ESL Teachers of South Korea: Julee

ESL Teachers of South Korea: Julee

Name: Julee

Hometown: Hard to say? Austin, Tx

Age: 33

Currently Living: Austin, Tx

Job: Private Tutor, Nanny

 What are you doing right now?

Sitting on my balcony, drinking green tea and pretending it’s black coffee…listening to lawn mowers…and filling out an interview I had promised to do weeks ago.

And what’s your typical day like these days?

I feel as though this question has unintentionally made me contemplate how monotonous my days have become.  Well during the week I get up early…and wake up someone else’s children, make them breakfast, pack their lunches, take them to school.  Go for a run/jog/walk/amble. Shower. Hum. Eat Lunch. Teach an English lesson. Laugh. Pick up children. Tutor children. Sigh. Play games with the kids. Win. Make dinner. Drive home. Read. Stretch. Go to sleep. Rinse. Wash. Repeat.   

Where are you from?

Hmmm.  Well I used to say I’m from America, but then I moved away for too long and it started to feel less true.  I was born in Seoul, but grew up in Texas. Moved back to Korea, then kept moving some more. Most recently I moved back to Texas, so I suppose I’m from Texas…but also from Korea.

Why did you decide to move to Korea?

I wish I could say it was some deep inner longing to reconnect with my past and heritage, but if I’m being completely honest…I was bored. I had just graduated college and had a comfortable job and a comfortable relationship. It was all fine. Then one day I had this thought…maybe I could try something new. I saw an ad for teaching abroad. I applied, quit my job, quit my relationship and left about a month later.

Why do/did you teach?  

I started teaching because it was a convenient way to get to new places I wanted to go. I continued to teach because I discovered I like it.  I like to know people and to learn from them.  I like be able to help people communicate and express themselves in new ways. I like to make connections with people and for us to get to know each other on a level we would never have been able to before if we didn’t share language.  

If you weren’t teaching, what would you be doing?

Hopefully?  I would be making loads of money.  Before teaching I worked in event planning, catering and hospitality.  I would have liked to work in a large corporate hotel chain and just drown in buckets of money.  Or farming I enjoy farming. Maybe I would just be poor and living in the country somewhere with a self-sustaining vegetable garden.  

What separates the good teachers from the bad?

The number of student’s lives they’ve affected? “Good” teachers seem to be the ones that motivate students in one way or another.  “Bad” teachers seem to be the ones all the students forget with hesitation.

 What were the hardest life lessons you had to learn while in Korea?

I think I learned the hardest ones after I left.  Korea was sort of a bubble of bliss for me.  Hardest life lesson?  Maybe something about how difficult it is to attempt to learn a new language and how much we take for granted just being able to express ourselves to the people we meet.  Also, the squatting threw me at first, obviously now I’m a pro, but I remember numerous awkward incidents where I peed on my pants that first year.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about teaching abroad or living  abroad?

Don’t think about it too much. Just go if you want to go, everything will all work some way or another. Stress and worry just seem to build walls in a world of doors.  

Do you have any passions or hobbies that you pursue abroad? How about back home?

Not worth noting.

 If you were to settle in your home country, would there be a plan or path you have to follow?

I am attempting to “settle” in my “home” country and sadly I came without any plan, but why limit the paths?

Do you want to add anything else?

No, because this interview is already too long. I would’ve given up a while ago if I wasn’t feeling guilty about waiting so long to fill it out.

Can you tell us a few tips or tricks to help improve our classes?

Listen to the students, make them laugh, trust them to help guide their learning.  Oh and experiment, my best lessons were often ones that I hadn’t tried or seen tried before…ones I just thought might work.

 What websites or books helped you when you first started?  Which do you still use now?  

Is it wrong if I say Youtube?  Not just for resources…there’s a lot of international teachers that have good insight on their experiences.  I also used Kahoot, plickers, Edmoto, googleclassroom…

 What are the go-to tools that you think teachers should buy to improve their class.  I’ve found that a set of mini-whiteboards work wonders for young learners.  What about you?

Class journals I have found helpful, not only for students to be able to express themselves, but for me to get to know them better. I buy a set of notebooks for the class and let them take 5-10 mins a day to write whatever they want in them. When students get in the routine of writing in them everyday, they have time to think about what they want to say. Plus, if they are shy they can let me know things they might not feel comfortable saying to me otherwise.

That journaling bit sounds like such a wonderful thing. What was the youngest  age you did that with?

2nd grad depending on their levels. Younger kids can do it but they mostly work with pictures and sentences. I think I actually did it at my kindergarten private academy as well but I used journal prompts.



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