In this video, Oxford Seminars Grad, Mary, joins us from South Korea to talk about teaching English abroad and why she loves teaching English in South Korea.
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Read Some of the highlights from the video below:
- How Mary decided to teach English abroad
- Where is Mary from?
- Why did she choose Oxford Seminars for her TESOL/TESL/TEFL certification?
- What is it like getting certified?
- What was Mary’s job search like?
- How long did it take to get a teaching job?
- What is it like teaching English in South Korea?
- What is it like living in another culture?
- Can you travel while teaching English abroad?
- Mary’s tips for teaching English abroad
Q And A:
Mary, where exactly are you tuning in from in South Korea?
I’m in Busan, South Korea: the wonderful Busan, by the beaches. [It’s] beautiful, just beautiful.
How did you decide to teach English abroad?
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My last year in college… I went to study abroad in South Korea, in Seoul, and [for] part of the program, my school, they were connected with Sungkyunkwan University, and part of the deal of studying abroad at the university was that I had to teach conversational English to university students, which was really cool. So I could learn some Korean but also I was just having a normal conversation with the student so they could practice English.
Where are you originally from?
I am from Seattle, Washington. I love Seattle.
So before you went to South Korea to teach English abroad you were living in Seattle?
No, I actually live in Seattle but I studied in Texas, in Houston.
What college or university did you go to?
I went to Sam Houston State University.
How did you come across the opportunity to teach English abroad with Oxford Seminars?
Well, after studying abroad in South Korea and teaching conversational English to university students, I was like “Oh my gosh! I love this and I want to do this…So I did a lot of research and I found Oxford Seminars and I saw that it was in class, in Seattle where I lived, so it was perfect.
And I’d never taught before. I’d only taught conversational English. So [since] this was in class, I can learn and see how to approach the situation because I never thought I would become an English teacher. So I took…the in-class course in Seattle. It was the best opportunity. You meet many people who are going to China, who are going to Thailand, so it was awesome. It was the best experience.
Do you keep in touch with the friends that you met during your certification?
I do! One girl that I met, she’s Korean-American and she took the course and now she’s in the Peace Core…and she loves what she’s doing. It’s really awesome. I’ve met a lot of great people through the program…so it was really exciting.
That’s so interesting. So your study abroad program is what led you to your work abroad program?
Yeah it’s crazy. I fell in love. After that it was like ‘if I ever teach overseas it’s going to be in South Korea’ because the people here are so kind and I really enjoyed it. So I was like ‘ok, I’m going to come back and it’s going to be Busan…’ It’s just wonderful.
What was it like getting certified?
Well, everything was great. I really liked the in-class [portion] because I get really nervous when it comes to being in front of a lot of people, so taking the in-class, you’re working with people who are really outgoing, and I’m the shy one so it really helped me kind of bounce energy off them. I was like ‘ok, I see how they work and I feel comfortable now. So my confidence really boosted from the energy of other students who were becoming teachers.
It really helped. I think it’s great because some people who took the in-class course have been teachers, have studied abroad, so I really learned that [for example] this person went to China and how was their experience? Overall I think it was just amazing.
I really enjoyed the in-class. And the teacher was wonderful. She really worked with you…I had never lesson planned before. I didn’t know how to approach it but she really helped me. After class she would get together with me and be like ‘Hey this is what you do…’ So I really liked it.
What was the job search process like?
I loved that once you finish your certification there’s an advisor right there. He was like ‘what country do you want to teach in?’ and I was like ‘I want to go to South Korea…’ He set me up with another company called Korean Horizon…he did everything for me. He was like ‘you need this and this and we’ll send your paperwork out.’
I really didn’t have to do much. I just had to get the paperwork and they did everything. I loved that Oxford Seminars had an advisor there for you. It’s great because it’s a new country, and I didn’t know what to do. What paperwork do I need to get done? What are the steps? And Oxford Seminars, their advisor, he was just excellent.
How long, once you graduated, did it take to actually get to South Korea and start teaching?
It only took 4 months. It was really quick! Before I knew it I had a live interview with EPIK, the English program here in South Korea. I told them I was interested in teaching in Busan and I was there. I was on the next plane in February, off to Busan, South Korea. So it was wonderful. Everything worked out so nicely, and it was great. [I] didn’t have to do much. I just did my paperwork and they did everything for me. It was wonderful.
What was it like teaching in South Korea?
I’m teaching at…an elementary public school. I love it. I work from 8:40am to 4:40pm. Those are my hours Monday through Friday… My school is a 10-minute walk from my apartment, which is wonderful. So I can sleep in a little bit and then just walk to school. I really like it.
My students are so great. I teach 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grades…and sometimes I teach the 1st graders and 2nd graders and they’re just wonderful.
I’m staying for 1 year, which is really sad. I’m leaving [soon]. I’m going to be crying in February [Mary’s last month in South Korea] because I love my students so much. I go above and beyond for my students because I want to give them the full experience [of learning English].
Like Christmas for example: If you guys have been on my instagram, you saw I dressed up in a full elf costume…My students; they were like ‘OH MY GOSH! TEACHER MARY!’ I loved it. I loved the reaction on their faces and just how happy they are because Christmas here isn’t a big deal like it is in the States. It’s more seen as a couples’ thing, not as a family [thing]…So I’m giving them the full American tradition. So deck the hallways with stockings and ornaments…it was wonderful.
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What was it like living in another culture? How did you find the culture transition?
It’s a little difficult, because the language is definitely difficult. But EPIK, the program that I’m teaching through, they have this wonderful thing where you can go to an international building and you can learn Korean for free. So I’ve taken a little bit of Hangul [the Korean alphabet] and before I started teaching, they teach you a few words in Korean…like ‘hello’…and ‘how much is this?’ which was nice. So they kind of give you a few vocabularies for when you’re off on your own, living and immersing yourself in the culture.
Koreans are so kind. They’re so wonderful. When they see you they’re like ‘Hello! Welcome to Korea!’ So I love it… It’s easy. Immersing in the culture; I think it’s very fun. They’re really welcoming to foreigners and…if I look a little lost they always approach me like ‘hey, do you need help?’
Can you travel while teaching English abroad?
There is so much to explore within my city of Busan so on the weekends I like to go out with my friends to the beach. I’ve gone surfing for the first time since being here in Busan and it’s absolutely amazing. We don’t have the big waves but it’s just exciting.
I’ve checked out a lot of temples here. You can do a temple stay, which is so cool. You do a good hike in the mountains…and then you’ll see monks, just doing their normal praying and you can just stay up there, stay in the temple…All social media is just off and… [you] just experience the relaxation and just tune yourself out. Don’t worry about anything and just clear your mind. It’s really exciting. It’s a really cool thing. I highly recommend it. If you’re in South Korea, do a temple stay. It’s wonderful.
Have you done any traveling outside of South Korea?
I haven’t yet but this January I have a trip to Vietnam and Osaka [Japan]. I’m really excited about that…I believe [Vietnam] is a 4 hour flight [from South Korea], and Osaka is very close. I’m really close to Japan. I’m very excited.
What are some of your top tips for people thinking about teaching English abroad?
Just be open-minded. Be open-minded to new cultures and really embrace yourself and the new culture, because you can learn a lot from other people and how they do things and it can influence you in a good way.
You can learn a lot about yourself as well. So it’s definitely exciting… If you have the opportunity to teach overseas I highly recommend it. You learn a lot of about yourself and about other cultures. It opens up your eyes to a lot of amazing things.
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