So in October 2016, suitcases in tow, I headed to Heathrow airport to board a plane bound for Seoul, South Korea. I didn’t know what to expect when I landed or when I started my first teaching position, but I tried to enter the country and my new job with an open mind.
Having previously spent a year studying and living in Australia (and feeling somewhat underwhelmed by the experience in comparison with the idea I had of it in my head) I thought it best to be as positive and flexible as I could. I wanted to take each experience for what it was; the good, the bad and the ugly. And I wanted to learn from them all, be it situations at school or experiences outside of the classroom. Accepting the teaching position was an unexpected and spontaneous decision but the job offer couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. It was as though it was meant to be. I was made aware of the job vacancy through a mutual friend from University and subsequently knew I had somebody to help me settle in once I arrived. I touched down at Incheon airport on Wednesday evening, October 4th and then took a bus followed by a taxi to my apartment. It’s was around 10 pm when I arrived so I was pretty exhausted but filled with a nervous excitement for my first day of work (the next day).
In the morning I was shown how to get the bus to work by my co-workers, one of whom gave me a T Money card (the card used to take public transport) and after a short 7 minute journey I found myself standing outside of the school. Firstly we all gathered in the auditorium on the first floor where one of the management team spoke to the children in Korean. I sat in fascination listening to a language I had never heard before and with absolutely no clue what was going on. Then we were all ushered on to the stage where we had to introduce ourselves to the students. “My name is Cherry. I am from London, England”, you get the idea. And whilst I generally consider myself a fairly confident person I felt sick to say the least. And so the nervous excitement that I had begun my day with swiftly transformed into fear for the following three weeks with regards to these ‘introductions’. My first faux pas was telling the students, an all-boys Middle School, that my uni pal/co-teacher was my friend. Of course, friend to these teenage boys meant “friend” and that, much to everybody’s amusement, was my credibility shot for the remainder of the week.
I had been made aware that for my first couple of weeks I would be observing classes. So on my first day from 9.40am to 12pm I observed a class titled ‘Extreme Weather’. I mean, what better introduction could I have to teaching? All Brits love the weather, right? I must admit that whilst I tried not to have preconceived ideas, I was surprised by the naughtiness of these boys. Knowing that Korean children are the most pressurised children in the entire world in terms of Education, I suppose I thought they’d all be extremely well behaved. They weren’t. However, that being said, they were angels in comparison to the boys in my classes at secondary school.
Lunch was a big hurdle for me. Initially using chopsticks was the bane of my life. On top of which, I could not stomach the level of spice. My mouth was on fire, my eyes were watering and I just wanted a knife and fork.
For the remainder of the afternoon I kept myself to myself, scrolling through Facebook and making myself cup after cup of coffee to offset the jet lag. My other co-workers all seemed occupied and nobody appeared to have much time to talk to me. I understood that they were busy and I felt bad because I couldn’t help as I had no idea what to do and nobody had really told me anything. However, I couldn’t help but feel isolated and somewhat overwhelmed. Due to this, in crept the self-doubt: will I be able to do this job? Will people like me? Have I got what it takes to teach rowdy teenage boys? Little did I know that this age (12+) would become my niche. And by niche I do of course mean the only other humans on planet earth who would laugh at my jokes with the exception of my Mother.