Hello Dreams Abroad,
I am getting ready to embark to teach abroad in Asia. I am a bit nervous because South Korea seems completely different than the USA. I will be teaching at a private elementary school near Incheon. I have not been given much information about my first day of class. I am a bit nervous about what to expect from the school, coworkers, students and also, parents.
Do you have any recommendations? I will be one of two new teachers to arrive this year at our school. There is one head teacher who is from the UK and two others who have stayed from previous years. Thank you very much.
Thanks for your question Paula.
South Korea is a great place to begin teaching, take another step in your career, or simply have a paid gap year abroad. You are going to be entering into a mixed bag of people falling wonderfully along a spectrum from highly trained to completely clueless but hopefully capable. Add to that the range of curriculum and pedagogical theories in play at the different hagwons (private after school program). That means it is important to directly contact the school and its teachers to give yourself a greater sense of whom you will be working with and what your entry into the country will be like from the airport to your new job to the place you will be handling all that fun jet-lag.
While teaching in South Korea, it is not uncommon to hear quite a range of arrival stories. Some teachers instruct on their first day while others might have up to two weeks of paid training. Some classes might be planned for you while others are not. Furthermore, there might be complications with living arrangements or even a sick teacher that might require you to be in an uncomfortable situation in a “hotel” or teaching additional courses. So asking questions prior to arriving and being flexible are fairly important for working on a positive first impression. Moreover, reading your contract thoroughly and learning a culturally effective way to be legally respected is paramount.
Thankfully, your situation has at least a few teachers who survived beyond a single year. This might sound insignificant, but it is a great sign in an industry with such a high employee turnover rate- a discussion best left for another time. These people are your best resources for understanding how your specific school is managed and the tips to make it a smoother landing. Consider that private programs often have unique management techniques, classroom arrangements, and curricula. So, it is important that you direct related questions to your future colleagues in order to get the most accurate information.
Regarding students and parents, and familiar enough, kids want to be kids and parents want their kids to be presidents. Understand that kids in South Korea are worked extremely hard, often well beyond what you might be comfortable with or think they want. Still, it is their way of life. To build upon that, if you google “Korean tiger mom” you will have a nice introduction to what you might possibly be dealing with. Now, if your manager at your school is effective, you will be shielded from all the “fun” parents might try to cause.
All in all, you cannot always plan for everything, but that is a part of the adventure of working abroad. So remember to keep asking questions and to be flexible when things don’t always work out as planned, but hey it’s part of the story! Oh, and so is reading your contract, again.
Hoping the best sort of culture shock for you,