Monika Katarzyna Malinowski
I decided to apply for the TaLK program a few months after graduating college because I wanted to try something different. I believed this program would be a great opportunity to gain experience being an elementary school English teacher while living in and learning about Korea. Although that still remains true, I was not prepared for the curveball that the coronavirus threw at the world. My experience in the TaLK program so far has been a little different than what I expected but I am enjoying my time here and doing my best to adapt to every change and challenge that comes along.
First day of class 3rd grade
I work at Mokpo Bukkyo Elementary, and in the short amount of time I have been here, I have learned a lot about what it really means to be a teacher. My school has had online classes for which I have been providing supplemental videos and activities for my co-teacher to upload onto the website. During this time, I have been holding short English lessons for some of the third, fourth, and sixth grade students who have been coming into school. Before I started, I had no idea what to expect going into my first lesson. However, I quickly realized that even a forty minute lesson is not a cakewalk. All of the students I have seen so far, no matter their grade level, have a hard time reading, writing, and speaking English. I am the first TaLK scholar at my school which adds a little more pressure onto me since my co-teacher and I have to start teaching everything from scratch. I have come to realize that this is not as big of an obstacle as I thought it would be because it is definitely rewarding to see the progress that my students have made, even after only a few lessons. I am especially proud of one of my fourth grade boys because he struggled a lot with memorizing the alphabet at first, but in our most recent lesson he was spelling and reading faster than his friend. In early June, school opened up and I had my first curriculum lesson with my co-teacher. I presented an “about me” powerpoint for the first class and I was so nervous to go up in front of all the students but everything went smoothly and everyone is excited for upcoming classes. This program is teaching me that being a teacher is actually a very difficult job, and teaching Korean students in a mask is going to be a challenge we all will have to overcome. I am excited for the semester to continue and to start after school courses to further develop some of the students’ speaking abilities and my own leadership and teaching skills.
(Left) Mokpo Language Exchange; (Right) Decorated Temple in Mudeungsan
Adapting to life in Korea has also been a little more difficult than I originally expected. I studied abroad in Korea three years ago and do not remember having many troubles, but living on my own in a foreign country has definitely shown me how different it can be. My Korean abilities are fairly low even though I’ve taken Korean lessons in the past. I can get by ordering coffee and riding the buses, but my conversational skills are almost non-existent, which makes it hard for me to make friends here. Despite that, I have found the Mokpo Language Exchange group and have been attending meetings to both improve my Korean speaking and to meet new friends. Adapting to the social side of things in Korea has been a challenge for me given the language barrier and the fact that I am an introvert, but getting to know the culture through exploring cities and museums has been easy and amazing. Since coronavirus, we have to wear masks on public transportation and in most buildings, and when I went to the Gwangju National Museum, I had to get a temperature check and sanitize my hands before entering the exhibit. The museum was really informative and interesting because it had artifacts and tools on display from the Korean peninsula dating back all the way to the Stone Age. I have also been able to hike more while in Korea because mountains are everywhere here. I live right by Yudal mountain in Mokpo and have hiked some of the trails there, but my favorite mountain so far has been Mudeungsan in Gwangju. My friend and I hiked for about two hours and met so many kind, wonderful older Koreans who were genuinely interested in our reasons for being in Korea. One man even told us his dream of going to America to watch a baseball game and I hope one day he can fulfill that dream. I hope to be able to travel to more cities as time goes by and get to learn more about Korea. It is a little difficult to travel since coronavirus is still popping up here and there, but I cannot wait to travel to cities I have never been to and explore more of what Korea has to offer because at least we are not quarantined like the US is.
Monika and a gwangju cat
One of my favorite activities to do in Korea has been visiting cat cafes. Back home, I only remember ever seeing one cat cafe near my University since animal cafes are not a popular thing in the States. In Korea, however, they are so popular and really easy to find. In Mokpo, I have gone to two and luckily my favorite is a fifteen minute walk from my apartment. I went to one in Seongnam during national orientation, two different ones in Gwangju- both of these were amazing because there were so many cute cats and all of them were energetic; I want to go back to Gwangju to explore the city more but also to revisit the cats!- and I planned on going to one in Busan but unfortunately had no time the weekend I was there. I may be a bit of a cat lady but for an average of 8,000 won with a drink included to sit and pet some cats for a couple hours, you would be crazy not to go to a cat cafe at least once!
In the next eight months of my one-year contract, I am excited to get to know Korea better, pet more cats, visit some of my Korean friends when coronavirus lets up, and become more confident in front of my classes. I really had no expectations when I first joined this program, but being here has shown me that teaching is hard and I will need to put in a lot of effort to create engaging lessons my students will understand whether I am wearing a mask or not! I hope to improve my Korean speaking and make new friends because that will definitely ease my worries and help me adjust to life in Korea. Four months have already flown by but the future looks bright despite some obstacles and coronavirus, and if all else fails I know that I can still go to cat cafes and play with kitties. Korea is not exactly what I may have expected, but my time here so far has been a learning experience and I am excited to see what the next eight months have to offer.