Home / TEFL adventure in South Korea? – Read Gráinne’s story
TEFL teacher in South Korea

Tell us about yourself. We’d love to know about your background and what drew you to teaching abroad.

My name is Gráinne, and I taught English in Seoul, South Korea, for a year. I graduated with Korean studies from UCC and was heavily involved with the UCC Korean Society. My time spent studying the Korean language and culture led me to pursue teaching there!

Is South Korea this your first teaching placement? If so, what advice would you give to students looking to go?

South Korea was my first teaching placement. I would encourage anyone planning to teach abroad in South Korea to research as much about the culture as you can and to learn at least a few words of Korean. You’ll need it!

Did you experience any culture shock when you first arrived?

No matter how familiar you are with a country, you will always experience some culture shock. Korean culture is based on respect and hard work, and you are expected to comply with social norms. You will certainly have to work hard at your job, but there will be plenty for you to enjoy outside of work. Also, be warned that groceries can be very expensive, and in some cities (like Seoul) it’s actually much cheaper to eat out than it is to cook at home!

Did you have time off to do some sightseeing?

Given the busy work week, I would spend Saturdays running errands and Sundays to myself or with friends. If you are interested in sightseeing, I suggest dedicating your Sundays to doing so!

Did you travel alone? If so, was hard to make friendships?

I travelled alone but quickly struck up friendships both at work and outside of work. Many other teachers were also new to the school, so we were able to bond over living abroad and help each other settle in. I have remained close friends with some, and it’s great to have a connection to the other side of the world.

Can you tell us about the highlights of your experience, both inside and outside of the classroom?

One of the greatest highlights of my job was a summer trip we took to the Olympic Park in Seoul. The entire school spent the day playing games and eating together in a beautiful sunny field. We took plenty of photos and made memories for life. Outside of work, I very much enjoyed the Itaewon nightlife and got to go to shows and concerts I wouldn’t normally have had the chance to attend!

What’s your school like?

I worked at a private English academy that had a very strong work ethic. I myself taught four and five year olds. Class sizes were small (8-12 students to a class) meaning more intensive learning, and every class had a Korean co-teacher to help out with the children.

What has been your most rewarding experience as a teacher abroad?

By far the most rewarding part of my teaching experience has been the bond I formed with my students. Being able to introduce them to Irish culture and watch them become interested in Ireland was extremely encouraging. Getting to know your students individually is crucial to understanding their educational needs. It will also make you a better teacher! I was very lucky to have a class full of kind, sweet and funny students, and I think they taught me just as much as I taught them. Be approachable and patient, and nurture a supportive teaching environment. It will pay off!

Gráinne, TEFL teacher in South Korea

What do you do on your day off?

The Korean school year is much fuller than the Irish school year, meaning much less free time for teachers. On weekends and holidays, I would try to sightsee as much as possible with friends. There are an endless number of activities and attractions in Korea so you will never be stuck for something to do on your days off.

What advice do you have for someone who is thinking about doing TEFL?

As I mentioned before, I would advise anyone thinking of doing TEFL to prepare as much as possible to live in a new country. You will still experience culture shock but having a positive attitude towards new experiences will definitely help you. Have friends at work, and make time for dinner or a day out with them on a regular basis – this will help your group dynamic at work. It’s also vital to have friends outside of work so that your job does not become your life. You may well struggle with being homesick – I know I did! – so keep regular contact with your friends and family. But overall, work hard and play hard! Yes, you’re there to teach, but you are also there to experience a new culture. Be open to new things! But most importantly – be proud of yourself. Moving abroad can be scary but it’s a very brave thing to do. Good luck!

TEFL teacher Gráinne classroom

Are you planning any other TEFL adventures?

 I don’t plan to teach abroad long-term, but I certainly intend on living abroad again in the near future!

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