The Inside View: Teaching in Kuwait City, Kuwait

This week we speak with Alexis Fletcher from the UK about her experience teaching in Kuwait City. Alexis has spent time in Dubai as well as Kuwait, so she has some great input on what it’s like to work in the Middle East. Take it away Alexis! 

Hi Alexis! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I am British and grew up in Liverpool, England. This was the 1980’s and there were little opportunities upon leaving school in Liverpool during those years, due to a conservative government.

I left Liverpool and travelled about, then ended up in Australia for a few years. When I decided to return to Liverpool, I went back to studying as a mature student and gained a degree in Mathematics from Liverpool University which lead me into teaching.

How did you end up teaching in Kuwait City and what does your teaching job entail?
I accepted a post in Dubai when I first decided to try international teaching. Dubai is a great city to spend a few years in and I enjoyed it immensely. There’s lots to do, see and great circles of ex-pats working there so easy to make friends.

The downside of Dubai is that is fairly expensive and because you are out doing things all the time, it can be hard to save money unless you are much disciplined. After two years in Dubai I had experienced a brilliant time but had not saved much money, so I then decided to look for work in Kuwait as a saving opportunity.

Currently I am working with mostly British and Irish teachers in a British curriculum school. There are a few Canadian, Australian and New Zealander teachers employed there also. My job is demanding and I put lots of extra hours in outside school time, only really having one day to myself each week. Maths and Sciences are very important subjects in the Middle East and there is lots demanded from these subject teachers.

Teachers are in school by 7am which means being up each morning at 5.30am. As I work in a top-tier school, the pupils we teach are wealthy Arab children –  some of the pupils are lovely children, however others can be quite spoilt and can be as difficult as teaching children in inner city schools in the UK. For some of the children, due to the fact that they are from well-off backgrounds, there is often no motivation to do well at school. Therefore, there is often discipline problems within the classroom.

As a side note, teachers should be aware that because there are no unions in Kuwait, teachers are unprotected like they are in England

kuwait

Alexis in Kuwait!

What are the best things about working in Kuwait City?
Kuwait is in an ideal location to see this part of the world. Since I have been in the Middle East, I have visited, Bahrain, Oman, UAE, Qatar, Egypt, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

It is also excellent weather for most of the time spent here. It is very hot when you arrive in August and warms up again around April. But for the time in between, the weather is mostly perfect.

In my experience the Arab people are mostly very nice also. In the west, we get the propaganda as regards to terrorism etc., but when you spend some time here you see that the majority of the people you meet are very respectful and pleasant. I have also found the pupils parents to be very supportive with me.

The best thing about Kuwait is the saving opportunity. You can easily save enough money to buy a small house or flat in the UK within 4 years, or have a massive deposit when returning home.

What are some of the downsides?
Especially when compared with Dubai or elsewhere in the UAE, I found that in Kuwait there are not too many things to do outside of the school environment. There is not a lot of freedom for the residents here and not much is provided for them as compared to a western country. There are beaches but it is not the done thing for a woman to sit on them and I am sure you could end up in trouble if you were to sit there in a bathing costume. Of course there are private beaches here but they are very expensive to join.

It can also be hard to meet people outside of the school you are employed in as there are no main ex-pat areas to go and mix with other people as there is in Dubai.

Therefore, you are relying on making friends within the school you are employed in and these people really become your main social contact and network.

Any insider tips for future teachers who might decide to teach in Kuwait City?
As I mentioned, there is not very much to do or see while living and working in Kuwait. What sights there are here can be seen in one morning. There are some small islands off the coast that can be reached by public ferry and that is a pleasant day out. If you like shopping there are a few malls with many designer shops, which are good, but expensive.

The Kuwaiti’s love to eat so there are many restaurants here from virtually every nationality in the world. These range in price from budget to rocket price so there is a place for everyone to go.

Be warned though as, as far as I am aware, Kuwait does not produce much of its own produce. Therefore everything here is imported and Kuwait is not a cheap place to live. Saying that, you are earning more than enough money for that not to be a problem and considering most schools provide free accommodation, your salary is virtually your pocket money.

That’s great Alexis! Thank you very much for taking the time to share your experience and advice about teaching in Kuwait City  - we hope you continue to enjoy your experience teaching overseas!

If you are interested in teaching overseas, check out TeacherPort for a range of international teaching jobs for qualified teachers and new university graduates!

The Inside View: Teaching in Gumi, South Korea

This month TeacherPort hears from Karen Mac Hale, an English language teacher from Ireland who is currently teaching in Gumi, South Korea. Karen has some fantastic info and tips to share about her time in Korea so far, so let’s get right into it! 

Hi Karen! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
안녕하세요(Annyeonghaseyo)/Hello! If you are thinking of coming to Korea to teach, read on! I grew up in Tralee, a small town on the South West coast of Ireland. I studied Archaeology at the University of Southampton in England which really was brilliant and I still have a huge interest in the subject although it wasn’t the career for me.

I spent time after university travelling and working in a wide variety of jobs in England, America, Polynesia, New Zealand and Australia. Before teaching in Korea, I worked for a magazine printing company for 7 years and really enjoyed my job but unfortunately the company folded. So, with three months notice of redundancy, I had time to think about what I would do with my future and I wanted a change. My commute to work was by bike and on one particularly wet English summer’s day, arriving at work like a drowned rat I decided that I wanted to leave England and its frequent rain! A friend of mine had taught English in Japan so I got some information from her about the CELTA course and I thought ‘Yes, I think I could teach English and enjoy it’. I signed up to the most intense, but also the most enjoyable course (CELTA) I have ever done and that was the beginning of my teaching career.

Hanging out on some rock in Korea!

Hanging out on some rock in Korea!

The first climb of the 2014 season with my climbing club.  We’d a ceremony to bless the rock and keep climbers safe for the season. We did some climbing, it was SO cold. It started snowing so we retreated to the warmth of a restaurant for good food and beer!  A very social and friendly bunch

The first climb of the 2014 season with my climbing club. We had a ceremony to bless the rock and keep climbers safe for the season. We did some climbing, it was SO cold. It started snowing so we retreated to the warmth of a restaurant for good food and beer! A very social and friendly bunch.

How did you end up teaching in South Korea and what does your teaching job entail?
I knew I wanted to start my teaching career somewhere in Asia and somewhere I had not already visited. I wanted to be in a country with four seasons, mountains and some good rock climbing. Korea ticked all of these boxes so I started applying for jobs. Another appealing thing was that Korea paid well and offered good benefits – housing, a return flight, low cost of living and an annual bonus. I wasn’t fussy about where I lived as long as it wasn’t a huge city. It took a little longer than expected to get a job but once I got one it was a very quick process! I signed a contract, two of the craziest weeks of my life ensued – suddenly I was in Korea and it has been worth it. I have since learned that last minute decision making is not unusual in Korea! I arrived in Korea on a tourist visa at my boss’s request and he then paid for me to go to Japan to get my working visa. It was quicker than getting it at the embassy at home and a definite perk for me, as I had a four day expenses paid trip to Fukuoka in Japan!

I work in a small private language school (a hagwon). I am the only foreign teacher and I work with two Korean teachers. My director speaks very good English and can teach if needed, which is great for the odd day off and we all take advantage of that occasionally. As the school is an independent academy I have a huge amount of freedom with how I teach. I have to follow a curriculum but I can teach the content in any way I like, which is great as I find the books frustrate me sometimes. They can be a little boring, both for me and the kids, so it’s great to have the freedom to liven classes up with songs, games and activities. As long as the workbooks are complete, the kids are happy and speaking English in my class I can fashion the classes how I choose. I teach elementary and middle school students and work from 2-9pm Monday to Friday and most Saturdays 9am-1pm. I teach between 4 and 6 classes a day.

The view from my apartment – I am very pleased with this when I can see it!

The view from my apartment – I am very pleased with this when I can see it!

What are the best things about working in Gumi?
Gumi is located very centrally in Korea, 30 minutes north of Daegu, which is the third largest city in the country. It’s famous for being the birth place of ‘Park Chung Hee’ – The South Korean President from 1963-1979 and for being an ‘industrial city’ – there are four industrial areas with a large amount of factories including Samsung and LG. Luckily, I don’t live near these areas. There are so many positives …. here are a few ….

I am an outdoors type of person so a lot of my positives revolve around the outdoors. I live in an area called Hyeong-Gok Dong and it has everything I need.

Hiking: My area is in a valley surrounded by mountains on three sides which is perfect for me. Within a 10 minute walk from my apartment I can be on a mountain trail, without an apartment block in sight for most of the time. Geumosan (997m), the highest mountain in the area is close by and I have a great view of it most days.

Cycling: There are large networks of cycling trails in Korea which follow rivers. Gumi is right in the middle of the Seoul to Busan trail. This means safe, traffic free cycling with great views. You can even get yourself a ‘cycle passport’ and every 30-50KM there is a little booth, like a telephone box with a stamp for the passport so once you have completed the section you can prove it. Complete the book and you get a medal! It’s also fun to cycle around the outskirts of the city, through the farms and rice paddies. This is easily done in the morning before work.

Winter sports: Korea has possibly the cheapest season passes in the world. Last year it was $240 for women/$360 for men – no idea why guys pay more, but even still it’s cheap. These are early bird prices so you have to buy your pass in October; this is for the High1 Ski Resort. High1 runs a bus service from many major towns; you get picked up near your apartment at a crazy early hour (mine was 4.30am), driven to the resort and dropped back to the same place. If you pay for your kit hire at the resort with a Korean bank card you get a 35% discount!! You can snowboard/ski from about 9am to 3.30pm and the bus back departs at 4.30pm or do some night runs and stay in a motel in a town nearby (the condos at the resort are really expensive) and get the bus back the next day. It is a 4 hour journey each way from Gumi but you can sleep on the bus and as Koreans tend to sleep on public transport; it’s quiet. The bus is included in the season pass price. The website is in Korean but if you want to do this your co-workers would help you. I snowboarded every weekend between mid December and the beginning of March! It was awesome and didn’t cost a lot.

Restaurants: There are so many on every street. The choice is incredible, the service quick and friendly and they are open all hours. Tipping is not a done thing and prices are very reasonable. Come with an open mind and try everything once!

Markets: Street markets selling seasonal fresh produce that is so much cheaper than the supermarkets. Make sure you check them out!

Discount/Service: Most people are really friendly and it’s not uncommon to get a discount or something for free at the markets, shops and restaurants.

Cafes: Koreans love coffee and there are so many great coffee shops. Of course they have the big chains like Starbucks but I recommend checking out the smaller independent ones. Great atmosphere, quirky, toasty in the winter and cool in the summer and all have Wifi. And of course, great coffee!

Convenience: Every area of every city here is like a small town so everything you need is close by, supermarkets, dry cleaners, shoe repair, markets – you name it, it will be there. There is also a huge amount of 24 hour convenience stores so no matter what time it is; a 7/11 is usually no more than a 10 minute walk.

Location: Seoul is 3½ hours away on the slow train and about an hour and a half on the KTX (bullet train). Busan is 2 hours away, again quicker with the KTX.

Geumosan Mountain, which overlooks Gumi and the temple, which is at the top.

Geumosan Mountain, which overlooks Gumi and also has a temple at the top.

What are some of the downsides?
So, of course there are always a few downsides, it wouldn’t be normal if there weren’t. It’s a different culture so things are going to be different and some things that aren’t acceptable at home are acceptable here.

  • My number one hate is men spitting on the street. Big loud guttural spitting, it happens so frequently and it’s not a nice sound. Actually, my Korean co-workers (female) hate it too!
  • Not something I dislike but you do need to be more aware crossing the roads at pedestrian crossings and walking on the pavement. In Gumi drivers take no notice of red lights and it’s usual to encounter cars and motorbikes on the pavement travelling at speed! The silver lining is you develop pretty good reflexes!
  • Work wise, there are some downsides to working in a private language academy in Korea. There is very little time off, especially when you compare it to teachers working in public schools. The up side of working in an academy is that you start work late in the day so if you like going out late or being up late it can be a benefit!
  • One thing that has annoyed me at work is change of plans at the last minute, being told with no notice that I will be teaching an extra class or a different class. Now, I just accept it is the way it is, breathe, and have a bank of stuff ready for last minute scenarios!
  • This wasn’t a downside for me but it might be for some people. If you’re into clubbing and dancing, there isn’t so much in Gumi but people tend to go to Daegu and get early morning trains back to Gumi!
  • The air – sometimes it can be quite bad because of pollution, but not always.
Cycling by the Nakdong River which flows through Gumi is very picturesque.

Cycling by the Nakdong River which flows through Gumi is very picturesque.

Any insider tips for future teachers who might decide to teach in Gumi or elsewhere in South Korea?

  • I would say that if you plan to come and teach in Gumi or anywhere in Korea for a private academy, do your research. Most bosses are great but there are a few who are not. Definitely ask to speak to or email the foreign teacher you will be taking over from and if they don’t allow that – stay away!
  • If you plan to teach in a hagwon in Korea, expect to have and be prepared for tired and sometimes uninterested kids that you need to motivate. The education system here is really intense and chances are that the kids you will be teaching will have left school, gone to a Taekwondo academy and/or a math academy and then arrive in your English class – so they are not always up for English lessons. Make it as much fun as you possibly can for them – they need it.
  • If you come to Gumi there is plenty to do. If you have a hobby without a doubt you will be able to continue doing it and I fully recommend that you do – you will meet locals and enjoy Gumi even more. Koreans are really active and when they have a hobby or an interest they do it really well and often – like 4 times a week or more! So whether you’re into yoga, frisbee, paintballing, painting or pottery there will be a club. Or take up a new hobby! Get a black belt in Taekwondo! Koreans will go out of their way to help you even if there is a language barrier. I have climbed with Koreans since I got here. My local climbing gym was very welcoming; although we have a language barrier between my Korean, which is still basic and their collective English skills we get along really well and have a lot of fun!
  • There is a sizeable expat community in Gumi and there are always people willing to help newcomers. There are a few bars in the downtown area that are regular hangouts – Corona being the main one. But I would suggest that you don’t limit yourself to regular expat hangouts. Every area has great local bars/hofs – get to know the ones in your area, the owners will welcome you and treat you very well!
  • As regards things to see and do; hike Geumosan , if you’re not a hiker take the cable car up as far as the waterfall, the cave and the temple half way up, – it’s a beautiful part of the mountain. Dori-sa Temple is one of the oldest in Korea and just outside Gumi. Daegu is 35 minutes on the train and there is always plenty going on there.
  • Learn how to read Hangul (The Korean Alphabet) and speak some of the language, it will help a lot and enrich your experience. Hangul is easy to learn to read; check out memrise.com. Gumi lacks structured Korean classes for foreigners that are compatible with Hagwon teaching times. I studied with the Korean Digital Academy and it was brilliant, all online. It works around your timetable and I can highly recommend it. It’s very well organised and getting the basics in these classes made a huge difference to my Korean speaking ability. Get in touch with Rob at www.koreandigitalacademy.com, he is super helpful. The program is very well designed and you study through video classes but if you have a question he will answer it promptly via email. You also have a tutorial once a week with a Korean teacher which is great for speaking practice. And you get homework! It also helped with my English teaching. It made me understand more about why the kids make some of the mistakes they make, when they speak English. There are always Koreans keen to do language exchanges locally and this is great once you have the basics and understand how Korean works.
  • So thank you for reading, I hope it’s been helpful and good luck to anyone embarking on a teaching journey in Korea – embrace the differences and enjoy it!

 

It’s a really beautiful hike to the top of Geumosan Mountain – I recommend it and the views are great.

It’s a really beautiful hike to the top of Geumosan Mountain – I recommend it and the views are great.

Super stuff Karen! Thanks so much for taking the time to share your experience and advice about teaching in Gumi (and South Korea in general) – we hope you continue to enjoy your experience teaching English abroad!

If you are interested in teaching overseas, check out TeacherPort for a range of international teaching jobs for qualified teachers and new university graduates!

The Inside View: Teaching in Shanghai, China

TeacherPort sits down with Paul Covell to hear about his journey from teaching in the UK to arriving as head of the Art Department at a large Chinese private school in Shanghai. Paul shares some great insight about his time in China, so we’ll let him take it away…..

Hi Paul! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
My mum brought me up on her own in a small seaside town, Cleethorpes, on the East coast of England. We were poor but I had a happy childhood. Always outside playing traditional game such as hide and seek, kick ball fly and making bow and arrows to fire over the telephone wires. Few cars in those days and so zooming up and down the path on my little fat wheeled bike was relatively safe. If anyone had predicted that I would become a teacher they would have been chided, being told not to be daft.

One day though after many years and as many jobs I saw the ‘Can you light a flame’ TV ad campaign and so after first volunteering in schools, then teaching assistant work whilst studying for A levels to get a place on a course. I embarked on a Bachelors degree course in Art and Design and Education at Bishop Grosseteste Teachers Training University at Lincoln. The course was supposedly designed to prepare you for an art coordinators post, but it did not quite turn out like that. I was sure of two things by the end, one that I wanted to teach and two that I was able to teach. Of course the real learning began on my first day of teaching.

I was trained to teach primary years and so my first day was as a supply teacher at an estate school. The first thing I came across was a fight in the middle of my classroom. As a supply teacher we were not allowed to touch any child and so there was little I could do. The head teacher came in and started prising children apart. Needless to say at the end of the day I wondered what I had got myself into. After two years supply teaching at many schools I certainly knew which types of schools and children I wanted to teach.

How did you end up teaching in Shanghai and what does/did your teaching job entail?
After hundreds of interviews for a permanent position and after having another rejection phone call on the Friday, I was called by a primary head on the Saturday morning and fifteen minutes later he had offered me a job! I had forgotten that in my desperation to find a position I had plastered my name all over the internet on agency websites. The head had come across my name and called me on the off chance that I might be available. Three weeks later I was teaching a year 5 class, one of four at a large international school in Shanghai, China! After three interesting and informative years there including a year teaching Reception I left and went to a private Chinese school five minutes down the road.

At the interview the head, the best I have come across, told me that he thought that I would be ideal teaching secondary students English B International Bachelorette Diploma Program. At that stage I knew little of IB and no experience at secondary teaching. I agreed to take the post on the proviso that when the art teachers post came available that I would get it. He agreed and the following September I began a new and unexpected stage of my career.

After a year I became the head of the department and then the art teacher left and so true to his word the head gave me the Visual Art teacher’s position. Once again after a year I became the head of the department. As in so many times in my life an unexpected opportunity arose. I was contacted by a head in Nanjing; he had seen my profile on Linked in. I was offered a great opportunity to lead the group six IB departments, art, drama and music at a large new private Chinese school. I am writing this during my summer break filled with a mixture of trepidation and excitement and not a small amount of wonder as this new position begins in September.

What are the best things about working in Shanghai?
The best things about Shanghai are the position within Asia giving great opportunity for travel to countries normally expensive from the UK, like Australia, Philippine’s, Vietnam and so on. Shanghai is exciting too and attracts many forms of entertainment such as international tennis, F1, shows and cultural events. If you are looking for ex pat life it is there but expensive and what’s the point? I would advise riding the busses and subways as much as possible and experience the culture. Try to learn the language, I find it extremely difficult to do this, it helps even if you can learn the very basics.

What are some of the downsides?
As in the positives, culture is also the downside for me. Spitting in the street with loud guttural throat noises isn’t nice. A normal conversation sounds like an argument. Cars, Lorries and busses sounding their horns and seemingly intentionally trying to run you down is stressful. No one seems to have any cares for anyone else, doing apartment DIY at all hours and families with children still out after ten at night shouting and having ‘fun’. Line jumping is common so if you have a strong sense of fairness this will be a problem for you. Also as with most places there is a large gap between the haves and have not’s. You will see families sorting through rubbish, recycling on the streets and many new rich Chinese riding around in very expensive cars. If you are worried about safety, this also can be lacking at times. Seat belts in taxis, traffic chaos in general, trying to cross the street are a concern. Having said that Shanghai and China in general is very safe and once you make Chinese friends life can get even more interesting as the Chinese can be very welcoming, see below.

Any insider tips for future teachers who might decide to teach in Shanghai?
It would be pointless to list all the touristy places to see, you could get this information anywhere. I would advise though trying to find the not so advertised side of Shanghai. One way to do this if you are looking for a great social way to keep fit and see parts of Shanghai you wouldn’t normally see is to join the local Hash group, a social running club. There are also other organised groups and tours like this but the cheapest way is to get on a bus, any bus and ride it to the end. Make note of the interesting bits and re visit on another day. Volunteering with environmental or humanitarian groups is also a great way to get out to those rare places and really get in amongst the culture. As for the food, anything you want is out there but if you can make friends with the local then this is a great way to get culturally fixed. You will be invited to birthdays and weddings and just normal social meals out. The Chinese are warm and welcoming once they trust you, so be ready to get drunk as they insist on making you drain your glass in a good health cheer on many occasion. Also if you are full leave something on your plate otherwise they will try to pile more on. You will be expected to try all types of food to eat, and, if you must, ask what it was that you ate afterwards!

Thanks for chatting with TeacherPort Paul! We hope you have a great school year starting in September!

Paul is open to answering any questions from teachers interested in teaching in Shanghai. His email is: paul@bblanguage.com

If you are interested in teaching overseas, check out TeacherPort for a range of international teaching jobs for qualified teachers and new university graduates!

The Inside View: Teaching in Belo Horizonte, Brazil

As World Cup fever starts to pick up, we thought it was appropriate to speak with a teacher who has spent some time teaching in Brazil! This month TeacherPort interviews Justin West who has previously taught English in Belo Horizonte while training Capoeira and practicing Portuguese! 

Hi Justin! Thanks for chatting with TeacherPort. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I was born in Washington, DC and grew up in Annapolis, MD.  I studied Math at UMBC in Baltimore, MD.  After graduating I started working in DC for an engineering firm.  After a year of working in DC I started training Capoeira, a Brazilian martial art.  After a year of training I went to Brazil for the first time, for a total of 4months, to train Capoeira.  When I returned from Brazil I started my masters program in math education and graduated with my MS in 2011.  After graduation I moved to Brasil in the pursuit of Capoeira training and found a job teaching English.

Justin Belo Horizonte

How did you end up teaching in Brazil and what did your job entail?
I moved to Brazil to train Capoeira and better my Portuguese.  As a trained math teacher I was unable to obtain a math teaching job due to lack of work visa.  However, I was able to teach English and obtained positions at various English schools.

I worked for several different English schools.  One called The Best, was far from what its name entailed, and my tenure there was short.  I worked in 2 branches of Number One English school in Belo Horizonte, MG.  It was a very nice experience.  They offered training in their methodology and offered great assistance to new teachers.

What were the best things about teaching in Belo Horizonte?
The school was very nice and modern.  And as a franchise, after training, you can move throughout Brazil teaching.  Most of the staff that teaches are Brasilian but they all tend to be rather fluent.

The city of Belo Horizonte was also a great experience.  Though there is no ocean there, there are plenty of activities and things to do.  Great night life and easy transportation options.  Also you get the feel of a large city without much of the violence associated with Rio and Sao Paulo.  Also a nice city for a tourist to blend in without feeling like a tourist.

Justin 2  Belo Horizonte Brazil

Were there any downsides?
Downsides of the franchise school is that sometimes their methodology doesn’t allow for much variation.  Depending on the school coordinator.  I was allowed some freedom.

A downside of Belo Horizonte is the traffic but thats pretty normal of Brasil.  The other thing is food options.  Coming from the DC/Baltimore area there is no lack of cheap food options: Italian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian, etc. In Belo Horizonte there were few options and when a restaurant is found they tend to be expensive.

Any insider tips for future teachers who might decide to teach in Belo Horizonte?
One tip would be to find a hobby or continue a hobby, but to practice it with a group of locals.  A big flaw I noticed about many American ex-pats is that they tend to find each other and not branch out too much, and with this they miss out on a lot of excellent cultural opportunities.  In Capoeira I am constantly surrounded by Brasilians and other ex-pats from South America so I get to practice my Portuguese, Spanish, and learn a lot about other cultures.

Justin 3

Thanks for sharing your experience of teaching in Belo Horizonte with us Justin! 

If you are interested in teaching overseas, check out TeacherPort for a range of international teaching jobs for qualified teachers and new university graduates!

The Inside View: Teaching in Incheon, South Korea

TeacherPort chats with Marybeth Anderson about her time teaching in Incheon on the west coast of South Korea. Marybeth is a Language Arts teacher working at an international school and she shares some great insight into her experience working and living in South Korea!  

Hey Marybeth! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Greetings!  I am one of those rare people who’s wanted to be a teacher her entire life; I have school assignments from when I was 6 years old, detailing how I wanted to be a teacher.  I grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.A., and attended undergrad at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.  Upon graduation, I immediately moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, to pursue a Master’s of Education.  My first few years of teaching were done in the greater Phoenix area in elementary and middle school settings.  After several years teaching in the States, I decided a change of scenery would be nice, and went to Costa Rica to earn my TEFL.  After the TEFL, I decided to move to Korea, where endless opportunities awaited!

korea -2

How did you end up teaching in Incheon and what does your job entail?
My first job was in Bucheon, which is in Gyeonggi-do.  After 6 months, I decided teaching kindergarten wasn’t for me, so opted for a hagwon (academy) where I taught older students.  It was much more enjoyable, but ultimately I wanted to teach higher-level students in an international school.  Lo and behold, when my hagwon contract was nearly over, I found a school in Incheon that hired me!

I’ve now been at Cheongna Dalton International School for two years, and will be here for at least one more! My current role is teaching middle school Language Arts. I work with a truly outstanding faculty, including my partner, Ryan, who teaches high school English.  My class covers everything from grammar, spelling, and writing to in-depth literature studies.  I enjoy the autonomy I have with the curriculum and inside my classroom, not to mention my outstanding students!

What are the best things about the city?
Cheongna is a new city in the IFEZ, the Incheon Free Economic Zone.  I’ve been watching the city grow slowly but surely, and am thrilled to be close to the Airport Express, or ARex, subway!  I like being away from the crowded city life of Seoul or larger areas, and my house even has a backyard!  Though Cheongna is small, we have a pretty close-knit community here, which is built around our school.  Furthermore, a ride to the Inha University hospital is quite close, as is the immigration office and the new city of Songdo.

me teaching 2-2

What are some downsides? 
Being isolated from major areas has its faults as well, obviously.  For example, it’s difficult to leave the school without private transportation, so I’m heavily reliant on call-taxi services.  Luckily, Cheongna will soon host its own subway station on the ARex line, but the progress has been slow-going.  Additionally, we are near a power plant and military base, so there is a bit of air and noise pollution here.  Overall, though, I like being away from the hustle and bustle of city life, and enjoy looking out my window to see trees instead of high-rises. 

Any insider tips for future teachers who might decide to teach in Incheon?
Incheon’s a growing area with a lot to offer.  I live on the west coast of Korea, which is near Incheon Airport, so there are lots of little islands nearby for a fun weekend trip.  More inland, the Incheon Arts Centre is a nice area full of restaurants, pubs, and shopping.  Personally, I still have a soft spot for Bupyeong, which is right on the border of Incheon and Gyeonggi-do. My favourite restaurant in Bupyeong is right outside the station.  It’s a Nepalese place called Bihanee, and it boasts wonderful food, a relaxed atmosphere, and a very friendly owner.  Recently, due to my proximity to the Airport Railroad, I’ve been doing shopping, movie-going, and dining at Gimpo Airport Mall, which has just about anything you could want!  Incheon’s not for everyone, but it’s for those who’d like a more relaxed atmosphere than the hectic lifestyle usually experienced in Seoul.

me teaching 3-2

Super stuff! Thanks for sharing your experience of teaching in Incheon with us Marybeth! 

If you are interested in teaching overseas, check out TeacherPort for a range of international teaching jobs for qualified teachers and new university graduates!

The Inside View: Teaching in Hangzhou, China

TeacherPort interviews Josh Furr about his experience teaching English in Hangzhou, China. This is our first interview covering Hangzhou and we think Josh has shared some fantastic information about what life’s like as a foreign teacher in the city. Without further ado…

Hi Josh! To start things off, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Hey there, my name’s Josh and I’m from North Carolina, on the east coast of America. We’re famous for Michael Jordan, BBQ and bluegrass. I went to college in a town called Boone, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I always wanted to travel abroad but didn’t really know the best way to go about it. After college, I was working in a restaurant, trying to get a handle on what to do with my life, when a buddy of mine mentioned that he was going to the Czech Republic that summer to earn his TEFL certificate and teach English. Immediately, I interrogated him about the details and signed up as well. Soon, I earned my certificate in Prague which launched me into a career in ESL and I’ve never looked back.

Hangzhou Map

 

So how did you end up in Hangzhou?
After teaching in Prague, I came home pretty broke and needed a job where I could earn and save more money than in Europe. China was a huge exotic mystery to me so I decided to research which cities were recommended to live in. Hangzhou had nothing but good reviews and the pictures of the West Lake were beautiful. A company called Gold Star Recruitment helped me find a job with EF Hangzhou and set up interviews with the liaison. A couple of months later I was on a plane to the Far East. During my time at EF, I taught primarily kids and teenagers at a summer camp and at one of the many EF branches throughout town. After EF, I taught many freelance lessons to private students, part-time lessons to kids at Sino Education, full-time to babies and toddlers at AOMEI Education and did some translating work to various companies. AOMEI and Sino Education were the best companies I worked for in Hangzhou and really valued their teachers. Once you’re in Hangzhou, you can start to develop a network of private students through connections. Some companies prohibit this but others are completely fine with it.

What are some highlights about teaching in Hangzhou?
The food (Lanzhou La Mien. Grandma’s Kitchen, street BBQ, hot-pot, jiaozi, baozi), drinks (Oolong tea, green tea, cheap beer), the sights (West Lake, Phoenix Mountain, Baochu Pagoda, Fan Museum, Museum of Tea, Museum of Umbrellas, art exhibitions, silk, Grand Canal, Qiantang River, XiXi Wetland Park, Hefang Street, Longjing Tea fields) location (45-minutes from Shanghai by train) and people. It’s very easy to make friends in Hangzhou due to the crowds that come to see the West Lake and the abundance of foreigners, mostly teachers.

Hangzhou Lake

What are the downsides?
Summer can be unbearable at times; it’s a mix of tropical humidity with intense heat that never seems to end. When it rains, people dance in the streets. Another downside used to be public transportation, but now Hangzhou has the first part of the metro complete which makes getting around more convenient.

Any insider tips for future teachers who might decide to teach in Hangzhou?
Hangzhou is considered one of the most attractive cities in all of China due to the rare sight of greenery and the West Lake. Even if it doesn’t feel completely like home at first, you still have the knowledge that many Chinese consider you to live in an awesome and culturally important town.

The areas around West Lake, Nanshan Lu (Nanshan Road) and Hefang Street are filled with nice/cheap restaurants, coffee-houses, foreigners, shops and Chinese artefacts that will help you connect with the city and hopefully to the locals. The key in China is “guanxi”, which means “connections”. Simply put, it means if you have friends and can network, things will be much easier for you. In a new environment, it’s natural to cling to familiarity, i.e. Starbucks, Burger King, McDonalds (of which there are many), but try going local and see how your experience in China expands and becomes more exciting. One local place of note is Grandma’s Kitchen, a chain of relatively cheap a’la carte restaurants that have a great atmosphere and delicious food. There are about 20 locations in Hangzhou and all of them are excellent. If you’re short on cash and want a good meal for cheap, try one of the many “Lonzhou La Mien” restaurants around town. They serve special kinds of noodles, famous in northern China, and a variety of other dishes to accompany your soup.

Hangzhou City

For bars and nightlife, you will never be bored! An expensive but entertaining restaurant called “Eudora Station” has delicious burgers, live music every Friday, drink specials, pool tables, darts and always a slew of interesting people to talk to. Another watering hole, Maya Bar, is good place to get started with cheap drinks, delicious burritos and abundance of seasoned ex-pats. If dancing is your thing, Coco should meet your needs: it’s loud, has good music and is always crowded. There are two locations; one of them is on Wentang Road, between Gucui and Gongzhuan Roads, and the other on Wensan Road, between Gudun and Fengtan Road.

It’s a great place to live that is continually improving each year. With a little knowledge of the language, confidence and an open mind, Hangzhou will feel like home in no time.

Great stuff, Josh! Thanks a lot for sharing your experience teaching in Hangzhou with us – much appreciated!

If you are interested in teaching overseas, check out TeacherPort for a range of international teaching jobs for qualified teachers and new university graduates!

The Inside View: Teaching in Daegu, South Korea

TeacherPort interviews Ben Teacher, an ESL teacher from Illinois, USA, about his time teaching English in Daegu. Ben has lots of great inside tips about life as an ESL teacher in Korea so let’s get right to it!

Hey Ben! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Hello! I hope, dear reader, that you are having a great day.  Teaching in Daegu, South Korea has been quite the adventure.  I grew up in a small town in Illinois, U.S.A. and have moved around throughout the U.S.  While I was in high school, a few of my friends told about the amazing time they had working at an after-school program with disadvantaged students.  I applied, got accepted and experienced how I could make a difference in a child’s life.  After that, I decided to study education at the university.  Throughout my experience working with children, I have learned that no matter where they are from or what background they have, each child wants love, respect, fun, and a chance for challenges.  I have also learned that in order to have quality education, quality teachers are the most prized possessions.  For me to become a quality teacher I constantly work on being patient and finding new ways to explain material so that the students can understand and apply it.  Everything I had learned in the US, I did my best to apply in Korea.

Ben.Korea1  Ben.Korea2

How did you end up teaching in Daegu? What did the job entail?
I am not going to lie; I did not have a life-long goal to teach in Korea.  I only started looking for jobs outside of the United States during the economic turmoil in 2009-2010.  I was hoping to move back east to be closer to my family.  I guess Ohio wasn’t East enough.  I saw jobs teaching English in Korea on Craigslist.  At first I was sceptical. They will pay for my flight? Really? Provide an apartment? Really? Give me a higher salary than I was currently making? REALLY?

So I did a lot of research. I found out that all of the above was normal.  All that I needed to do was to find a respectable company that would always pay on time and assist new employees. I also wanted to practice and improve my classroom management skills with the smaller class-size that is offered by hagwons (private academies).  I found that YBM ECC was a reliable company.  Not only did they pay on time, but I was paid by the main office.  After signing the contract, I would be guaranteed a job at one of the campuses even if my campus closed.  At the time I had wanted to teach in Busan but the only campuses with openings available were in Seoul and Daegu.  I am country-boy at heart so the idea of living in a massive metropolis on the other side of the planet was too much for me.  Also since I was going to Korea without knowing anyone, I thought that it would be easier to make friends in Daegu (I was right, by the way).

There are no words to describe the excitement I had when I first arrived in Korea.  Finally, I was going to have my own classroom and teach students.  I have had a wonderful experience teaching at Suseong ECC.  ECC has an established curriculum with established books that you had to get through in a month.  In the beginning the work load was rough.  I taught kindergarten in the late morning and elementary students in the afternoon / evening.  I taught 6-8, forty minute classes a day.  Sometimes I grew annoyed by the material I was required to teach.  I did have one big freedom though.  I could teach the material in any way I wanted.  As long as the students were improving their English skills, having fun, and completing all of their work correctly on their own, everyone was happy.  I always strove to make my lessons interesting, challenging and fun.  To do this sometime required me waking up early and preparing extra-flash cards, games, quizzes, etc.  However, I have felt that all of my hard work has been worth it.  I worked with a group of kindergarteners for two of the years that I was there. I am amazed on how well they can now speak, read, write and comprehend difficult English.  They are moving on to Grade 2 now and one of the students sends me long emails in English talking about her daily life.  I feel truly blessed.  Not every job can have that kind of impact.

What are the best things about working in Daegu?
Here is just a snap-shot of Daegu:
Bright neon lights dance in the busy streets showcasing the variety of cafes, restaurants, hofs, and shops.  The smell of mandu and spicy ttebbeoki wafts through the night. Friends share somaek with a round of gombe as their glasses clink with bliss.  Talkative students, calm businessmen, and strong aggimas hurry to catch the next bus.  Everywhere the smell, the sound, the desire to grow, to improve.

The things that I have really enjoyed are:

  • Food: No matter what time of day or night there is a restaurant open with people inside eating and drinking.  Where are these restaurants located? Just look up or down and walk a block down the street.  Is Korean food good? Some of the best with a variety of flavours and spices.
  • Delivery: Don’t feel like making that walk today? Perhaps you are craving a nice American hamburger from McDonalds?  Just check your door for restaurant ads, pick up your phone, call the restaurant, and in 30 minutes you can have any food served at a restaurant delivered to your door-step with plates and silverware to boot (just leave the dirty dishes outside your apartment and some angel will come by to pick them up later).  On a side note, I found it easiest to go to the restaurant first, give them my address and phone number personally.  After that they know you as that ‘waegook’ (foreigner) who really loves fried chicken every Tuesday night.
  • Transportation:  Though Daegu may not boast a large subway system like Seoul, it is still convenient, especially after the light-rail is completed sometime this year.  I have found using the city bus system to be inexpensive, far-reaching and easy to use.  Just watch out during rush hours.  Inside those buses, everyone can be forced to be ‘close friends’ with their neighbour, like sardines.  The Express Bus or bus that goes between cities, I have found to be comfortable, inexpensive, and timely.  For those who don’t wish to brave the buses or only have an address of where to meet friends, just stick out your hand and a taxi will there for you.  Taxis in Daegu are much cheaper than back in the U.S. and are very comfortable.  I have found that each cab driver is a unique character.  I even met one who looked like Elvis’s long-lost Korean brother. However be warned: these cab drivers can drive like banned Formula-1 racers with a record to prove!
  • Discounts: Koreans generally enjoy being the host, especially at shops.  Just for being friendly and respectable lots of shop clerks might give you an extra ‘service’ or discount.  Just be sure to smile and say lots of thank you’s. You might have just made a new friend.  ^^
  • Cuteness: When I was younger, I used to think that Anime was just some fantasy dreamed up by the Japanese.  I was wrong.  Anime does exist and it is lived by real people!  In Korea I saw the hairstyles, the fast scooter bikes, the cute smiles, the cute peace signs, the cute photos and the cutest children in the world who are taught how to be cute.  Korea takes cuteness at a completely new level.  I was not prepared to see cute little cartoon pigs licking their lips on top of a restaurant serving delicious Korean bacon.  And of course I ate that bacon.  It was delicious. ^^
  • Did I mention food?

Ben.Korea3a   Ben.Korea4

What are the downsides?
The following list is more of a positive/negative list of Daegu:

  • Drinking:  I have heard it said that Korea is the Ireland of East Asia.  I have never been to Ireland, but all that I can say is that Koreans drink and drink a lot.   Business meeting?  Lets meet up at the local bar, drink until 3 a.m., then go back to work at 9a.m. (a hangover is not an excuse to miss work).  Meeting friends?  Let’s stay out until eating and drinking until dawn.  Feeling bored? Just stop off at the local 7-Eleven, pull a few plastic chairs and drink with some mates.  Now some of you may be seeing this as more of a positive, I did too until I saw it happening every night.  365 nights a year.  I asked a Korean friend why there was so much drinking, especially with co-workers and bosses.  He told me that the drinking nights were mandatory, team-building exercises held twice a week, every week.  And you can’t say no because it is your boss who has paid for the drinks.  I will confess that I enjoyed these ‘special’ nights out with friends, but at the end of the day I was there to be an effective teacher.  And there is no way that I can handle my liquor like a Korean.  I’m just too white.
  • Everyone wants to talk to you:  Now at first I liked this.  It made me feel a bit like a celebrity.  People wanted to know who I was and where I was from and if I liked kimchi (the national dish) and where I worked and how much money I made and if I was married and if I was going to getting married soon and if I thought Korean girls are pretty and if I wanted to marry a Korean girl and ….. After a while what I mostly wanted was just to blend in a bit and take care of what I needed to do.  Being a foreigner in Daegu means that you stick out (although lately there has been a big increase of foreign teachers).  I have also gotten stares, people trying to convert me to their religion, and for some reason two drunk, middle-aged men who wanted my phone number (and not for English help! :o).
  • The sidewalk is not just for pedestrians: Since I have lived in Korea my reflexes have improved.  Two motorbikes coming up behind me, a car parking in front of me, and an old woman with a trolley of cardboard on my left. Okay jump to the right! After Daegu, I have very few complaints about traffic back home. Also Koreans are the most amazing parallel parkers. Period.

Every place in the world is filled with its positives and negatives, with its jerks and its saints.  You just have to decide which ones work best for you.  Overall, I would recommend Daegu as great place to have your first teaching contract.

Any insider tips for future teachers who might decide to teach in Daegu?
The most important advice that I have to give is that you are in Korea to teach.  That is your first priority.  If you don’t think you could enjoy being around children or youth 6-8 hours a day M-F, then you need to try something else.  Unless you have an MA with teaching experience, it is almost impossible to get a job at a university.  As for teaching adults, most academies want someone who has tutored adults before.  For both these positions, you earn a heck of a lot more money but they are extremely difficult to get when applying from overseas.

As for places to visit, I would recommend taking a nice hike to the top of Apsan Mountain.  It’s quite a climb but once you get to the top you can see all of Daegu spread out in front of you.  For those who are not feeling like climbing, there is also a trolley to the top.  I also highly recommend taking a bus to the far north of town and checking out the Gatbawi Statue right by the Donghwasa Temple.  The temple complex is completely beautiful and the 900 step climb to the Buddha statue is well worth it.  Try to go there during the spring time, especially on Buddha’s Birthday.  There are cherry blossoms and paper lanterns everywhere.  I always enjoy going back there.   One last place that I think everyone should go to is HerbHillz.  This is a flower garden / theme park / petting zoo / zip-lining park.  It is one of the most unusual and fun places to go to in Daegu.   Every time I have gone there has been a new experience.

There is also an excellent running / cycling path by the river that runs through the center of town.  This park always has lots of people but it never seems too crowded. You can find snacks, exercise equipment, aerobics classes, badminton courts, croquette, and baduk (GO) games here at this park.

There are lots of other things to see and do in Daegu.  Just ask your co-workers for any help.

Take care and I hope you enjoy Daegu as much as I have.

Thanks a lot for taking the time to share your experience teaching English in Daegu, Ben – much appreciated!

If you are interested in teaching overseas, check out TeacherPort for a range of international teaching jobs for qualified teachers and new university graduates!