Why I Love Teaching English to my Korean Students

Last Updated on November 7, 2010 by Christine Kaaloa

teaching english in a public school in Korea, why teach English in KoreaChristine Teacher! Buy from me!…
(My 4th and 5th grade boys with their own sale tent)

Sometimes life choices can make you feel like you’re on The Price is Right game show.

What is the right choice?

You’ve opened door #1 to a new, exotic and exciting life.

Do you dare risk all for the mystery behind door#2?


Sometimes I wonder if I make the right choices for my life.

Last weekend after I gave my school notice that I’d not be renewing my contract, I was on my way to meet expat friends for a weekend getaway.  Our neighborhood park had a library sale event and  some of my students hijacked me and lured me into the festivities.

(Heart tugs)

I then, spent the remainder of my ‘fun weekend getaway’ wondering if I hadn’t made a mistake…

I eventually grew to really like my students, my school, neighborhood and apartment.

Should I have renewed my contract for another year?


The Perks of Teaching English in Korea

Aside from the job salary being one of the highest in the ESL world, the fact I get a rent free apartment and the opportunity to live and travel abroad (read my original reasons here)… the perks for Asians don’t seem as great as it is for non-Asian looking foreigners.

To many Koreans, I look Korean, so I don’t get the celebrity treatment, gifts of adoration from my teachers, school or strangers on the street.

Looking Korean is not an “bonus”. I don’t get treated better… but sometimes, worse.

So perks you’ll hear foreign-looking teachers raving about, don’t pertain to me. They haven’t been a floater for me.

Instead, I’ve had to discover what I love about teaching, by weathering through the good and bad.


Teaching in a Public Elementary School 

Despite my personal issues with Korea or my co-teacher, you’d be surprised to know there’s not been a single day, where I didn’t not love being at school or experience joy in teaching.

Coming from someone who’s successfully avoided 9-5 jobs all her life, it’s a shocking feat!

Yet every morning, I leave my apartment feeling generally, happy. This is only intensified when I set foot on school grounds, see my cute little students and hear their sheepish, but enthusiastic chirps, “Hello Christine! Hello Teacher!”

teaching english in a public school in Korea, why teach English in KoreaMy 3rd graders- simply adorable!

teaching english in a public school in Korea, why teach English in Korea

My secret to survival has been my Korean students.

They saved me from a terrible start and what’s been an occasional bumpy ride with Korea.

Teaching in a public school entails teaching English to a student body of scattered skill levels.

Each class holds at least three strong students with a good command of English. Otherwise, most English skill levels are below average or low. This is because many of the families in my school district are low-income and cannot afford to send their children to hagwons for extracurricular learning; and thus, the discipline for studying is not always strong.

In fact, my students display innocent and naive qualities in comparison, to the English savvy and driven Korean students in “model schools” or at hagwons. They lack motivation and sometimes, the enthusiasm to learn English.

Inspiring and engaging my students’ confidence in learning, so they can meet the future with more strength, is what I’ve found joy and purpose in. In some cases, the English class offered in my school is the only class which will give them exposure to English. Meanwhile, financially-secure families can afford more training; their children will have a greater chance of success in the future.

Thus, my reward is seeing them make any progress!

When my shy students gain confidence to speak more in and outside of classes or my Special Ed kids begin shocking their peers by answering correctly, this is my reward.

IMG 1178My 6th grade girls

My students and I can have good days and bad days.

But even our bad days are never “deal breakers”.

Instead, it’s a challenge for me to figure out how I can change my approach or teaching style so we can connect better with each other.

Motivating their enthusiasm to learn is obviously fulfilling. But getting their enthusiasm, means I must be able to generate enthusiasm in my teaching. Hence, they motivate me to be a better teacher.

Yes, leaving these kids will be the hardest thing I do.


Did I make the right choice?

What’s the right choice?

I can only assume “right” is what I think is best for me , in the long-run. How long could I live this life or this profession before having to return to my old life? This is my concern.

I can only to act on my decision and  try to make it “right ” for my life.

Just as I’m sure my Korean students will do some day.

Do you believe there’s a right choice for our life?

IMG 1176


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Daegu, Korea, Should you teach in Korea?, Teaching English


  • I think every choice we make is the right choice. Sometimes, it may seem like we ought to have done something differently but the time will come when understand why. You seem to really enjoy challenging yourself, Christine. You are constantly striving for more and thus, this is the logical option for you.

    I met a girl yesterday in your exact same shoes, 1 year ago. She claims to have sent out over 30 applications to Universities throughout Korea and only got 2 calls. Then, at the last minute, she met someone that hooked her up with a University job right here in Daegu. She was very satisfied.

    Ask your CT’s if they have any connections.

    • @Chance: Yeah, my CTs don’t have any connections. But that’s an inspiring story, Chance. Thanks. Yeah, I do earnestly believe that every choice is somewhat the right choice– even if some right choices seem to take you longer in getting somewhere. 😉

  • That game show you’re thinking of might be ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ – before your time as well as mine 🙂

    For what it’s worth, I’m quite happy with Korea overall – there are crappy days of course, but those are typically balanced out by a good day afterwards 🙂

    • @Chris: I think the Price is Right had something like that too tho. Contestants could guess the cost of things and then had a choice of what’s behind door #1 & 2. Interestingly, outside of my classroom, Korea has been growing on me. It was rough a month ago and things & i’m not sure if culture shock was still working itself out but things feel smoother.

  • Sounds like you are a very good teacher, Christine. Yes, I believe there is a right choice for our lives, and I believe we make it every time….even when it doesn’t feel like it in the moment.

    • @Gray: You rock! Thanks!
      @Steve: You’re exactly right. What you said is a bit like what my mom told me- kids are everywhere & they’ll just keep coming. Little kids are a bit of my weakness but as you said, it’s a strong growth experience. Sometimes, I think we all have to keep climbing so that we can achieve our best.

  • Go with your gut! There’s always a grand adventure around the corner. The kids do make the classes here and I’m always torn when they leave or my classes get switched around. The great thing I’ve found, is that kids are everywhere. In fact, if you plan on staying in Korea to teach, you’ll find some great kids at your new school (even if you go the Uni route). I’ve been most impressed with students in Indonesia as well. Some great interactions on my travels there! Man, I miss that place.

    It will be heartbreaking to leave, but a very powerful growth experience as well.

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