. It is just how Korean society functions, and I am along for the ride!

What is the number one tip for anyone following your footsteps?

The number one tip that I can give to anyone that is going to teach abroad is to familiarize yourself with the culture. Specifically, learn about the history of that country and start studying the language PRIOR to your arrival. I did both of these things and I cannot tell you how much they’ve contributed to my experience so far in Korea.

How did I familiarize myself with the culture before arriving? I read articles on Wikipedia, watched YouTube videos, read books and talked to my friends who had already taught English in Korea. I read a book called The Essential Guide to Customs and Culture in Korea, where I learned a lot about how Koreans live their lives. The book also tied in the history of Korea and the Korean War. It’s very important to have basic knowledge about these things, especially right now when tensions are high between North and South Korea.

Learning the language has led me to a more comfortable experience. I am not saying that you should be fluent before you arrive, but at least know how to read, write and learn some useful phrases. I went above and beyond and I started studying Korean about a year in advance. By the time I landed in Korea, I was already able to understand many things around me and hold a basic conversation with people. Since arriving, I have drastically improved my learning ability and it feels great to know what’s happening around me.

What are your future plans for going abroad and for your career?

My future plans are to finish my contract in Korea and keep on traveling. I am only 22 years old, with no major responsibilities or relationships tying me down. Whether that means staying another year in Korea, or adventuring out to a new part of the world, I know that I want to keep living abroad. The world is out there for me to explore and this is no better time to do that than right now.

As for my career, I plan to have my own start-up business. My undergraduate studies focused on economics and entrepreneurship, so I learned a lot about what it takes to start a business. I have never been the type to work a corporate job, where I sit all day long at a cubicle and I am being told what to do by someone of higher status. I learned this about myself through various summer internships that I had at large corporations in the past few years. And I know that I have the passion, drive and motivation to succeed on my own.

What kind of company do I want to start? Well, I would like to follow my passion, and do something that relates to the travel industry. Perhaps a travel social networking Web site/app or something that can be useful for all young travelers. For now, I am working hard to build my travel blog and connect with as many like-minded travelers as possible. I am confident that this will lead me in the right direction. The opportunities are endless, and that is why I am so excited about my future!

Advice from MyWorldAbroad
Jean-Marc Hachey, Publisher, MyWorldAbroad

Since writing this contribution, Drew has gone on to become a popular travel vlogger and blogger visiting almost 200 countries and sharing his thoughts and experiences along the way! Check out his YouTube channel here. For those hoping to follow in his footsteps after your first experience abroad, check out these articles. 

Drew's Next Steps
Advice from MyWorldAbroad
by the founder of MyWorldAbroad
Jean-Marc Hachey
Want to Have the Same Experience?
10 Core Global Competencies
Take control of your career with this ESSENTIAL model!
Virtual Internships in 2021!
Remote work is the way of the future! Start planning YOUR virtual international internship now.
The Global You
What skills, knowledge and experiences can change your life? Find out with this NEW model!
Quizzes & Scorecard
Take these simple quizzes to assess your international skills, experiences & job search readiness!
The Culture Tree
EXPLORE the three levels of culture!
10923
- # of # Filtered -
  • 93
93
10204
Across Europe In A Caravan!
1
9790
Design And Dining In Korea
2
9789
Loving Life In Lyon
3
9758
Learning The Local Ways Of Addis Ababa
4
9781
A Hospital Helper In Costa Rica
5
11996
Daring to Go Solo in Ireland
6
12058
Architectural Adventures in Australia
7
11645
A Love Affair with Shanghai
8
11845
Hospitality and Hosting in the DCR
9
15333
A Literary Education in the UK
10
9766
Short-Term Trips For Long-Term Gain
11
10923
Insight And Education In Korea
12
14483
Finding Home, By Teaching Abroad
13
14088
An Eye-opening Experience Teaching in South Korea
14
14594
Growing Abroad: Hong Kong & South Korea
15
9767
Beyond The Call Of Duty In Africa
16
15347
12 Months, 12 Countries!
17
15383
Hustle and Bustle in Vietnam
18
15405
From Daydream to Reality: Teaching Abroad
19
15401
From Korea to Oman: Teaching English Around the World!
20
15327
An Open Mind & Open Arms in Spain
21
15387
Bliss on a Budget in Brazil
22
15631
An International Career in the Making: Asia, Africa and Beyond
23
16017
A Globally-minded Visit to Qatar
24
15644
Discovering the World on Campus: International Skills at Home
25
11467
Stepping Outside the Box in Sweden!
26
9737
Passionate About Panama
27
9752
Giving In Guatemala
28
9782
Making The Most Of Milano
29
9769
Getting Sporty In Switzerland!
30
9788
Business And Pleasure In Australia
31
9753
A Season in Sweden
32
9765
Simpatico in Florence
33
9787
A Spring Semester in London
34
9807
Fast Friendship in Korea
35
9764
Do It Yourself! A Proactive Intern in Rome
36
9784
Skill-building in Bonn
37
9741
Adapting to Work In Peru
38
11557
Un stage au Cambodge (Français)
39
9785
Motivated In Madagascar
40
9770
Contributing To Change In Ghana
41
9779
One Summer, Two Internships!
42
9760
Getting In Sync In Nairobi
43
9759
From Cold Feet To Confidence In Germany
44
9746
A Cross-Cultural Co-Op In West Africa
45
9773
Independent In India
46
9742
Take-Charge Travel: Germany And Beyond!
47
9776
Soaking Up Japanese Culture
48
10230
Getting Caffeinated In Bolivia
49
11468
Learning While Teaching in Beijing
50
9771
Learning To Love London
51
10145
Real Stories And Real People In Mexico
52
9762
American Freshman In London
53
9803
Ten Years Teaching In Seoul
54
9791
Making Contacts Count In The UK
55
10851
Tips From Tasmania
56
9799
Getting Settled In Seoul
57
10258
Encountering Cultures Across Europe
58
9772
Learning To Go With The Flow In France
59
10218
Adaptation And Appreciation In Japan
60
9786
Kids And Culture In Korea
61
9748
Adventure In The Alps
62
9744
Food, Fun And Festivals In Germany
63
9747
Fun And Friends In The Netherlands
64
9750
Host Hospitality In Morocco
65
9754
Building Memories In India
66
9775
A Year Of Feeling French
67
9777
Into The Wild In Alaska
68
9812
Caring And Career Skills In Belize
69
10157
Changing Course In China
70
9740
Sports, Study And Fun In France
71
9778
Study And Adventure In New Zealand
72
9755
People, Places And Passionate Volunteering In Peru
73
9738
Living For The Moment In Valencia
74
11850
The Warmest Welcome in Guatemala
75
9783
Off The Beaten Path In Africa
76
9757
Teaching And Learning In Tanzania
77
9774
Gaga For Ghana!
78
9745
An Unforgettable Adventure In Nanjing
79
9792
Rolling With The Punches In Seoul
80
10188
Now Or Never In Colombia
81
11904
Enthusiasm, Education and Experience in Greece
82
10163
English Teaching In Eastern Europe
83
9768
Going Solo In Spain!
84
9743
Hooked On Volunteering!
85
10153
China, South Africa And Beyond!
86
9751
A Canadian Globe-Trotter Visits The US
87
10192
Out And About In Paris
88
9780
A Year In Marvelous Mexico!
89
9756
Springtime In Spain
90
9763
A Professional Visit To Vietnam
91
10143
A Warm Welcome In Mexico
92
9761
Communicating Creatively In Spain
93
10923
All Job Boards
462
All NGOs
1427
Au Pair Resources
39
Awards And Grants Resources
54
Business Directories
18
Canadian Federal, Provincial And Territorial Government Profiles
60
Canadian Government Resources
28
Children And Families Abroad
16
Consulting, Economic And Finance Job Boards
63
Country Guides
70
Cross-cultural Skills
80
Engineering Job Boards
59
Engineering Resources
81
Expatriate Networking Sites
32
Foreign Students Working in the US
9
Freelancing Abroad
27
General Job Search Books
15
Global Education And Social Action
45
Health And Medicine Job Boards
49
Health Career Resources
67
International Associations With Clubs on Campus
43
International Development Career Resources
75
International Internship Organizations
304
International Internships And Student Programs With Canadian Governments
31
International Internships With The US Government
37
International Job Hunting Resources
14
International Law Careers Resources
113
International Law Job Boards
26
International Student Exchanges [under construction until 2020/08/30]
2
International Studies In The US And Canada
11
International Trade Resources
25
International Volunteer Organizations
489
Internship Directories And Advice
37
Internships With The UN And Other IGOs
157
Language Careers
30
Learn A Language
106
Licensed Teacher Abroad Job Boards
29
Licensed Teacher Abroad Resources
31
Loans for Studying Abroad
18
Low-cost Travel
63
NGO Directories
33
NGO Job Boards
47
Re-entry
12
Regional Job Boards
102
Relocating Abroad
27
Resources For International Students Studying In Canada
17
Resources For International Students Studying In The US
46
Stories From Abroad
93
Study Abroad Resources
187
Teach English Abroad Job Boards
98
Teach English Abroad Resources
64
Tools for Travelers
73
Top International Blogs & Podcasts
84
Travel Health And Safety
39
UN and Other IGOs
269
UN And Other IGOs Job Boards
26
UN And Other IGOs Resources
73
US Government Profiles
76
US Government Resources
36
Virtual International Internship Organizations
77
Visas and Passports
26
Volunteer Directories And Advice
50
Women Living And Working Overseas
18
Working Holiday Resources
73