Teaching English in a foreign country was a position that I never believed I would apply for when I first joined the co-op program. The TaLK program stands for exactly that: To Teach and Learn in Korea. TaLK’s goal is to give children in rural communities the opportunity to interact with a native English speaker and teach them English in an afterschool setting. In rural areas, accessibility to resources is limited compared to those who live in more urban communities. This program, funded by the National Institute of International Education (NIIED), under the Ministry of Education, tackles this exact issue. TaLK is a scholarship program which accepts third year students or higher, from post-secondary schools around the world, to go to Korea and teach, as well as learn about Korean culture and language. Although I was unfamiliar with the TaLK program previously, and did not expect to apply for an international placement, as soon as I received an email about this position, I jumped at the opportunity. After all, who could resist the temptation of teaching, learning a new culture, and travelling, while still being student?
Teaching children is quite a challenging job, yet also one of the most rewarding. Near the end of the semester, seeing the children try their hardest to piece together broken English to communicate with me, their teacher, made me feel a sense of accomplishment. These are students who, in the beginning of the semester, could barely speak any English, and were also very hesitant to speak. Many just started elementary school and were expected to learn English alongside Korean, which they were still in the process of learning. I arrived in my classroom with the mindset that they may not be interested, yet now, these students were trying their best to make small talk with me in between classes. Having to think outside-the-box and planning interactive activities depending on the personalities of the children was not an easy task, but all the effort paid off. If it is engaging, the children tend to enjoy learning, and as a teacher, to see the children are enjoying learning is the greatest reward one could receive.
Aside from teaching, I thoroughly enjoyed living in Korea. Their transportation system is very convenient, such that within a few hours, one can travel from one end of the country to the other. The food is without a doubt delicious, the sights breathtaking, and the people fantastic. The culture in Korea is very different than from back home, and what is considered acceptable in Canada may not be in Korea, and vice versa. For anyone who is planning to travel or work in another country, I strongly urge you to learn about the culture. As a guest in a foreign country, I believe that individuals should adapt to their customs, as not to appear rude. After all, though cliché, as the saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Having an open mind and being adaptable is also one of the keys to enjoying oneself, I can truly say that it makes things much easier.
When preparing for a co-op work term, researching the company and your position is of great importance. For previous employment, this would consist of researching the company, and likely refreshing oneself on the techniques related to the position. This placement in Korea is no exception. Preparation by learning the Korean alphabet, basic phrases, and about their culture proved to be very useful, and had I not done so, I would have had a much more difficult time adapting. Being the teacher of over one hundred students truly tests the skills one generally states on their resume. Patience, responsibility, leadership, and adaptability are traits that are found on nearly every individual’s resume and valued by employers. However, it is often difficult to find strong examples of such. Now, after completing a six-month term in the Teach and Learn Korea program, I would consider this experience as a prime example of exhibiting leadership, patience, and adaptability.
Similar to many fourth-year students, I was still unsure in what I wanted to do in the future. I had always wanted to travel to Korea, and the idea of teaching intrigued me. However, I think that after this experience, my mind is much clearer. Spending six months in Korea, I learned so much more than I expected. Being thrown into a new country, and set to live by myself, was a complete 360 degree change. To some, applying for this position may seem unrelated to my major, but I believe it is one of the best decisions I have made. Rather than staying in a small bubble where I only knew how to study, facing the challenges of living in another country has taught me life lessons that I could not have learned otherwise. I have learned the true meaning of adaptability, responsibility, leadership, as well as the importance of being open-minded and receptive of the unfamiliar. These were an unforgettable six months, and I have absolutely no regrets. I am grateful to SFU Co-op and the TaLK program for allowing me to make such precious memories, and grow as an individual, having an experience I never previously imagined.