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Me, Julie, Elly, Jack, Kevin, and Ryan. Eagle class.

Me, Julie, Elly, Jack, Kevin, and Ryan. Eagle class.

Alright.

Yes, I am a teacher. Some people would say I’m not a “real” teacher, because I didn’t go to teacher’s college, and I don’t have a ‘teachable’ major.

I’ve been in South Korea for 1 year and 1 month, since August 2nd, 2008. To be honest, I came here thinking the same thing… this isn’t a ‘real’ teaching job… it’s just something for someone with no direction to take up, to bridge the gap between university and the real world.

Boy did I ever get a swift kick in the ass.

I now realize how important a teacher is to a student’s life, especially in a fast-paced city like Seoul. I spend more time with my kids than most of their parents are able to, and that to me is both moving and horribly sad.

You may be thinking ‘come on Mike… you just have to stand there and speak your native language… how hard can that be?’

I’d love for you to spend a day in my slippers. I’ve found that teaching is an exchange of energy between the students and I. Some days, they put out so much, which I have to counter with just as much, if not more energy, in order to keep them in line. Tired? Too bad. Hung over? Too bad. (I don’t drink anyway) Woke up at 4am and couldn’t sleep because your mind decides to go in infinite loops about how the universe was created, and how we may be as small as atoms to other giant beings? Too bad buddy.

If they’re not responding to me, not getting excited about learning, I have to push my positive energy onto them. This is the ONLY way that the kids will respect you and learn effectively, especially the 6, 7, and 8 year olds.

My day is typically like this:

Wake up at 8:45, shower, get something to eat, head to school, start teaching 7 and 8 year olds at 9:45
Lunchie from 12-1
1 – 6:30, teaching 8 – 12 year olds

Teachers of Canada, I don’t mean for this to be an insult to you, or to devalue your job. All teachers are extremely important people, I’m just expressing my perspective.

Now, if you’re still thinking that I’m not a real teacher, and that teachers in Canada have it tougher, ponder this:

– Teachers in Canada have the support of their friends and family. While I have a lot of support from my friends and family as well, they’re about 15,000km away.

– Not only do I have to teach, but I’m teaching to students whose native language isn’t English. They could be speaking Korean to each other and calling me Mr. Bojangles for all I know.

– School in Canada is free. At an English school in Korea, parents are paying a LOT of money for their kid to be taught English, and they want to see results, even if the parents themselves don’t speak English. Now, think about that for a second. Some parents don’t speak a word of English… so how can they effectively gauge their son or daughter’s progress? You get some parents who will rip their kid out of the school because they think you’re some two-bit moron who’s just here for women and alcohol.

– You know the culture in Canada, since you grew up with it. Did you know that in Korea it’s considered really impolite to toss something to someone? I had no idea. I tossed one of my older students a book and she looked at me like I killed her grandmother.

I’ll admit, teaching does have some pretty good perks. I have weekends off. I have the support of great coworkers and directors. There are times that I feel so honoured to be a part of these kids lives that it almost moves me to tears. Also, while teaching is an exchange of energy, it’s also an exchange of knowledge. Sure, I’m teaching them English, but they are teaching me more about myself and the world than I ever would have expected.

There are times that I would love to just take off back to Canada, but when I even mention to my kids that I’m leaving in March or April, they get visibly upset.

Imagine that.

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4 Comments

  1. Hi Mike,

    Happened to stumble upon this blog and I am very happy that I did. I’m a New Zealander who has been in Seoul for just over two weeks now. I suspect that I shall be in a state of perpetual culture-shock until the day I fly home. That being said, from what I’ve seen so far, Seoul is a fascinating place.

    I’m a teacher too, working at a hagwon in Gwangjang-dong, Gwangjin-gu. Work is great – I seem to have fallen on my feet in that regard. My colleagues, both foreign and Korean, are great people. The manager is supportive and I think him trustworthy. The children are great! (much more respectful than NZ kids)

    The comments you made about feeling so far away from family and friends at home resonate with me. I wouldn’t consider myself homesick, but I do miss my family desperately. In some respects, I am definitely looking forward to going back to NZ this time next year.

    Anyway, thanks for your blog –

    Greg

  2. Greg, I guess you’re the one who googled “korea miss my family” 🙂

    Trust me man, it only gets better, especially when you start to make some friends. Get the hell out there and see some stuff. The mountains here are breathtaking.

  3. Cheers Mike – I walked up Mt. Achasan with a couple of friends from work last weekend. It was spectacular!

    The missing my family thing isn’t dominating my life, but thoughts of home occur to me when I’m not doing other things.

    Greg

  4. I am new-ish to korea as well, also a canadian. I’m trying to plan a little trip for Chuseok, and I’d like to see more of Korea outside of Seoul. Any suggestions?


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