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Teaching English in Seoul, South Korea: Alumni Q&A with Laura Nalin
Written by: Laura Nalin
Last Updated: January 13, 2021
What is your citizenship?
What city and state are you from?
How old are you?
What is your education level and background?
Have you traveled abroad in the past?
Yes, I have studied abroad in Lima, Peru.
What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?
Teaching abroad was always something I'd thought about in college, I just wasn't sure how to go about doing so. A lot of the opportunities I was looking into were volunteer-based, which were incredibly expensive for relatively short periods of time.
I have been lucky enough to be gifted in the English language, so I figured it was the perfect way to combine my love of the language with my affinity for helping others and traveling! Becoming certified through the International TEFL Academy seemed like the best option to do so.
What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
I think that at the end of the day, deciding where to go was extremely difficult. I was also worried about finding a reputable job.
What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
They were and continue to be extremely supportive.
Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?
I've always been attracted to the new and the mysterious. When I was 16 years old I was enrolled in a college-level course at Parson's New School of Design and spent a summer living in the Greenwich Village in New York City. From that moment on, I knew I was not meant to be tied down. I had a constant feeling that I needed to see new cities, make new memories and meet new people, which is why at the age of 18, I moved to Chicago, Illinois from my hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to study journalism.
Throughout my studies, I did everything possible to make the "American Dream" someday attainable. I had multiple internships, worked on the college newspaper and freelanced when I had the time. I eventually got a job in corporate America working for a content marketing agency, where I wrote SEO-optimized content for a variety of companies.
While this was what felt like something I was "supposed" to be doing, it never felt right. After a little over a year with the agency, the stars aligned and I left my job. Within days, I was in the admissions office at the International TEFL Academy exploring my options. I'd met with another organization that offered TEFL certification, but they were not accredited and it didn't feel right. As soon as I walked into the ITA, I immediately felt like I was making the right decision. Everyone was incredibly helpful and informative, and I knew I was going to be making a worthwhile and life changing investment by enrolling with ITA.
About 5 months after I graduated, I stepped on a plane heading toward Seoul, South Korea!
Which TEFL certification course did you take?
USA - Chicago TEFL Clas
How did you like the course?
I loved the course! I enjoyed the structure of the class and found the professors to be beyond knowledgeable on the subject. From day one, I felt as though I was absorbing information that was going to supplement my future as an ESL teacher -- and I was.
I think my favorite aspect about the entire course was the fact that we were able to instruct adults at various English levels to prepare us for what was to come. Not only did this allow me to be able to feel comfortable with teaching the language, but it really made me feel like I was making a small difference in their lives, which is an important factor into what attracted me to teaching English as a second language in the first place.
The conclusion of the course was based around a practicum, in which we had to choose our preferred age level, and construct about a week's worth of material for lessons. I found it pleasantly challenging and the lesson plans are something I can hold onto for future resumes.
How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
My practicum as well as our teaching observations made me a bit less nervous to lead a classroom. In addition, I use many of the activity ideas that were given to us in class on a fairly regular basis, all of which my students really seem to love.
Which city and country did you decide to teach English in and why?
I am teaching English in Seoul, South Korea. After much deliberation, it was honestly the best option for saving money while getting a taste of a culture that was so completely foreign to what I was used to in America.
How long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay?
I've currently been here for 5 months out of my 12-month contract. I intend on staying at least another year..
How did you secure your English teaching job?
I contacted a recruiter, who assisted me in finding my job. I turned down a few job offers before deciding to sign with my current school, as I felt it was the best fit.
How did you get your work visa?
My employer provided me with my work visa. After a few months of filling out A LOT of paperwork, I was able to pick it up at the Korean Consulate in Chicago a few days before my flight.
Tell us about your English teaching job!
I work at a private, full-immersion elementary academy, which is also known as a hagwon. I teach a kindergarten class in the morning and early afternoon and elementary classes later in the afternoons with curriculum ranging in Science, Language Arts, History, Social Studies, as well as an Advanced Literature course.
I work about 24 hours per week, and make 2.2 million won, which is roughly $2,200 USD a month plus free housing. I've found it easy to be able to save anywhere between $700-1,000 each month. I have two weeks of vacation each year in addition to all of the Korean national holidays, which is an additional 20 or so days - Koreans love to celebrate!
How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like?
The apartment I live in is furnished and provided by my employer. It's about a five minute walk from my school and across the street from a beautiful park attached to a walking and biking trail that can take me all the way down to the Han River.
I do not have any roommates, but I DO have a queen-sized bed, which is supreme for apartments in Korea. The size of my apartment and bathroom is also quite large, which I am happy about. All of my coworkers live in the same general area as me
While I don't have a dishwasher (I didn't in Chicago, either, so I don't mind) this is my first time having an in-unit washer, so it's much less of a hassle to do my laundry!
Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc...
Korea is certainly a fun country to live in. While there were minor cultural differences that took some getting used to, I never experienced any wild culture shock. This country has an abundance of history and there's always a way to immerse yourself in it.
Whether it's hiking up a mountain to a beautiful Buddhist temple for a weekend, spending an afternoon at a jimjilbang with some of my girlfriends, drinking soju and eating traditional Korean BBQ at hole-in-the-wall joints or singing karaoke with my friends in norebangs, it's a nonstop exploration.
There is a large expat community throughout the entire country. I can't speak for Busan or Daegu as much, but there are so many of us here in Seoul. There are certain neighborhoods that cater to Western culture, where it's incredibly easy to find comfort foods from back home and get back in touch with your roots, so to speak.
In April, I traveled to Osaka and Kyoto, Japan for a weekend and in July, I will be spending 10 days in Hanoi and Halong Bay, Vietnam. In September, I will be spending five days in Thailand or Cambodia (still deciding) and in December I will be spending 10 days in either Boracay, Philippines or Bali.
There is so much Korea has to offer. It's a mountainous peninsula, so there's just so much beauty once you get out of the more metropolitan areas. I've done a ton of social and cultural activities since moving here five months ago. Within the first two weeks of moving here, I traveled to Busan to celebrate the New Year, and two weeks after that, I hiked to the summit of Mt. Halla on Jeju Island -- which was magical.
What are your monthly expenses?
I do not have to pay my rent, and I've found my bills are relatively inexpensive. Traditional Korean food is extremely cheap, but I've found my bank account takes the biggest hit while I'm grocery shopping. Fruit is extremely expensive in Korea. There are other items such as nuts, dried fruit and some vegetables that are incredible pricey as well - think $12 USD for a small tin of sliced almonds. I'm not kidding.
When I first moved here, I kept my iPhone on airplane mode and just purchased data per month, which was about $20. However, due to some unfortunate circumstances, I had to replace my phone and my iPhone bill each month is about $60.
Transportation is incredibly cheap as well, and the train and bus system here are well-designed.
How would you describe your standard of living?
I'd say I'm doing just fine.
In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
If someone is not looking to save or send back any money back home, they could easily live here by getting paid several hundred dollars less than I do.
What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching English in South Korea?
Take the leap! I highly recommend everyone to do this at least one year of their lives. It's a life changing and eye opening experience.
Laura is a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native who recently moved back to Chicago after teaching English abroad for nearly six years in both South Korea and Vietnam. During her time abroad, Laura served as an ITA Ambassador providing a wealth of knowledge and content to our alumni and prospective students. A natural helper and leader, she’s currently in the process of earning her Masters in Counseling Psychology.
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