The Pros and Cons of Living in the Countryside
By: Bethany White
Everyone has different expectations about what it’s like to live in a foreign country and those expectations can make or break your first experiences here in Korea. One of the scariest things about accepting a public school job here in Korea is the “fear” that you may be placed in the country side.
When I first accepted my position with the GOE and I was told that I would not be informed where I would be placed in Korea until I arrived, I was terrified! I frantically researched all areas of the GOE that I could be placed in, trying to find the good and bad of all of them, but honestly all that I really found were negative reviews about foreigner’s experiences on Waygook from 4-6 years before my arrival. DO NOT listen to reviews that are more than one year old here in Korea because Korea is such a rapidly developing country that often times what you read on the internet becomes outdated information very quickly. So here I am to tell you my experience (the top 3 pros and the cons) of living and teaching in the country side as a first year teacher.
Small class sizes and multiple schools:
When I first arrived I was told that I would be placed in Namhae, an ‘island’ on the southern most part of Korea. I remember when I tried to research Namhae I could never find any information about it, except that it was famous for garlic. I was then told I would be working in a middle school- and two elementary schools. I was shocked and nervous to work in three schools as a first time teacher, but after 10 months here I now realize how fortunate this situation has been for me.
I work in three schools but the amount of students I have only totals to about 100. This is very fortunate because I get to know each one of my students very personally and build rapport with them easier since the class size ranges from 5 students to 16. I was also able to learn how to handle both small and big class sizes and how to work with many different types of co-teachers as usually I work with homeroom teachers. Each teacher has taught me something different about what it means to work in a Korean class room, making me a much better teacher and a more culturally-aware foreigner. I also get to have a lot of variety within my week. It is nice to not have to go to the same class room every day or teach the same lesson over and over again.
This is just from my experience but, the school atmosphere feels a lot less stressful in the country side. What I mean by this is people are more relaxed about things such as dress code, creativity in the class room and how they treat each other. Out of three schools in 10 months I have never seen anyone fight with each other (physically or verbally) and have seen students always helping each other to succeed in and outside of class. There are not many students so everyone has to try and get along and be friendly with each other, so there seems to be less direct bullying going on in my schools. In my elementary school the teachers often wear athletic pants and polos or nice t-shirts. I personally (as a GET) dress up, but it’s nice to not feel like there is a high standard of dress code. Lastly, I feel like I can be creative in the class room. Since I work with so many different teachers and they ask different things of me in terms of teaching or making games, I have been able to create games and lesson plans that maybe a strict class room that only goes by the book would not allow you to utilize. My students respond really well to learning a little bit out-side of the text book, focusing on practicing their speaking and reading, that maybe their textbook may neglect.
Experience an authentic side of Korea
One thing that may worry you a lot is being alone, but I promise you won’t be. Usually in the country side the other foreigners near you will take you into their group, and treat you like family. Everyone knows how it feels to be placed in the country side at first and so people are very supportive of you. Also, even in the country side if you look hard enough you can find someone who speaks enough English to befriend you. You will also get to learn the language faster, because it is most likely what you will hear 90% of the day (unless you are in English class or hangout with a foreigner after work). While living here I was able to teach myself Hangul and then find other online resources to teach myself a little Korean. Now I am taking a Korean class in a city nearby and I realized how many words I know just from hearing people speak them every day. You can easily be exposed to what life is like for a native in Korea because people may try to invite you to do things with them. Korean people are very proud of their culture and are not afraid to share it with you. Since being here I have gotten to do many things with my coworkers and friends that maybe I would have missed out on in a bigger city if I focused on only hanging out with other foreigners.
Sometimes you can be placed far away from your schools or far away from a city. Living in Namhae I live an hour away from a bigger city and two hours away from the nearest metropolitan city. At first I was really worried about this and thought I would be bored all the time, but this is not the case. You just need to find things you like to do in town during the week days and then travel and meet people outside of your town on the weekends, or invite them to visit you. During the winter I traveled a lot to Busan (which only costs about $10) and now that the weather is beautiful my friends usually travel to me to enjoy the beaches and hiking.
2. The language barrier
The language barrier can be very difficult at first, but there are many foreigners that can get by with never having to learn the language. However, regardless of where you are placed in Korea I suggest that you try.
There are not as many foreign products available in the countryside as you would find in a city. If you like Korean food, then you will be in heaven, because you can get a lot of food for a good price. However, if you do not like Korean food then you should know how to cook basic dishes to get you through the week or buy a lot of prepared meals from emart/ homeplus.