Q: What made you decide to teach English in Korea?
A: I wanted to work abroad, and it was the most convenient and financially viable option. The fact that Korea sounded like a culturally interesting place to work didn’t hurt either.
Q: Is Kim Jong Il going to nuke Seoul?
A: Super-short answer: no. Practical reassurance: general perception in Korea is that this kind of thing sort’ve happens all the time. Geopolitical reassurance: KJI has been shaking down the western world for ages. It is just not in his best interests to start war of any significant proportion.
Q: What is your apartment like?
A: My apartment is about 12 feet wide, and 20 feet long, and is graced with a heavy dose of ‘character.’ There is a very convenient sport for a refrigerator, but the nearest outlet is an inconvenient 10 feet away. I am lucky enough to own an in-wall air conditioner with a 5 foot cord, cleverly positioned 6 feet from the power outlet. The heat has two settings: on and off. The water leaks in my bathroom. The landlord was told about this, and I was advised that I can simply turn the main valve off, and voila: no leaks if there’s no water.
Q: Do you like the food?
A: Is that really a question? Yes, the food is amazing, but absolutely nothing like food in the U.S. That’s actually a pretty good general statement. Few things here are a whole lot like the U.S., but they’re perfectly fine in their own way. If you like rice and spicy food, you’re in good shape here.
Q: Do people speak English?
A: About 50% of Koreans, do not speak a single lick of English. They may have, at one point, learned ‘Hi,’ ‘yes,’ and ‘no,’ as novelties. To be fair, the only Korean I knew before coming here was kimchi, bulgogi, jiggae, and anyeong. The only word there that is not some kind of food, I learned from Arrested Development. Anyway, another 30% know enough to tell you that they can’t speak English. Another 15% speak well enough to carry on a conversation using lots of hand motions and pictures (notebook and pen are essential), and about 5% are conversationally fluent. Bottom line though, is that if you’re in a new country, you should probably learn to speak the damn language, so this one’s on me.
Q: Does everyone think you speak Korean?
A: Absolutely. Although 3 different people have thought I’m Chinese. But generally, foreigners and Koreans alike tend to think I’m Korean. And because of the average Korean’s proficiency in English, as described above, this means that the only people who try to talk to me are Korean people speaking Korean. This will be great once I actually learn how to communicate, but for now it’s mildly frustrating. Especially when they speak to me in Korean, I abashedly tell them I don’t speak Korean, and they laugh at me, and speak more Korean. Yes, I get it: I’m stupid, thanks.
Q: Do you like teaching?
A: It’s too soon to tell. Right now, I’m having a blast trying to figure the whole thing out: every time I think I’m starting to get a handle on things, I get brutally smacked around by my kids. They started out not saying a single word, and now it’s impossible to get them to shut up. There’s also definitely a critical mass of misbehaving students where your only option is to turn off the light. There’s probably a second critical mass where the light only makes things worse, and this is something that I fear for my life.
Q: What’s the weather like?
A: Closest comparison is probably to Boston. Pretty cold right now, and it’s already snowed twice since I’ve been here. I’m getting by on a few sweaters, a good jacket, and, most importantly, a few solid scarves.