I’m back from South Korea


So I flew to Seoul, Korea two years ago. I then took a bus to 대전시 (Daejeon-si) for a week-long orientation with other prospective English teachers in South Korean public schools. I had no idea where I’d teach, exactly. I just knew I’d be in the Chungcheongam-do province. Our so-called co-teachers would pick us up soon after we learned exactly which city or town we’d be placed in.

First, I bade my colleagues at the University of Pretoria farewell. My old and fond colleague, WJ, drew this picture

I met this man, who was to be my co-teacher, babysitter, translator and general life support system for the next year, at the same time that I would cut myself off from the native speakers and fluent locals with whom I’d spent the last week.

As we made our introductions, his first words included: “I don’t speak English very well.”

Later, as we drove the two-hour route to my rural city, he also asked me to “not touch the children”.

Not a single one of the six or so books I’d read, the hours of YouTube videos I’d watched, the many dozens of Korean language lessons I’d studied had prepared me for this moment. Wasn’t I supposed to have an English teacher as my co-teacher? Isn’t this rule perhaps a bit extreme? My second question, about the kids, seemed the best to actually voice out. So, I diplomatically asked about situations such as emergencies. Would it be alright to touch the children then?

Turns out, he meant to say that I shouldn’t hit the children.

This, and the countless amusing or alarming misunderstandings that followed over the next 24 months, is why nothing can really ever prepare you for living abroad.

Slide from a phonics and symbol recognition course for 1st and 2nd graders.

Slide from a phonics and symbol recognition course for 1st and 2nd grade elementary students. The Korean means “well done.”

In December 2016, I left Seoul for the last time. Teaching and living in South Korea was tough at times, but it was worth the investment. Looking through the lens of TESOL, I learned a lot about my existing subject domains, especially relating to educational book publishing and technology-assisted language learning. I also learned that kids are quite different to young adults when it comes to classroom management!

Most of all, I studied a brand spanking new language — the most challenging one of all so far.

I taught writing, too, up to advanced academic writing that is also taught at universities.

I taught writing, too, up to the kind of advanced academic writing that is also taught at universities.

So, in addition to my other interests, I’ve added a TESOL category. TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) can include various sub-domains, such as TEFL, TESL, EAP and a flurry of further terms, where the focus shifts between things such as English as a foreign or second language, or English for academic or business purposes.

Never, ever, tease a language learner when they make a mistake. But do share funny translations on the interwebz.

Never, ever, tease a language learner when they make a mistake. But do share mistakes made by bad copy editors.

I created a Tumblr for my journal. Here’s the second post I made, with the title: “Becoming an EPIK teacher: why I want to teach English.”:

The English Programme in Korea places teachers from English-speaking countries in the Korean public school system. I became interested in teaching English after learning from Jay Walker about (in his own words), the World’s English Mania. At the time of his talk, an estimated two billion people were attempting to learn English globally.

I’m also a trained information scientist. Since language is our method of transferring information, I think it’s a splendid idea for everyone to have a shared language. So, morally, I feel obligated to help out in this regard.

Should English become the only language spoken in the world? No. As mister Walker wisely ends his talk:

Is English a tsunami, washing away other languages? Not likely. English is the world’s second language.Your native language is your life. But with English you can become part of a wider conversation: a global conversation about global problems,like climate change or poverty, or hunger or disease.

The world has other universal languages. Mathematics is the language of science. Music is the language of emotions. And now English is becoming the language of problem-solving. Not because America is pushing it, but because the world is pulling it.
I got accepted into the programme in April 2014. I’ll hear about where I’m placed soon. Right now, I’m sorting out my life here in South Africa to prepare for the journey. Wish me luck.



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