Road to Korea: Emily Shoemaker

Sokcho during last Chuseok holidays
Sokcho during last Chuseok holidays

Emily was one of the youth who joined Korea Foundation youth exchange program between the United States and Korea. A few years later, I heard she applied for English teaching job in Korea. From then to now, it looks like she has enjoyed every moment in Seoul. So, I asked her to be my next interviewee. If anyone is interested in English teaching job in Korea, this article may help.

Reason

I had two main reasons for deciding to come to Korea. First, I was very interested in the soft cultural power that Korea wields throughout Asia in terms of fashion and entertainment, and I really wanted to experience for myself what was going on here in order to better understand this. Second, in college I was fortunate to experience a 10-day cultural exchange trip to Korea, sponsored by the Korea Foundation. I was intrigued by many of my experiences on that trip and really wanted to come back and live here so that I could understand Korea more deeply.

Now, I am here through a special government exchange program. I knew that teaching English would put me in contact with a lot of different people every day, and teaching seemed like it would be interesting and fun!

If you are applying to be a teacher in Korea, I would advise you to get a TESOL certificate before coming. Also, if you truly want to be good at this job, realize that it is NOT easy to do! I spend many hours working on my lesson plans outside of my normal school hours, but I don’t mind it because I love my students. That is the most important thing – to love your students.

One and only in Korea

Maybe I would say skinship – there is nothing similar to skinship in America, especially between high school boys, so I was very surprised to see this at first!

Activities

I spend most of my week at school teaching English. I also lead after-school classes based around English conversation and special projects; this semester, the students are making a promotional video for the school in English. On the weekends, I love to visit cities all across the peninsula. Korea has many interesting things to see and do, and I have a lot of friends living in cities all over the country, so I have gotten to visit many different places since coming here.

Emily
Emily at Gyeongju (경주)

Difference

I studied abroad in Asia during college, so the culture shock didn’t hit me as hard as it hit some of my friends when moving here. However, I lived in Korean homestays for my first year in Korea, and that required a lot of adjustment! I think the cultural differences I have struggled with the most are first, the relatively less personal space and privacy in Korea compared to America, and second, the floor culture (as in spending a lot of time at home and at restaurants sitting directly on the floor). I think a lack of leg flexibility is common in people who have not been sitting this way since childhood, so I know you have heard about this difficulty from foreigners in Korea before. Other than those two big things, for the most part I did not have much difficulty transitioning to life in Korea!

To

I love going on walks and jogs, so I spend a lot of time running along a river walk area in western Seoul that goes from Eungam Station all the way to the Han River. I have seen this trail in all 4 seasons now, and it’s a great de-stresser for me to take a stroll near running water. Besides my school and my apartment, this trail is hands down the place where I have spent the most time while living in Seoul.

Others

The longer I live in Korea, the more things I find that I want to do and see. I’ll never be able to cross everything off my bucket list before I leave to go back home for graduate school – maybe that’s a good thing, because it means I’ll have to come back! I think this is one of the best places I could have chosen to live abroad, and I highly recommend it to everyone. In investing my time and love into the people I’ve met here – students and coworkers, homestay families and friends – the ways I perceive the world and experience life have become deeper and richer than I expected.

As far as tips for moving here and teaching English, I will say again that the most important thing is to love your students – do that first and foremost, and everything else will work out. J

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