A Good Read


When I accepted a teaching post in Kwangju City, South Korea, I had no way of knowing what life would be like here. Now that I am working here, I feel I should write to help the increasing numbers of young people who, due to high unemployment and increasingly meagre job prospects, are considering a move overseas.

The first thing that I noticed when I arrived was the crushing numbers of people - a tidal wave of human bodies. In South Korea 45 million people live on a strip of land roughly the size of the Avalon Pennisula.

I teach in Kwangju City, the 5th largest metropolis in Korea with a poplulation of 1.4 million, 100 of whom are "foreign" teachers. We are very noticable.... In South Korea being stared at is something you get used to very quickly.

Koreans are a very "touchy" race of people. Men are often seens holding hands with each other in public as are the women - I've had my hair tousled while walking down a crowded street and just the other day a cab driver reached over and rubbed my leg simply because my body hair is blond and all Korean's have black hair. You have to be patient and accept their cultural quirks as they are very different from Western people.

The food is not very expensive here and is quite different from what we are used to in Newfoundland. Most of the food is hot, spicy, and "slimy." Most of the vegetables are pretty good but they have a "wild" taste and are very hot! I almost burned my mouth off the other day when I mistakenly assumed I was trying a potato and it was a very hot onion! You can get Western food here, "Mr. Noodles" is a staple in my diet, fresh fruit is avaliable in abundance, bread, cereal, milk, pizza, beef, and many other different types of food can be found. And when you get a craving for fast food here in Kwangju we have Pizza Hut and Hardee's restaurants. If you develop a liking for Korean food you will have no problem. Unfortunately I haven't.... Leisure pursuits in Korea include hiking, a variety of martial arts (I've joined taekwondo), movies, coffee houses (popular but expensive), and shopping.

To preserve my sanity, I quickly purchased and internet account from the local server to communicate with all my friends and relatives at home. The cost of living here is not high. The money is good - 2,400 Canadian per month (2100 American) - you you don't have to spend a fair amount of money each week on food. Clothes, appliances, and electronic goods are also not very expensive, I initially figured things would be much cheaper over here as most everything is made in Korea but this is not the case. Electronics, for example, are more expensive than home but not a lot more.

Teaching is very different from home and, without a doubt, much easier. Most English teachers work in private schools and the classes are held after the normal school day is finished, so your day usually starts at 4:30 pm.

Korean children are very motivated and spend the entire day in school, six days a week and that is not counting the extra time they spend with us at the private school. They use a series of books and you teach them page by page until it is finished. You spend a lot of time reading to them and having them repeat it individually, if the class is small, and as a group if it is bigger. Games such as pictionary and hangman are widely used and make the learning environment more fun for children whose lives are basically devoid of play - sad, but true. Literally all these children do is study.

The director (principal) designs the teaching schedules, deals with disciplinary problems (which rarely arise) and makes sure you get your pay come the end of the month. The biggest adjustment for me was the overall lack of professionalism and accountability at our school. Evaluation is non-existant.... On a postitive note it is entirely stress free!!

In conclusion, if you aren't a confrontational type of person, can adapt to new life situations, and don't mind being away from your family and friends by all means come over. The lifestyle is remarkably similar to that of a university student. You live with a group of people, don't have to get up early if you don't feel like it, and you have an abundance of leisure time. If you are somewhat conservative, it is an excellent chance to save money, pay off student loans or finance further university studies. It is also an excellent way to experience an interesting culture and see the world while you're young.

BUT...If you expect things to be the same as home you will be sadly mistaken. To borrow a poplular line from "The Wizard of Oz", which sums up the situation perfectly," This isn't Kansas Toto...."

- Ian Davidson