As a person like me who has been wanting to come to South Korea since 2002 because of the 2002 FIFA World Cup which was hosted by South Korea and Japan, the TaLK program was a great opportunity to come to South Korea. Though this is my third time coming to South Korea, this time was huge for me because unlike the first time where I was studying abroad in Seoul and the second time for Christmas vacation, this time would be in the countryside. When I heard that with the TaLK program that I would be teaching in the countryside, this was a challenge that I would be up for because since I have experienced the country in the metro side, I wanted to experience the countryside. After going through the interview and the collection of documents needed, the question I would ask myself is “Can you handle life in the countryside?” I would keep telling myself that I can do it because if I was able to handle living an entire academic year in Seoul, then I can handle living in the countryside.
After going through the orientation, then came the day that other TaLK scholars and I would receive our transfer of duties and placements. I knew that I was going to be in the Chungnam province, but it was a matter of where in the province will I be in. When I opened the envelop of the transfer of duties, I saw that I would be in Yesan and reading from the description, I felt lucky and blessed because what it read was that this is a city that is very neighborly and that you can even get around easily and be super close to a bus terminal and a train station. It made me even more excited to now go to Yesan because with the kinds of things like a bus terminal, train station, etc., I felt that I can go anywhere in South Korea from Yesan. What even made me more excited was reading in the transfer of duties that I would be working with a mentor teacher which I believe is a blessing in disguise because I believe that when you start a new journey, you will need someone for help in the beginning stages. So, after the orientation, it was time to prepare for life in Yesan and more importantly my teaching life.
A gorgeous winter scene in Yesan
On my first day in Yesan, I would go to the one of two schools to meet my mentor teacher and I was just in pure scenic panic but in a good way because walking through the school and even seeing some of the students there, it made me want to already wish that it was already day one of the semester. After meeting my mentor teacher and some of the students, my mentor teacher would drive me to my officetel and on the ride to my officetel, I felt like Bill Murray in the movie “Lost in Translation”. This is because as I was looking through the window, I was in awe and amazement of sceneries of the farmlands to then downtown Yesan. When I saw Yesan through the window, what I saw reminded me of my hometown because everyone lived close to each other and knew each other very well. So as I arrived in my officetel and unpacked, all I could think of was how this is going to be a fun and life learning experience being in Yesan.
Kids just being kids
Through the first month of teaching, at first it was not easy especially the first day because I’ll admit, I felt that I was saying too much at a rapid pace which did not help my students understand. But then as time went on, I started to improve how I spoke to my students and understand their mindsets because as a saying goes, every mind works differently. As for the students, since not a lot of them go to after school academies, after school English classes are their one source of learning English and I always like to play games with them because I feel that games are a great way to learn English and have fun at the same time. During the games too, the students just find a way to make me laugh because there are moments where they say a wrong answer but just to joke around and most times, we all have a good laugh. The point of my English classes is game-based learning because reading and writing is good, but students want to be active, which is why I do games like fly swatter.
As for the other teachers that I work with, they have been some of the most helpful people I have ever worked with and honestly without their help, I wouldn’t have become the English teacher I am today. For example, when I taught 1st and 2nd graders in my second school for the first time, I wasn’t too sure of what I should teach them since a lot of them are new to English. From there, my mentor teacher and I worked on how I can enhance their learning and from there, things got easier. What it shows is that when you work in schools in the countryside, the faculty and staff really go out of their way to help you and make sure that you are doing fine. It’s like you are a part of not just a school, but almost like a family because everyone is looking after each other so that things are going right at school. Of course, to repay them, I usually bring them a roll cake on days like Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other special occasions.
A picturesque evening at Blue Crystal Village in Asan
Outside of the classroom, one of the things that I enjoyed was going to places that a lot of the locals know. One of the places that I liked going to besides of course Seoul, Busan, and Daejeon was Blue Crystal Village in Asan which is a 30-minute train ride from Yesan. Blue Crystal Village is a place it makes you feel like you are in Greece because of how the village is built, so think of it as little Greece in South Korea. One of the most beautiful things about this village is when the evening comes, the lights make the village come to life. So if you stay long enough at Blue Crystal Village, the evening scenery is very picturesque and I would definitely want to bring your DSLR cameras to take some amazing shots. I highly recommend going to this place because the evening itself makes the atmosphere come alive with the lights and buildings.
Walking into the future in Naepo New City
Another place that I have enjoyed going to is Naepo new city which is a 20-minute ride on the express bus from Yesan. Naepo new city is the newest city in the Chungnam province and is the home of the province of education, province council, province police, and other administrative agencies. Built in the early 2010’s, this new city is becoming a wave of the future with how it’s constructed and how the image it shows us. What I like about it is that it has the feeling of a hometown while at the same time, a feeling of walking into a brand-new world that looks futuristic and modern. I also highly recommend this place because you can also go to the Chungnam province library which is a wonderful place to get lost in books and behind the province library is a wonderful pond to walk around with friends.
If you ask me, I say that being in the TaLK program is a great program to be a part of because you can be able to experience South Korea from a different perspective, meet many new people along the journey, and go to places that are only known to the locals. It has definitely helped me to continue to grow not only as a English teacher, but as a person too.