"The Life of a Teacher" Seoul by Canadienne

Seoul Travel Guide: 3,137 reviews and 8,085 photos

I moved to Ch'onan, South Korea in early 1997 to teach English. Although my plans were to stay there for a couple of years ~ enjoying a new culture, taking advantage of travel opportunities and saving some extra money ~ circumstances conspired against me.

I didn't quite make it through year one. . .so I have some terrific memories of breathtaking temples, glorious mountains and kind students. . .and some not-so-terrific memories of bureaucratic red tape, unresponsive supervisors and creepy roommates.

Things don't always work out the way we envision them, but. . .

"If you didn't get all the things you wanted, you can still be grateful for all the things you didn't want that you didn't get."

The English Pusher

I e-mailed this article to friends and family when I was teaching in Ch'onan. . .it isn't mine, but I can't find the name of the author anymore (if you know, please come forward).

The scene: Near a playground, around noon. A young Korean boy is walking alone, when he is approached by a tall male Westerner, with long hair tied in a ponytail, and wearing sandals and a backpack.

Westerner: Hey, kid! How’d you like to learn some English?
Boy: That’s okay, I study English in school.
Westerner: Ha! You call that grammar stuff English? They’d laugh you off the streets of the good ol’ USA if they heard you talkin’ that jive. I’m talking about learning real English – the good stuff!

Boy: Well, I don’t know, I’ve got school, plus music classes, plus drawing classes, plus Tae Kwon Do, plus –
Westerner (interrupting): Yeah, you and every other kid in this country. But are any of those things going to make you competitive in a globalized society? Listen, how about I give you your first word for free. It’s “apple.” But don’t tell anyone I did that – it’s bad for business.
Boy (slowly repeating): “A-Pool?”
Westerner: Yeah, yeah, good enough. Now all you’ve have to do is come to the “Wee is English” hakwon, and you can learn lots more cool words like “igloo” and “hippo” – oops, looks like I gave you some more freebies, kid!
Boy: How much is it? My mother already works two jobs to pay for my other lessons.
Westerner: That’s because she loves you, kid. But if she really loves you – and if she doesn’t want the neighbours to think she’s cheap – she’ll pay for some English lessons, too.
Boy: But I only sleep four hours a night because of all my other classes and homework!
Westerner: Don’t worry, kid. I promise you’ll have no homework if you don’t want any. In fact, we won’t even teach you if you don’t want to be taught. We’ll just tell jokes, play games, sing and talk about music and movies during class. How does that sound?
Boy: But how will I learn English that way?
Westerner: Oh, you don’t actually have to study English. All you have to do is be around a native speaker like me. You absorb the English through your pores.
Boy: Well, I don’t know. . .
Westerner: C’mon, all the cool kids are doing it! Besides, how are you going to read the English signs on all the stores if you don’t study English? Never mind – listen. I’ve got something for you.
(The westerner reaches into his backpack and withdraws a flash card.)
Westerner: See, it’s a cartoon of a panda on one side, and a big letter “P” on the other side. Isn’t that great?
Boy (taking the card): Uh, I guess so. . .
Westerner: We've got lots of stuff like that over at the hakwon.
Boy: I’ve got to go. My Chinese Calligraphy class starts in two minutes.
Westerner (grabbing the boy by the arm): Aw, forget that junk. Come with me to this pizza place I was going to.
Boy: I thought it was wrong to end a sentence with a preposition.
Westerner: There you go again with that grammar stuff! Do you think Bill Gates uses proper grammar? Or Madonna?
Boy: Who are they?
Westerner: They're rich - that's who they are. Don’t you want to be rich?
Boy (starting to cry): No, I just want to get some sleep! I want to have dinner with my family! I want to play with my friends!
Westerner (shaking his head): Kid, that’s Third World kind of talk. The millennium is almost here - time to learn English!

  • Last visit to Seoul: Dec 1996
  • Intro Updated Apr 3, 2003
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Reviews (9)

Comments (27)

  • amambaw's Profile Photo
    Jun 23, 2005 at 2:37 AM

    Hey Stevie, I'm just about to head home after a year in Korea. I enjoyed reading your pages, it reminded me of some of the fun things I've done this year. Cheers! Amanda

  • salinhopt's Profile Photo
    Mar 9, 2004 at 6:29 PM

    Seoul is such a great city, so modern and old at the same time. I hope North Korea has the same chance one day! Great page Stevie! ;)

  • ferdnbean's Profile Photo
    Mar 4, 2004 at 9:59 PM

    Anyo! Your page rekindled all the warm feelings I have for the gentle people of Korea. Did you learn the Korean Game with the four wooden sticks ,Ut No Ri ( or at least that's how you pronounce it. It's no wonder I like you ...we're BOTH teachers .

  • SirRichard's Profile Photo
    Mar 1, 2004 at 5:27 AM

    "tastes from kerosene to gin"? That Soju sounds like an unforgettable experience, LOL. Interesting page from a different point of view, thanx for sharing!

  • Hmmmm's Profile Photo
    Feb 23, 2004 at 1:53 AM

    Good page. Some sound tips.. But what I love more is the story on English teaching. It hits the nail right on the head.. What did you think of your time teaching english in Korea? I am for now, still amidst it. Anyway great stuff. Aaron

  • Imbi's Profile Photo
    Feb 18, 2004 at 8:49 PM

    My trip does not start without my note book and camera. Soju House would be my first destination in Seoul.

  • herzog63's Profile Photo
    Feb 17, 2004 at 7:38 AM

    Your new travelogue seems quite special!

  • mrclay2000's Profile Photo
    Oct 20, 2003 at 6:43 PM

    I'm beginning to believe your past included Interpol operative, biosphere survivor and deep-sea oceanographer. You needn't explain. "Teacher" was a good cover.

  • dr.firas's Profile Photo
    Oct 1, 2003 at 3:09 AM

    Seoul is a big dream to me! as it is the Land of Teakowando sport made in! have you seen some of Teakowando shows when you were there Stevie? it is the National Pride of Korea! ;-)

  • traveldave's Profile Photo
    Aug 17, 2003 at 8:19 PM

    It seems as if you had a great adventure living in Korea like that. Too bad you couldn't stay longer.

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