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Teacher Spotlight: Clarissa Brucato

Clarissa korea

Meet Clarissa from Teach Abroad South Korea! Check out what he has to say about living and working as a teaching assistant in South Korea for the past two years!

Where are you from?

I’m from Cincinnati Ohio!

What was it like to work at your school?

My school was located in the countryside of Gwangju, Gyeonggi so it was not as big as schools in Seoul or other large cities. I was the only foreign teacher at my school so I taught third to sixth grade, averaging around 200 students each year. My students were very eager to learn from a foreign teacher since they rarely ever saw a foreigner in their small country town. What I loved about teaching at my small school, which was surrounded by rice paddies, was the excitement they brought to the classroom. Every single day students would come up to me and ask questions about my life in America because they were truly fascinated. Of course they saw certain things about America on TV but to actually hear from a real American and see real pictures from my hometown and places in America made them so happy!

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Why did you decide to teach abroad?

My father was a high school teacher for over 30 years and my mother has been a yoga teacher for over 10 years. Growing up around two people who loved to teach and learn, really guided me towards an Elementary Education degree. While I knew I definitely wanted to teach, I didn't want to teach in America - at least not right away. In high school I met an exchange student from Seoul which is when my curiosity and fascination with the country began. In college I took two semesters of Korean and learned so much from my professor and Korean exchange students I met during my five years at university. Eventually I traveled with a friend to Korea in 2015 to make sure it was truly where I wanted to live and fulfill my life goal of teaching abroad. I'm happy to say that at 25 years old, I accomplished my goal of teaching English in South Korea!

What was your favorite place in South Korea?

To say I am inspired by my parents is quite the understatement! They are both Buddhist so when I lived in Korea I traveled to numerous Buddhist temples all over the country. One of my favorite places in South Korea is definitely Jogyesa Buddhist Temple in Seoul. While it is surrounded by the bustling city that seems to never sleep, it remains a quaint, peaceful place. The gardens are beautiful with multiple flowers and plants leading up to the temple. While perusing the gardens you can hear Buddhist monks chanting in the background, really creating a unique atmosphere in a busy city like Seoul. My parents visited me during my first year in Korea and were able to experience the beauty of Jogyesa. While I love its beauty and spirituality, the memory of sharing it with my parents makes it one of my favorite places. Even if you are not Buddhist, you can still enjoy the intricate details of the buildings and the giant, gold Buddha statues. There is no place in Seoul quite like it!

18447678_1192327184228543_4996677791332340243_nWhat is the funniest thing a student said while you were teaching?

It's almost impossible to choose the funniest thing a student has ever said to me since I taught in Korea for two years! But if I have to pick one it would have to be when my students were playing Guess Who to learn about physical features. One of my sixth grade girls was really into the game and asked me, "What is black cheek hair in English?" It was so funny to me because she used what English she knew from the chapter and was so determined to win Guess Who!

What was the biggest challenge of teaching and living abroad?

The biggest challenge of teaching and living abroad would be communication. Sometimes you feel very vulnerable when you haven't fully mastered the language of the country you're living in which creates some uncomfortable or unfortunate situations. However, in South Korea at least, the majority of Koreans know basic English so sometimes if you speak in short, simple sentences they can help you. What I learned from what I think is the biggest challenge, was that I can't take English for granted. Yes, almost every country knows at least some English but that doesn't mean I should only speak English. It encouraged me to learn more Korean and study every single day, building on the two semesters of Korean I took in college. Sometimes there's an English word that doesn't fully capture my feelings so I switch to Korean! It's been a great learning experience from some frustrating situations.

What will you miss the most about teaching abroad?

As a teacher you are constantly learning. Every day in the classroom I would teach my students but I would also learn from them. They opened my eyes to a different culture and a different way of living. Even though I studied and learned about South Korea back in America, it was so enlightening to learn about the country and culture in my own classroom in South Korea. Every day you see something you never thought you'd be able to see in real life. You notice things you would never notice back home. It really opens your eyes. While you can have those eye-opening experiences from reading, watching, or looking at pictures of other countries and cultures, it's so inspiring to be able to experience those things you'd never experience, see those things you thought you'd never see with your own eyes, and do those things you never thought you'd get to do. I never thought I'd be able to visit five Buddhist temples in Asia. I never thought I'd be able to cruise down the Han River with new friends I made. I never thought I'd be able to hike to the top of a mountain in Jeju Island to be among the clouds and stars. So many wonderful things happened while I taught English abroad and I will miss every single minute of it.

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How did teaching abroad influence your career and life path?

I always knew I wanted to be a teacher and I always knew I wanted to teach abroad. However, now that my time has ended, I realized that I still want to work in a field that has to do with different cultures and languages. I would love to work at a university, much like the one I graduated from in 2015, and inspire students to travel abroad and teach abroad. While I was a student, no one told me about the opportunities available to teach in other countries. It was all about teaching in Kentucky or Ohio. I would love to help others teach abroad and I would love to share my opportunity with others, either working in an international office at a university or at a place much like CIEE!

Teacher Spotlight: Brooke Laven

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Meet Brooke from Teach Abroad South Korea 2016-2017! Check out what he has to say about living and working as a teaching assistant in Sunchang, South Korea:

Where are you from?

I’m from Minnesota!

What was it like to work at your school?

I teach at five schools: two elementary, two middle, and one high school. I have a wide variety of students, but my favorite thing about working at all of my schools is all the fun activities we get to do in place of class every now and then!

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Why did you decide to teach abroad?

I wanted to learn about and experience the rest of the world outside of my hometown and home country. Yes, I've certainly begun to accomplish them!

Did you get TEFL Certified before teaching abroad? How did it help you?

Yes, it taught me how to be prepared for getting in the classroom in real life.

What was your favorite place in South Korea?

There is a mountain half-a-mile down the street from my apartment, and my favorite place is in the pagoda on top of it.

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What is the funniest thing a student said while you were teaching?

I've had my students write stories and comic books, and those have definitely been the funniest things my students have said in English!

What was the biggest challenge of teaching and living abroad?

The biggest challenge of teaching and living abroad is the language barrier, but I've become a much more adaptable person due to the situations that I've faced dealing with the language barrier.

What will you miss the most about teaching abroad?

The excitement of something new every day.

How did teaching abroad influence your career and life path?

I've learned how to be adaptable to almost any situation.

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My Apartment as an EPIK Teacher in South Korea

As a teacher in South Korea, you actually get a furnished 1 bedroom apartment (for free) as part of your contract! Sweet deal! Let me take you on a tour of mine. 

 

Day in the Life

The other day I had the opportunity to take over the CIEE Snapchat and showcase a day in the life as a teacher in South Korea! 

To see more from people around the world, follow CIEE on Snapchat: cieesnaps

To see more from South Korea, follow me on Snapchat: emmelinedevine 

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Below is the video ^_^

Jindo Sea Parting Festival

This weekend I went to the Jindo Sea Parting Festival. Once a year the sea parts and you can cross a rainbow road (not at all like the one in Mario Kart!). I went through an organisation (ButlersKorea) that cost 50,000 won ($50USD), and they organised and covered everything for the day (bus and lunch). We got to see/experience a dog competition, K-Pop performance, Colour Run (okay there was no running, just dancing), lots of foreign foods, release lanterns, and we even met & got a photo with the Mayor of Jindo! This was all extra to the main event - crossing along the curved path to the island like Moses. 

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Adventure updates

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Bangsan elementary school snapshot. Feeling accomplished after a fun day of playing where are these song lyrics from? Korea or America: Kpop vs. Apop. Flashback, two girls tug at my arms and beg me to sit with them at lunch. Flashback, pulled off a Konglish conversation with the librarian successfully. Flashback student feeling my abs and being mad impressed. Flashback, coworkers picking me up at the bus station and driving me to work instead of having to take the bus. Flashback ping pong with the 6th grade teacher after class. Gosh what a good day.

I thoroughly enjoy the challenge of teaching and the 6th grade teacher actually thought I had been a teacher for much longer than 6 months. This is the first job that I have enjoyed in its entirety and that has challenged me to think creatively and quickly in order to make a positive difference on many people.

Random mullet

 Even on the one student in Korea that has a mullet. Children's laughter and smiles flood my mind and I am pretty sure that this is therapeutic. I feel centered and ready to take on the world. And what a fascinating world it is.

Common korean design

Common Korean design. The green floral pattern looks so natural. oooo ahhhh.

Coldplay was live! Something just like this

First time Coldplay played in Korea after 17 years of touring. I want something just like this. 

Exercise machines in the mountains Random exercise machines

Random exercise machines everywhere, literally EVERYWHERE!.  Like this one was on a hiking trail.

Memorial tower halfway up a mountain

Cool memorial tower halfway up a mountain.

Overlook view of Yanngu over the trees

Come one, come all and see the best view of Yanngu on top of a three story tree house. Equipped with binoculars and a view that puts you above the mountaintop trees,, you are sure to have a whole new perspective of this dinky city :P

Some of the signs here are just too ridiculous

Some of the signs here are just too ridiculous. Who would fish in a toilet. That is just weird.

Seokchon Cherry Blossom Festival

IMG_7665Cherry blossoms can be seen all around Seoul. It's that time of the year where tiny pink pedals cover the ground, couples are matching in pink sweaters, and lights are intertwined in branches illuminating the cherry blossom trees. As I walked through the archway of cherry blossoms I couldn't help but feel how happy and appreciative I was to be there. How beautiful a day it was to be able to walk around a lake surrounded by cherry blossoms with two of my closest friends. To be able to have some great conversations in between all the pictures and walking. And realize that I have people in my life that I can have genuine conversations with about friends, family, work, and what we want in life. I think the most interesting thing I noticed is how couple centered the Korean culture is. Spring time in Korea is almost like mating season for whales in Hawaii. They're everywhere and if you're single and dating a Korean, you're bound to not be single for long. Some of my friends went on dates with Koreans only to be asked to be their significant other after a day of knowing each other. I'll dig further into this with my informal assessments and get back to you. In the meantime, please enjoy some of the pictures I snapped below. But be warned, the pictures don't do justice of how amazing it was to be there. Enjoy!

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Seafood Pajeon - one of my favorite Korean dishes, perfect late night snack after a long night of hanging with friends in Hongdae, Seoul. 

 

Magical Rollercoaster of Life in Yanggu, Gangwon

Challenging your identity is one of the most difficult and rewarding things that a person can do. For example, since arriving in South Korea everything has felt different, the novelty has swept me up and thrown me thousands of feet (ahem, I mean meters) into the air and as I fall, i notice that i am surrounded by incredibly thick fog. I wish more than anything to make the fog transparent because I know that there is immense beauty behind it; if only I could see. Then I begin to understand some new basic idea and all of a sudden the satisfaction of a child learning a new word illuminates my soul.

This is the pendulum that I have been swinging on for the previous two weeks here in Korea. I am still amazed everyday at the life that I now live and I have to repeat to myself that I am a full time teacher in a foreign country. I am the main English teacher for two schools and I am living a brand spanking new life. 

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I am located in Gangwon province in a small village called Yanngu. Gangwon is the biggest province with the fewest amount of people so living here is like living in the most authentic part of South Korea. The province is 70% mountainous and I found a large network of trails nearby my apartment so that is pretty sweeet. 

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The first couple of weeks have consisted of me being confused about mostly everything from almost losing my luggage in the airport, to meeting my 9 coteachers, 2 principals, 2 vice principals, and many other administrative faculty, to meeting my 11 different classes, to learning public transit, and even trying to learn the most basic of basic Korean expressions so much has happened so expediently. But gee gosh the children could not be more any more adorable :D

Oh and did I mention that I have eaten silk worm larvae, sea squirt, and cow tongue soup!

Oh and I got to see some Sweet Pretty Pink Cherry blossoms today. Displaying IMG_20170406_095034.jpg

Moreover, I am beginning to really adapt and grow accustomed to my new lifestyle and I can even introduce myself to people without looking like a total fool! Haha. Most of my co-teachers have very limited English speaking capabilities which was difficult at first but now I just make sure to smile greet them and go about my business. A few of my teachers have had more in depth conversations with me such as, "Let's play soccer", "how was your weekend", and "this is how to say this in Korean". I really appreciate their efforts. Every Monday and Tuesday I get to play soccer at lunch which I'm pretty pysched about!

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So between the lonely nights of reading up on the language and culture and the days of making toothpaste and planting lettuce with my students. I can ruminate in moments of mammoth mountains and roaring rivers with cute birds and I can appreciate the steady flow of improvement in my teaching and linguistic skills. I am exactly on the ride that I signed up for and I couldn't be more grateful.

 

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Rock n Roll is Good for the Seoul ;)

Here in South Korea, k-pop pretty much dominates the music scene. It’s mainly what is playing in restaurants and stores (although I have heard some random Pitbull and/or Beyonce thrown in there as well—a Korean coworker told me if it is pop-y and English, it is automatically cool). Korean pop culture in general seems to revolve around being almost sickeningly sweet and cutesy—think of little stuffed pink bunny rabbits with giant eyes turned into song, and you’ve got k-pop. All the male k-pop stars wear make-up; it is not seen as effeminate, because Korean women want their men to be “pretty”. Appearances are very important for both genders, and this shows through the super-stylized, choreographed dance routines, and computerized, barely-human voices. K-pop is fun and dance-y; cute, yet strictly regimented—and this, to me, recalls the overall vibe of South Korea.

Before I arrived here, I liked listening to k-pop sometimes, along with other electronic-y/modern music (the Glass Animals, Oh Wonder, Lana Del Rey…) and this music genre really fits in quite well, I think, to the climate and overall feel of South Korea. Now that I am living here, though, I find my old music has lost some of its appeal—since arriving, I’ve been favoring Stevie Ray Vaughn and Led Zeppelin, Supertramp and Guns N' Roses…which is really about as far away from the vibe of South Korea as you can get. There is just something so deliciously discordant about wandering the streets of Seoul, listening to classic rock from the 60s. Looking back, I realize I’ve always chosen music that is in strict opposition to my immediate surroundings. Stuck in the Midwestern suburbs? Better put on some esoteric, wavy electronica, just to make it weird, am I right? So, am I an iconoclast? Am I simply desperate to be a unique, special snowflake? …I mean, very possibly, but I think it has much more to do with wanting to bring something to life. Listening to a disingenuous genre of music reminds me that the space and time I happen to be occupying is never all that there is, and it offers me a connection, however tenuous, to another space/time--access to a bygone era, if you will. And if I can inhabit 2 separate, discordant spaces at once, I feel larger. I can feel myself expanding to create room for other worlds, and I am greedy for them; I want them all at once. One place is never enough; I want to contain multitudes. For this purpose, travel is the most useful thing: every place I inhabit offers me not only itself, but its opposite as well.

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Me and my beary special friend <3 <3 Rock on, Seoul! (I'm not cool...) 

 

Registered Alien

I think maybe my apartment is haunted. I have lived here for 3 weeks, but I have not seen another living soul in my building during that time. I hear their voices sometimes—speaking words I do not understand, stomping up steps, children babbling together in what seems to me like a confused cacophony of gibberish syllables. Sometimes I hear a baby wailing from somewhere down below. A man yells things I don’t know out his window on Saturday nights. They are only voices to me, and I have never seen their faces, but then again, that means they have never seen mine. Maybe it’s me who is haunting their lives, and not the other way around; that would explain the stares I get on the streets. I pass people and they do a double-take. If I meet their eyes and smile, they stare unabashedly back, mouths open, or else they look away hurriedly. The other day, I sh*t you not, a woman saw me, made eye contact, looked away quickly, nudged her friend and whispered something, then they both proceeded to look back at me giggling. It feels vaguely eerie to be such an anomaly; like I have 3 eyes or some weird skin condition, a feeling compounded by the fact that I do not speak the language here. I feel like a grotesquely overgrown baby, stumbling through their stores and streets, attempting to communicate through an odd mixture of last-minute google translate terms and sign language. People ask me questions at the check-out; I smile and say “de (yes)” and hope it makes sense. I know maybe 7 words of Korean total, and though I am trying to learn more, it all seems to fly out of my head once I am standing in front of an expectant sales girl who has just spoken for a good 30 seconds straight and is now awaiting my response. It gives me a newfound respect for people who cannot speak English in the U.S., and for minorities—it is isolating to constantly feel like the odd one out, and immensely frustrating to not be able to communicate, not least because I feel so much stupider than everyone else. I wish I could wear a shirt that says “I’m smarter in English, I swear!”  

Though it is frustrating and isolating, it is also fascinating to see what it is like on the other side. I have been the native speaker attempting to understand and communicate with a foreign customer, and though of course I know that they are not actually intellectually slow, in some vague, unformed, prehistoric area of the brain, it is there: the judgement, the frustration—and sometimes the conscious thought of “they are definitely not stupid in their native language” takes just a few, searing seconds too long to slip through the cracks and slide into the thinking portion of the brain, and by then, it is sometimes too late; the damage has been done, and I know from personal experience that this damage takes even more effort and self-reflection to mitigate and move past. It is here, in the space between feeling and thinking, that prejudice takes root and sometimes flourishes, and it is an ugly, insidious feeling. This I have known—but now I know it a bit more completely. I can feel it from the other side now. I know what it is to be mistaken for unintelligent, or to feel so inadequate, simply because of a difference in language. And I think that this new knowledge has incalculable value for anyone who wishes to see our world a bit more clearly, a bit more completely. Sometimes it is not enough to consciously know that a certain impulse is incorrect; we must also feel it in our bones. The understanding must become a part of us if we want to have a true and permanent compassion for other humans, and not just those who, because of pure circumstance, share our language and culture. I sincerely wish everyone in America could have this same understanding, that this situation in which foreigners appear slow or very fundamentally different is just one circumstance among many possible circumstances, and absolutely should not be taken for reality.

In summation: I will never take for granted the ability to speak with other grown up humans again; people here think it’s weird that I’m white. Here are some pics of Chuncheon, the city I’m in:  15349657_10211418617130360_1795628416191499967_n-2 15338808_10211418618210387_795950064634112183_n 15400448_10211418617530370_767341725055958089_n



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