I remember staring at my invitation letter from Teach and Learn in Korea (TaLK) and feeling excitement, eagerness, and joy, but also hints of anxiety, fear, and reluctance. Here was the opportunity to live in South Korea for a year, yet I had no experience living alone, nor knew how to deal with taxes, bank accounts, or bills. I was very dependent on others and heavily relied on how comfortable and safe I felt at home. Since starting school at SFU in 2011, my world had revolved around the typical student life of studying and writing. Being presented with an opportunity to switch things around and become a teacher in a foreign country made me afraid of what lay ahead. However, people say that everyone comes across a chance of their lifetime -- filled with tough situations that amount to remarkable stories -- and I knew that TaLK was going to be my story. Thus, I swallowed my fear of the unknown and jumped onto a plane headed to the other side of the world.
Upon arrival in South Korea, I was escorted to the TaLK National Orientation for new teachers. What followed were two of the most unforgettable weeks of my life. The friends made, lessons learned, and memories shared, are things that I now hold dearly in my heart. All of these wonderful new teachers came together from around the world and in a short time we all became incredibly close, making friendships that I knew would last a lifetime. From my fellow TaLK Scholars, I learned more about New Zealand, Australia, England, and the U.S. than I ever would have from a textbook. I was fortunate to also meet fellow-Vancouverites and other students from SFU that I’ve continued to meet up with regularly.
Alas, Orientation had to end, and we were all sent off to different provinces to begin teaching. I was fortunate to be placed in a less rural city called Jeonju, which is similar to a smaller, less busy Vancouver. Thus, it was easy for me to feel at home quickly. The first week was still a difficult adjustment, but I quickly made many new friends whom were extremely helpful and hospitable and met many other TaLK Scholars who lived in the area. Together, we spent countless nights having dinner, lesson planning in cafes, and travelling on weekends. I truly couldn’t have asked for a better placement!
As for work, I found that school life in South Korea was a very different experience than in Vancouver. As a student at SFU, a normal day for me was to go to classes, sit through lectures, talk to some friends after class, and then make my way home to start on my readings. Becoming a TaLK Scholar meant that I quickly went from sitting in a chair and listening to lectures as a student, to standing in front of a classroom and lecturing others as a teacher. I had never really considered becoming a teacher before, but when I began spending my days doing exactly what I thought I wouldn’t, I was surprised at how easy it was to fall into the role.
I loved teaching my students and the overall atmosphere in the school. The children were friendly and were always running up to me in the hallways to greet me in the morning. They constantly asked me questions about my life back home and how I was settling in. At first, their forwardness surprised me because it is not of the norm in Vancouver. It was so refreshing to see my students striving to interact even outside of the classroom, often coming to find me during their breaks to chat in broken English. Seeing their dedication towards learning motivated me tremendously to provide them with the education they deserved. I challenged them to learn more than their textbook required, and I saw their interest in the language grow with each passing day.
When I applied to TaLK, I wanted to learn more about South Korea and the customs and traditions it has to offer, but I didn’t expect my students to be the ones teaching me. They would sit with me and teach me Korean words and phrases while I ate, and praised me when I spoke in Korean sentences. Picking up a few words from my students and observing their cultural routines reminded me of what it was like to be a student. Not only did they teach me about South Korea and its language, but through our interactions I came to realize how important it is to be open-minded, practice patience, and to relax and enjoy what the world has to offer. Being abroad and embracing another culture exposed me to experiences that I would never have encountered back home.
Though I struggled through many hurdles during my time in Jeonju, I fought through them with the help of my new friends and with the support from others back home. Living in South Korea made me more mindful of the world outside of Canada, while also inspiring me and providing me with new perspectives. I have since returned to Vancouver, but I no longer see it as the secure and comfortable place I had known it to be. Instead, I see the doors wide open for more exploring and adventures to come.
The TaLK Program was cancelled in 2021 because of unforeseen complications from the pandemic. Students interested in teaching in Korea may want to consider the EPIK Program.
Beyond the Blog
Interested in learning about opportunities like Queenie's? Visit the International Co-op page to learn more.