Em in Asia!

My Experiences Living and Teaching in South Korea

So, tomorrow I’m going to be on TV…


My school is being featured on GO GO QUIZ SHOW KING (intense sounding, isn’t it? I added the capital letters – the Korean name is 고고 퀴즈왕), a golden bell-style competition where the top students from our school will go on to do a regional competition. As the native speaker in residence, they want me to read the English-language questions. I’m not sure what time I’m supposed to go, which questions I’m supposed to read, or even if I have to introduce myself, but I guess we’ll find that out tomorrow.

The school’s been awash with activity. We’ve had random students missing from classes, set-up happening in the auditorium, random meetings and what seems to be a never-ending stream of notices sent out through the inter-school messaging system. (NOTICE: Here are slogans for our banners. Please choose which you like better – Go Go CPHS! or CPHS Hard-Working Style. Please take care of yourselves.) A surprising number of students are playing flute tomorrow on the show, so they’ve been gone as well, and at any given moment if you crane your ears toward the door you might hear someone frantically practicing.

During lunchtime I had a conversation with a teacher who tried to be helpful, I think, but… was not very helpful.

“You will be on the quiz show tomorrow, right? I think you should wear some makeup.”
“… Well I’m currently wearing eye makeup, and actually since I never wear face makeup I don’t own any.”
“Oh! Well if you need makeup, I can lend you some.”
“I think that if I wear makeup tomorrow for the first time, I will feel more self-conscious than if I don’t wear makeup. It should be fine.”
“Okay, so you don’t need me to lend you makeup?”
“No I think I should be fine. Thanks though.”

I may or may not have agreed to do an interview on this show in Korean as well. The producer had wanted to meet me, but I wasn’t around after lunch (lunchtime conversation) and then I had class for the next two hours, so my co-teacher and I decided to go visit her afterwards. As I was teaching my classes outside today near the auditorium, she managed to find me and another teacher called me over in the middle of class to talk to her. She introduced herself, and I myself, and we talked for a bit in Korean while my students awkwardly gawked at us.

“Wow, your Korean is so good? How long have you been here for?”
“Oh it’s not good, I still have a long way to go. I’ve been here for about two years.”
“You’ve been studying Korean here or did you study before you came?”
At this point, a Korean teacher jumps in “Our foreign teacher is good at Korean!”
“Yes I’ve been studying in Korea.”
“… Um. My Korean is really bad.”
“Okay well I WORDSIDON’TUNDERSTANDWORDSIDON’TUNDERSTAND during lunchtime it was between 12 and 2 WORDSIDONT’UNDERSTAND introduce myself and see your face.”
“Ah yes, it was nice to meet you. Should I come meet you after this class?”
“Oh no it’s fine. See you tomorrow at the show.”
“Yes. Nice to meet you!”

After I finished teaching my classes I went and talked to Awesome Mr. Kim, who told me it was going to be very exciting, and I should get a copy of the show so I can show all of my friends back at home.

It’s been a strange day. Tomorrow will probably be stranger.

Because the weather is so beautiful, and because I wanted to have class outside, I used the GO GO QUIZ KING show hype to pitch a lesson about English words of encouragement. I took my girls outside, we learned vocabulary, we did body alphabet races (the teams have to spell the word with their bodies – it can be really fun or really awkward depending on the students. Today it was fun, thank goodness), and then students used the words of encouragement they were taught to make signs cheering on their classmates.

One of the students drew a dinosaur, because her friend’s nickname was “dinosaur.”

“Ah!” I said “Some people call me a dinosaur too. Why do they call you a dinosaur?”
“I dunno. Because I am tall and look like a dinosaur? Why are you a dinosaur?”
“Well… in my teaching program there are first year teachers, second, and third year teachers. I am a third year teacher, so I am one of the oldest. So they call me a dinosaur. Like a dinosaur, I will die soon.”
“What?! Teacher if you are a dinosaur you will die soon?”
“Hahaha no no no just, I have to leave Korea, so my time in Korea is almost over. I am older than everyone, and going extinct, like a dinosaur.”
“Teacher when will you leave?”
“July 2013.”
“Oh, so when we are third years?”
“Teacher, I thought you were going to stay forever. Will you come back to Korea?”
” … I don’t know. I hope so, some day?”
“Now I am sad.”
“Me too. But at least you have a great dinosaur picture!”


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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.