I have ALWAYS wanted to teach abroad, and for several years I have considered what it would be like to work abroad on my own and do one of the things that I love to do… teach. After contemplating a few different opportunities previously, the opportunity and timing to leave Toronto after completing my BEd earlier this year presented itself, so I wanted to take it as I knew how difficult it would be to find a job teaching at the school board. I just wanted to start my career and get teaching and learning and improving my skills as an educator. Living in Asia was something I wanted to do too, and Korea struck me as an interesting place as I’ve heard from many friends and acquaintances how ‘good’ their experience was.
Of course, leaving Toronto meant leaving friends, family and B behind. But it would only be for a mere 12 months and I was going to have visitors here and there anyway. I must admit, the first week or so it was tough getting use to life in a small condo by myself in a foreign city which didn’t have many English speaking people or signs or menus :S. I was homesick but thanks to my supportive friends I managed to get through those gloomy days. THANKS ^.^
REWIND. 2 weeks before my departure, I got an email from the school board which I had applied to back in February of this year and they wanted to interview me for a position at the board. Of course, my reactions were frantic, worry, excitement but also stressed out. I don’t remember how many people I spoke to over the course of those 2-3 days before the interview discussing the different scenarios and what I should say/not say knowing that I was suppose to leave and teach in Korea 2 weeks later. Long story short, I survived the interview, it was great, but I would hear back in 1 months’ time. Of course I had to leave for Korea, since nothing was firm here and I knew I was set on going to teach there. THANK YOU TO ALL OF YOU who spent time talking it out with me, via email, fb, in person, or on the phone. It helped SO MUCH.
Once I was there, 2 weeks into the new gig, getting used to the students and life there, I received another email offering me the job with the board! I was happy but also troubled. I wanted to be in Korea, but I also wanted to go home.. in the end, I left 2 weeks after that and now I’m back in Toronto waiting to start working.
OK now to recap Korea and all the fun stuff that I encountered over there and places to visit while you are there.
Place of Employment: Maple Bear Bucheon Canadian School
It’s mainly a Kindergarten school with older students attending their afternoon classes. Definitely a good school, that is organized, has a variety of supplies and resources for teacher and student use and students are absolutely adorable. The Korean owner is so nice and they have a Canadian director running the school which is quite helpful as well. Maple Bear is a franchise of schools with separate owners, so each one varies slightly on management and size. My school had about 6 foreign teachers and each teacher had a Korean teaching partner. As foreign teachers we teach the whole day, all subjects in English. We don’t just teach ‘English’. We teach math, science, art, language, drama etc. all in English. I would have to say most students in my class (KG6), spoke excellent English and they were so intelligent and quick to learn what was being taught.
The curriculum is easily laid out for you, and basically details what you need to cover and the units and expectations for the students. Our task is to modify or make accommodations based on our class’ abilities and prepare everything needed for each of the lessons. Generally two week plans need to be submitted along with monthly plans. The reason I chose Maple Bear in the first place, other than hearing some good stories about them was because they teach the Canadian curriculum. So the people who write those, combine BC, Ontario and Manitoba’s elementary curriculum and make one for Maple Bear, so many of the resources and units that we did corresponded to what was being taught in Ontario too! (YAY!)
As a teacher with Maple Bear, we all had morning classes everyday, like a homeroom with the same group of students. In the afternoons from about 3-6 or 7, we would teach evening classes which are basically smaller class enrichment programs. Students that come to these sessions can range anywhere from 6-10 years old. I thought my class was the cutest and the best ever! They made me laugh everyday and their warm smiles and cuteness melted my heart each time I saw them. It was so sad to say goodbye.. but I hope they will remember me and will one day try to get in touch with me!!!
Place I stayed at: Bucheon, about 50 min subway ride from Seoul.
The school location is RIGHT ACROSS the street from the loft apartments that we live in during our teaching term. Here are a few photos looking out from my loft apartment window and the loft inside just to give you an idea of what you can expect. NO guarantee that if/when you go there to teach you will have the same experience, but it should be pretty similar. All the foreign teachers stay in the same apartment building. It’s nice because you know you aren’t alone if you need something. Across the street from my apartment are an ABUNDANCE of coffee shops (some familiar like Starbucks and some not so familiar like Caffe Bene or Paris Baguette or PBags as one of the foreign teacher likes to call it).. hehe ALL are delicious and will satisfy your craving! There are also restaurants ranging from Italian, to Vietnamese, to Chinese and Japanese. There are also small groceries stores within walking distance.
I have to say Korean has LOTS OF interesting things to buy for ladies especially. Stationary, jewelry, cute tops and outfits, accessories for hair, nails, make up etc. HOWEVER, if you are relatively tall like myself (5’11) don’t expect to find shoes or pants. lol It’s true. I knew this going to Korea, but I still wanted to try my luck. Unfortunately, every time I picked up a pair of decently nice shoes, I would get shunned. no sizes Anyway, so instead I bought mostly stationary, a few tops and some jewelry. :) I was happy with what I found and satisfied with my finds My FAVOURITE Store in Korea is DEFINITELY Kosney. It’s like an asian Urban Outfitters but with LOTS of cute stuff and one of a kind pieces. Although their clothes selection isn’t as much as Urban Outfitters, they have lots of house stuff and cute stationary to look at. Their clothes are also ONE SIZE. Luckily everything I found fit me nicely. The online store doesn’t have as much product in store, but I guess if you live in North America, it’s your only resort. Here are the Kosney locations that I came across. There is one in Bucheon where I lived (YAY!), Ewha Women’s University, and Myeong-Dong (I’m sure there’s more but I just didn’t get around to seeing anymore).
Get everything store (s):
Daiso. Kinda like a Canadian Dollarama/small Walmart. Lots of locations and cheap house or teaching stuff
E-Mart. Large chain grocery store. One is conveniently located in the Bucheon subway station and open till the wee hours of the morning. I always grab a few things before heading back to the apartment from the station since I take the taxi from the station home anyway!
HomePlus. The Walmart of Korea, again lots of stores and super big! It’s like a Loblaws here without the Joe Fresh section.
Kim’s Club. There is a location in Bucheon as well where basically it’s imported groceries. They sell somewhat in bulk and their stuff is always fresh but pricer than other grocery stores. But you can get pretty much all the N.A. things you miss with some Korean twists to them.
**note, buying groceries in Korea in general is really pricey! So be forewarned! If you are a Korean food lover, it’s probably better to eat out… but then you have to learn Korean so you can read the menus.. lol
Areas to Explore (more like what I was able to explore in 1 month):
Myeong-Dong (line 4 light blue Myeong-Dong station)-tons, and I mean tons of shopping for ladies especially. Narrow pedestrian streets are lined with shops for several blocks. From American brand name labels like Aldo, Forever 21, Adidas, to Korean brand names like Bean Pole, Artbox and several indie shops, you can find shoes, accessories, cosmetics, jewelry and clothes and shop til your feet are sore. But when that time comes, there are lots of restaurants and cafes to hang out at, that serve really delicious food. I’m salivating just thinking about it. Oh yea, there’s a Kosney here and an Artbox (my favourite stationary/random supply store with CUTE CUTE CUTE stuff is here)
Ewha Women’s University (line 2 green Ewha Women’s University station)-another shopping area that surrounds the top women’s university in the area. I suppose there is great shopping (and cheap shopping here) simply because of all the shoppers that circulate the area. You won’t find major American brands here, but you will find mostly Korean goodies and cafes. Did I mention Korea is known to have a cafe pretty much every 500m? lol Anyway, there’s a Kosney here! And it was here that I scored a $20 turquoise blue blazer
Han River Park (line 2 light green Jasmil station)-I’m so glad I made a trip here. If you enjoy the outdoors then this is definitely a place to explore. A friend recommended that I come here, and although I did not end up finding ‘the place’ with the amazing view, I thought what I found was pretty amazing! The day I went it was a nice sunny day. A bit windy but that didn’t stop the amount of people that decided to go out and spend the day in the grassy fields, by the water or riding their bikes. I rented a bike for approximately $3 CAD an hour and rode along the path along the river. It’s almost like a ‘centre island’ I would say in Toronto. It’s a nice place for a date, a picnic or just hanging out with family or friends to enjoy the nice weather. I heard the night view is amazing too! But I didn’t end up staying until then to see it.
63 Building (line 5 light purple Yeouinaru Station)-After the Han River bike ride, I decided to hit up 63 building since I knew it was close by.. it’s about a 15 min walk from the Han River park. I thought it would be an indoor shopping/dining area but basically when I went it was fairly quiet. There was higher end dining there but it basically houses an aquarium and an iMax theatre. There were two cafes in the front though which was nice. It was here that I was able to finally connect to wifi on my phone lol to use whatsapp and fb, and also to eat my 2nd patbingsu of the trip. (my first was in Myeong-Dong at a chain cafe Tous les Jours). Both were delicious!
Hongdae a.k.a. Hongik University (line 2 light green Hongik University Station)-another university town but this area has many, many blocks of shopping and restaurants. It’s also a super tourist friendly place as many young people are in the area hanging out. The famous Sangsangmadang building is here as well, which houses very cool Korean designed products and has a gallery/studio and cafe for people who appreciate design to spend the afternoon. Vidafine featured this cool building in the past, you can check it out here. A couple stationary shops to mention are Artbox, and this other one called 1300K (which I think they cleverly used numbers to create the word Book?). I bought a few things at both places needless to say . There are again lots of cafes and stuff around here too. Famous ones include the Charlie Brown cafe and Hello Kitty cafe (if you are into that kind of thing) lol. The nightlife in this area is supposedly really good as it is afterall, a university area. I didn’t get a chance to explore this though so can’t give much insight into that.
Insadong (line 3 orange Anguk Station)-super touristy, but for good reason. Walking along the streets of Insadong instantly brings you back into the past. The cute cultural neighbourhood is great for rounding up souvenirs for friends back home. There are food stalls, cafes, shops, and many unique finds that tempt you to browse and keep browsing. Beware though, there are several stores that can be selling the same kind of stuff but their price varies from one end of the street to the next. Of course the price difference isn’t a huge amount but it’s nice to be a conscious shopper. One of my favourite places in the area is the Samcheong. It is in the ‘centre’ of Insadong and basically is a shopping, gallery-like walking quarter with several levels of really cool stuff to buy and look at. There is also a store that lets you wear a traditional hanbok (Korean outfit) to take sticker pictures as a memory. Upstairs is a super cozy and intimate cafe. At the bottom level there is a ‘pancake’ place that sells poop shaped pancake. It was delicious They also have green tea ice cream cones which I love love love. Another store in Insadong that I searched far and wide for was Bizeun.
It’s a franchise rice cake store (Koreans love their rice cakes–whether savory or sweet). I had heard about their bingsu so this was where I had my 3rd and final bingsu of the trip. It was delicious but WAY too much for 1 person. The mochis were huge! yummmy! The store also sold a variety of rice cake stuff which I didn’t get to try as I knew they wouldn’t last for the trip home. Again, being a popular tourist spot, you don’t have to worry if you don’t speak Korean, there are lots of foreigners and the Koreans that work there can understand broken English most of the time Oh yea, this was also where I fell in love with Naengmyeon. I’ve had it in Toronto and it was sooo not good. Then I had to try it when I got to Korea as everyone said it was soo good on a hot day. It’s basically noodles in a cold both with a vinegary taste. It was SO good. I’m sad I didn’t get to have it again before I left.
Gangnam (line 2 light green Gangnam Station)-It was so nice to see a friend that I did not see since maybe 3-4 years ago? I had a friend teaching in Seoul already before my arrival and she lived near Gangnam, which is almost like Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay. Lots of shopping, designer brands, local brands, cafes, restaurants, and clubs. It’s very lively and always bustling. Though I only stayed for a short while, I was told it has one of the better Japanese restaurants in Korea. I love love Japanese food. I can eat it everyday. lol So we went to this sushi restaurant, conveyor belt style. It was pretty good. Wasn’t cheap about $25 per person? But it was good sushi. Especially their beef sashimi sushi.. mmm. I forget the name of the place but it’s beside a Daiso. If you are interested I will try and find out the name of it for you
Coex Mall (line 2 light green Samseong Station)-The mall is connected to the subway exit so it’s super easy to get to. When you come out from the subway the first thing you’ll see is a Uniqlo to your left and a Zara and KFC to your right. *note: Zara in Korea is SO expensive! So if you want something, save it for when you get back to NA.. It is seriously not worth it!!! Moving on.. this place is a large indoor shopping area (shopping again.. I know) and it has a variety of stores and restaurants, including a food court and a higher end grocery store. Nothing super special but you can easily spend several hours here just walking around and looking at stuff (girls especially).
Areas that I wanted to Explore:
Sinsa (line 3 orange Sinsa Station)-I really wanted to come here as I heard it is very pretty and has almost a European feel to it. It’s again a shopping and cafe area. It was a bit far for me to get to from my place (over an hour) so I didn’t get a chance to go.
Boseong Green Tea Fields-Green tea is very popular in Korea and one of the attractions is an area that is covered with blankets of green tea plants that simply look gorgeous. I heard you take a hike up this mountain to see a fantastic view, then you come to the gift shop/resting areas to eat green tea ice cream and drink green tea. Does the picture just make your mouth drop? This was a FAR trip.. and it would require an overnight stay. Sadly, I didn’t have enough time to go
Super easy to use for me at least (visiting Hong Kong every 2 years or so I have become so used to their subway system and it’s very similar to that of Korea. Buy a ‘money card’ swipe and go. The card is charged upon entry and exit depending on where you go. The least it charges is 900won so about 0.90 CAD per trip and it increases from there.
Here’s a really useful link that one of my friends in Korea sent me to map out your route and estimated time of arrival if you are meeting with friends etc. (but seems like this link only works for when you are in Korea? or maybe just my browser) I’m sure there is probably an app like this as well but since I wasn’t even there long enough to get a phone I used this before leaving the house each trip.
This whole experience proved to be a great time for self-reflection. Though it was only a month, I don’t regret the experience of teaching and living there for one moment. I’m so glad my family and friends were so supportive of my decision to leave, and were equally as happy to welcome me back home. I miss my Blue Bear class of children dearly. Writing this post brings back a lot of wonderful memories.
I will close off with with some food pictures to tempt you to make a visit to Korea if you ever get the chance to.. hehe
Special thanks to my dear friends that I’ve met/come to know during my pre-departure to Korea and while I was there. You know who you are!! Thanks for everything!! <3