5 Reasons Why I Chose to Teach English in Rural South Korea

It seems that teaching English abroad is becoming more and more popular as young people grow hungrier and hungrier for adventure, and yearn to break free from the status quo. If you would have asked me what I wanted to be 10 years ago, I would have told you a U.S. Diplomat or Linguist. I knew then that I wanted to travel the world, but I never would have guessed I’d be responsible for teaching English to students in South Korea! I’ll let you in on a little secret shhhh…come closer…a little closer…I didn’t even like kids or English when I was younger! I know! I know! It sounds horrible coming from an educator right? I don’t feel that way anymore. I can honestly say I get pure joy from teaching my babies. Moving here was by far the best decision I’ve ever made, and at this point in my life I’m the happiest I’ve ever been! 

So why Korea? Why rural Korea out of all places? Well I have a few reasons why I chose to follow this path:

1.    I prefer to take the road less traveled, every single time.

I have decided to dedicate my life to taking the road less traveled. It is my goal in life to craft the most unique and fulfilled lifestyle possible. So I looked at it this way: everyone wants to teach in Seoul, everyone wants to teach in Busan or Daegu, but very few want to, or have what it takes to survive teaching in the most rural parts of this country. This feat has been known to separate the boys from the men (or the girls from the women in my case).  Many first time teachers who are placed out here don’t make it through their entire contract. I’m not throwing shade at all! This ain’t for everybody! I get that, and I’m not bragging either. I’m simply explaining to you why teaching here was so appealing to me. It was a way for me to prove to myself that I was tough enough to adapt and survive in an environment drastically different from my own. You ever heard the saying, “life begins outside your comfort zone”? Well I can fully attest to this statement’s validity. Being uncomfortable here has taught me so much about myself; I strongly feel that I have grown from this experience.

2.    Full immersion into a culture is the only way to become intimate with it. 

Have you ever traveled to a different country, and your first stop was their capitol or the major tourist city? Didn’t it feel a lot like a major city back home like NYC or Miami? Very rarely is a country’s major city an accurate reflection of the culture, mainly because it’s been saturated with outside influences. There’s nothing wrong with this really, but if you’re the kind of traveler who wants to dive into the heart of the culture then it’s important to venture outside those typical tourist walls and get up close and uncomfortable with the locals in the smaller cities (or villages in my case). When you travel to these smaller towns you experience the language, authentic cuisine, traditional fashion, and insight into what a day in the life of a local really looks like. There’s something special about that don’t you think?

3.    Teaching in the rural areas pay a lot more than teaching in the major cities. 

I bet you’re thinking AHH HA!! Now you get to the real motives behind your decision, but I promise you the first two reasons I mentioned were just as much of a factor as this one. When you teach English in a rural area in Korea you will likely be the only foreigner your town has. This means that you will be challenged with the task of teaching at multiple schools in your area and multiple grade levels as well. The government realizes how hard this can be, and how much work goes into this, and they are dedicated to compensating you well for it. I will give you a breakdown of what I mean: I have three schools total, all three schools are within walking distance from each other and my house (this is NOT always the case). I still get paid an extra $150.00 for having to teach at the other two schools. In addition to that, the government program also pays me an extra $100.00 because I live in a rural area (think military hazardous pay-except it’s not dangerous, just lonely).  In addition to all of that, I agreed to teach a four hour Saturday English camp every other Saturday and the school pays me $40.00 per hour for these camps. This is all in addition to my base salary. Due to the fact I am an American, I do not have to pay any Korean taxes, and the healthcare is really cheap here. Are you starting to see why I made this decision? I’m not sharing these numbers to brag, but I know the truth. The truth is people want quantitative data! I get that and I have no problem with providing you with that information; especially if it helps you make a decision to teach in the rural part of Korea where the students really need you.

4.    Minimalism has become my best friend.

 I adopted a minimalist lifestyle about two years ago when I started working on a cruise ship in Hawaii. It was that lifestyle change that shifted my entire mind-set as a consumer. I wish I had adopted this lifestyle sooner, because I could have saved myself loads of money, time, and stress. I honestly think that if I would have chosen to teach in a major city here I would have been tempted to revert back to my over-indulgent ways. Teaching here, there’s no desire or temptation to “keep up with the joneses”. There’s no mall or department stores with glittery advertisements that entice me to purchase things I don’t really need or want, and there’s no western style restaurants available with price tags double and triple the price of a standard Korean restaurant. Nope! It’s quite lovely to walk down the street and see the ugly, grandma outfits in the windows of the only two stores in town that sell clothes. There’s something amazing about going into any restaurant and receiving my entrée and at least three to four Korean side dishes for a total of $6.00. There’s something downright beautiful about not having to worry about whether or not my shoes match my outfit since I spend 85% of my time in socks or slippers! It’s a beautiful thing I tell you.

A typical Korean dinner. Total: $6

A typical Korean dinner. Total: $6

5.    Introducing my Korean students and friends to my African American culture is the icing on the cake.

In my little town, I am the first African American ESL teacher my students have ever had. I am my colleagues’ first African American friend. Many of the people in my town have never met a black woman in person before. It’s a wonderful thing when you can be the ambassador for your people, and shut down any negative connotation or stereotype just by being yourself and sharing your truth with them. This is the epitome of what it means to be #BlackandAbraod. It means being able to breakdown cultural barriers with a smile, a lesson, pictures, a video, a change in your hair, or the story of your sorority and a demonstration of stepping. When their faces light up in amazement as I share these things, I know in that moment I am fulfilling my duty as an African American Cultural Ambassador….and that ladies and gentlemen is what it’s all about!

If you would like more information on how to get started teaching English in Korea don’t hesitate to contact me with your questions. I’d be more than happy to guide you in the right direction!  Check me out at passionategypsies.com!

Do you have any experience with teaching abroad?  Let us know in the comments!