Category Archives: Korea

One Year in a Hagwon – Teaching English in Korea

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I’ve written an ebook.

As the title suggests, the ebook is about teaching English in Korea and my experience of it. It’s not always positive, but I’ve tried to be as balanced as I could. It’s sometimes funny, sometimes sad. It’s even somewhat interesting.

You can buy the ebook on Amazon US or Amazon UK. They list it as 79 pages. It’ll take you an hour or two to read.

If you do read it and enjoy it, I’d love it if you could email me (mrdanbaird@gmail.com) or comment here. If you really love it and think it’s the best thing ever, you could send it to a friend (or even review it on Amazon!)

 

One Year in a Hagwon: The Student From Hell

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To understand the problems of a hagwon, you must first understand the impossibility of teaching in one.

In a hagwon, the teachers wield less power than the children. When an especially bad child comes along they can make your life unbearable. These are more than just children, they’re the babies of Satan. The worst I ever taught was a girl named Serah.

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Missing the Comfort of a Home

No matter where I travel, I can never replicate that same feeling of warmth I got in the house where I grew up. The equilibrium I felt upon waking up every morning is gone. After living in the same house for all of your life, you’ve managed to create your perfect home.

The duvet is just the right thickness. Your bookcase is there with all of the books you’ve read. The heating is always at the right setting. Not too hot, not too cold. Everything is as it should be.

Only now do I realise how much I took my home for granted. Only through the lack of a home can you truly appreciate what you had.

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An In-Depth Guide to Visiting a Korean BBQ Restaurant (in Korea)

One of the most daunting things to do in Korea is to go to a Korean barbecue.

I’m ashamed to admit it took us a few months to go to a barbecue by ourselves We were fearing the whole situation because our Korean was so bad and we didn’t know how it all worked. We didn’t want to mess up or commit some major faux-pas so we mostly hid at home.

In the end the only thing that set my mind at ease was doing copious amounts of research so that I was completely prepared before I stepped through the doors. Later – after going to restaurants a few times – I realised we were scared for no reason at all. Going to a Korean barbecue is simple!

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Cultural Differences and Respect in Korea

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It was just my second week of working in a hagwon when my headmaster said we needed to talk.

We moved into a small classroom, large Lego bricks scattered on the floor. The only place to sit was in tiny chairs for toddlers. Our knees were pressed up into our chests as we looked across at each other. I would have laughed if the headteacher didn’t look so serious. She stared at me intently, her lip quivering. She took a deep breath.

“I’ve actually been very upset with you this week. Very angry.” Immediately I was taken aback.  My mind raced, my stomach tightened. What had I done?

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Santa Teacher

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Christmas was approaching. Excitement building. At first the children spoke in hushed whispers, but as the day came closer their voices grew louder. Eventually they were shouting in hysterics “Santa is coming! Santa is coming!”

I wrote about lying to children in my last post. Well the biggest lie of all is Santa. And as Christmas approached it was my biggest problem.

Pity. That’s what I feel for any white male who works in a Korean hagwon at Christmas. Why? Because there’s a very definite possibility that you will find yourself tasked with being Santa. In a school filled with Korean women, the white guy becomes Santa by default.

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Daniel Teacher’s House on the Moon

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The best thing about working with kids is that they’ll believe anything you say. To children, anybody over 5 years older than them is an adult. Somebody to be trusted. Somebody who tells no lies.

I love a good lie. Something I can really sink my teeth into. Literally. The first time I lied to the children, I said I’d eaten another child.

One student had left the school to go to America. I explained that he wasn’t in America, he was in my belly. I’d eaten him.

At this point in the lie, the reaction is different based on the child. Some automatically believe it to be true. Some want more details (“What part of him did you eat first?”) Some shout out loud that I’m a liar. Then they say that they’re going to call the police and I’m going to go to prison for lying. Everybody laughs aloud.

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Sickness in Korea

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The lack of private toilet time isn’t the only problem I have with working in a Korean kindergarten. Every few weeks I seem to get some new illness. Either due to the lack of hygiene from the kids (Hey, I’ll just sneeze in your face, ok?!) Or more annoyingly the kids who do understand hygiene and decide to use it against you (Hahaha! I’m going to cough right in your face…so funny!)

Inevitably you get sick, but you can’t do much about it. The annoying thing about hagwons is they open before the hospitals and shut after them. The working hours are so long that there’s no time to go to see a doctor. Unless you want to be the stupid white idiot who goes to the emergency room after work with a sore throat.

Worse than this, there’s an immense amount of social pressure to not take a day off. The unspoken rule seems to be that unless you’re dying, you should be in work.

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North Korean Fear

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There comes a time when every foreigner in Korea makes the pilgrimage to the DMZ: the most unlikely of tourist attractions.

At the end of the Korean War, both North and South Korea signed an armistice agreement, basically saying they would cease fighting.  Each side moved back 2 kilometers from the front line of the war, creating a 4 kilometer buffer zone between the countries. This area was quickly fortified by each side and became the Demilitarized Zone. A long strip of land which nobody can enter.

Years later, despite there still being tension between the two countries, the DMZ has become a major tourist destination. There are gift shops, restaurants. Places to take pictures.

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