This post is completely, 100% about working as a NSET in the ROK. Another foreign teacher on Dave's posted a student's survey for a story she is doing for the school paper. I thought there were some pretty interesting questions, and wanted to re-post my responses here, for anyone who is looking to come over, and for general interest for those of you who are already here. Also, I'd love to hear what any one of you may have to say on any of these subjects as well.
If you are one of those "normal" people reading this, who are not involved in the EFL profession, feel free to bypass entirely. By the way, I think it would be great if those of you who have time to complete the survey would do so and email it on to the students. Here she is:
Hello, we're the student reporters from the 'Hankyoreh' newspaper. We're planning to write a feature article for our newspaper's education section '함께하는 교육'. The subject of it is "Korean schools and students through foreign teachers' eyes". As one of the foreign teachers in Korea, please write about honestly what you have been felt while teaching and living in Korea. We're going to write an article about the cultural diversity and tolerance based on your statement. The article will be published on our newspaper on 30th Nov.
If you have any questions, you can easily contact us through e-mail or cell phone. Our email address is (email@example.com), and our phone number is (010-8909-4671). Thank you very much for participating in our survey....
1) Students' attitude in your classes
1. Are you satisfied with your students' behavier and attitude in your class? If you are or not, please write the reasons also.
For the most part, yes. Most of my students are extremely well-behaved, and show me a great amount of respect, even though I do not have the same authority as the Korean teachers. They are polite, cooperative and eager to participate, in general. Of course, there are a few problems sometimes, but that is normal.
2. What kind of students you like the most? (ex. A student who concentrates on your class, A student who is really positive)
① A student who asks unexpected questions, or shows an interest outside of the textbook material.
② A student who is not afraid to make class more interesting for everyone by giving their opinion, even though they have to do it in English, which is not always easy.
③ A student who tries, even though they know they may say something wrong and look stupid.
3. On the contrary, what kind of student you dislike the most?
① Students who distract other students in any way.
② Students who interrupt class with disrespectful behavior.
③ Students who won't try.
4. Can you remember your first class in Korea? Please describe it. Besides, please tell us what the most difficult problem was.
I don't remember my first class, exactly. But I certainly remember my first week. I was terrified. I was a teacher back in my home country, but to very small groups of adults. I am actually a very, very shy person. Standing in front of forty strangers at one time and having everyone looking at me was not easy. It took me a long time to feel comfortable speaking in front of my classes.
5. If that problem was solved, please tell us what you did to do so.
Try, try and try again. I pretended to be brave until I wasn't scared anymore.
6. Did you get any help with your difficulties? If so, please tell us in detail what kind of help your school gave you. If you think your school is lack of such consideration, please write about it also.
I am a very lucky foreign teacher. I have a very kind and considerate school, which is why I signed a contract for another year at the same school. I haven't had any major problems at my school to begin with, but my co-teachers and the other Korean teachers are always worried about my well-being and happiness. If I have any problems, I know I can always ask them for help -- if that is with the students' discipline, or a lesson plan that I can't find a good idea for, or with reading a bill that's in Korean. They always make sure I am well-fed, and even took me to buy a winter coat when the weather turned colder.
7. Working as a foreign teacher in Korea, please tell us honestly about what you were concerned about the most. What has caused such a concern of the Korean students' characteristics?
My biggest concern with my students in general is how much stress they are under. I see them working so hard to keep up, studying for hours and hours everyday. I work at a middle school, so my oldest students are under a lot of pressure right now, trying to get into good high schools.
My biggest concern with my students and English is how doubtful they are about their speaking skills. Many of them, I know, can speak quite well, or a lot better than they think -- I can see this, because I am a native speaker. But they are too afraid to try in a lot of cases, and let the fear stop them from saying what they want to say. They also often worry about giving the "wrong" answer, without realizing that, although you may make mistakes while you are speaking English, you cannot give a really "wrong" answer -- you are just talking about yourself and your opinions. Every answer is right.
8. Have you ever felt like being ignored by Korean students? If so, please explain the situation in detail.
Yes, of course. Students are supposed to ignore teachers at least some of the time -- it's their job. However, being the foreign teacher, it can happen more often. I have had some students who I thought were sort of trouble makers, who would turn away and completely ignore me when I came to speak to them. They would do so with a kind of disrespect, which made me think they were just bad students. But after taking some time to get to know them, I have found out that a lot of them were just afraid that they wouldn't be able to understand what I said, or give an answer in English, and they didn't want to look stupid in front of their friends. I have to be patient, in these cases, I have realized.
9. Do you think a foreign teacher's classes have helped Korean students improve their English? If so or not, what makes you think so? Please write your opinions about it.
I can't really answer that. I have only been teaching in Korea for 13 months -- not long enough to see a huge difference. This, really, is a question for the students, not the teachers, in my opinion. I will say that my students have become a lot less shy about speaking English since I arrived. Before, they had never spoken English outside of a class assignment. And certainly never to a native speaker. They would literally run away when they saw me coming. Now, they have casual conversations with me everyday in English. They have confidence now, because they have seen that they can speak to me in English and I can understand them. They know that they CAN speak English.
(2) About your life in Korea
1. Please introduce yourself briefly. (name, age, country, etc.) How long have you been here in Korea? When did you start working as a foreign teacher?
My name is . I am from the USA, originally. I am 24 years old, 25 Korean age. I have been in Korea for 13 months, and working as a foreign teacher for just as long.
2. What did you major in? Before you applied for your current position, what did you do? Also, please tell us what made you apply for a job in Korea.
I majored in poetry at university. Before I applied to be a teacher in Korea, I was an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher to university students in Brooklyn, New York. I worked at an art school, and I helped the students who did not speak native English write their papers and understand their lectures and materials from their regular classes, as well as helping them with their artist statements for their exhibitions and doing conversation sessions, to help them with speaking English in their personal lives.
I really loved teaching ESL, but it's hard to make enough money with that job to stay living in New York City. Basically, I had a choice: I could give up teaching English and start work at an office job in Manhattan with a great salary, that I would have hated, or I could go somewhere else and teach English. Most of my students at the time were Korean (almost 90%), so after talking to them for a while, I decided to move to Korea.
3. What have you thought about Korea? Is there any difference between your thoughts about Korea before you came to Korea and those from your real experience in Korea?
The only thing I really knew about Korea before I came to Korea, was my students. I had become very close friends with some of them, and enjoyed working with them a lot. I heard a lot about Korea from them -- mostly that it moved really fast (the first Korean I learned was still in New York -- 빨리 빨리!). Of course, you can never expect what it will be like in another country before you live there. Now that I have lived here for over a year, I feel very close to Korea. A lot of things have become very normal to me, that were very strange at first. It's hard to even remember what I thought of Korea before.
4. While working at school, have you ever gone through any difficulties with your Korean colleagues? How important do you think your Korean colleagues' help is for you to settle down to Korea? Please describe what you want from them.
I think your Korean colleagues are extremely important to your first adjustment in Korea. At first, my co-teacher didn't really know what to do with me, and was a little bad at giving me information. The work culture is very different from my home country, but I didn't know this at first. I took a lot of things personally, because I didn't understand Korean work culture yet. The best think Korean colleagues can do for foreign teachers to help them is to give them as much information as possible -- even if that information is, "I don't know yet." Sometimes, because we can't understand the language, we feel a little left out. And when things change at the last minute, we think nobody bothered to tell us. But really, it's just that nobody knew anyway. Just knowing that you are not the last person to know something, or that your co-workers aren't leaving out information on purpose can help a lot.
5. Have you ever seen other foreign teachers who suffered from cultural differences or difficulties in adjusting to the Korean culture? If you have, could you please describe more about those cases in detail?
I came to Korea with a very close friend of mine. He had a very, very hard time adjusting to Korea. One thing to remember is that a lot of the foreign teachers are not just adjusting to a new country and culture, but also a new job at the same time. My friend had never been a teacher before, and didn't know anything about it. When you have stress from work, and stress in your personal life (from culture shock, and trying to make new friends in a place that you don't really understand yet), it can become a very serious situation. Suddenly something as small as not knowing which weighing station to take your potatoes to at the grocery store, and not being able to ask in Korean, can turn into something that ruins your day. My friend went back to New York and has had some time to think about his time here in Korea. Now, he is even talking about maybe coming back.
Moving to a new country is not easy. I have seen a lot of people who have been a lot worse than my friend. They weren't ready for all of the differences, and all of the small things that would suddenly become hard to do, or understand. There are some really unhappy foreigners in Korea. It's not necessarily Korea's fault, or their fault -- they just haven't adjusted well, or weren't prepared for the trouble they would have.
6. What you think the Korean government should do when they recruit foreign teachers and appoint them to each school to help them settle down without a hitch and develop teaching skills?
I think the Korean government first and foremost needs to start preparing the schools to receive foreign teachers better. There needs to be a program for Korean teachers who WANT to be handlers for foreign teachers, who go to training before the foreign teachers arrive, and are prepared for all of the extra work they will have to do, as well as some of the main cultural differences they will have to deal with from and explain to their foreign teachers. Right now, it seems like the school just picks some unlucky teacher and makes them take over this position, without giving them any preparation for what's about to happen. They are already busy, tired, overworked and stressed out. Some of them have never even talked to a foreigner before. Having a handler who is prepared to take you on makes a world of difference for an arriving foreign teacher.
7. Korea is well-known for the high expenditure of its private tutoring and dog-eat-dog competition for the university entrance exam. While teaching at a Korean school, do you think there is any strength about Korean education system? What do you think are the problems of the Korean education system?
I work at an all-boys middle school, and the difference that I love the most from our Western school system is how the students and teachers seem almost like family. In the West, by middle school, you don't even have a main class anymore -- you go to every class by yourself, with different people in each one. You are much more alone, in this way. Here, the students have a homeroom class that they can become close with, and a homeroom teacher who knows them well and who is there to support them. It's an important time in a young person's life, and I think having this kind of system can help a lot, especially since they are under so much stress. Imagine how bad it would be if they didn't have a homeroom teacher, or their classmates to rely on.
I think the biggest problem in the Korean education system is the amount of pressure on students who are so young. Some of my students, at fourteen years old, feel like they have already failed at life, because their grades aren't good enough to get into a good high school. I think that's too young to have that kind of pressure.
8. Do you think you have been successfully adapted to the Korean school? If you don't think you're been successful, please describe the reasons.
I think I have adjusted very well. There were some things that were very hard in the beginning, but I have had good co-teachers and Korean friends to help me see and understand the differences, and I have been willing to change my mind about a lot of things, in order to adapt to the new environment. I am very happy in my work life, and at my school. I hope to stay for as long as they will have me.
This is the end of our survey. Thank you very much for your responses.