Life in South Korea

Life in South Korea: School and Personal Life

“What is life in South Korea like for English teachers?” although often asked this is an almost impossible question to answer. People come to Korea for various reasons; some have an affinity towards the country and its culture, while others are purely seeking a high wage to help pay off student loans back home. Similarly, each placement will offer a different experience, directors, co-workers and students. Whatever you’re reason for being here, or wherever you end up, there are a few things you can do to help ensure your life in South Korea is successful and enjoyable.

Life in South Korea: School Life

The Boss

Whether it’s the principal of your school or the director of your hagwon, this person has the ultimate say in many aspects of your life in South Korea. So it’d be in your best interest to be on good terms with them. It’s advisable to ‘say yes’ a lot, especially during your first few weeks of work, but not only in the classroom. Where these ‘yes’ responses will really be noted is outside of work, staff dinners, school outings or possible weekend activities. In my first few weeks of teaching I was invited by my principal to attend church with him— while this was not high on my list of way’s I’d like to spend a Sunday morning, something told me to go along with it. Sure enough the principal was elated that I agreed, and was proud to show me around, little did I know he was the head of the choir. By my second year I was given extra vacations days and invited along on the school trip to Jeju, I truly believe my openness with the principal led to this special treatment. The ‘yes’ can also be useful in the classroom just be sure to draw boundaries, you don’t want to take on more than you can handle and stress yourself out.

Co-Workers

You’re definitely going to be seeing a lot of these people so why not try to be friends? If you’re at a public school you’ll probably only be able to communicate with about 10% of the staff, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try with the rest. Things as simple as saying hello, sharing things about your hometown or country and showing interest in them will go a long way. With the teachers in the English department, or everyone if you’re at a Hagwon, you’ll be able to communicate and possibly take this relationship farther. Show interest, share parts of yourself and be sincere, it will be noted and appreciated.

Students

It’s true that you’re primary role at school is teacher, but that doesn’t mean you can’t befriend some of your students. The line between teacher and student seems to blur more than other countries, use this to your advantage and make an attempt to connect with your students. Taking some time to understand your student’s minds, interests and passions will show them that you care, and [hopefully] lead to more respect from them both in and out of the classroom. Good students will make your work day seem like a day of fun rather than work; but bad students, well you may wind up counting the days.

Life in South Korea: Personal Life

Get Outside

Korea is full of beautiful, natural landscape, just waiting to be explored. No matter what city you live in there is likely a hiking trail that you can get to within 30 minutes, and not much is required to do so. If hiking isn’t your thing, spend your life in South Korea exploring what else your city has to offer; many are equipped with river walks, lakes, parks or soccer fields. Not only will getting outdoors help you appreciate the beauty of this country, but it’s a sure way to meet new people or make friends. Not to mention the physical benefits, you’re body will thank you for being active, especially if [when] you fall victim to the calls of Soju.

Get Going

Korea is the 23rd most densely populated country in the world; there are a lot of people in a small space. While this may be a headache when you’re exploring the country’s capital, it also has its rewards. Public transportation in Korea is impressive, the train network spans the entire country while intercity buses run frequently and are extremely affordable. Take this opportunity to explore, there are frequent festivals (cherry blossom, kimchi, lantern, fireworks, etc.), but even without such a reason, picking a new city and checking it out provides for good weekend entertainment and lifelong memories.

By Stephanie

Stephanie is a storyteller, yoga enthusiast, and wandering soul who recently settled in for her second round of teaching in Korea. After her first stay in Korea, teaching in the EPIK program in Korea, Stephanie spent nearly two years traveling, exploring the world, making new friends, and becoming a certified yoga instructor. If you want to read about her travels, teaching tales or just learn more, check her out here: www.yogifootprints.weebly.com

Featured Articles, Teaching in Korea

4 thoughts on “Life in South Korea: School and Personal Life

  1. Pingback: Life in South Korea: School and Personal Life |...

  2. Mark Johnson on

    New comers to Korea should also understand that drinking and being able to hold one’s liquor is a basic prereq to ingrain yourself into the company dynamic. Effeminate hipster boys tend not to do well in this country.

  3. Patricia Abderholden on

    Accept invitations from your student’s parents to dinner and outings. Of course, you will spend a lot of time talking about the student’s work and behavior in the classroom, but you will also be given an insight in the country’s culture and taken to many cultural sites you might not otherwise know about.

    I beg to disagree about saying “yes”. You might accept an invitation once to something outside your job requisites, but declining with acceptable excuses like health/medical reasons, dietary reasons, and your own strict culture requirements (explained clearly not to give offense) keep you from becoming a servant in your relationship.

  4. Sinamon on

    Just as a response to Mark’s comment, if you’re coming here to teach in a school or academy, the drinking culture isn’t too crazy. You might be asked (aka required) to go to an after-work party every month or so but, in that sort of scenario, no one will care if you bow out with good reason (such as illness, other plans, or just no desire for alchohol). But it is encouraged that you go at least once and try to bond with your co-workers. You might have fun, after all. My school does it once a year so it’s not an issue. If you are working at a company, then their expectations are a bit different but, as a foreigner, they won’t expect the same of you as they would a Korean citizen so don’t feel too badly about declining. But, again, try to go to at least one, out of politeness.

    Also, don’t be too shocked about blatant racism, sexism, and discrimination. It’s pretty normal here. Korea has been a hermit country for most of its history, only having opened up in the past 50-60 years so change is slow but coming. Have thick skin and you will be okay.

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