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Teaching English in Gimhae, South Korea: Q&A with Michelle Hermes
Written by: Michelle Hermes
Last Updated: April 22, 2021
What is your citizenship and where are you from?
American citizen - Alexandria, Washington DC, USA.
How old are you?
What is your educational background?
If you've traveled abroad, where have you been?
I have traveled to Italy, France, Germany, Slovenia, Croatia, England, various Caribbean islands, Mexico, and Costa Rica.
What sparked your interest in teaching English abroad?
I have always wanted to travel and "see the world" but I was never able to really do it. I have traveled to Europe, but I have never been anywhere else due to time and financial restrictions. So, I decided that teaching abroad would be a great way to see part of the world that I had not seen before.
What were some of your concerns before teaching English abroad?
I was concerned about teaching young children since I have always worked professionally with adults. I was also concerned about the cultural adjustments and making friends as well. I honestly underestimated how difficult it would be to connect to others since I live in a fairly rural area and arrived in the middle of the pandemic. Fortunately, I stuck with it and have since found some friends to share the experience with.
What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
I was very lucky in that almost everyone was very supportive of my move.
Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?
I did some research online and saw very positive things about ITA. The world map and information about the various countries were so impressive and helpful. When I spoke with a representative on the phone and learned about the support that ITA offers during the program and with job search after, I was sold.
How did you like the course?
I liked the course and found it to be a good base for teaching. I prefer in-person classes, but I was actually very impressed with the online course. I loved the practicum and wish that I could have continued to volunteer after it was completed.
How did you find the technological aspects of the course?
I found it fairly user-friendly and easy to navigate.
How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
I took the TEFL course three years before I actually used it, so I think that I have forgotten a fair amount by then. It definitely opened the necessary doors I needed to open to get my current position.
Where did you decide to teach English?
I moved to Gimhae, South Korea in 2020 and have been here for 10 months. I plan to stay for another year.
Why did you decide to teach English in this location?
It is close to Busan and I wanted to be in the southern part of the country near the coast.
What school do you teach at?
I work for a Kindergarten called Ecole'd Arts and Language Gimhae campus (there is one other location in Changwon).
During which months do they hire?
Typically they hire when someone's contract ends. I think that before 2020 when Coronavirus pushed everything back. They hired for the start of the school year when possible (March).
Did you secure your position in advance of arriving?
How did you interview for this position?
Via a video/phone interview.
Did you experience any ageism during your job search and interview process?
I did experience one recruiter who was quite dismissive of me and indicated that I would not get a job in Busan at my age. She was adamant that I look at schools in smaller cities where she had openings. I did not choose to move forward with that recruiter and did not have any other age-related issues after that.
What kind of visa did you enter on and what was the process?
An E-2 visa. I collected, notarized, and apostilled the documents necessary with assistance from my alumni contact at ITA, the ITA checklist, and the Facebook group. Then I sent the apostilled documents to the school Korea once I got the job offer. They then sent a visa number to me which I took with all of the required paperwork to the Embassy in Washington, DC close to my house.
What are the qualifications your school requires for teachers?
- Bachelor's Degree
- TEFL Certification
- My co-teacher had a masters and teaching experience but not a TEFL certification
What is the best way to apply?
Through a recruiter - I used ITA recruiters and Teach ESL Korea. I got my current position using Teach ESL Korea and thought that they did a great job!
Tell us about your English-teaching job!
I work at a Kindergarten teaching children ages 5, 6, 7 (International ages 4-6). I teach 8 or 10 classes per day (they are short classes and have little or no transition time). I work from 10 am to 5:30 pm M-F. The books for the curriculum are set but I have the flexibility to create some of the lesson plans within the curriculum.
How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like?
I live by myself in a small apartment, but it is larger than some in that it includes a long narrow area between the kitchen area and the laundry area. I have what equates to a separate bedroom which is unique. Most places have one big room that is bedroom and living area and a separate kitchen and bathroom. I have the bedroom, the kitchen/hallway area with my wardrobes and dresser because I don't have a closet, a bathroom (no separate shower which is common) and a laundry room (uncommon as many apartments have a washer in the kitchen area.)
Tell us about life in Gimhae!
Social life is highly dependent upon where you live in South Korea. In the bigger cities that I've visited, there is good nightlife and specific places where ex-pats "foreigners" gather. I have been to these places in Busan, but there are no "foreigner" specific places in the area where I live. (I live in a very suburban area of a city of about 500,000 people) I can't personally tell you about the dating scene, but I have friends who have met and dated people they met online. South Korea is absolutely beautiful and I have really enjoyed traveling in the country to see temples and see beautiful landscapes. The bus system is very good and many people travel that way both locally and to other cities in South Korea. There is also a great subway system in the larger cities.
What are your monthly expenses?
My rent is covered by the school and my utilities are between $30 and $50 max per month. I have a high data cell phone plan (no such thing as unlimited) and I pay about $50 per month for that. Eating out is very affordable (less than eating out in the US) and public transportation is very affordable. I spend most of my money on groceries since I go out to eat only rarely.
How would you describe your standard of living there?
I have a lot more disposable income here than I had in the US as a homeowner. I can normally save $1000 per month after bills. I use some of that to travel. I also bought a used car here 6 months after moving here and used the money I saved to pay for the car and the insurance for a year and still had money left over.
How do you handle health insurance there?
I have health insurance the same way that everyone in South Korea has health insurance. A small amount is deducted each month for that. I did find my doctor through a Facebook group, but most doctors speak some basic English. I normally use a translation app (Papago) to fill in the gaps (describe symptoms etc.).
What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad?
I would definitely recommend South Korea for teachers over 40 as I have not found anyone to treat me in a negative way or a different way because of my age. Culturally, Koreans show more respect (speak in a more formal manner) to those who are older than them. As a result, people will ask your age as something they do when they meet someone new. I find that it takes a lot of energy to teach Kindergarteners, but my 20 and 30 something Korean co-teachers say that they are tired as well. I would prepare to be open to making friends with people who are much younger than you since there are not a lot of older EFL teachers here.
Michelle Hermes is a 57-year-old professional with a passion for travel, people, and taking pictures. She lived and worked in the Washington DC area for most of her adult life and yearned to see the world, but she found that there was never enough vacation time or money to see all of the places she dreamed of visiting. So, she decided to do something about that and got her TEFL certification and moved to South Korea to teach English to kindergarteners.
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