Teaching English in Suwon, South Korea: Q&A with George Gutierrez

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What is your citizenship?
United States

What city and state are you from?
Fort Worth, Texas

How old are you?

What is your education level and background?
Bachelor's degree

Have you traveled abroad in the past?
Never left the country

What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?
I always had dreams and aspirations of seeing different parts of the world, but I wasn't satisfied with the idea of just taking a one week vacation. I wanted to experience the day to day culture, and teaching English abroad was the best way to expand my personal growth as well as help young minds further their progression in the English language. I believe teaching English abroad is a morally rewarding opportunity for any individual who wants to see if they have the patience and determination to make a difference in a student's life by teaching them English.

What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
I believe some of my concerns were adapting to the new culture in the country I chose to teach in because not knowing the language or customs can become a bit frustrating. Furthermore, I wondered how foreigners are treated in their respective country or if there were any type of visible racism towards a foreigner such as myself in their country. I also wondered about the ethics and treatment of foreign teachers in my new workplace because of some the horror stories that I had heard, and was frightening due to the fact that you traveled a long way to a specific country only to feel mistreated.

What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
It is was a mixture of supportive, apprehensive, and completely indifferent. It took a while for those who were against my decision to teach in South Korea because the common question arose, "Why do you want to live in South Korea?", "You don't know the language", or "You can earn more money here". The idea that I wanted to see a part of the world and experience a different culture wasn't a good enough reason to them or just didn't seem like a worthwhile reason to go and live in another country for a year. On the other hand, others told me to follow my dreams and hoped that whatever path I was walking on that it was going to make me happy and fulfilled.

Teach English in South KoreaWhy did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?
I was in my last semester of college and I told one of my professors that I wanted to live and work abroad in a different country, but I wasn't sure of how to go about it. Her being an instructor teaching "International Management" understood the importance of broadening one's horizon, and she told me about many avenues I could take, but the one that was most direct was teaching English abroad. This is where she recommended me to the International TEFL Academy in order to get my certification.

Which TEFL certification course did you take?
Online TEFL Course

How did you like the course?
I really enjoyed the online version of the course, and I found it to be very structured and offered all the essential information and tools to understand what it means to become a teacher in another country. It offered a lot of methods such as TPR and how to go about classroom management with students. Darius Vukasinovic was an amazing instructor, who really provided detailed feedback on what I understood from the lesson and where I fell short in understanding some areas as well as what I could do to better improve myself. The practicum and tasks were challenging, but I think these were assignments that I felt I always took valuable information from that I could use in actual practice.

How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
The training has definitely help me understand the culture shock that is to be expected when living in another country and in the classroom setting. It has also equipped me with the mindset of how to effectively manage my classroom and to find ways to best deliver the course material to ensure my students are retaining the information.

Which city and country did you decide to teach English in and why?
I decided to teach English in Suwon, South KoreaI chose this location for many different reasons--the first being it was close to Seoul and that I was likely to be around more foreigners this particular area. Next, I wanted to secure a position with good pay in order to address student loans that I had to deal with eventually. Lastly, I really felt comfortable with the director of the private academy that wanted to offer me a contract to work with them.

How long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay?
I have roughly lived in South Korea for about four months now, and I am planning to stay the one year and complete my contract.

During which months does your school typically hire?

Did you secure this position in advance of arriving?

How did you interview for this position?
Skype/Phone Interview

What kind of Visa did you enter on?
Work Visa

Please explain the visa process that you went through.
The visa process involved paying for a FBI National Background Check. I had to make a copy of my College Degree. I also had to renew my passport. Then I had to get my background check and degree apostilled (Notarized);fill out the proper forms correctly; have photos sent along with the documents to South Korea; and wait for a visa confirmation number in order to get my visa processed and ready at my nearest South Korean embassy.

What are the qualifications that your school requires for teachers? Please check all that apply
- Bachelor's degree
- TEFL Certification
- Native English speaker

What is the best way to apply?

Tell us about your English teaching job!

Hours: My job teaching English in Suwon has me working from 9:00AM - 7:25PM (Monday - Friday).
Salary: The pay starts of at 2.7 Million Won ($2390 USD).
Savings: Because of the financial obligations I have in the states, I am not really able to save anything at this point.
School: I work in a private academy that is a well known franchise in South Korea.
Students: I teach Kindergartners and Elementary students.
Vacation time: The vacation time is left to be desired because I am only go to receive about 8-9 paid vacation days apart from national holidays.

How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like? Do you have roommates?
The housing was provided through the school, and all I have to worry about are utility bills. It's a decent sized apartment, and I feel like I have plenty of space for one person living here. I do not have any roommates.

Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc...    

The cultural aspects are quite different from what I am use to in America. For the most part everyone is very polite or perhaps overly polite with the actions or words. I think the people in this culture are very indirect in expressing their feelings and showing what they truly mean.

Public transportation is either subway, taxi, or bus. I prefer taking the subway because it's cheaper and easier to navigate and less of a hassle to try and understand how the bus routes operate.

Nightlife here is quite active and lots of people like to go out to the popular areas in South Korea such as Itaewon, Hongdae, or Gangnam, and you see a mixture of Koreans and foreigners mingling among each other.

The dating scene has been a challenge for me because I just don't understand how Korean women think of me or how to proceed to want to have something more than a simple friendship with them.

Travel opportunities: I will say that you have the opportunity to meet lots of nearby Asian countries because of how close you are and the vacation days you have depending on whom you work for.

Expat community: There are lots of expat communities here and even in Suwon, so there's a page for almost anyone decides to come here to be able to connect and communicate with other people.

What are your monthly expenses?
My utility bills are usually under a $100 depending on the weather and my usage of them. The food here is a bit expensive because beef, chicken, and even pork are a bit more costly than what I am use to seeing the States. Social activities are not costly but if you go out to one of the cities with foreign night clubs, then expect to either take a taxi home which is costly or wait for the subways to open which is miserable. I probable spend about $50-$70 on nights out and then about $100 on groceries and probably about $50-$70 on lunches everyday.

TEFL South Korea

How would you describe your standard of living?
I think my standard is pretty decent because I am able to pay my bills at the end of the month and have some money leftover, but I would have more if I didn't have to send money back home to the states.

In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
If someone doesn't have students loans or any financial obligations back in their home country, then $2000 a month is quite reasonable to live off of to live comfortably in South Korea.

What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching in your country?
Don't be afraid to leave home and experience something different such as teaching abroad. It is a life experience that will change your life for the better and if you have doubts, then tell yourself that you are only young once and that is the best time to really enjoy this type of experience. Lastly, if you are considering a country, then I would strongly recommend South Korea because of the all benefits one gets for teaching English such as provided housing, health insurance, and a pension.

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