English Teachers of South Korea: Phillip Balistriere
Name: Phillip Balistriere
Hometown: Slinger WI
Currently Living: Traveling, but in America at the moment.
Job: Former Sang-ri Elementary School English teacher. In-between jobs.
What are you doing right now?
Answering this at 2 in the morning.
And what’s your typical day?
Currently: Wake up, drink a pot of coffee, see where the day takes me.
As a teacher: Wake up, head to the classroom, prep, drink coffee, teach, prep, teach, coffee, go home, work on music or go for a bike ride.
Where are you from?
Slinger, WI. USA. It’s basically a small farm town.
Why did you decide to move here?
It was a chance to get out of my comfort zone while going into teaching. After hearing a number of positive things, I felt moving to Korea would be a great opportunity to develop skills as an ESL teacher as well as the opportunity to explore an entirely new culture and area.
Why do you teach?
There are many reasons why I teach, but the big ones are the break-through moments when it clicks for the students and it begins to make sense for them and you can see them get it. That, and the way the students always surprise me. There will be days when a student might stop by my room and talk to me who had never really done that before or students will start using a phrase or word we learned out of nowhere and in the correct context. It’s so exciting for them and for me as well. Those are the moments that I live for when teaching.
If you weren’t teaching, what would you be doing?
I came to teaching a little later than most so I know what I would be doing: working in a restaurant or a job shop. That’s what I did for a number of years before doing this and would probably still being doing it had I not went back to school. However, if this is a hypothetical question, it’d be nice to make a living as an author or musician. Otherwise I could always be a drifter that solves mysteries.
What separates the good teachers from the bad?
I haven’t seen enough to judge a “bad” teacher, so I don’t think I’m too qualified on this front to say much, but I like to think a good teacher not only teaches the students, but never stops learning as well. They will continue to search for better ways to convey the material and involve all the students. A good teacher should be stern, but also needs to be understanding and kind (even on those rough days). It’s all easier said than done, of course, but those are things that come to mind.
What were the hardest life lessons you had to learn while here?
The hardest life lesson I had to learn was that no matter what age you are or what standing you think you have, a group of unruly first graders will not care and will take you down.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking about teaching abroad or living abroad?
Whatever the reason for going abroad, my advice is just dive in. You will make mistakes and you will be challenged, but just embrace it and have fun with it! And give it time. There are people who will want to bail after only a few weeks or so, but it will take longer to get settled in and feel comfortable. It’s a big change, sure, but it’s an even bigger opportunity to really get to know a new place and people and even learn about yourself, so use it!
Also, be flexible. My experience is that things will change at a moment’s notice and there’s nothing to be done about it so just keep calm, go with it, and you’ll be fine.
Do you have any passions or hobbies that you pursue abroad?
Bicycling and playing music are the two biggest hobbies I pursued in Korea and fortunately it has active communities for both. I got crazy into bicycling while living in Korea and the country is so bike friendly that it’s just unreal. It’s an awesome way to see the country.
What would you be doing if you were still in your home country?
If I never went to Korea and stayed in America, I really don’t know what I’d be doing. I can’t really imagine. I knew I was going to give teaching abroad a try and I had no Plan B!
Do you want to add anything else?
Living in Korea was one of the most positive experiences of my life and while I have left to do some other things, I wouldn’t trade my time there for anything. The kindness of the people, the students I taught, the food, all of it was wonderful!