I took a teaching job in Korea with the plan to take a one year break away from my career as a bank manager. I never expected to stay for four years. But I have, probably because, I really enjoy teaching and I am making good money. After four years as an expat in Korea, I have learned that people with certain interests and personality traits thrive in a teach abroad job. If you are considering teaching abroad, ask yourself these three questions. If the answer is yes, and you have evidence to support your answer – you will thrive teaching and living abroad.
1. Are you high energy and creative?
The most successful teachers I have worked with infuse a healthy dose of entertainment into their instruction. Our students go to school early in the morning, study for 6-8 hours, and then come study with us for another 3 hours. I thought my education growing up was brutal, but Korean kids face a level of intensity that isn’t common in places like the U.S. Middle school students must participate in clubs or attend other academies. Often, my students are tired when 7PM rolls around so they need a teacher who can help motivate them. Making my students laugh and providing interesting supplemental materials stimulates my kids' minds and helps regain focus. A good teacher must be able to explain concepts in a way that is relevant to a student’s life. This requires commitment, dedication, and creativity.
The need to be high energy and creative applies to all all age groups - even if you teach adults in another country. And while I am an extrovert and it is easy for me to keep a sense of humor and a high level of energy, I don’t think you have to be an extrovert to be an outgoing teacher. You just need to demonstrate your enthusiasm and passion when you are teaching.
2. Have you visited or lived in another country and did you find adapting to the culture easy?
Koreans are expected to overtly demonstrate a certain respect level for others – especially those that are older or have seniority in their work place hierarchy. To survive and feel comfortable living in another country, you need to identify cultural differences and adapt. For example, whenever I meet the higher ups in the company, I bow to them and address them buy their title. This doesn’t mean that your personality has to change. You can be yourself. You just need to be respectful of the cultural norms.
Also, to live well in another country, you need to learn to regularly eat the local food. Korean food is healthy and in some dishes, it’s very spicy. It took me a while to adapt to the spicy flavors but it was necessary not just to fully embrace the culture, but to save money. American or non-Korean food can be more expensive than Korean food.
Lastly, most likely, the people you are closest to will live thousands of miles away from you and in different time zones. You have to learn how to survive without your mom or dad! This was probably the greatest gift that I have given myself. I realized that I could survive in a foreign land alone and this has made my parents proud.
3. Do you enjoy being with kids and more importantly, do kids enjoy being with you? How do you know? If you don’t, you may be happier teaching adults.
Have you spent time around kids over the last few years? If you haven’t, it may be hard to answer this question accurately. I grew up in a large family and was surrounded by younger cousins, nieces, and nephews. I always enjoyed spending time with my younger relatives and developed the ability to balance joking around and acting as a mentor. This experience helped me transition into my teaching job.
Empathy for children goes far in the classroom. Teaching young people feels more natural if you try to understand children and remember how you were as a child. I wasn’t a model student as a child, so I came into teaching with the expectation that not all of my students would be excellent students. All children, (all students - even adults) require patience and a caring attitude from their teachers. I firmly believe this is one of the main reasons why I have been requested by parents to teach their children. If you feel like this describes you, a job teaching kids could be the right fit. And if not, consider teaching adults.
Living abroad is a great opportunity to learn more about yourself and grow as a person. You face challenges you may never face if you stay home, in your comfort zone. Not only do you gain work experience, make good money, and have the ability to travel – you gain valuable life skills. For all of these reasons, the decisino to live and teach in Korea was one of the best choices I have made. How about you? Is teaching abroad a good fit for you?
Marc has been living in Seoul and working at the ChungDahm Learning' sGangdong Branch for 4 years now. He has worked his way up from being a teacher and to a faculty manager for that location. He majored in Finance and Marketing at the University of Nevada Las Vegas while working as a manager for a national bank. In his spare time, he enjoys outdoor activities like hiking the numerous mountains around Seoul and biking along the massive Han River. To know more about him and his adventures living in Korea, follow Marc on Twitter @geonmakku and on Instagram @geonmakku.