A married couple interview & their big move to South Korea
Hi, Shannon & Eddie, Tell us a bit about yourself. Who are you? How old are you? Where are you from?
Shannon: Hi everyone, my name is Shannon. I’m 29 years old and hail from the state of California in the United States. Since I was 18, when I went on a journey throughout Europe with my best friend from high school, I’ve been travelling almost nonstop. I was struck by the travel bug at the time, and have since lived in New Zealand, Australia, Germany, and Ireland before relocating to South Korea. I’m still aiming to see as many destinations as possible.
Eddie: Hey everyone, I’m Eddie. I’m 30 years old and from Kilbeggan, Co. Westmeath. I’ve always enjoyed travelling and discovering new locations, both in Ireland and overseas. I’ve been lucky to have the time and opportunity to explore and experience many other locations as a teacher, but unlike Shannon, despite having travelled extensively, I’ve never lived anyplace other than Ireland. My internship in South Korea will be my first time living outside of the United States. I, like Shannon, want to see as many different places as possible while also teaching.
What is it that drew you to teaching English abroad?
Eddie: I had been teaching primary school in Ireland for just over six years and had thoroughly loved my time there. I believed that I could use what I had learnt to teach English as a foreign language. Shannon and I both enjoy travelling and knew that at some point we wanted to go abroad and travel for a year or more. We both thought that teaching would be a fantastic chance to travel and experience various cultures, and that I would gain valuable insight into how other nations’ schools and education systems operate. After being trapped at home due to the Covid-19 pandemic we couldn’t ignore the itch to travel any longer, so we decided to go as soon as we could.
Shannon: Although I had never taught in the same manner as Eddie, I felt that teaching English would be a fantastic way to see the world while also sharing my abilities. I was also aware that many individuals who enrol in a TEFL course have never worked in a classroom as a teacher before. Because English is such a global language with such a high demand for English teachers, I thought it would be a valuable skill to be able to teach the language while travelling throughout the world.
Which TEFL course did you complete?
Shannon: Eddie and I both completed The TEFL Institute’s 180 Level 5 OFQUAL accredited TEFL Course. We knew this was an official qualification that would be trusted and accepted by potential employers all across the world. While the 120-hour course looks to be the minimum needed by employers at the moment, we wanted to ensure that we had earned a lasting credential. We had some time to study and complete the course throughout the lockdown period, and the best part was that we could do it at our own pace with academic tutors there to assist and support us anytime we needed it. We just had to send them an email or turn up at one of their weekly Zoom sessions. I would strongly recommend the course to anyone considering a TEFL certification, whether they want to travel and teach or simply want to develop their skills.
Why did you choose your teaching internship in South Korea?
Eddie: We had originally planned to visit Vietnam, and South Korea was not on our radar, except for the possibility of visiting as tourists on our travels when it was safe to do so. However, out of pure curiosity, we signed up for an educational webinar regarding a teaching internship in South Korea. We were still under lockdown at this point, and the desire to travel was overwhelming. We were pleasantly surprised by everything that this amazing country had to offer when we actually logged on to the webinar with Kate from The TEFL Institute. Everything about Korea — the monthly allowance, the accommodation, and the internship time – was just what we were looking for. We had a quick talk amongst ourselves, called our families, then called Kate at The TEFL Institute to express our interest as quickly as possible (like that evening!). The next day, we signed up, and the rest is history.
Where are you teaching? How are you finding the experience?
Eddie: We’re currently in Bucheon, a small town just outside of Seoul. Consider Maynooth in comparison to Dublin in terms of distance. It is quite simple to travel around because the Seoul Metro is right outside our door, as well as an excellent bus service. Our school provided us with a fantastic studio apartment that is about an 8-minute walk from our school across a park. We teach in a Hagwon, which is a kind of private academy. These are incredibly popular in Korea and can be found almost anywhere! In the morning elementary classes, I teach seven-year-olds, and in the afternoon elementary classes, I teach second, third, and sixth graders.
Shannon: In the afternoons, I teach kindergarten to five-year-olds, as well as first, third, and sixth graders in primary classes. It’s been a fantastic experience, and the kids have been fantastic to work with. The international and Korean professors we work wtih are also fantastic. Since the day we came, our school has been really supportive and helpful to us. We have always appreciated their aid, whether it was with our arrival, quarantine, school support, or just day-to-day life here. Knowing that The TEFL Institute and their partners in South Korea are nearby adds to our sense of security and support.
What’s your favourite thing about living in South Korea?
Shannon: For me, the answer is simple: food! Korean cuisine has captured my heart. Korean cuisine is diverse, flavorful, and nutritious, ranging from BBQ to bibimbap. With the popularity of BTS and Squid Game, Korean pop culture is incredibly prominent these days, and we have definitely grown acquainted with both since we arrived here! Dog cafés are also very popular in this city, which I adore. You pay for a drink and get to play with dogs for as long as you like… paradise!
Eddie: I’m a history lover, and the sheer amount of it in Seoul and Korea as a whole is mind-blowing to me. A former royal palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, or an antique temple can be found almost anywhere. Aside from history, I support a football team, Bucheon 1995 FC, and a baseball team, the Kiwoom Heroes, both of which are just a short metro ride away. In addition, the KTX bullet train makes it possible to get everywhere in less than three hours. We may be in the heart of Seoul one day and on the beach in Busan the next, or skiing in Pyeongchang for the 2018 Winter Olympics.
What has been the biggest cultural change?
Shannon: The language barrier will always be an issue, especially if you are located outside of the larger cities, where districts are densely packed with English-speaking expats and Koreans who have a working command of the language. We are literally on the outskirts of Seoul, and English is noticeably tougher to come by, which is acceptable given that we are in South Korea and strive to respect their language. At the local shop and in restaurants, we’re getting better at speaking Korean. The Korean people, I must say, are really friendly.
What has been the best part travelling as a couple?
Eddie: Well, I guess I’ll just state the obvious and say that we’re lucky to be able to enjoy this incredible experience with one another, and we’ve already made memories that will last a lifetime. We’ve already done a lot of travelling around the country and have had some fantastic adventures. It also means that when we’re experiencing difficult days, we can lean on one other for support (thankfully those are few and far between). We were married in the middle of the epidemic in 2020, which meant we were allowed to live in the same apartment when we applied for the internship. This is only allowed if you are a married couple, so keep that in mind if you are planning a trip here as a pair. We are fortunate in that we both enjoy travelling, and after travelling solo for several years before meeting, it’s nice to have a travel companion, especially when that person is your wife!
Are there any challenges you’ve faced? How did you overcome them?
Eddie: Due to Covid-19, we have definitely had obstacles that others have not faced in past years, but that is par for the course when moving to a new location during a global epidemic. Because the scenario is changing so quickly these days, it’s critical to stay up to date on new needs. Apart from Covid, the most difficult obstacle I had in South Korea was the first couple of weeks of teaching. People here are blunt and will tell you if you are making a mistake in your teaching. It’s crucial to realize, though, that they aren’t trying to pick on you; it’s just how things are done here.
Shannon: Culture shock, I believe, was the most significant factor for me. South Korea is not at all like Ireland or the United States. In terms of how you interact with people, the customs and etiquette are different. In addition, there is a significant language barrier. We are in South Korea at the end of the day. We shouldn’t expect everyone to be able to communicate in English. To combat this, I’ve been learning Korean once a week with an online tutor. I’m getting better at speaking and reading Korean, and the neighbourhood convenience shop employee and I have excellent morning conversations in Korean!
What advice would you give someone wanting to start out teaching English abroad?
Eddie: We teach in a private academy, as previously said (hagwon). You can also apply to teach in a public school, but you should be aware that all options have advantages and disadvantages. Shannon and I clearly desired to live in the same city and, ideally, work at the same school. We also wanted to be as near to Seoul or any of the major cities as feasible. On both fronts, choosing a private school provided us with more possibilities. Flexibility, in any event, is essential.
Shannon: Even though you will see and hear both positive and negative testimonies about people’s experiences teaching English, I would advise you to treat whatever you read in internet forums, in particular, with a grain of salt. Overall, our experience has been quite pleasant, and we appreciate both our working environment and the benefit of being able to live in and explore this amazing region of Asia. We still pinch ourselves every now and then to make sure we’re not dreaming. Also, get started gathering your paperwork as soon as possible. It can take months to gather all of your materials, and the sooner you are ready, the more job prospects that match your tastes will become available.