South Korea Through Expats’ Eyes- Loneliness Abroad

korea oneLiving overseas is one wild experience! An experience that time and time again I continually have to pinch myself to make sure that this is real. Then there are those days where I feel like the completely awkward foreigner who just misses silly things like eavesdropping in on conversations and being able to carry a conversation effortlessly. Although (for Tom and I life is absolutely amazing 99.9% of the time here) there are definitely sacrifices we have had to make while living in Korea. For example, since last April we have missed eight weddings, holiday gatherings, graduations, and too many birthday celebrations to count. I’ve missed seeing my sisters grow inches & shoe sizes, their sports, and their school events.

Loneliness is a real thing while living abroad.

So today, we are chatting about just that- loneliness. It’s a concern that I believe can hold people back from taking the plunge to come live abroad. Today, I bring you Chloé, Lisa, Alison, and Caitlyn to give you their two cents on loneliness while living abroad (two of the gals came to Korea alone while the other two came with their significant others!)

 

How do you deal with loneliness?

photo (10)The best way to deal with loneliness is to surround yourself with people. It really helps to familiarize yourself with the community of foreigners, or even to try and socialize with the other teachers at your school (even if they don’t speak English – I have KonGlish conversations ALL the time), because then you always have that security blanket of people you can fall back on. I haven’t felt as lonely as I thought I would, and that is in great part because I actually have Caley (another teacher, who lives an apartment building away from me and teaches at the school across the street from mine). Making friends is really the best way to keep the loneliness away because these are people that you can spend the year with and discover Korea with. If all else fails, skype is always a great pick me up when you need to talk to your family and friends.

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What do you do to make Korea feel more like home?

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 The first thing I did in the first few weeks I was here was try to make my apartment feel like home. I knew that I wanted my apartment to be a place I could come home to and feel comfortable in. I had brought lots a pictures from home, so I bought a bunch of cheap frames from Daiso (Korea’s amazing dollar store) and hung pictures up all over. I also got some cute bedding and a few other household things/decorations to make my apartment my own. Another thing that makes me feel at home is baking. I found a decent oven for around $80, and I absolutely love it. Even though we all come here to experience a new culture, I think it’s important to also do things to remember home and the things we loved about where we’re from.

 

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We brought some pictures and decorations from home to make it cozy right away. During the first few weeks, it was nice to look at our walls and see pictures of our family and friends. I also frequently stay in touch with people from back home. There are so many ways for me to communicate: FaceTime, iMessage, Skype, KakaoTalk, email, blog comments, Facebook, etc. It makes me feel so much closer to the people I love who aren’t here with me.

 

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Around the holidays when homesickness is likely to set in…what do you do to ease the loneliness?

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I can’t imagine having come to Korea alone, so it’s difficult to speak for most single foreigners living here, as for me (being married) homesickness hasn’t been much of a thing. I can say though that I know Christmas will be tough this year, but to avoid feeling down and homesick, we have organised a big Christmas eve party at a local coffee shop which we have rented out for the evening, so we’ll be spending the evening with 30 special friends.Christmas morning will be our time, for prezzies and time with Jesus and then the afternoon will be spent at home with 4 of our best friends sharing a meal and some laughs I’m sure too. I know I will get tearful on Christmas day, but if anything it only makes me more appreciative for the amazing family I have back home and if one thing is for sure, you truly do learn to be grateful for the small things in life, like friends on Christmas day to help fill the family void inside of us.

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Friday will be the last post in this series. The gals will give pieces of advice for those who plan to move abroad or move to Korea!  What about you? If you’re far away from home how do you deal with living away from loved ones? What do you do to ease the loneliness?

 

If you’re just joining us for the series click the highlighted words below to catch up:

Day 1- Why Korea? Why did these lovely ladies choose to move abroad to Korea?

Day 2- Teaching in Korea. The ins and outs of what it means to be a public school teacher in Korea.

Day 3- Finances in Korea. What do our finances look like as an expat teaching in Korea.

Day 4- Life Outside of Work. What is life like outside of teaching? How do they spend their weekends?

 

 

South Korea Through Expats’ Eyes Series- A look into the life of an English Teacher

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Happy Wednesday (or Tuesday if you’re reading this from the good ol’ US of A!!)

If you missed the first part of the series on Monday be sure to click here to read why these awesome ladies decided to come to Korea… A question that we all (at some point) faced before our move to this side of the pond.

Today, we’ll get a closer look at their lives in Korea as English teachers. I have  loved reading their responses to the questions and I know you will too! So grab a cup of coffee or wine (depending on what time zone you’re in) and read about what these fine individuals have to say on teaching in Korea!! It’s pretty much the coolest job ever if I must say so myself :0

I’ll start us off with an easy one.

Tell us what grade you teach and the program you came to Korea through?

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I teach 3rd-6th graders (ages 8-12) in three different elementary schools. I also have one class per week in which I teach 1st and 2nd graders. We came to Korea through Canadian Connection and they made the application and moving process so seamless. I HIGHLY recommend them.

 

 

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I came to Korea through Canadian Connection as well. I was in direct communication with Shane and towards the end (near the signing of the contract) I was also in communication with Laura. Canadian Connection is in my opinion a really good choice. They were on the ball from the moment I contacted them. They make the whole process of application/visa really easy and smooth!

I teach in an elementary school. I was originally told I would be teaching grade 3 to grade 6, but as it worked out, I actually teach grade 5 and 6 on more of a regular basis and grades 3 and 4 randomly (and the classes aren’t actually structured English classes).

 

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I came to Korea through EPIK (English Program in Korea), they are the biggest public school provider in the country, and I have loved working through them. The system is so structured and thus provides you with great job security as well as the opportunity to meet hundreds of foreign teachers within your first 2 weeks after arrival.

I teach Elementary School kids, Grades 4 – 6 to be specific. We weren’t given an option as to what age group we’d like to teach, so I really did land my bum in the butter by having been given the privilege of teaching my delightful little ones!!

 

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Lisa-I teach at a public Elementary School, so I teach 3rd-6th grades. I came to Korea through EPIK (English Program in Korea).For more information on EPIK click here. You can apply directly through EPIK or you can apply through a recruiter, which is what I did. I applied through Reach to Teach, a recruiting company that serves as a middle man through the entire process of coming to Korea. You apply through them and they help you with every step of the way. I would highly recommend them to anyone considering teaching in Korea or any other country they recruit for.

 

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What does a typical day at work in Korea look like?

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I teach at 2 schools, one on Mondays and Tuesdays and the other from Wednesday to Friday, so I’ll be sharing about my main school, the later of the two.

I am due to arrive at school at 8:30am, but being an early bird I tend to get there by 8:10 every morning. I share an office with my two co-teachers so on arrival we chat briefly before all settling in at our computers (the school provides these). I then usually spend a few minutes going over my lesson plan for the day and then check my email and write my to-do list for the day. At 8:40am I head up to our English classroom, where I turn on the computer, open the windows, etc and basically get ready for the kids to come streaming in.

Class starts at 8:50am (late, I know right?!), and each lesson lasts exactly 40 minutes. After the 40 minute lesson, the kids make their way back to their homeroom class and they have a quick 10 minute break.

The next class then arrive at our English room, I teach an entire grade(4-5 classes) every day.We have a 20 minute break-time after 2nd period, which I usually spend back in my office, working on my own things. After break time, I teach the next 2 periods and then lock up the English classroom for the day. We then head down to lunch at about 12:30 (the school provides this but I have to pay for my lunches at the end of each month). I can’t say that lunch is always appetizing, but for the most part they are perfect.

My afternoons are my free-time and I love this about teaching in Korea. I plan my lesson (based on the textbook) for the next day, sometimes with my co-teacher’s help, other times on my own, and then work on my own things, usually my Life Coaching work. I am fortunately at two very active schools so every Monday I play badminton with 3 other teachers from 3 – 4:40pm and then every few weeks we play volleyball on Friday afternoons too, which is right up my alley.

School ends at 4:30pm, a bit later on badminton days, and we usually all leave the office together and head in our different directions.

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How does teaching in Korea compare to teaching back home?

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Wow, there are so many ways that it’s different, but I find more similarities everyday.

Let’s start with the differences:

– I work so many less hours in Korea. In the U.S., it was not unusual for me to work 11-12 hours per weekday and about 3-4 hours per weekend, which comes out to over 60 hours per week. In Korea, I work 40 hours and never have to take my work home with me. My stress levels are much lower in Korea!

– In the United States, there is a huge emphasis of walking in straight lines, raising your hand to speak, only talking when a teacher calls on you, etc. I have noticed that there is not as much of an emphasis here on those particular aspects of the classroom.

– In Korea, it seems as if rote memorization is a best practice. From my experience in the United States, teachers are moving away from that practice and focusing more on answering questions in a variety of ways.

– Most schools are heated in the United States, but in Korea the heat is not always on and the windows are open. BRRRRRR!

– In the U.S., students are encouraged to pursue a variety of after school activities and sports. In Korea, many students focus on one activity after school, which is often more academic classes in the evening.

 Now for some similarities:

– Most students are eager to learn and love when the lesson is engaging. I have a feeling this is the case for students all over the world!

– My students in the U.S. and my students in Korea can be easily motivated with positive rewards. If they can earn the chance to watch a video at the end of class, you bet they will work very hard towards it!

– For the most part, my students in the United States and in Korea are so sweet towards me. They want to chat after class and are so excited to give me drawings they made. They really love making connections with their teachers!

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What is something you didn’t expect about teaching in Korea that you learned once you were here? 
photo (13)I tried to come to Korea with zero expectations, which was probably the best thing I could have ever done. However, I did have this idea that Korean kids would be extremely well-behaved, which don’t get me wrong, most of my classes are wonderful, but their behavior is a lot different than I had pictured. Kids in Korea are kind of on their own a lot more than in America. In the schools that I have taught in before coming here, children always have to be supervised, but here, they go from class to class all on their own and can pretty much do whatever they want. It’s not uncommon to see children hitting, kicking, punching, or slapping each other in the halls or in between classes as well. It was hard to get used to at first because if I saw that back in the states, it would not be acceptable, but here it’s not really a big deal. If kids are ever fighting in my classroom though, I don’t allow it and have made my own classroom rules, which have helped a lot.

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What is the BEST part about your job?

 photo (10)The best part of my job is the interaction with not just the students but with my co-workers. The kids were really shy at first, but it’s been almost a semester now that I have been teaching here and I can see a difference in them. They are much more comfortable and approach me randomly to talk, not only in class or school but on the streets. Also I love seeing that the kids are much more interested in learning English than they were  at the beginning of September, just because they want to be able to speak to me.

As for the co-workers, My school is pretty active as far as social gatherings. We go for dinners together and on Wednesdays we play volleyball!

What’s are the challenges you face at work?

The biggest challenge (and the only one so far for me I think ) that I have faced at work is the language barrier. My school is actually really great! Everyone treats me so well and they all look after and worry about me (sometimes it’s almost too much). So really the only thing that does bother me is that sometimes things get lost in translation and there’s miscommunication. It’s never anything serious though!

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SO there ya have it folks! The life of a public school teacher in Korea in a nutshell!! Teaching here is pretty darn fantastic! Friday will be the post on our Finances in Korea. Probably the topic I received the most questions about as we took the leap to move abroad. Finance Friday!! Perfect ring to it dontcha think?

Happy Wednesday everyone 🙂

Surprises that warm the heart.

The days keep flying and I just keep wishing I had more time.

More time to read, write, work out, bake delicious food, travel, longer weekends, drink coffee, drink tea. Drink wine with my husband. I keep finding myself wishing for more time.  Our weekends here are precious and valued time that Tom and I spend together traveling Korea and (if we are lucky) sometimes with our friends!

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…and so when Tom and I were presented with the opportunity to volunteer at an International English camp a few weeks back we debated over if we would give up our “precious time” to spend a weekend with kids after working 40 hours with kids. – We all need breaks every now and then 😉 We had heard great things about the camp and decided: “What the heck! Let’s do it.”

So, three weeks ago Tom and I went with 40 other foreign English teachers to volunteer at an International English Camp about 2 hours away from our city of Yeosu. 200 Korean middle school students in grade two (equivalent to our 8th grade in America) lined the pavement holding signs and cheering as the foreign teachers got off the bus upon arrival at camp. This was only the beginning of a fun-filled weekend teaching the kids how to cook food from our native countries, playing games/sports, doing a talent show, having a massive bonfire (fireworks were included!), stargazing, and teaching them a little about the places we originally call home.The best part about this was being able to hang out and have fun with the middle school kiddos in a normal environment! No pressure of studying. Just conversation and having fun. I have talked a bit about the pressures that the kids have in Korea to study, perform, study, perform AND repeat. If you’re interested in learning what these kids go through or just grasp an understanding of our life as teachers in Korea click here for a short 20 minute documentary! The camp was a great opportunity for us to be immersed in the culture of Korea that we so dearly love while getting to know some of the most amazing kids in a fun environment.

It was a heart warming weekend to say the least.

At the end one of the boys gave a wonderful speech that made me cry. He said the camp had given him confidence to use his English in conversation without being scared. Through all the hard days of teaching…feeling like what we are doing isn’t making a difference… that I am not teaching them enough. It’s the moments like this volunteer English camp that reminded me sometimes it’s the little moments in life that make a difference. It’s the smiles, hugs, and love. It’s the company of spending time with kids. Just getting to know them. Having the opportunity at the International camp showed me that what we are doing CAN make an impact!

The weekend we spent with the kiddos was a weekend that warmed my heart. I realized how selfish I was initially to view it as giving up “my time” when the kids had done SO much to warm my heart during our weekend together.

What things have you been doing lately (or have others done for YOU!?!)  that warm your heart?