Em in Asia!

My Experiences Living and Teaching in South Korea



It is lovely outside, and lovely inside my second grade classrooms with my kids, but not so sunshiney inside the first grade classrooms. It doesn’t help that I decided to wear a low(er) cut sweater to work today (you can see about two inches below my collarbone, heavens to betsy) AND a scarf to mask the top, while not realizing that in the classrooms you get all the glorious sunshine of spring with none of the ventilation, and I end up suffocating in my own modesty. Also, my hair is now slightly-awkward mullet length, which means that I’ve taken to wearing headbands, which inevitably give me a headache by the end of the day.

My second graders either clap, or greet me when I walk in… now I don’t ask for that, or expect that from my first graders, but I expect recognition. I expect students to see me walk into the classroom and get ready for class. Today when I walked into my first grade girls class they acted like nothing had happened. They went on chatting, and studying while I began my intro, then I stopped and stared.  They kept on chatting. I then called their attention to the front, and the captain half-heartedly had the students stand up and insa me, in Korean, after which they got right back to talking.

If there is one thing I can’t stand, it’s chatting. While I dislike when students study for other classes or sleep, I understand why they do it. They’re at a demanding, academic high school, and don’t sleep nearly enough. Also, they’re tested constantly, and I don’t give grades. However, when students are chatting, OPENLY chatting, faces turned away from me and talking to their partners in Korean, about mundane unrelated subjects, I get really, really upset. Because obviously the students are awake enough to focus, but they don’t deem me important enough. Now, this is not the same as when students ask their peers for clarification on a point I’ve made – of course I’m okay with that, but this is chatting.

I stopped the class, put on my ice-glare, didn’t name names but stared at people as I explained that it was English class time, and we needed to be quiet. I then confiscated an advertisement for school uniforms that a student was holding up in front of her face reading while I was saying this.

The rest of class was fairly uneventful, with a few bursts of chatting here and there, and at the end of class I explained that since I only saw them for fifty minutes once every two weeks, I wanted to make the most of our time but I couldn’t today. I then explained that I was disappointed with their actions. I then wrote “DISSAPOINTED” on the board for further emphasis, and realized after the fact that I had spelled it wrong.

I really hope the students realize that the takeaway from all of this is my message of disappointment, not that their English teacher can’t spell.

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안녕하세요! My name is Emily and when I started this blog I had received a 2010 – 2011 F*lbright grant to teach English in South Korea.  I then decided to apply to renew my grant, so I am now staying in Korea until July 2012. This blog is not an official F*lbright Program blog, and the views expressed are my own and not those of the F*lbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.

I graduated from the University of Mary Washington with a degree in Philosophy Pre-Law and Classical Civilizations, and found myself 3 months later teaching English at SGHS. The town that I taught in, SG, is a small town of 12,000 people, an “읍” (eup) rather than a “시” (shi – city), and though it was sometimes hard teaching in such a small town I really enjoyed the unique experience of being the first foreign teacher SGHS had ever had. I lived in the largest part of the county which is significantly bigger (40,000 people) than the town the school is situated in, but is also considered rural by Korean standards.

During my second grant period (2011-2012) I decided to change schools and I currently teach at CPHS which is located in an even smaller town than previously, in Jeollanamdo.

This blog is meant to serve as a reflection not only of being a Native English Speaking teacher in Korea, but also of living as a foreigner in rural Korea.