jamie, busan

Where and when did you complete your TEFL course?

I completed my 120 hour, in-class TEFL course at bli in June 2016 and stayed on to teach for another +/- 6 months.

Why did you choose to participate in a TEFL course?

I had been accepted to teach English in South Korea through the EPIK programme, which requires teachers to hold either a degree in education or a TEFL certificate. I studied journalism at university and it is my goal to become a travel writer and photographer. Teaching in foreign countries not only allows me to travel within the country, but to other nearby countries as well, while doing meaningful work and earning a steady income. After completing the TEFL course at bli I realised that teaching English as a foreign language was no longer just a means to an end for me, but something that I truly enjoyed doing. It can be difficult and frustrating, but when you see the results of your efforts in the progress of your students, it is one of the most rewarding feelings to experience.

Where do you currently teach?

I currently teach at Gaepo Elementary School in Busan, South Korea. It's a relatively small school with lovely classrooms, students and teachers. I teach from grade 3 to grade 6 with two co-teachers. They helped me a lot to settle in and figure out the necessities when I first arrived in Korea. I have also learned a lot from them about teaching and especially managing large classes of children, which is something I have come to realise you can only learn through experience.

How would you describe a typical day in your current position?

On a work day I wake up around 6:30am to give myself lots of time to shower, have some tea and make sure I am properly prepared for the day. I leave my apartment around 8am and walk 15-20 minutes to my school. All of my classes take place between 8:50am and 1pm. I usually have four classes a day, at minimum 3 and at maximum 5. I bring my own lunch to school in an attempt to be healthy but many foreign teachers pay the monthly fee for school cafeteria lunch which varies in quality from school to school. My school makes a great lunch. Every other Thursday I record an English Broadcast in the afternoon, which is basically a +/- 10 minute presentation on something to do with my home or country. It's broadcast to the students in their homerooms the following Tuesday and I give them a fun quiz or mission based on it. I also help with English reading club every 2 weeks, also on a Thursday. EPIK (English Programme in Korea) teachers work 8 hours a day, so my afternoons are spent doing what we call 'desk warming' till 4:30pm which means I can usually get any lesson planning and work done before going home, leaving my evenings open for myself.


After school I usually go to gym, which is conveniently located on my route home. Sometimes I will stop for a coffee at the numerous cafes in my area, or at the local Mart for groceries and necessities.


I am generally home by 6:30pm at the latest and will either spend my evening at home with a book or tv series, or meet friends for dinner. I like to cook my own meals, however for many people in Korea eating out or ordering in is the norm.


My weekends are spent exploring Busan. I don't think I will ever see everything there is to see. It's a massive city with events and interesting activities to do anytime, any where, any weather. I also go on weekend trips to festivals, points of interest, and other cities in South Korea. It's so easy to travel anywhere in the country, and there are many foreigner friendly agencies who organise all-inclusive weekend packages for an affordable price, with the added perk of insider information on your destination.


Lastly, on Sundays, I make an effort to improve my Korean by meeting with a Korean friend who helps me study and practice. It's easy to skate by in Korea without learning any of the language. You can get by on a couple of useful phrases and a translator app. However, if you want to be accepted by the Korean community, making an effort to learn their language and culture is essential, and makes my life so much richer and easier.

What was the most challenging situation you've faced so far?

Co-teaching without a doubt. My co-teachers are awesome. They're great teachers, friendly, and extremely helpful. However, nothing prepares you for sharing a classroom with someone from a different country and culture except experience, of which I had next to none. Luckily my co-teachers have both taught for many years and with other foreign teachers and have taught me so much about handling and managing a class. Despite all of this, I struggled to gel with my co-teachers in the classroom at first. The difficult part is communicating any problems you might have, as none wants to offend the other. However, I promise it gets better with patience and practice. Don't give up! Every foreign teacher struggles with this at first, and talking about it with others will help a lot.

What do you enjoy most about being an EFL teacher?

I love interacting with kids. They are great, so eager to learn and get it right. The best moments are when a student raises a hand to ask you a question, whether they manage to express their query in good English, bad English, or just a mixture of sounds and hand gestures. The point is that they had the confidence to attempt it, and part of that is thanks to you. That is teaching.

Which advice would you give future EFL teachers?

Get as much experience as you can, even if it's just volunteering or observation. Research your destination country thoroughly, especially what it's like to work there as a foreign teacher, to avoid any unpleasant or unexpected surprises on arrival. Don't give up. A lot of people will make teaching abroad sound too good to be true, easy work with a large paycheck and opportunity to travel. However, the application process and paperwork can become tedious and expensive, and when you finally get there, the teaching and adapting just isn't the breeze you thought it would be. Don't give up! I promise you it's all worth it, give it some time and all of your hard work will pay off. It's an experience like no other. 

What is next on your bucket list?

Long term I plan to stay in Korea for another year, and then maybe a change of scenery, hopefully to Japan. After a visit home of course! For the time being I'm doing lots of traveling around Korea and will be taking a trip to Vietnam in the Summer vacation!

What do you think about when brainstorming about TEFL?

TEFL is unlike any other kind of teaching. It uses methods specifically tailored for teaching students to speak a new language, in a language that they cannot speak or understand. If done right it can produce incredibly fast and effective results.