To Whom It May Concern:
I taught at a YBM Sisa-yong-o-sa school in Keumjeong (Pusan) for children between 1995 and 1996. It was my first experience with working abroad and I arrived there with a backpack and a suitcase. My friend Naomi and I had been travelling together in South East Asia and although we flew into Korea on separate flights, we arrived at the airport at basically the same time. We were met by the director, Mr. Yoon, taken out to lunch and then driven to the apartment where we would be living as roommates. That week was spent observing classes a few hours each day and receiving feedback with respect to my observations. There was time to putter around the teachers’ room and get into familiarising, socialising and planning. We were guided to a bank down the street to open accounts and get interac cards. By the beginning of the second week, I was slowly easing my way into the teaching hours but still having time in the mornings and evenings to explore.
While classes generally had a curriculum, there was always plenty of time to do my own thing in class. The teachers’ room had a lot of resources to work with. Although I did a lot of experimenting with class-time activities, we also had a monthly teachers’ workshop to share ideas. I had a lot of fun with Korean children, as they were highly energetic and excited.
The holidays provided gave teachers the chance to travel around Korea as well as other parts of Asia. Everyone seemed to get the traveller’s bug and end up planning jaunts around the region. Some of the greatest memories of my stay in Korea involve coming down from an afternoon among the mountaintops to a restaurant and having food cooked in front of me. Transportation around the country was inexpensive compared to Canada and relative to my income. A train, bus, or ferry can take you virtually anywhere in the country with multiple departures a day. During my entire stay in Korea, I don’t think I met any English teacher who hadn’t taken advantage of exploring other Asian countries. While many head to the tropical islands of Thailand and Indonesia, others plan more rugged, off-the-beaten-path meanders. Japan was a mere three-hour hydrofoil ride from the coast, and was a great long weekend place for me.
While in Korea, I made friends with both the Koreans and the foreigners. It was the Koreans I met who showed me places and things you can’t always find in a travel guidebook. There was always a flow of fellow visitors coming from different places, some staying longer than others. While people learn the language to different degrees, I don’t imagine anyone having a problem with learning enough to get by. Pusan and Seoul have quite good music scenes with foreigners collaborating with Koreans on stage. Afternoon hangouts, evening get-togethers and wonderous happenings were always an event on the linoleum-covered platform at the base of Keumjeong Mountain. So were doing night hikes up the mountain and arriving at a Buddhist temple at dawn; having an orange soju tent experience by the beach; hearing the memi flies pulsate in the autumn trees; buying a stick-on air freshener from the car-to car salesman in the subway.
I totally encourage anyone pondering a year teaching overseas to do so. There were never any problems with being paid on time. When my contract was finished, I was given an extra month’s salary as well as my airplane ticket. I also managed to save up a small fortune. Wiring money to a bank account in Canada is a routine procedure for the ESL teacher. Of course, not all accounts are as positive as mine but generally you’ll find that unless you have some really bad luck, you’ll be treated well. Good luck to all who decide to experience Korea, it’ll be something you will never forget!