Reflections on Teaching in South Korea
During a Pacific Rim semester abroad trip, Holly Birkey (’08) learned that teaching English could serve as a strategic tool in planting seeds, building relationships and joining in the work of the great commission. She first heard about the opportunity to teach in South Korea through Bethel’s career services office. Birkey says she had considered other countries in Southeast Asia, but it seemed that God was leading her to Korea first. So she left for South Korea after graduation and just returned to the states in August. Now looking back, Birkey says she can see that Korea was a great place for God to further prepare her for overseas work in the future.
I got to talk with Birkey recently via e-mail. She was able to reflect on her past two years as an English teacher for 7th and 9th grade students at Cheongryang Middle School in Seoul, South Korea.
JT: What was a typical day of work like as a middle school teacher in Seoul?
o 8 a.m. – Morning prayer on Tuesdays and Thursdays with a few other Christian teachers at my school.
o 8:30 a.m. – School begins. Students have six 45-minute periods (seven periods on Thursdays). I typically taught four to five of those periods each day with one of six different Korean co-teachers.
o 12:20 p.m. – One-hour lunch break; time to eat Korean food in the teachers’ lunch room with other Korean teachers.
o 3 p.m. – School finishes; often students would come to visit me after school to chat.
o 3:30 p.m. – Monitor students responsible for cleaning the English classroom.
o 4:30 p.m. – Teachers permitted to leave school.
The time that I was not teaching classes, I had free for lesson planning, meeting with co-teachers, updating records, even catching up on e-mail or reading, if I wanted to.
JT: What have you learned during your overall experience in South Korea?
HB: The very first night I arrived in Korea, God made it clear to me that He was holding me in His hand, each step of the way. Not only does He hold us in His hands, but we can trust Him to faithfully provide for each and every need.
I also learned that it’s so important to do your best to assimilate into the culture you’re working in. I made the mistake of not focusing on the language during my first year of teaching (because honestly, it’s pretty easy to get around in Seoul with English). However, becoming a student of the culture and language you’re working in will help you to understand your students so much better and will also aid in building relationships. Especially since you’re serving as a teacher, it’s important to put yourself in the position of being a learner.
JT: What did you do when you were not at work?
HB: I was pretty actively involved with my church, especially with the small group ministry. During my free time, I enjoyed visiting the Han River, mountain hiking, reading, visiting cafes with friends, hosting game nights, journaling, skyping with family/friends and enjoying the wonderful outdoors.