Jaime, 31, was one of the many casualties of the recession in 2010, when she lost her job in the movie industry in Los Angeles. When she couldn’t find another job, she decided to try a new career: teaching English in South Korea. She now lives and teaches in Seoul, where she’s grown from a shy teacher into a confident public speaker.
What was your career background before teaching?
I moved to Los Angeles in 2006 a year after college and started working as a background actor. I went to school for video production but I moved to L.A. with no contacts or much experience so I started doing work as an extra. I then got a job at a movie-trailer company as a production assistant. I was there for a year and then got promoted to assistant editor. In 2010 I got laid off (along with eight other people) from the company because of the recession. I did some freelance work for a while, but I couldn't find enough so I started looking at other careers.
How did you decide to give teaching abroad a try, and how did you choose where to go?
My dream had always been to have a job where I could travel the world, and the entertainment business did not allow that, so I decided that I had the perfect opportunity to change jobs. To be honest, I had never wanted to be a teacher and really had no experience with kids but since it was so easy to get a teaching job abroad, I decided to go for it. All you needed was a bachelor’s degree. You didn't even need any experience, at least for my current job.
I decided to go to Korea because it is the country with the highest salary for foreign teachers and the most benefits. Also I had heard from people online that once they got to Korea, they really enjoyed it.
How did you find a job in South Korea? Did you need to take a TEFL course?
I applied for my current job on Dave’s ESL Cafe (an international job-board website) and got a phone call two days later asking for an interview. I teach at an English village so I did not need a TOEFL certificate or any kind of teacher-training course.
We have all age levels here but the majority of students are ages 10 to 14. We also have kindys (ages 3 to 7) come a day or two every week. I have only taught adults twice since I have been here. At an English village the students only come for four to seven days at a time and then go home. It is a camp to learn English. Their parents send them here as a kind of vacation (probably to get away from them for a while) but a learning vacation because Koreans are all about studying hard.
What has your teaching experience been like? Do you think it will help you in other careers?
My experience has been amazing. At first I was a very self-conscious teacher and timid but now I am very confident in my teaching and in other areas. I have definitely developed public-speaking skills that I can use in any other area of my life. Also I have had to just wing it a few times in class and have had to think on my feet and that will definitely come in handy.
Tell me about the daily life of an English teacher in Korea.
At my school we have two shifts: 9 a.m.-5:15 p.m. or 1:30-8:30 p.m. I work the night shift because it gives me free time in the morning, and I teach fewer classes than the morning-shifters.
We get two days off (not consecutive) a week so I only teach 35 hours a week. The classes are 45 minutes long and after each class we get a 15-minute break.
We have different theme classes. One example is Airplane Class. So I teach the kids vocabulary pertaining to airplanes; we play a game using the vocabulary; we do a dialogue (airport check-in) with two kids at a time; and then they get to go up "inside" the airplane. We have airplane seats set up and it looks like a real airplane. Then the kids get to do a dialogue and order food from the flight attendant and buy things from duty-free. It is a lot of play-acting and games mostly.
I live in Suyu, which is a neighborhood in Seoul. I can get downtown on the subway in 30 minutes. I live right by a mountain and it is pretty quiet in Suyu. We have our bars, restaurants and such, but it is a relatively quiet and peaceful place to live. I live on campus in an apartment in the same building as the other teachers, which makes it feel like I am in college living in a dorm. It is great! There are like 25 foreign teachers here, so we are like a big family and there is always something going on and someone to hang out with.
Some anecdotes about Korea ... there are many. Well, you'd better have a thick skin if you come to Korea because the kids here always comment about your appearance. They don't see many foreigners, so they prod and poke you literally. The kids always call me "Pinocchio" and say that my nose is big.
Do you think you’ll continue teaching? What are some of your other goals?
I don't think I will pursue teaching as a career path after I finish my contract here. I don't mind doing it but I am not passionate about it and can't see myself doing it long term. It is OK for the moment, though. My goal after I finish is to go backpacking in South America for six months. After that I am thinking of joining the Peace Corps or United Nations Volunteers. I have also been thinking of going to graduate school. One thing for sure is that I am going to travel the world.
So in the end, I guess getting laid off was the best thing that could have happened to me to be able to fulfil my dream of traveling the world! As one door closes another opens, they say...