Your First Week As an English Teacher: Day 2

Amanda Segal, an English teacher living in a small town in South Korea and a world traveler, continues onto Day 2 of her 5 part series on advice and tips your first week on the job as an English teacher in South Korea.

This post is a continuation from yesterday from our friend Amanda Segal. She hails from Glen Ridge, New Jersey and is currently teaching English to high school students. While not representing the Western world, she enjoys making people laugh, going on spontaneous trips, taking long walks to new places, and going to the movies just to eat the popcorn. She blogs at:

The Arrival Store - Amanda SegalDuring Your First Week:

1) Be on time! – this goes for any job, but in Korea they are not going to accept any excuses (note: teachers and students come to school even when they are sick with fevers). I don’t mean to scare anyone, I’m sure some schools let it slide from time to time, but as an example, I arrived five minutes late to my first class the other day because I drove my motorbike to school for the first time and got a little lost (my school is out in the sticks). My co-teacher was somewhat understanding, but still gave me a stern lecture about being on time.

General rule: for the first week or two, arrive 10-15 minutes earlier than you need to (as they used to say at my summer camp, “if you’re on time, you’re late”). After that, arrive when your school tells you to and make sure you do what you need to do to make that happen (3 different alarms, a jug of coffee, k-pop, whatever). If you really want to earn brownie points, stay later than you need to even if it’s just for show.

Have trouble getting up in the morning? Get one of these guys. It’s an alarm clock that can jump off the table and hide. No reaching over and smashing the snooze button with this one.

2) Prepare to smile, even when you feel awkward: Koreans expect foreign teachers to be outgoing. If you smile and show genuine enthusiasm about teaching and being in Korea, it will make it easier for native teachers and students to open up to you.

It doesn’t mean you’ll get along with everyone immediately, truthfully not all teachers want to hang out with foreigners, but most people I know always find at least one co-worker/teacher they can depend on. This is even easier in hagwons where there will be several foreign teachers.

 I wrote about this in another post on my blog but I’ll repeat it here: Korean teachers and students are going to ask you personal questions, particularly about your age and marital status. Though you might feel a little judgment if you’re a single woman in your 20s (“why no boyfriend?”), try to ignore it and realize that these questions are an important part of establishing a relationship with a Korean. These questions determine your status and how others will interact with you.

 It’s an unfamiliar concept to westerners, and you may not agree with it, but consider that in the Korean language, you cannot even determine how to address or speak to a person without this information. Where we have “Mr.” “Mrs.” and “Miss”, they’ve got all kinds of nicknames and phrases to use according to the status of the person they are addressing. Opening yourself up to such cultural differences will help you put your best foot forward.

 3) Learn basic Korean phrases – when you first arrive at your school you will be introduced to many people and it will help to know basic formal greetings.

An’nyeong haseyo– “hello”

Kamsamnida– “thank you”

Mannaseo pangapsumnida– “It’s nice to meet you” –> just sound it out, because this one is really important when you are meeting other teachers and your principle/director. It is a very polite phrase (there are less formal ways to say “nice to meet you” outside of school, with friends, etc).

an’nyeonghi gahseyo– “goodbye”- this gets a little tricky because this is what you say to a superior/older person when he/she is the one leaving, if you are the one doing the leaving, you say an’nyeonghi gyeseyo  (the pronunciation is “gah” vs. “gye” or “gay”).

The Arrival Store - Learning the South Korean Language

Not as scary as it looks I swear! (And way easier than Chinese).

Always say hello and goodbye when entering an office or room full of teachers!!! It is a Korean custom. And while people may initiate handshakes, it is customary to bow when greeting someone. At first it feels awkward, but after two weeks I found myself doing it instinctively (probably even at times when it isn’t necessary).

I’d recommend learning hangul, the Korean alphabet. It’s an easy to learn, very logical alphabet made up of 40 characters. Even if you don’t understand spoken Korean, you can sound out things phonetically, and you’ll often find that signs at restaurants and in touristy areas are actually English words written in hangul. Also, learn basic numbers! This will help you when shopping and in taxis.

Click here to read Part 3