VLOG: My Uni English Learning Lounge

One of the best things about my job teaching English in Korea is my weekly Global Lounge class. This non-credit one-hour class focuses on conversation and is situated in the University’s Student Union. While I am stoked to have a café located there that serves up som great, cheap coffee, what really catches my eye is the bank of televisions that show news programs in other languages and the headphone banks that are used in the seats. This vlog introduces them.

Have you seen them before? Would you use them?

Get QOT! Run DMZ Event [GoPro Korea]

It’s part scavenger hunt, part Amazing Race; however, no matter how you describe it, the 2013 Run DMZ event in August was 100% fun. The event was held in Inje County, about two hours east of Seoul in Gangwon Province. Since the end of the Korean War (called the 6-25 War in Korea), the DMZ has continued to be one of the most heavily fortified borders in the world. To promote tourism and peace, many are trying to re-brand the DMZ as a Peace and Life Zone. The Run DMZ event was part of that effort. Jo and I were invited to participate in one of this year’s contests – I’m glad we went.


The premise was simple. At each of the three staging areas, teams would complete a series of tasks. Each team would need to “pay” for each event with a Mission Coin – which would allow a single attempt. Unsuccessful attempts would require an additional Mission Coin. When judges felt that a team had successfully completed the task, they would award a Mission Stamp. Each location had a time limit for completing the assigned tasks. Usually, the events allowed for teams to complete other events, or bonus missions, for extra stamps.

run dmz mapHere’s a break down of the events we completed:

  1. Walking on reflexology stones and doing math
  2. Museum item quiz (local farming equipment)
  3. Identify the animal through charades
  4. Find the Chinese characters
  5. Paper butterfly flight contest
  6. Ball toss
  7. Find the animals
  8. Identify the paw print
  9. Photo scavenger hunt

As you can see by the map above, we completed all nine of the major events. We also racked up an impressive 44 extra stamps through bonus missions. So how did we do?

get-qot-run dmz-koreaThat’s right – 3rd place. It was a total blast, despite having to get up at 3:30am in order to shower and get ready to the bus stop early enough to ride into Seoul. Would I do the Run DMZ event again? Sure. It was a great time and had nothing to do with the fact we came in 3rd. While the events themselves really didn’t do much to promote peace or nature – it was fun and a beautiful place to escape to at the end of the summer season.

Another thing that really made the event successful, was the fact we didn’t have to plan everything ourselves. The Korean English Network (on Facebook) and a marketing manager for the DongA Ilbo put the group together and provided Korean team leaders for us. This insured that we had at least one member of our team who was bilingual to respond to questions and directions, since none of the official documents were presented in English (however, organizers did speak enough so our “translators” could actually enjoy themselves).

Review: Teaching in Asia

QiRanger - Teaching in Asia - BusanKevin - JLandKev - eBook - Korea - Japan - ESL - TeachingI get a lot of questions about teaching in Korea. It’s one of the reasons that I have a playlist devoted to those questions and topics. In fact, I even make a point to address some of the more common ones on the Vlog Channel. However, one of my friends has taken this a bit further and written a book.

Teaching in Asia: Tales and the Real Deal is the first outing for this self-proclaimed enthusiast of social media. As a result, he’s been sharing the information for years between his numerous blogs and YouTube channels. Kevin was kind enough to forward me a copy of the book to review and I sat down at my desk and read it in one go. It’s that quick and good.

The first thing many do when deciding to come to Korea or Japan to teach is hit up the Internet. While it was easy to find information in 2000, in 2012 there’s just so much out there – people can literally become paralyzed  reading all the search results. Teaching in Asia takes Kevin’s 10 year history of teaching ESL abroad and places it in one location. Sure it provides links to several reputable sources, but for me, the strength of the book comes from the Tales portion of the subtitle.

Anyone can go to Google and research about recruiters, schools, and life abroad. That’s not hard. However, very few do a good job of sharing  those experiences. In this book, Kevin shares stories about first arriving in Korea and candidly explains that he may have made a mistake. He goes through many of the ups and downs of teaching in different schools. That’s what I found most valuable, since it was new information and something that many can relate to and act as a guide should someone be placed in that position.

With so much information out there, days can be lost researching just what to do. Teaching in Asia: Tales and the Real Deal provides a good framework for answering the most common and burning questions in an entertaining way. Sitting down to read it won’t take more than three hours and the information you’ll glean from it will easily save that much time or more than if you were conducting the research yourself on the ‘net.

Teaching in Asia: Tales and the Real Deal is available in the Amazon Kindle Store. It’s less than $6 and certainly worth picking up if you’re thinking about teaching in Korea or Japan. I don’t get anything out of a sale, but think it’s a good buy if nothing more than for reading his stories.

About the author: Kevin O’Shea was born and raised in Nova Scotia, Canada. Before making the move to South Korea in 2002 to teach, he worked in the Electronic Game Development industry. Kevin taught in both Seoul and Busan, South Korea for more than five years before returning to Canada to become an elementary school teacher. He now works as a teacher at an international school in Japan where he lives with his wife and son. When not writing, Kevin is blogging, video blogging, spending time with his family and running marathons (literally).

Youtube: BusanKevin JLandKev

Twitter: JlandKev

Far Away Blog

Teach Asia Blog

Teaching in Korea: Questions

Congratulations! You’ve made it to Korea, got settled into your new home and are about to step into your first class. Standing next to the whiteboard, you eagerly write your name for all to see and then it happens in rapid-fire succession.

“Where are you from?”

“How old are you?”

“Where do you live?”

“Do you know Korean?”

“Do you like spicy food?”

“What is your blood type?”

“Do you have a boy/girlfriend?”

“What kind of phone do you have?”

“Can I have your phone number?”

Wait. What was that last one?

“Teacher, can I have your phone number?”

While most of the previous questions are pretty standard and easily answered (okay, the blood type question may seem strange, too – but it really isn’t once you understand Korean culture), having students asking for your phone number usually throws many new teachers for a loop.

What would they need that for?

In most cases, students really don’t really need your phone number. They aren’t asking you for your phone number because they need it. They’re asking you for it because they like you.

In Korea, work is a high priority, since good paying jobs are scarce. In many families, one or both parents work five or six days a week and for very long hours. As a result, children are placed in academies to either learn or simply be watched over. Because of this, they really don’t have any adult role-models they can talk to or see on a regular basis aside from their teachers.

Connecting to you via obtaining your cell phone number is a way students are expressing their trust with you and that they like you.

Most English teachers don’t give out their number because they fear that students will call them endlessly. In my experience, that isn’t the case. Most of the students that have my number have never called or text messaged me. Those that have, usually send one or two messages after they first obtain the number, but never after that.

However, because we’ve shared numbers, I’ve been able to obtain a better rapport with students in class and with their parents. This relationship has made all the difference when teaching in Korea, since most students arrive to class with homework done and are eager to participate in all the activities.

So when a student next asks you for your phone number, consider giving it to them. It could make the difference in their life and make teaching in Korea, that much easier.

Teaching in Korea: Over the Top

Imagine a day like this:

7am Wake up.

8am School.

1pm School’s done.

3pm Music Academy

5pm English Academy

7pm Dinner

8pm Homework

10pm Bed.

For many children in Korea, this is the normal weekday routine. Much of their day is spent in learning activities, and I feel this is the primary reason they are surpassing many other youths on the world stage. Korea’s educational system has  created some of the most incredibly sharp minds I have ever seen. So when I teach English, I try to make it as interesting as possible, for sometimes the material is not. In fact, sometimes the stories and materials in class are… well… boring.

Take this sample:

The tiny yellow fish is swimming in the ocean. Look out tiny yellow fish, the big fish is coming! He wants to eat you for supper! SNAP!

The listening CD reads the story as a dry as possible. Therefore, when students arrive to class to read and discuss this story, they are less than thrilled to do so. However, if one changes the perspective of the story and makes it an epic tale of pursuit and evasion… then it breathes new life into the tale and makes it thrilling.



There are two important things to remember when teaching in Korea. First, it’s your job to make English instruction as interesting as possible for the learners. Do what ever it takes to get them excited about the learning process. Second, teaching is a two-way street. As an instructor, you need to find a way to get the learner speaking and synthesizing information. Using the above method of storytelling has been very effective with elementary aged students, but not something I would use with middle school, high school, or adult learners. Each age range has its own mindset and the educator needs to understand the dynamics of the class to present the material in the most meaningful way.

The End is Near

A sample textbook.

The title sounds quite cryptic, but it really isn’t. Twice a year, most English teachers at private academies teach intensives (extra classes that are offered during school holidays). As January comes to a close, I’m entering my last week of this altered schedule and I’m ready to have my 4p-10p days back. While I’ve enjoyed getting done earlier each day, I feel I’ve lost some of the productivity that having an entire day free garnered me.

In the past, I’ve written about these intensives and mentioned them in my videos on YouTube, but one thing I never really did was make a video about what it takes to teach during this time. Thankfully, someone has done just that. He’s a great YouTuber based in Seoul that goes by the channel name Green Eggs and Hamster. Not only does he put out some great videos about his life as a teacher in Seoul, but about life here in Korea. If you’re thinking about teaching abroad (and especially here in Korea), make sure you subscribe to his channel. You’ll find it incredibly helpful. Take a look at this video, just to see what kind of day most teachers have during Winter Intensives:

As you can see, it’s quite long!

As I settle into teaching regular classes next week, I find myself getting ready to coach several of my kids on presentations in preparation for speaking competitions. Unfortunately, most kids rely on Power Point for their presentations, which is a shame, since they use it more as a teleprompter than a tool to relay information. This is more due to the fact that this is how they were taught to use it. Much of my work is trying to break them of this habit.

The tool, I’ve found that has worked best to do this has been Prezi. Prezi is an on (and off) line presentation program that is really easy to use and allows users to create some great visuals to go along with their presentations. It features a great whiteboard style interface, that really allows creative presentations. Furthermore, since it’s all web driven (in the free version), students can create the presentation at home and we can access it at school without the need for thumb drives (or viruses).

As you can see, you can actually get quite creative with this program.

As the new term starts, what are you preparing for?

Teaching in Korea: Schools

One of the questions I get regarding teaching in Korea is about what kind of school programs there are and how to get a good job. This is a multifaceted question, and I’ll try to break it down as easily and simply as possible.

There are two major teaching opportunities in Korea: Public Schools and private academies. While there are other teaching jobs available, the vast majority of individuals coming to Korea to teach English usually find themselves in one of these types of programs. Each has its own pros and cons, which I’ll cover below.

Public schools operate throughout the country and are generally regarded as a safer teaching option. This means there tends to be less issues with payment and contract issues. Most contracts are also during daytime hours and hover around 20 teaching hours per week. In addition, public schools tend to offer more vacation time and an up-front settlement allowance. However, there are some downsides. First, payment tends to be a bit lower than private academies. Second, since schools have long semester breaks, you may be asked to “desk warm” at the school (show up to work and sit for a full day with no work or classes to teach when students are on vacation).

Private academies offer a variety of work schedules ranging from mornings, days, afternoons, evenings, and split shifts. For the most part, you can find a school that teaches class when you want to work, so that you can maximize your free time. For example, I like having my days free, so I work evenings. Second, pay tends to be slightly higher than at public schools. Classroom hours vary, but can be up to 30 teaching hours per week. There can also be several problems at private academies. Some organizations are not above-board and try to cheat their employees by not abiding to the terms of the employment contract (longer hours, no overtime, late salary payment, etc.). This can be seen on several discussion boards. Furthermore, vacation time usually holds fast at two weeks per year. There are fewer problems when working for a large franchise, as they are very brand conscious.

When selecting the kind of job to apply for, really think about what age group you want to work with and what hours you’re willing to put into the classroom. Once you’ve done that, then you can start looking for a job. Probably the best way to get a good job (either at a public school or private academy) is to find someone online that likes where they are teaching and ask them how they got the job. The will usually point you to a recruiter and you can navigate from there. In some cases, you just might be in luck and the school will have an opening just for you.

When you get it right…

How mornings start...

I love teaching… I really do. As we start off the new term, I had a great moment last night. Long-time readers will remember that during the Summer Intensive session, I taught a custom speaking class. It was designed to assist elementary students gain confidence in their public speaking abilities. Two of those students were in my class last night as we began the first lesson in their new level.

Since the material is rather light for Lesson 1, I incorporated a brief lesson on public speaking. I did this for two reasons: 1) Students at this level are asked to prepare longer presentations in class (and I expect more out of them); 2) Twice a year we hold speaking competitions for children at this level and above.

The two students that were in my class were very happy to see that Topic #1 from summer class was the same as the topic I assigned for homework. They not only took time to convince the rest of the class that giving a 2-minute speech was easy, but also asked if they could use the speech they prepared from summer.

I was already proud of them for doing such a great job this summer… but this made me even more so.

Tonight, I teach my first science class. I hope these students are as open to giving presentations as these younger ones. I love science and can’t wait to immerse myself once more into its world.

It's on…


For the past twelve working days, I’ve been teaching Summer Intensives (like Summer School). While I enjoy teaching, and in fact, got to write my own curriculum this time, what I really didn’t like was how it impacted my days.

Normally, I don’t start work until around 4pm (sure I go in a bit early, but that’s my choice). Having morning classes and then going back in the afternoon, really took its toll on me, since I’m used to taking it easy in the morning and also having time to go into Seoul if needed. Plus, after putting in a few hours in the morning, grabbing a quick bite to eat, and then looking at returning to the office an hour later, really inhibited my language learning time.

Granted, I have not been all that motivated at learning either Korean or Hangeul since Jo’s been here. But that’s changing. I am really motivated to take some extra time out of my day and learn both languages. An emphasis will be placed on Tagalog, since we’ll be returning to the Philippines for Christmas/New Year’s and I really want to be semi-fluent by then. Granted almost everyone in the Philippines speaks English, but I really enjoy learning languages and want to be able to converse with those that might not be comfortable speaking in English. I’m also looking forward to resuming my Rosetta Stone and TTMIK series (I erased my previous account with Rosetta Stone and started from scratch).

As of today, I’ve completed one lesson in both languages. That sounds more impressive that it really is, since they’re both review for me (I’ve done them many times). What I really appreciated was having Jo by my side correcting every little pronunciation as I was trying my hat at Tagalog. I hope with her expert instruction, I can really wow her mother and sisters.

Question: If you could learn any new language, what would it be?

Teaching in Korea: The Name Game

Teaching in Korea is a wonderful experience. What makes it special for me is the kids. I find most to be so much fun, I have to continually remind myself that I have to teach them something each lesson. But one thing that still has me confounded, even today, are the rules with names.

Sure most children in my class have English names. Hell, I have one class with four students named James. But there is an unspoken rule that no one ever tells new teachers when they start working in Korea: be careful how you write names on the board.

In the United States, a teacher can use any color write one’s name. Writing a student’s name on the board in blue or black ink is normal in Korea. However, an instructor must avoid using the dreaded red marker.

In Korean culture, among children, writing a name in red represents death. It’s as if you’re writing the name in blood and encouraging death to arrive on the student’s doorstep. I find this really odd, since official documents are all signed in red ink.

When you go to the bank to open an account, transfer money, or take out a loan, the documents are stamped with the name of the person in red ink. My immigration documents are all stamped with the official’s name in red ink that approved the form. All awards and certificates I’ve received in Korea, have the company and the president’s name stamped in red ink.

I don’t understand the disconnect between the childhood superstition and the adult practice of signing documents in red. I’m currently trying to research the issue, since I find it so puzzling, but in the meantime, teachers take note: do not write a student’s name in red!

UPDATE: Within a few hours of posting this video on YouTube, I received a pretty good answer. In times of old, red ink was only used by the King to sign official documents. Hence the use of red ink today on the stamps. When someone died, they wrote their name in red. Both symbolized death. In the first case, that you swear to the deal or oath you’re making with your blood and life. The second to signify that the person had expired. Stamping or sealing a name did not have the same connotation as writing one’s name; therefore, that’s why children react the way that they do.