English Teachers of South Korea: Eliza Kirkpatrick
Name: Eliza Kirkpatrick
Hometown: Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia
Currently Living: Ajman, UAE
Job: 9th grade English Teacher, Girls High School
What are you doing right now?
I’m working with advanced students on their English skills. We cover IELTS prep along with academic English in general. On the side I’m studying Arabic, playing ukulele, fostering a cat, and planning vacations
And what’s your typical day?
I wake up, grab breakfast and head to work. Depending on the schedule, I teach, lesson plan, mark, and look for fun stuff to do in the class. We follow the book closely, but I like a few wild card days where we break from the text and have something lighthearted
Where are you from?
I was born in Alaska and grew up in Savannah then Ft. Oglethorpe Georgia. But I haven’t been back in about seven years.
Why did you decide to move here?
Well, I was finishing my Master’s degree and went through a divorce at the same time. I wanted to go somewhere to set myself up financially, as well as try an area I’ve never gone before. I looked to the Middle East after teaching a group of Saudi students.
Why do you teach?
Teaching has always come naturally to me, but it wasn’t my first choice. However, due to my ex being stationed in Korea, I found a way to go with through work. After the first semester, I knew this was what I wanted to do, so I finished my education in ESL and have never looked back.
Teaching English is like building a bridge; there’s so much joy in seeing students communicate and helping them explore parts of them and the world they haven’t accessed before. It also gives them confidence and a bigger vision of what they can do with themselves.
If you weren’t teaching, what would you be doing?
I’ve been teaching seven years now, so it’s hard to think about. Perhaps I would have gone into media. I did college radio and wrote for newspapers back home.
What separates the good teachers from the bad?
It’s unfair to label anyone as a bad teacher. Some are demotivated from the red tape and politics, others jump into a position abroad for the money , others are just trying to balance their life with the classroom. What makes a teacher successful is their intention; I think that walking into a classroom and thinking “This place may treat me horribly/I might be having a nervous breakdown/I just need the pay to get by but I have these people here who need me and I’m going to do the best I can” usually are the ones that walk away feeling like a success.
What were the hardest life lessons you had to learn while here?
Sometimes you have to put on a face you don’t normally wear. Culturally taboo topics like dating, tattoos, homosexuality, are not allowed in the classroom. When a student reaches out for advice or information, you have to shut it down and move on. There are times I hear my students dishing out their take or their opinion and you want to encourage a discussion, but you have to walk away.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking about teaching abroad or living abroad?
Have an open mind. Most of the teachers that struggle here are not the newbies, but the 20 year veterans who come with the expectations of their previous jobs and are consistently frustrated and inflexible.
Do you have any passions or hobbies that you pursue abroad?
Traveling is a big hobby. I try to plan my trips meticulously and being in a central hub is very helpful.\
I also play ukulele and enjoy jamming on my balcony.
I write, though not as much as I should.
What would you be doing if you were still in your home country?
I’d probably be teaching at an adult institute or working on my admin experience at a university. I also see myself working for the government as EFL teacher for international members of the military.
Do you want to add anything else?
Teaching abroad is a really liberating experience and I’ve met so many people who are now in other places. I really think that people, especially Americans, should leave their home country for a year to really shape their perspective.
We'd love to interview you!!! If you're a current English teacher living abroad, shoot us an email at Steve@HalAndSteveEnglish.com