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Making A Great Program Even Better (2008 Essay contest)
Making A Great Program Even Better (2008 Essay contest)
  Date: 2009-07-18 01:11     View: 2992  

Making A Great Program Even Better 



 Okjong Middle School Arthur R. Deal





I.)               Introduction

II.)            First Impressions and getting settled in

III.)         Suggestions for creating positive first impressions

IV.)        Overcoming cultural barriers and conflicts

V.)           Ways to improve English Education

VI.)        Conclusion










It is a great pleasure for me to share my thoughts and experiences as part of this Essay Contest. First, I will talk about my experience adjusting to Korean culture and customs. Next, I will share about my experience in overcoming cultural barriers. Finally, I will discuss ways to improve English education.

           I arrived in Korean on September 17th, 2008. Since I have been here for just over two months, my perspective may differ quite a lot from guest teachers who have been here for a year or longer. Also, if I were to write a similar essay a year from now, I may have many different opinions. With that in mind, my focus will be on the experience and perspective of a newly-arrived foreign teacher.




ARRIVING IN KOREA: First Impressions

           It is my opinion that the first couple of months for a guest teacher are very critical. It is critical not only in regard to creating a positive feeling of being in Korea, but also in how he or she will be seen by the students and other teachers. First impressions are very important! So, after sharing my personal experience, I will give some suggestions on what more can be done so that everyone has a positive first impression.

           Overall, my first impression of Korea and teaching in Korea is very positive. I came here with a positive mentality, because I had heard many good things about the country. And I have not been disappointed. Not only is the country beautiful, but it is modern, clean, and organized. Most importantly, though, are the Korean people. They have showed themselves to be very friendly and helpful.

           I live in a very small town, and the people here are very nice to me. I have also spent a good amount of time in a mid-sized city, Jinju. There too, I have been treated very well. Whether it is at the school, at the bank, in a restaurant, or at the bus station, just about everyone has been polite, friendly, and eager to help and please.

           Another very important aspect is that it is so peaceful here. There is basically no crime to speak of, and the communal aspect of society is very apparent. So, the Guest English Teachers who have travelled or taught abroad in other parts of the world will surely appreciate these positive qualities about Korea.



           Even though I have mentioned all these good and positive aspects about Korea, it doesn’t mean that there won’t be “bumps on the road.” All the Guest English Teachers are coming from countries with a “Western” mentality and culture, so it takes a while to get adjusted to Eastern thought pattern and way of life. I come from the United States, and to say that America and Korea are very different is almost an understatement!

           So, any foreign teacher will experience a whole lot of change. Almost everything will be different, and it is well known that changes and differences produce STRESS!! Usually, we associate stress with negative moments, such as arguments, a difficult boss, unruly children, and so on. In reality, though, stress is neutral. It can happen in all kinds of circumstances, both positive and negative. Even the most joyful moments of your life, such as being accepted into your university of choice, getting your dream job, getting married, or having a baby, will bring a lot of stress along with it.

           That said, it should come as no surprise that I have experienced a lot of stress. The reasons are obvious. Different culture and customs, different food, different surroundings, being away from family and friends, not being able to speak the language, being in a new job, new home, new city, new country… and the list goes on. The list of reasons for experiencing stress is quite large, actually.

           It is very important, then, to be able to deal with that stress so that it does not hinder your health, happiness, and job performance. Sometimes, we can change actions and behaviors to reduce the sources of stress. In the case of the foreign teachers in Korea, that is impossible. In order to eliminate the stress he or she would have to leave the country. So, what we have to think about is ways to counterbalance the stress. And we do that by having enjoyable, pleasurable, happy moments such as: being treated well, having a nice dinner with the teachers at school, attending a party, playing volleyball after school, going hiking, on a date, to a festival, etc. And probably the best strategy you can have, and the most effective anti-stress action, is to maintain a positive attitude. Look for the good in everything. Ask yourself what are your favorite Korean foods. Notice and appreciate all the good aspects of Korean culture. Try to understand why people act the way they do. Remind yourself that misunderstandings happen ? that is normal. Be patient, and expect the best outcome to every situation. Remind yourself that it isn’t easy for the Koreans who must deal with you. You are the guest, not the host. Believe that everyone is trying and doing their best. Remember: focus on the positive!!


GETTING SETTLED IN: co-teacher and school staff

           I have been very blessed in that my co-teacher, Mr. Kwon, and the staff at Okjong Middle School have been most helpful to me. They have done everything in their power to facilitate my arrival, getting settled in, and overcoming the initial adjustments and “culture shock.”

           I have an especially high regard for Mr. Kwon. He did many things to help me out. First, he spent much time with me during the fist two weeks. We drove around to various places in order to for me to get my medical exam, residency card, and bank account. These were the most essential items. But Mr. Kwon also took me shopping to get some important items such as an iron and ironing board, etc. He assisted in ordering internet service and cable TV. And let’s not forget requesting delivery of kerosene for the heater, going grocery shopping, and more. All these things may seem trivial and mundane, but when you don’t speak the language, all of a sudden you realize how difficult even the simplest of tasks can be.

           The main reason for me to write this essay is for the benefit of the Korean Ministry of Education in its effort to make this program even better. A secondary reason is for the benefit of current and any future Guest English Teachers. I hope to be able to give some insights in order to facilitate the adjustment process and help them have a positive, enjoyable, and successful experience.

           Here, then, is a list of things that a future Guest English Teacher may have to look forward to:

(This is not new information. I am listing it so that one may easily visualize how much change and adaptation a new guest teacher goes through)


  1. Meeting with Superintendant: don’t forget to bring a passport sized picture, original Background Check, Original College Diploma and any certificates, and all other pertinent documents

  2. Start working right after arriving in Korea

  3. Finding out what is expected of you, which books to use, how to be most effective, etc (ongoing, but it may take about 2 months for you to feel good, more at ease, and in a “routine” of sorts) You may be given a curriculum to follow, or you may be asked to come up with your own material. Then you will have to hunt for books, search the internet, be creative

  4. Getting a medical exam done (2nd or 3rd day in Korea): you will need two passport sized pictures

  5. Applying for Residency card (1st week in Korea): you will need one more passport sized picture

  6. Learning where everything is: grocery store, market, bank, post-office, gym, restaurants, shopping center, bus station, and so on (about 1 month)

  7. Learning how to operate everything ? IT MAY SEEM SO SIMPLE, BUT REMEMBER: ALL THE INSTRUCTIONS ARE IN THE KOREAN LANGUAGE, HANGUL. So, you will need help with the washing machine, air-conditioner, heater…

  8. Opening a bank account after you get your residency card (2nd week in Korea)

  9. Getting a cell phone (3rd week in Korea)

10.  Ordering internet and cable TV (3rd week in Korea)

11.  Opening a bank account at a foreign exchange bank, in order to be able to send money to your home country (3rd week in Korea)

12.  Buying a phone card to be able to make cheap calls abroad. Learning how to recharge the card: call the phone card company and ask them to open an account for you (Ocean International Calling Card, for example). They will send you a message on your cell phone with the information. Then go to the bank and deposit money into the account given. Call the phone card company to confirm…. It is a pain, but worth your trouble. For 20,000 won, I get 5 hours of talk time with people back home in the US. (3rd week in Korea)

13.  Getting used to the public transportation system. Learning the bus schedules, subway lines, and so on (1st and 2nd month in Korea)

14.  Learning the alphabet, and basic words and phrases in Hangul (1st and 2nd month in Korea)

15.  Getting a gym membership (2nd month) **important for stress relief**

16.  Being able to go sightseeing, hiking, to the movies, etc on your own (2nd month)

17.  Finding out what kinds of food you like and where to get it (1st and 2nd month)

18.  Making friends (it may take a couple of months)


OK, I know this list of things is very obvious. But all these tasks become more difficult when a new language and culture are in question. You will be doing everything on this 18-item list while you are getting adjusted to teaching, learning student names, trying to figure out the best way to do lesson plans, etc… And all these are things that will create that ugly word: STRESS.


           SPECIAL NOTE TO THE MINISTRY OF EDUCATION: It can be understood by glancing at the list above how much change and adaptation a Guest English Teacher is going through in the first two months in Korea. On top of all that, the guest teacher is trying to get used to teaching English is a new environment, is experiencing some culture shock, realizing that the way to teach Americans (or any other nationality) and Koreans is quite different, making adjustments to culture, learning how the handle a classroom where the students for the most part don’t understand what you say, and so on. The teachers are under a lot of stress, and are probably feeling a little overwhelmed at times. That is natural. It would happen in any country. So, it would be nice if the Guest English Teachers were given some time for adaptation. Maybe teach less hours for the first two weeks (12 hours a week), then increase to 16, and finally to the full 22 hours a week. Another suggestion is to give the Guest English Teachers one day off during the first two work weeks, to get things done from the list of items that I gave above.




Suggestions for Native English Speakers:

What you can do so that you will have a positive first impression of Korea:

l       Maintain a positive attitude

l       Keep an open mind

l       Be flexible, patient, and creative

l       Be realistic: expect delays, expect to have a rough time here and there, and so on…

l       Focus on the adventure aspect of being in Korea: this is a golden opportunity to expand your horizons, become more cultured, etc… and have fun at the same time!


What you can do so that others will have a positive first impression of you:

l       Be friendly

l       Make an effort to experience different aspects of Korean culture

l       Let your co-teacher and others know what you genuinely like, such as which foods, etc.

l       Be timely

l       Be dedicated

l       Ask questions about Korea, etc


Suggestions to the powers that be in the host country of Korea:

Things that can be done so that the Guest English Teachers will have a good first impression and enjoyable experience:

l       Ask the co-teacher or someone else who speaks English to show the GET around. Do a tour of the city. Go to a restaurant together. Do some shopping. And go to some historical or cultural site, so that the GET can start to really appreciate Korean heritage, history, and culture

l       Organize events 3 to 4 times a year. The events can be more educational/cultural, or geared towards fun/leisure.

l       Invite GET’s to attend a speech about Korean history and culture. Then have someone from the education department talk about customs and culture as it directly relates to the teaching environment. Have a question and answer time. Set up displays.

l       Plan a day where GET’s in a region will get together and do some sort of cultural event, then have dinner at a traditional Korean restaurant. It will be a time of sharing experiences, asking for suggestions, express concerns and difficulties, and also to have fun.

l       Organize hiking trips in the Fall and Spring.

l       Invite GET’s to meet at one of the schools to play sports, have competitions…


Many GET’s live in a mid-sized to large cities, and won’t have as much of a need for the suggestions I listed above. But those of us who live in rural areas would certainly appreciate it. We are limited in our social life mainly due to the language barrier. And sometimes it’s nice to “hang-out” with other GET’s who can relate to you and your experiences.



           The most likely time to experience conflicts and the need for overcoming cultural barriers will be in the beginning of a GET’s stay in Korea. Thankfully, I haven’t had any major conflicts in the two months I’ve been here. There was only one incident, in my first week, that had the potential for creating ill-feelings. Allow me describe my experience:


When I came to Korea, I knew I would work in a rural area. However, I was under the impression I would work in the city of Hadong, which has a population of about 30,000 residents. At least that is what had been told to me by my recruiter.

The day after I arrived, I was told that I would work in a small town, Okjong..

Upon arrival in Okjong, I was surprised at just how small it is. It has only about 2,000 residents!!

I found out that most of the teachers at Okjong Middle School live in Jinju, a city of 300,000 residents. They commute to Okjong everyday.

So, I wrote an e-mail to my recruiter, asking what he thought of the possibility of me living in Jinju during the second semester. I asked him if he thought it would be possible to request and get permission to move to Jinju.

*** My reason for writing to the recruiter instead of talking directly with my co-teacher is as follows:

l       This is the first time my co-teacher and the Middle School in Okjong have had a GET.

l       My recruiter has been dealing with GETs for 5 years.

l       The recruiter has dealt with all kinds of situations, and has much experience

Well, can you imagine what happened?

My recruiter got in touch with the supervisor in the capital city, Changwon. The supervisor in turn contacted my school. Then, my co-teacher came to talk with me.

The impression that was caused is that I was dissatisfied with my living arrangements and was making a complaint. In fact, I am very happy with my One-Room Apartment, and very happy with Mr. Kwon (my co-teacher), Mrs. Lee (the principal), and everyone else at the Middle School. I was only inquiring of the possibility to live in Jinju. Thats all.


Lessons learned:

Communicate with all parties involved!!! That will decrease the possibility for misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

I should have written and e-mail to both my recruiter and my co-teacher, asking advice from both. I should also have explained to my co-teacher that I had sent the e-mail to the recruiter because he has much experience and could tell me if requesting a change in residency was acceptable or not.

It is better to over-communicate than to under-communicate!!!




           It is difficult to give suggestions on how to improve something without seeming to be complaining or criticizing. So, first of all I want to reiterate that I am very impressed with the EPIK program. It is a huge undertaking, and is very challenging and complex.

           The first subject I want to discuss under the topic “Ways to improve English education” is to share the challenges I experienced during my first two months as a teacher.

           I realize that there are myriads of settings for GET’s. Some work in a large city, others in the countryside (like me). Some GET’s work in several schools. Others only in one. And some teach different age groups. Take my example. The only group I do not teach is high-schoolers. I am at Okjong Middle School for 4 days/week. On Tuesdays I teach at the Elementary School (grades 3 through 6). And Tuesday and Thursday afternoons I give English classes to a group of teachers at the Elementary School.



           One of my main challenges has been to teach this variety of levels. That in itself would be a challenge for most people. On top of that there is the language barrier, which makes it more stressful, and not having a curriculum to follow for over half the classes given.

           I enjoy challenges, because it means an opportunity to learn and grow. And this is definitely a learning experience for me. My first challenge is that I did not have prior experience teaching all these different levels, especially simultaneously. And I had never taught in an elementary school before. So, I am having a crash course!!

Allow me to elaborate on the points mentioned above. Most teachers attend university for 4 years to obtain a teaching degree for a specific age group, such as Elementary, Middle, or High School. They learn how to make lesson plans, deliver a lesson, make it age appropriate, make it interesting…. They learn how to maintain discipline in the class, deal with various issues, different styles of teaching for different personalities, and so on…

Guest English Teachers who have a degree in education, therefore, will have a much smoother time getting adjusted. Also, some GET’s have previous teaching experience and others don’t. The point I’m trying to make is that a portion of the GET’s need extra “support services” provided to them, in order to keep the teaching field more or less at the same level.




           My suggestion to the Ministry of Education is that a position be created for providing these support services. That will be the sole responsibility of the employee. Let’s call the position the Support Services Administrator, or SSA. The tasks assigned to this person could include:

l       Creating a web-site for GET’s

l       Post a list of useful web sites. Categorize these web-sites, and give a brief description of each. For example: FUN ? jokes and games. Web site A: has a list of varied jokes. Web site B: has jokes about animals. Web site C: has some simple games for elementary school level. And so on…

l       Other useful categories for the web-site could include:

  1. Getting settled in: getting around, how to show respect, common words and phrases…

  2. How to order food at a restaurant, pay the bill, etc. Foods recommended by other GET’s

  3. Lesson planning for ESL classes

  4. Suggestions for effective teaching

  5. How to make teaching fun for both the teacher and students

  6. Maintaining “control” of the class

  7. Common difficulties faced by teachers

  8. Sample lessons

  9. Sample games

10.  Sample activities that can be repeated in various settings. For example: a game that once learned, can be easily played using different sets of vocabulary words, themes, etc

11.  Sample activities that work well

12.  Clip art and pictures to be used for various themes: home, school, work, sports, food, travel, professions, animals, hobbies, holidays, the weather

13.  Simple songs and poems

14.  Stories for Elementary, Middle, and High School levels

15.  Skits

16.  Korean culture

17.  Korean language

18.  Making friends, dating, complexities of the work environment…


Another suggestion is that the Support Services Administrator send out e-mails to the GET’s asking for contributions to the web site. The GETs themselves will be the best resource. The Support Services Administrator will be responsible for researching, compiling, organizing, and presenting all the information in a comprehensive yet easy-to-understand and easy-to-navigate manner.

           The Support Services Administrator (SSA) could also request and post the best examples of experiences by GET’s. Post funny and serious experiences. Find out what are the common challenges. Then ask for suggestions on overcoming them. The SSA will act as an in-between person for the GET’s and the Ministry of Education.

           Finally, the SSA should organize some events throughout the year. Something for the GET’s to do together during Winter and Summer vacation. Sightseeing day trips on a few Saturdays. Cultural events, and also some meetings for training and sharing.



           I could write much more, but have already exceeded the 8 pages requested. To conclude, then, I want to express that I am thoroughly enjoying my time in Korea. I highly recommend qualified people to come teach in Korea. I am sure you won’t regret it!! Also, for those of us who are already here, I believe we can contribute a lot to making a successful program even better. We, the teachers, have a love for teaching and for our students. We are high-achievers. And our biggest joy is to see our students make progress and do well. I encourage, therefore, all of us GET’s to cooperate and contribute towards creating a common pool of resources, recommendations, and suggestions. Each of us will be better off for it, and together we will be much more successful than we could ever be if working individually.


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