Em in Asia!

My Experiences Living and Teaching in South Korea
Browsing Travel


I can’t concentrate.

Yesterday I had no school, so I hiked a mountain in Gwangju (the nearby city). It was nice. It was a cold, dreary, wet Wednesday afternoon which meant that the trails were deserted. I plugged in my iPod and went up and down hills, squelching in the mud, nodding to random people that I saw. I saw chipmunks, trees, rocks, and the Gwangju city skyline. The forests, paths, and lack of people reminded me of Virginia, and it was nice. I arrived at one of the peaks of the mountain range by accident – my co-teacher had told me to follow a trail to a certain point, and I continued on because I wasn’t tired. I got to the end, looked around, and the world opened up below me. It was made all the more exhilarating because I was alone; there was no one there to chat to or to be distracted by. On the way back down I got lost, as per usual, and ended up walking down the entire mountain instead of halfway down to the temple at which I had originally disembarked. With the help of a friendly older man I found another bus stop and made it off the mountain.

It was cold, it was wet, I was alone, I was lost, but I was oddly content.

Last night I found out that I had been accepted to Johns Hopkins SAIS Masters program in Korea Studies. SAIS is the premiere IR program in the nation. I didn’t receive any fellowships or scholarships. I don’t know what to do, and I am no longer at peace. If anyone has any advice for me, I would greatly appreciate it.

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In which Em talks about Hiking and How She’s Bad At It


I hate hiking.

There. I said it. I’ll say it again: I hate hiking. Okay not really, but it can be incredibly frustrating at times. I love trekking, I love going downhill, I love looking at the scenery, and I love being outdoors with friends. I also love being at the tops of mountains and looking down and marveling at how from this height, I’m larger than the trees. I love the air, the sounds, and the smells, but I hate going up.

I tell everyone I like hiking because I want to like hiking. It’s a cool hobby to have, and everything about it speaks to me – except for the incline. I tell people that I like hiking (somewhat true) but I’m bad at it (very true) because I want to like hiking, all aspects of it.

This weekend a friend invited me to go hiking with her and some of her friends. This is only the second time we’ve hung out and, until the day of, I had no idea where we were going or who we were meeting, but I was very excited. It ended up being four of us, two guys and us two girls, going to Ma-i San National Park in Jeollabukdo, a province about two hours north of here.

As I partook in the Sisyphean task of pushing myself up peaks only to immediately come back down and prepare to go up again (only, unlike a boulder I didn’t roll down the mountain – I came down under my own power. However like in the myth, this trek seemed to go on for an eternity, and it was so unseasonably hot it could have been the Underworld) I marveled at how hiking is a terrible first way to meet someone. The three of them, all around thirty years of age and in way better shape than I was, were chatting as they strolled straight up at a normal pace as I huffed and puffed and turned bright red. You see, it’s not my legs that are the problem, it’s my lungs and my face. My legs don’t really ever get tired, it’s just that I don’t really sweat so I become overheated and then I can’t breathe. It’s frustrating because no matter how much I work out, or how in shape I get, this will always be a problem I have to work around. I tend to deal with this by dumping the contents of my water bottle on my head – also not something you do when you want to impress someone. At one point while we were going up a particularly steep part of the path and they were looking, walking and talking like actors in a Northface commercial, they turned to check on me and there I was, red-faced, water dripping from my hair onto my neck, probably looking like a bedraggled rat who lives in a sewer next to a factory that manufactures dyes. They all immediately burst out laughing, told me I was 씩씩하다 (brave/spirited/vivacious), and after I croaked out a response (probably some sort-of lie like “I’m fine, carry on”), we kept going.

Still, it was fun, the weather was beautiful, and I made new friends. We ate pears and ramen on the trail, took pictures, and chatted in Korean and in English. Afterwards we had dinner together and they didn’t  want me to walk from school to my apartment (a five minute walk) in the dark (it was 7 pm, the sun had just set) so they dropped me off at my apartment where I promptly crawled into bed. Other than the parts where I wanted to give up and lie on the ground, I had a great day. However, I’m rethinking going hiking with the teachers’ hiking club next weekend – I don’t know how much more of a beating my pride could take, especially if I end up being the worst hiker in the club which consists primarily of forty to sixty year-old men.

마이산: Ma-i san

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School Newspaper Article, Take 3


The school asked me again (last minute, again) to write an article for the school newspaper. When I asked what it should be about, they said “my summer vacation.” When I expressed concern because I had already told all of the students about my vacation and shown pictures, they said that since my vacation was so interesting surely there must be something else I could talk about. Um. So here’s an article about friendship? It’s corny, but I think it gets the idea across?

“Hello everyone!

I hope you’re enjoying the start of a new semester. You are now halfway through the year and soon will graduate, become third graders, or become second graders. Even though you had a short vacation, I hope you were able to have some R&R!

During the summer I went to America for a month, and I was struck by how familiar and unfamiliar everything was. I’m sure you felt the same when you visited your homes. When you see all of your old middle school friends they at first seem like the same people you knew before, but they have had different experiences from you, and over time things change. You can still be close, and your shared memories are still precious, but most of your recent memories don’t include them. I’m sure physical things changed too – maybe your favorite restaurant in your hometown has closed, or has switched owners. Perhaps in the time that you were in Changpyeong your family changed apartments, or even the geography of your area changed.

The highlight of my summer vacation was attending my best friend’s wedding. It was very strange for me. We had gone to high school together, and spent four years attending the same classes, the same school events, and participating in the same extracurricular activities. Then we went to separate colleges, and he stayed in America while I went to Korea. It was odd at how different our lives have turned out, but also strange at how close we still are. Though I have not lived in America for over two years, and we had not been able to spend any time together, he still asked me to give a speech at his wedding.

There is a Korean saying that I really enjoy – “”When it’s ten years, even the rivers and mountains change.” I think that this is very true. In the two years that I have lived in Changpyeong the 떡집 [the store that makes and sells rice cakes] moved, a few new restaurants opened, and the 태관도 [Taekwondo] studio was renovated. Who knows what will happen to this town in ten years? For one thing, many of us won’t be here, and Changpyeong High School will have new students, teachers, and administrative workers. Nevertheless, there is an English expression with the opposite meaning – “to stand the test of time.” This means that though rivers, mountains, and 떡집s [rice cake store] may change, certain things will remain the same forever. Though some of the roads I drove on in Virginia were unfamiliar, and some of my friendships changed, against all odds this old friendship lasted and I was able to speak at my old friend’s wedding. Regardless of what happens during this semester, know that as you study, make new friends, visit your hometown during vacation, and make new memories, some things will change and others will stand the test of time.”

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On Vacation


It’s almost time to go back to Korea, which means it’s almost time to see my kids again. I needed the vacation, but I’ve missed my little terrors.

My female students told me (jokingly) before I left that I needed to take pictures of EVERYTHING. When I asked them to be a bit more specific, they requested pictures of attractive men and food. I laughed and agreed. When I thought about it some more, I realized that taking pictures of food was actually kind-of brilliant. I’ve always had difficulty describing “American food” to my students, because there is no set “American” menu. Not only does “American” food vary per region, but as someone who lives near the nation’s capital, there are so many diverse food options in my area. Whenever my students ask me if I eat rice in America I just have to laugh. I explain to them that not only have I eaten rice, but I’ve eaten kimchi. When they ask where, I reply that it’s fairly common at Korean restaurants. So, I’m not sure when I’ll use these pictures – maybe in my first lesson, maybe later as part of a food unit, but I’m excited to answer their food questions with pictures.

DSC04617  DSC04619
DSC04625  DSC04651
DSC04652  DSC04654
DSC04656  DSC04657
DSC04658  DSC04665
DSC04667  DSC04669
DSC04673  DSC04675
DSC04677  DSC04713
DSC04722  DSC04725

mmmm I love food.

I still have four more days in the states, so obviously I’m not finished collecting pictures. If there’s anyone reading this that is upset because I left out a quintessentially American food do both of us a favor and take a picture for me to share with my students, and enjoy it! My students will either thank you, or curse you, depending on how hungry they are during class.

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The Good, the Bad, and the BAD


It is incredibly hot today. Korea seems to think that regardless of its position compared to the rest of the calendar year this week deserves to be a part of summer and has ramped up the temperature to 80 degrees. Apparently next week it will go back down to 70, and that can’t come soon enough because my apartment doesn’t have air conditioning.

This week we had midterms so I didn’t go to school Wednesday and Thursday, and I went today because it was the teacher’s sports day. Teacher’s sports day is a once or twice-a-year event at CPHS and though the two teachers at the school I’m closest with weren’t able to go, it was still fun interacting with the non-English young female teachers, and my favorite older co-teachers. It was also fun watching the middle-aged men at my school regress to their high school ages and kick ass at a sport I didn’t even know existed (foot volleyball. It’s like soccer meets volleyball – there’s a net but you can’t use your hands).

I went to the Bamboo festival with some of my friends on Wednesday and Thursday and I’m supposed to take a bus to Mokpo, a city further south, to meet them but I’m stalling because I don’t want to go back outside in the heat. While I cool down, drink my iced tea, and prepare myself for the weather, I’ll tell you about what happened to me on Wednesday afternoon.

I have quite a few Bad students (students who either don’t study or do poorly on tests, or students who Do Bad Things like break curfew or even smoke). That being said, I rarely come across any BAD students. BAD students are those that are just bad people. Not those who’ve had bad days or a few behavioral problems, and maybe they’re not even BAD to everyone, but those where they’ve decided that they Just Don’t Like You and have No Interest in Pretending To.

I tend to get along with the Bad students rather well. They tend to range from shy and embarrassed about their ability to rip-roaringly exuberant. It’s not easy, but if you give the loud ones a stage and coax the shy ones to speak you can create some really deep relationships. The shy type generally get ignored, and the exuberant tend to be labeled as delinquents, so in putting in that extra effort to really see them as not just students but young adults, personalities, people, they appreciate it. However, the BAD students, well… that’s another story.

Now, I never want to label a kid as BAD, because once that label sticks in my mind, once I associate a face with BAD, it’s hard to approach them the same way. A warning siren goes off in my head when I see them and it’s difficult for me to judge what a good reaction to the things that they say and do are. I had an unreformed BAD at SGHS. He would sleep, swear at me in Korean and English during class, and try to stare me down, but other than him I’ve been pretty lucky so far. Most of my BAD-to-bes have redeemed themselves in my eyes at least (though, maybe not in the eyes of the school).

Fast-forward to Wednesday when I was waiting at the bus stop to go to Gwangju. I was wearing a shorter skirt than normal (which, by the way, followed the fingertip rule and I was wearing opaque leggings and a long sleeved high-necked baggy shirt – what more can you really do) when I heard a “whoo-hoo.” I assumed it was a middle-aged man or a soldier commenting on my outfit so I steeled myself and turned around, and saw a Bad and a BAD.

The “whoo-hoo” had come from the Bad, who was trying to get my attention, and who had immediately followed the whoo-hooing with frantic dual-arm waving, which was unnecessary as he was only about five feet away from me. The Bad’s an identical twin, and his brother’s also a Bad. A few weeks ago they were caught smoking and drinking in the dormitory and were temporarily kicked out, so they now commute to school everyday. I really like both boys – they’re exuberant, fun, try really hard in my classes, and quite a handful.

I have a long and complicated history with the BAD, and other teachers have had problems with him as well. Last year after I had lectured his class on being chatty and asked why they were so unfocused, he stood up and said that it was because my class was more boring than the previous ETA’s class and that I expected too much of the students. We had a one-on-one talk afterwards about his concerns about my class and appropriate venues for airing these concerns, but since then he’s been on my radar. His actions in class are strange – sometimes he’s focused and volunteers, and sometimes he tries to derail me or other students. He’s kind of spacey, but also he can seem really sincere about what he says,which causes other students to laugh, and I can’t tell if his spacey sincerity is genuine or if he’s putting on a front to amuse the other students and make me lose face by taking him seriously. Evidence from one class will point to the former option, but then the next week I’ll think it’s the latter.

Back to the bus stop. The Bad goes to chat with another student who’s waiting for the same bus a little further down the road and I steel myself for a confrontation with the BAD. Instead, we had a conversation. He asked me where I was going and said that he was going to Gwangju as well for music academy, and that he plays guitar. We then saw his father who works in Changpyeong and he asked if I thought they looked alike. I said “a bit” and he then went to go talk to him, and came back with two drinks – a coke for him and mango juice for me. I was so surprised that I practically shouted thank you, and he slowly smiled at me.

At this point the Bad (who is much less spacey, much more talkative, and basically demands attention) comes back to chat and tells me that the two of them are BEST FRIENDS. I teach him the term BFF (“Oh. Ok ok we are BFFS!”) and then the Bad questioned me about the American school system. He then mentioned that he wanted to be a doctor, but his friend (the BAD) didn’t have a goal. I asked the BAD what he wanted to study in college, and he said that he wanted to be a musician and do Christian music – like gospel. This causes the Bad to interject and state that since he (the Bad) was a Buddha (read: Buddhist) they were no longer able to be BFFs but only Just Friends. As I’m clutching my sides laughing at the turn this conversation has taken, the bus rolls up, we get on, get separated by people, a little while later get off the bus in Gwangju, and I wave goodbye as they troop off to the stationary store.

Maybe the BAD isn’t so bad after all?

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Staying Alive


*Cue the music*


ANYway sorry for all the silence, I’m still traveling at the moment. I spent a week visiting Megan in Daejeon and I ended up teaching at her winter camp for 3 days. Teaching elementary school is so different from high school – I think they weren’t sure what to make of me as I had just cut my hair super short a few days prior (is that person a boy or a girl?) and my eyes were blue (are her eyes real?) but it was very fun.

I then flew out as per schedule and met Felicia in Cambodia. Spent a few days  getting sunburnt (don’t worry Mom, I’m fine)  bug-bitten, not tanning at all, and eating delicious fruit, and now I’m in Vietnam. I’m really glad I’m able to have this sort of travel experience, because it reminds me of how different my life could’ve been if I had gone to somewhere other than Korea. Most of the stuff we’ve been doing (well, all of the stuff really) is fairly touristy, so I can’t say I’m getting a taste of real life, however I think I can safely say that I couldn’t do most of this in Korea. Nevertheless I’ve seen chocopies, a Lotteria, a Hanatour bus, and I heard a little Cambodian boy singing 2ne1’s “I am the Best” (mostly just the nonsensical chorus, but you gotta give him props for trying) so Korea doesn’t seem too far away.

I’ll be back in Korea from January 15th – 22nd, and while I’m sad to leave the warmth I honest to god miss kimchi.


Yeah this is a bit rambly, but can you blame me?  I’m on vacation ;).

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Overwhelmed but Happy


I’m currently working on a bunch of blog posts, like one based on my reactions (and those of the people around me) to Kim Jong Il’s death, so I apologize to everyone whose asked me that I haven’t gotten back to yet.

It’s the last day of school. Technically my contract says that I finished yesterday but since I’m not flying out until the 29th it didn’t make sense to skip school on Friday and have my co-teachers have to cover my classes. I’m glad I stayed, also because I just have so much work to do.

Here are my winter vacation plans, for those who are interested: I’ll be traveling in Cambodia and Vietnam from December 29th until January 15th. I then teach at my school’s winter camp from (not really a winter camp, just normal classes) from January 16th – 20th. Then I immediately fly out again and travel in Taiwan from January 22nd – 27th. Then I come home, rest for a few days, and move to Seoul at the beginning of February in order to take an intensive three week Korean program. Whew.

I’m also glad I didn’t miss school because I received a present from my club class girls. Yesterday was our last club class and when I came in they had turned off the lights and made a cake out of mongshells (similar to a chocopie cake, but a different brand) with a candle on top and were playing Christmas music. They made me blow out the candle, then we ate snacks and they presented me with the present – which they then took back because it wasn’t completed, and gave it back to me this morning.

Their present is a large black piece of posterboard with the cut-out of a pumpkin illuminating the back, and notes from all of the students in the club class (eight) posted on there, as well as a drawn iture of me, and a Santa Claus. It’s adorable. They’re all adorable. However, I’m going to share the two that touched me the most, written by my two favorite second grade girls (who I won’t be teaching anymore, because they’ll be preparing for the college entrance exam) because they answered a lot of the questions and insecurities I have been feeling recently as a teacher.

To. Emily
Emily!! I’m EH ~
I was happy to be your student. I felt many things through your class!!
Various thinking, culture, food, game, all of things were fresh and interesting to me. Emily, I’m sure your charisma, sense of humor (joke) and preparations (about class) make great teacher and diplomat. I’m sad because I do not CA [my note: CA = Club Activity] anymore. But I’m happy because you give me a present!! did you know? You give me a beautiful memory and brave. Thank you ~ <3.
Your present perfect to me when I pass 수능 [수능 = suneung = college entrance exam]
I want to visit your hometown with you and CA friends ^^.
I’m very proud of you !!!
Thank you for teaching me ~
Bye ~ From: EH

The above note was from one of the girls I took with me to the Youth Diplomacy program. I’m going to miss her!

To: Emily ~
Hello, Emily. I’m DH. I can’t believe I’m 3rd grade student (exactly soon) and can’t take your class anymore. Times run too fast ㅠㅠ. All classes that we had together were so great that I will miss the class. I think you are a person who are alive. Not just alive but vividly alive. When I see you I can feel your energy reaches me, which always motivates my passion. I was moved by your passion for teaching and respect to students. Carving pumpkin, mafia game, making mummy… and so on. All of our class won’t be forget. Thank you very much about all of that. I’ll visit your home in Washington D.C> later after KSAT.
Again Thank you Thank you… Bye!! See you later.
p.s. I’ll bring a baby kangaroo from Australia.. ㅋㅋ [this was one of the 3 students at my school who won a prize in the speech competition I helped out with – I told them all I wanted a kangaroo]
From, funny DH

Off the Grid


Don’t worry everyone (family + spambots), you haven’t been missing my blog updates, I just haven’t been writing them. It’s a combination of travel-filled vacation time, taking an intensive Korean course, and having either a sprained wrist or tendonitis (I’m not sure which). Also the things I find myself most wanting to write about are Korean culture or school, and up until just recently (with my Korean language courses) I haven’t been experiencing that as I’ve been traveling with American friends.

To give you a quick summary, I went to China for 20 days with my friends Felicia and Amy, then came back and taught a winter camp for a week. After that I went to Busan (the San Fransisco of Korea, an absolutely gorgeous south-western coastal city) for a little less than a week. After that I spent the weekend in Seoul, went back to Y for a few days, had a tea party with my friend Joelle in Hongseong, and then came back to Goesan for an intensive Korean language class named CLEA (Critical Language Enhancement Award) where I’ve had class for 6 days a week, 6 hours a day, and not really been sleeping. This language class ends in 8 days, and then I go back to SGHS for my 2nd semester teaching, which I’m excited about but also nervous.

China in a nutshell: Amazing, but really really cold. I went to Beijing, Shanghai, Luyoung, Kaifeng, Xi’an and Chengdu. In Beijing I saw the Forbidden City, Great Wall, Sun Temple as well as other things, in Shanghai I did some shopping and saw the Bund, in Luyoung I saw this amazing place called “Longmen Grotto” which is an area filled with miniature caves much like Cappadocia in Turkey, except the caves are cut into and there are 10,000 Buddha images of ranging sizes all over the caves. In Chengdu we saw pandas! Xi’an we saw the terracotta warriors, and in Kaifeng there was a really amazing night market. Traveling in China was so different than traveling in Korea… Korea is so small that there isn’t a SINGLE night train with sleeper cars! China is so large that we only took night trains, or flew. Knowing the language while traveling makes a huge difference! It became very tiring to try to travel in China because we couldn’t speak, read or write, and we couldn’t even copy down things to show other people, because the script was so hard to duplicate. Basically, while I would highly recommend China for anyone to travel around, I would choose to live in South Korea over China in a heartbeat. Traveling really made me appreciate how much I’ve grown to love South Korea.

In the same vein, I did decide to apply to stay in South Korea for another year. I’m enjoying teaching but I’m also really invested in learning Korean language, and enjoying the culture. My biggest regret with Turkey is that I didn’t get involved enough with the culture and I didn’t stay for a full year… 6 months was just too short. F*bright is really an amazing opportunity, and I feel like a year’s too short of a time in Korea. I’m still dealing with some culture shock and I feel that it’d be a little bit of a letdown to finally adapt and then leave. I’m not sure if I’ll stay at my school or go somewhere else, but I’m excited for next year.

As this blog post was supposed to be a short study break and turned into a long one, I must go, but expect more entries the first week of March when I’m back at school.

화이팅! 사랑해요!

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Travel Itinerary


I received a lot of emails after my last blog entry so thank you for that ^^. It’s nice to know that people are reading my blog and either sympathizing or have had similar experiences. I see that class again tomorrow so we’ll see how it goes. However, it’s my last week of classes. Not even last week, really, as it’s a half week… my last teaching day is on Wednesday and then I’m off!

I’m probably only going to blog once more before I leave because I have too much to do before I leave! I have to pack, finish planning my winter camp, etc. However I feel that it’s necessary to update at least once more to give you pictures of my home, and a sampling of my travels in Korea where I’ve been because, gosh darn it, I can’t let half of my grant year slip by without posting any original pictures! That would be horrible.

So if I stop teaching on December 22nd and don’t teach until March 2nd, what am I going to be doing with my life?! Simply put – awesome things.

  • December 24th – December 27th: I’ll be in Seoul for Christmas with my lovely fellow ETA Michelle and maybe some KEP people. We’re going to watch the Nutcracker, ice skate, eat pie (I’m so excited for pie), and just relax.
  • December 27th – January 16th: I’m flying out of Incheon Airport and going to China! I’ll be in China with fellow ETAs Felicia and Amy. Expect a fair amount of radio silence, though I’ll update my facebook/twitter sporadically with things like “I’m alive! I promise.” If you don’t have a facebook and I don’t email you regularly (i.e. you’re not a relative) and you want to get my weekly short message of alivedness just send me your email address and I’ll try to be good about contact.
  • January 17th – 21st: I have a winter camp at my school. I’m still not sure of the details. Should be fun?
  • January 22nd – whenever: I’ll be in up in the frigid north for the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival 2010 with random ETAs (but probably Megan and Corrie as our Hwacheonites, Amy and Felicia as my China travel buddies, and maybe Sam my fellow Baekje warrior)!
  • January whenever-I’m-done-with-Hwacheon – February whenever-I-want-to-go-home-and-rest-before-the-3rd: I’ll be traveling around Korea. Not sure where yet, seeing what I feel like doing.
  • February 3rd – March 1st: I’ll be doing an intense language program back in Goesan, which is where I originally did my F*bright orientation!  I’ll be studying Korean for 6 hours a day, 6 days a week along with 40 other grantees. It should be fun? Horrible, horrible, fun. The sad thing is I really do think it’ll be really really fun, but I guess I’m just a huge language geek. 화이딩!

I’m very excited about my schedule, even if it is a lot fuller than I realized. My school and homestay family have been nothing but nice to me, but I’m ready to take a break. It’ll be nice to get out of Y for a bit, even if I’ll be spending all of February in a place that’s practically the same, just a bit smaller. It’ll also be nice to spend some time outside of Korea. I’m sad that I won’t be going home and seeing my family/friends, but that’s life and if I had gone home I wouldn’t be able to do all these amazing things here. All of you reading this blogpost that have access to a Chipotle go to one and eat a burrito for my sake.

That being said, look for one more update then in all honesty I probably won’t update until March. Maybe once during my camp week, but don’t wait up for me. Be back in the spring! Love you all <3.

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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.