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!
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!
What 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.
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!