Tag Archives: teaching english in korea


16 Aug

This is going to be my final post on this blog.

The title means goodbye, but there are two kinds of goodbyes here. One that you say to the person leaving, and one you say when you’re leaving. I, of course, used the latter one up there, and I can’t believe it.

I am flying out of here on Thursday to San Francisco, then onto Toronto. Just two more days. I’ve been slightly busy, applying for my pension return, packing, seeing friends and getting a pedicure via little fish. As the time to go has drawn nearer I’ve found myself being sadder than I thought I would be.

On Sunday I said goodbye to my favourite co-teacher, Sophie, and we both found ourselves crying in the coffee shop, exchanging letters and photos. Today I stopped in at my school to officially say goodbye to one of the VPs. He doesn’t speak English, but one of the other teachers in the office at the time did, and she translated his heartfelt words to me. I found myself choking up trying to respond to him. “What’s going on?” I wondered to myself. For many, many days here I counted down until it was time for me to leave. I just wanted this year to be over with, even though I enjoyed myself almost all of the time. I always felt like I was missing out on something at home, instead of realizing what I was gaining by being here. When my co-teachers asked me if I was happy to be leaving, I’d say it was bittersweet, but didn’t really mean it. Now, I’m happy to say I do.

My experience this past year was one that I will always look back on fondly. Sure, I might gloss over some of the less wonderful memories (crying at school, constant rain/humidity, living in a very high density city, not understanding anything ever), but my overall feeling is a happy one. I was so lucky to meet some amazing people and do something that I didn’t know if I could handle. I can honestly see myself returning here at some point. Maybe not for my honeymoon, as my principal suggested, but certainly one day. It would be so nice to reconnect with my co-teachers and see where this country will be at that time. In only 60ish years (post Korean War), Korea has surpassed other countries in so many ways. Who knows what it will be like in a decade?

So, when I get on the plane on Thursday and say goodbye to this place, I don’t think I’ll be as overjoyed as I thought I would be. And that’s just fine with me.

Thank you for reading this blog and supporting me!

Here’s a last bit of K-pop for you.


Flooding and leaking.

31 Jul

I’m sure most people who follow the news are aware of the crazy flooding that happened in Seoul last week. If you aren’t, here’s a recap:


Sadang Station isn’t really close to me.

That’s me on the far right and Sadang is the green one on the left. That area is lower than where I live, so got a lot of flooding as you saw in the video.

My life was mostly unchanged with the torrential downpour. We got over 400 mm of rain in just two days, by the way. I still went to school and taught students, although less of them came. Some people’s classes were temporarily cancelled, but I was not one of them. The only change was of course the leaking in my apartment. My bathroom had been leaking steadily for awhile. I had asked my landlords to fix it and they had attempted to, but really just put a hose that seemed to drain the liquid from the ceiling to the floor drain. A mushroom grew out of the hole. It has since died and a new one was begun to grow in the second hose that was put in place to combat the leaking in the rest of my apartment.

On Tuesday night I began to notice dripping noises on my ceiling. Since I live on the third of six floors, I don’t usually get to hear the sound of rain on the roof. At first I thought, “Well that’s pleasant!” and continued readying Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince. Then I realized that I shouldn’t be hearing that sound at all and began to wonder when the leaking would begin. It started off as little drips coming down the wall, but then the wallpapered ceiling began to swell with water. I moved my bed out of the way as much as possible (My bed, kitchen, “office” etc. are all in one room) and stared nervously at the ceiling. Then I put a pot under to collect the drips. I had to empty the pot twice in the night and the noise was driving me insane. I barely slept that night because I just didn’t know if the ceiling was going to collapse on me or if I was going to be showered sometime while I was sleeping.

The next day my landlords came to fix it, but told me that I should move out temporarily for 2-3 days. This would be my third apartment in the same building this year. When I got home from work I went to my damp apartment and packed up some essentials for the next couple of days and settled into another apartment. I showered, took a nap and attempted to steal internet. Then I went for dinner at my friends’ apartment and when I got home around 10 pm there was an email saying that the apartment was fixed and I could move back in. I contemplated sleeping in this new apartment but realized I really didn’t want to do that at all. So I PACKED up all my stuff and moved back home. There is now a trap door in the ceiling (similar to the one in the bathroom) and some nice mould growing around. It seems to have stopped spreading. I realize this is unhealthy but it’s not black at least, and I’m only here for another 2.5 weeks.

There has been no leaking since, but I doubt I’m out of the woods yet. Here’s the weather forecast:

Kill me!

Sigh. Coincidentally my air conditioner just dripped onto my arm. It never ends.

As the end of my time approaches, my friends and I have decided to do all the things we haven’t yet done this year. Here’s what I’m interested in:
-Lotte World again (an amusement park right near me)
-Dr. Fish (pedicure where little fish bite off your dead skin)
-The National Museum of Korea
-Banpo Bridge (has a light show at night in the waterfalls off the bridge)
-Caribbean Bay (a large and expensive water park)
-Shopping for more clothes (necessary)
-Eat as much Korean and other food as possible
-Wander more around Hongdae (artsy university area)
-Wolmi Island in Incheon (apparently it has a nice waterfront area)

Hopefully I should be able to accomplish all of that in the next 17 days! That time is sure to go very quickly and will be taken up as well by packing, cleaning, selling stuff and looking into things I want to do in San Francisco.

Sheesh! I now am thinking maybe I don’t have as much time as I thought. Strange.

Well wishings and the end of another school year.

15 Jul

I can’t believe it’s actually happened, but today was my last day teaching at my elementary school. Starting next week I have 3 weeks of summer camp (half days of work) followed by just under 2 weeks of fake vacation then I’m off to sunny San Francisco and then hopefully sunny Toronto.

I can remember so clearly walking to my first days of work here filled with dread. I was pretty miserable at first. It was always raining (pretty much like it is now) so I was always wet. I felt alone and unsure of myself. I really was regretting my decision to come here. Almost 11 months later I have to say I’m proud of myself for what I’ve accomplished. No, the work wasn’t really that hard (most of the time),  but the experience itself was demanding, as any English teacher here will tell you. I’m proud to say I taught 30 crazy grade threes alone, and calmed down the worst of the grade 5 and 6 classes without the help of my co-teacher. Proud that I created lesson plans and materials (mostly) from scratch. I’m proud that I finished out a year of teaching, even though sometimes I really wanted to pack it all in and go home. Coming here I knew that I’d be working every day, teaching, and I kept thinking about how this was affecting me and how I felt. I didn’t really think about the students I was teaching. How were they affected by me and my teaching, if at all?

As the school year drew to a close, my students seemed unaware or completely unfazed by the fact that I was going to be leaving them forever. My ego and I were both irritated by this. “I taught these kids every day! Some of them for a year, some of them for just 6 months, but come on! Don’t I matter?” I appealed to them in class. “Today is our LAST LESSON. FOREVER. I’m LEAVING! FOR. CANADA.” The advanced students understood. Some made sad or shocked faces. They really didn’t understand why I was leaving, or if I was really leaving at all. Maybe I was just going on vacation. The Korean school system goes from March-July and then August-February. I came and am leaving in the middle of the school year.

I tried to put this into perspective for myself. They’re just kids. Would I really care if some strange foreign person came and then left again if I was only 10 years old? Probably not. But wouldn’t I care a little?

I’m happy to say that yes, they really DO care that I am leaving! Although it is pretty much up to my co-teachers to tell the students I’m going and for them to decide what to do about that, I got some touching cards and letters from many kids. My grade 5 co-teacher got all of our classes to write me messages that the students had prepared in advance. My grade 6 co-teacher had every student write me page long letters. Sure, these are forced letters, but I’d like to think that the majority of the sentiment is real. I even had some students, who weren’t forced to do anything by someone else, give me gifts and come to visit me in my office.

Some of these messages are amusing, heartfelt or a bit strange. So, without further ado, here’s some  excerpts from  the best of them. Also, I’d like to point out that my students met Jacob two times. TWO. And he was mentioned in about 10 letters.

“Erika, now sinking to the US. Thank you. I heard you died in Canada Did. Happily ever after.” -Jeon Seunggi

(I actually received more than one of these sorts of messages. I assume something is off with the internet translating.)

“Teacher. How much is the airplane ticket? What time do you go to the airport?”- Kim Sun-he

“Sir, I hear you’re leaving back to Canada…Also, you left is really not disturbed. Sage is the world wish you had no. And it was good.” – Sim Hee-Ra

“I’m so sad that you’re going back to Canada…I hope you marry with Jcob…And your boyfriend Jcob is look so handsome. I’m proud that I’m your student.” -Cheon Ho-Bae

(This request for me to marry “Jcob” (whoever that is) was common.)

“You have a perfect English accent.”-Yuna

“I think you are very good teacher, because you’re very kind and pretty ^_^”- Jung Min Lee

“I will never forget you. Love ya!” -Ikjun Chang (this was written in cursive!)

“If I go to Canada I want to go to your house.” -Tony

“You go back  Canada. Am Why go to Canada? You stay here!!” -Minho-Lee

“My name is Joo-Harry. Also, my nickname is “Harry Potter!” -Harry

“Keep our love forever.” -Yu-bin

“I like baseball.” -Tang Woon

“I can’t stop thinking about the funny games we played.” -Paul

“Hello Erika. My name is Erika (in Korean it says Oh Song Jin). Do you know me? I am superman! Ha ha ha. Fighting!” – Oh Song Jin

“I want to meet you next time in your house. I want to see your husband and children (baby).” -So- Yeon

“Teacher is very kind pretty. ^^ teacher have boyfriend.”- Bek Gyu-Hyun

“Don’t lose your happy smile.” -Yu-Gin

“You are going to Canada? Don’t do that please.” -Won Ho-hyun

“I saw you boyfriend…he is very veryx100 handsome!”- Joo Hee

“Big eye, short hair, tall.” -Han Byul

“Teacher. I’m sad. But I think you! I think your face. We go camping. Are you ok? You can do it! I love you.” -Ji-yu

“I think you have smile power that is make people happy.” -Ye Eun

“I liked your teaching style.”

“I have shared good memories with  you and your boyfriend. (wow~!! 🙂 -Hwey-Seung

“When I came back from Russia I was desperate to find an English teacher, because I could forget some words, but with your help, I managed to remember nearly all.” Lee Kang-Han

“Ammm..first, you’re very kind. Your go to the Canada? Oh, I cry. Second, you’re funny.” -Hyun Jun Kim

“I saw you in the subway. Is he your boyfriend?” -Da Yon

“Sorry I dont have some (?) gift. But my letter is very expensive letter. Hahahahahahha.”- Hee Jin

One student actually wrote me his own booklet of letters, so he gets a lot of excerpts. He lived in Dubai for awhile, so has very advanced English.

“You’re like the best teacher of all…Maybe you can teach a lot of poors in Africa or Canada. I will have you in my heart. Of course, you will sometimes forget us, and sometime you will remember us. I wish you love us the best more than the Canada kids. If you can’t be a teacher, don’t give up. You can find work even if you can’t be a teacher. As I know Canada is very cold. I very high percent (%) the you will get a cold. So wear thick clothes and warm gloves. And there is my friend called Emily. She’s a girl. She is very kind. Well, every girls is kind…If Canada is cold, go to Dubai and it will be very hot, like you will be melted…Maybe now you will be my first best teacher. I had the best memories in Dubai.” -Sung Hun

The letters from my students were so lovely and kind. I’m so lucky to have them and I told them I’d keep them forever so I guess I’d better do that.

That’s all for now! Enjoy.


24 Jun

Last week I did my open class. This means that I had to prepare a lesson to showcase to the principal, vice principals and a team of other teachers who would mark me.

Most teachers spend a LOT of time preparing for this because this is how they show themselves to the rest of the teachers. They often prepare really special lessons, which are nothing like their normal ones.

For my open class I decided to do one basically like my normal lessons but with a tiny bit more effort. I had to write up a detailed lesson plan (4 pages) to hand in before my lesson.

The lesson went quite well. My co-teacher discussed with them in advance what we would be doing, so they knew what to expect. Grade 6s can be difficult, but they were angels in that class and participated enthusiastically for every activity.

Two weeks passed and we finally had a meeting about the results of our classes. I sat through a 45 minute meeting all in Korean, as usual not knowing what was going on or why I had to be there. My co-teacher slipped me a note mid-way through which said “Strong and weak points of less. Brief discussion.” All the teachers had to give a brief expanation of their lesson. I thought, do I really have to do this? Only about 6-7 people here will actually understand. However, the lesson ended and none of the English teachers spoke.

After the meeting, two of my co-teachers came up to me and said “You must be very happy!” I was, as usual, confused. They said that apparently I was the only teacher that the principal had complimented and that he was very impressed because I had gotten all the grade 6s motivated to participate in my lesson. As well, I wrote the most detailed (read: longest) lesson plan. That would explain the clapping and general looking in my direction during the meeting that I ignored. My co-teachers told me that he said I was a ROLE MODEL for them. This made me really embarrassed because I have been teaching for only 10 months and this is, of course, their career.

So, 잘했다 to me! That means good job. Although this makes zero difference to me since I am resigning and leaving in 8 (EIGHT!) weeks, it’s nice to know I was doing a good job here overall.

See you soon!

a little satisfaction.

16 Jun

A very important factor in job satisfaction is feeling like your job is worthwhile. Most of the time I feel like my job is pretty useless because the students don’t seem to be improving in the public school system. Sure, they improve in the private English academies that are so prevalent here, but not in my classroom.

Then the odd thing happens that makes you think that maybe their little brains are absorbing something after all.

Exhibit 1:

Today, an adorable, but English challenged, baseball player came up to me to talk. Usually baseball players are absolved from learning English because they have practice every day after school, so it’s accepted that they are too busy to study. My feelings on this attitude are irrelevant (but can probably be assumed). Anyhow! Today this adorable little boy came up to me and in perfect English said “TEACHER! My grandmother is in Canada.” I was actually shocked because usually it’s a major struggle just to get him to say a single word. My co-teacher asked him something and it was clarified that his grandmother lives in Canada. Nonetheless, I was amazed.

Exhibit 2:

In one of my grade 5 classes there is a student who tries to sleep all the time. Apparently his mother isn’t in his life and his father works all the time. His older brother takes care of him. In my class, his eyes are drooping constantly and he seems like he’s going to keel over any second. He’s just so disinterested in the class. We found out that he doesn’t even know the alphabet, despite having been learning English since grade 3. My co-teacher has asked him to stay in our class for the 10 minutes after each lesson and today he said the alphabet from A-M. I know it doesn’t sound like much but we were both really proud of him. I think my co-teacher looked like she was going to cry. The best part was really his face, because he looked so enthusiastic and proud for the first time all year.

Exhibit 3:

This is just amusing. One of my tiny, scrawny grade 5 boys with glasses and missing teeth was singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” word for word today. He is a low level student. Who knows?

Although I still find I have little job satisfaction, it’s the odd things like that which make me days go by a little faster.


why i chose to go home (for vacation).

6 Feb

I wrote this post when I was on the plane flying to Seoul from Vancouver. I thought I’d try to take up some of the 11 hour flight by writing a blog.

A lot of people who teach in Asia say that you shouldn’t go home during your year away. Some think that it’s way better to travel throughout the continent or elsewhere. Why go home when you have so many other places you can visit?

When I first thought about my year in Seoul, I had big plans to travel. I thought I’d definitely go to China and Japan and who knows where else. However, lots of things changed my mind and I’m incredibly happy I made the decision I did.

The first major (and really the only) reason I didn’t travel elsewhere, or stay in Korea, was because I needed to see my family, friends and Jacob. Although a year can be a short period of time, it actually felt extremely long to me sometimes. Five months apart from my boyfriend was really painful and I craved my family and friends, as well.

From the second I stepped off the plane to just before I got back on it, I just had the best time, every day.

The first week I was back I stayed at home in Richmond Hill. I arrived on Saturday, January 15 and the next day my family, Jacob and I all put up the Christmas decorations. My parents didn’t celebrate the holidays without me. It was so lovely to look forward to that. We put on Christmas music, my parents made me eggnog (from scratch), we had apple cider and cookies and put up the tree. The next day my Auntie Jean and Uncle Morry came over, as well as our family friends Debbie and Mohan. It was really interesting to talk to them since they asked me questions which made me think about what it actually was like to live abroad. On Wednesday I went to Etobicoke to meet Jacob’s parents for the first time. They made a huge, delicious dinner and it was so nice to finally meet them (other than on Skype). The next day we celebrated Christmas at home. My parents, Jacob and I had a huge Christmas breakfast and then later on my brother and sister-in-law came over and we opened presents, then we ate another huge dinner. It was heartwarming to be able to celebrate the holiday with my family, a month after the date.

That Friday I went to Hamilton to stay with Jacob for the week. I got to spend a lot of time with him, as well as with my close friends who came up throughout the week. It was so much fun to just hang out, play video games on Super Nintendo, go to Absinthe for Motown night and visit the McMaster campus again. That weekend we were supposed to go to Gabi’s cottage but instead stayed in Hamilton again for one last time.

wearing face masks from korea.

The last week I went back to Richmond Hill. I tried to see some more friends and spend time with my family. Jacob and I went geocaching, which was really fun and really cold. We used his iPhone to find a hidden cache in a forest about a kilometre from my house. You can download an app and it will tell you which direction to walk and how close you are to it. When we finally found it (in a dead tree covered with snow) we opened it up and signed our names on the log. We left some free samples of Korean face masks and a photo I had. Later in the week I went for dinner at my brother and sister-in-law’s house and then Jacob and I went to see “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector” at the TIFF Lightbox Theatre. It was quite good, by the way. One of my last nights my family and I all went for dinner at Oliver and Bonnacini for Winterlicious. It was delicious and so nice to spend some time with my family. I left early Friday morning for an 8 am flight, which was terrible to say the least. Waking up at 5:20 am and saying goodbye to my parents and Jacob was really rough. However, even though it was hard to say goodbye again, I am still extremely happy that I went home. For me, it was the right choice to go home.

jacob and i at the TIFF theatre.

jacob happily holding up the cache.


the whole family.

Of course finances played a part. I am saving all my money for college, and my parents helped to pay for my ticket home. Although eventually I would like to visit all of the places I listed up there, it just wasn’t the right time and I didn’t want to stay in Korea. I needed to go home and although I’m feeling depressed right now, in just two months Jacob will be coming to Korea to visit me for two months, so I can get another taste of home and see him again.

Being home allowed me to have a break, speak English, see the country I like more and more,  and spend time with the most important people in my life. Some people might not agree with my decision to go home, but I couldn’t be happier that I did it.


christmas, new year’s, homecoming.

12 Jan


i’ve been trying to put this off until i get a new laptop, but  i have some free time now, so i thought i’d just shoot of a lil’ post now.

back we go to christmas!

christmas was very strange, although enjoyable. it’s not a big deal here , so there was no christmas feeling in the air or anything like that. on the eve sarah, casey and i went for a prix fixe dinner at between.

here’s me looking lovely:

photo by sarah o'sullivan

then we went to the noraebang with a few friends. i got to dress up as a rodent (?).

photo by casey park

then i went home. christmas day i met up with sarah and casey again and we went skating at city hall. it was 1,000 won (or like 85 cents) to rent skates and then skate. it was freezing cold and packed with people. we only stayed for 30 minutes but it was tonnes of fun. casey said it was his favourite thing he has done so far.

photo by casey park

then went to the frypan for dinner. just like a normal turkey dinner, except fried. koreans love fried chicken, and they do it so well. at the frypan  it is also on a bed of homemade potato chips. the chicken was delicious. the chips made me want to die later. it was too much grease. the salad we had was actually delicious. real, shaved parmesan cheese. so good.

at the frypan

then christmas was over. i did shed a few tears but then realized that i would get to celebrate christmas with my family at home, so i wasn’t really missing out.

on new year’s i went for dinner with some friends at an overpriced sushi placee, then to a bar called the social. ironically, it was empty at first but then filled up later with korean b-boys.

d, sam and i at the social club.

overall, it was a really fun night, but once again there was no excitement in the air! koreans celebrate the lunar new year (feb 2-4) so this was not really a big deal. oh well. it’s only new year’s.

after that weekend winter camp started. let me tell you: i LOVE winter camp! i only work until 12 pm every day and get to play games and do fun lessons with a small group of students who just love me. for the first two weeks of camp i worked at a different school, with 5 other foreign teachers and 6 korean co-teachers. it was super fun and i really liked it. this week i’ve been working at my own school teaching grades 3 and 4 and it’s just as fun. i love my students. i feel a real connection with them, as opposed to my regular students who are mostly indifferent. i guess winter camp is just a different environment.

two winter camp students.

so i now have just 2 days more of winter camp, then i’m heading home this weekend! saturday cannot come soon enough. i have tonnes of wonderful plans for the 3 weeks i’ll be home, such as going to stay in hamilton for a week with jacob (yes, hamilton is wonderful), celebrating christmas with my family, going to my friend’s cottage, generally relaxing, hanging out with my friends and family and eating lots of food. i cannot wait. hopefully i can fit in all my friends and family! three weeks will go by in a second.

hope your holidays were lovely,

see you soon!