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Interview: Teaching English in Korea

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Written by: Lucy Jane Ayad

Helen Hughes is teaching English as a foreign language in Ik-San, South Korea. We caught up with her to chat about it.

Why did you decide to work in Korea – is it a country you’ve always been interested in?

I decided to work in Korea because it was another challenge and something that I hadn’t done before. To be honest, it’s not a country that I’ve always been interested in, but I love travel and I was open to anywhere in the world.

Tell us what you were doing before you went out to Korea.

Before doing this I was working in retail. In July I had just completed an eight-month contract on a cruise ship.

So, tell us how this placement works out, as far as money is concerned. You pay an initial fee? What does this cover? Is your wage enough to live on comfortably in Korea?

Financially it works out well. You pay a fee to come on the placement and that gets you a grammar course and an online TEFL course. It also covers someone meeting you at the airport, part of the cost of your return ticket, plus your accommodation. You usually get paid a wage of £1000 a month or more, which is plenty; it is not expensive to live out here.
Korean girl rollerblading

Did the volunteering company train you in teaching skills? Tell us a bit about what the training involved…

I did a weekend TEFL course, which was great. Then I did a grammar course which helped me a lot; I have also been doing some online courses which have given me a lot of ideas.

Living, Working and Being a Brit in Ik-san, Korea

What is the area like, where you’re working?

I am in Ik-san, and I’m really liking it here – great shops!

What is the school like?

My school is very small. The kids are nice and good to teach.

What is your accommodation like?

My accommodation is nice – you get everything that you need.

How’s the teaching going?

The teaching is going fine; I was a bit nervous at the start as the students didn’t understand me but now it is going well and I am improving all the time.

Are you working alongside or close to any other Brits?

I am not working with any Brits or other westerners, but have met a lot of westerners as they have meetings in Ik-san, so we all get together and it is a great group. You are never alone.

How are you getting on with your Korean colleagues and neighbours? Have you made many friends?

With it being a small school, there is only my director, who is the other English teacher, and a maths teacher; I am getting on well with them. They’ve made me feel welcome and have done their best to help me settle in. If you come out here you will find that local people will do all they can to help you and make you feel at home.

Are you finding the Korean culture very different from the British culture? What are the main differences?

The culture is very different in many ways. You will be eating a lot of rice and spicy food which is nice. The people are lovely and very helpful, even when they don’t understand a word you are saying! The kids study a lot – they’re in classes ‘til late at night.

Finally, your challenge is to describe Korea, for anyone thinking of working or travelling there, in 50 words or fewer…

Korea is a mix of modern buildings and mountains which as wonderful. It is easy to travel around as there are plenty of places to stay and eat and it is very cheap. It is also very cheap to live out here, although the food is very different but that is the best thing about coming to these places: you experience something different. I think really the best thing to say is that it might be nerve-wracking but it is a challenge and well worth doing.

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