I heard about the Teach and Learn in Korea Program (TaLK Program) from my mom, who heard about the program from a friend whose daughter was currently finishing her term as a TaLK Scholar (word of mouth is a powerful thing). For those of you who are wondering, a TaLK Scholar teaches after-school English classes to elementary school children in the rural areas of South Korea. I applied for the program as soon as I heard about it and soon enough, I was in Korea by the end of July 2014. In the time that I was a part of the TaLK program, I have experienced life on my own, seen the diverse culture of South Korea first-hand, and was on the teacher side of the student-teacher relationship. I have had the opportunity to explore and test my abilities, and to discover more about myself than ever before. I have been on amazing adventures and I have countless memories to last a lifetime.
I arrived on Jeju Island, South Korea on July 31st, 2014 to attend a three-week-long National Orientation for all the 13th Generation TaLK Scholars (“generation” is the term used to identify each group of scholars that join the program). During the orientation, we were taught how to become effective Native English teachers and were given advice on living in Korea as foreigners. Various culture lessons, workshops, and practicums prepared us for life in a foreign country. As nature will have it, the people I met at orientation became very important people to me during my time in Korea; they became my family, my best friends, and were basically my support system.
After the National Orientation, we all went our separate ways to attend the Provincial Orientation. I was part of the Jeollanam-do TaLK Scholars, along with another twenty-five people or so. During this orientation, we were given more tips and tricks to teaching and living in Korea.
After all the orientations were completed, it was time to start being a Native English teacher. I taught after-school English lessons to 58 students, starting from Kindergarten to Grade 6. I worked at Seosam Elementary School in Jangseong-gun, Jeollanam-do. I expected to be teaching an equal mix of boys and girls but when I arrived, I learned that I would be mostly teaching boys. Approximately 90 percent of my students were boys and it took me completely off guard. If teaching Korean students a foreign language is not hard enough, try teaching a foreign language where there were at least ten rowdy, energetic, and loud boys in almost every class.
At first, it was difficult to teach my students, but after a few weeks my students started to get used to my way of teaching, and I started to see what they were interested in and what they liked. Now, this still does not mean that it is not difficult, because it is. No matter how well you think a lesson can go, things spontaneously happen and can cause your lesson to go horribly wrong. We as the teachers should be prepared for anything so that we can keep the class in order and focused on learning.
Since TaLK Scholars teach after school classes, the lessons tend to include more games than a regular curriculum English lesson. This makes it difficult to maintain the leadership role in the classroom because students start to see us as the fun teacher who is only there to play games and have fun. I have fallen into this trap a few times during my work term, so I have learned to maintain my professionalism while remembering to have fun with the students when appropriate.
Life in Korea
I originally thought that I would be living in the county of Jangseong where my school is, but turns out (to my relief) that I would be living in Korea’s sixth largest city, Gwangju. Living in Gwangju made it really easy to travel to different cities in Korea. During my year in Korea, I was able to visit over ten cities! Each city had a different culture and “feel” to it, and I enjoyed every little bit of it! Korea is a country that is proud of their culture and is not afraid to show it.
As my year at Seosam Elementary School was coming to an end, I started to prepare myself to say goodbye to all the people who have helped me along the way. The staff, homeroom teachers, vice-principal, and principal were all people who silently supported me while I taught at the school; they were patient with me, especially when I tried my best to understand what they were saying. My co-teacher and mentor teacher were very helpful when it came to the official documents I had to complete, and were very attentive when I had problems with the students. My students never ceased to make me laugh, even when they weren’t on their best behaviour. These students and this program changed my life. Cliché, I know, but this program allowed me to experience things that I wouldn’t have been able to if I had stayed in Vancouver.
In the year that I have been in Korea as a teacher, I learned more about myself and have begun to see what I am capable of. The TaLK Program has not only provided me with the opportunity to learn things about myself, but it has also allowed me to experience a country so beautiful and so culturally proud. Even if you would miss home (which is to be expected) the exciting adventures that you can go on and the potential difference you can have on lives of the kids you teach can lift your spirits up, and help you remember why you wanted this job in the first place. So, if you want to try something new and leave your comfort zone, do not miss the opportunity to Teach and Learn in Korea.