A few weeks ago, I posted that I volunteer as a travel writer for Reach the World, a New York nonprofit that fosters global connections between North American students and travelers abroad. Last month, I was matched with a fourth grade classroom in Quebec. The students have been following my journey online, and this week they sent me a list of questions about my experiences in Korea. I’d like to post their questions (and my answers) here so you can see what the students were most curious about.
Why did you choose to teach English in South Korea rather than elsewhere?
Before coming to Korea, I only knew a few things about the country. I was interested in its education system, which is one of the most intense in the world, and the history of the Korean War and its aftermath. I ultimately chose Korea because when I was looking at programs to teach English abroad, I wanted the opportunity to learn more about a country that most Americans do not learn about in school, but that plays such an important role in the world today. Fulbright Korea in particular also offered Korean language classes and a homestay to increase cultural exchange—so here I am!
Are most of the traditions in South Korea similar or different from America?
I think many Korean traditions are rooted in similar values as American traditions, but they are celebrated a little differently. For example, American Thanksgiving and Korean Chuseok celebrate the harvest and serve as a time for families to meet and share a meal. But the food is different and Koreans have a greater emphasis on revering their ancestors and the oldest members of the family. Similarly, gift-giving is slightly different in Korean culture. While Americans give bigger gifts during holidays, birthdays, and events like a wedding or a housewarming in order to celebrate important milestones, Koreans give smaller gifts (fruit, coffee, snacks) more frequently to build an ongoing relationship.
Can you tell us about your host father and what you guys do together?
My host father is very busy! He owns a fitness center in the city, so he spends most of his time working. He usually drives my host sister and me to school in the morning, and sometimes I see him in the evenings. Sometimes we eat dinner together or watch Korean TV. I spend the most time with my host mom and my 20 year-old host sister, who will be entering university in a few months. We play games like UNO!, watch movies, and teach each other our languages.
In South Korea do you still contact your family and talk to them?
Of course! The time difference is 14 hours, so that makes it hard to talk on the phone. My mom and I use email and WhatsApp to talk during the week because we can read messages at any time. We usually FaceTime over the weekend, so one of us just woke up and the other is getting ready for bed!
What happens when your host mom makes something for a meal and you do not like it?
This was definitely a problem for my first few weeks in Korea. Because we don’t speak the same language, I could only say a few foods that I liked and that I didn’t like spicy food. It was a lot of trial and error: my host mom would make something, and she would know if I liked it or not based on how much of it I ate. We’d adapt the menu from there. I’ve learned to be much less of a picky eater and I’ve discovered new foods that I love!
What is your favourite thing about South Korea that is different from home?
I really like learning about Korea’s oldest traditions. America as a nation is only a few hundred years old, while Korea is thousands of years old. I like taking part in traditional ceremonies and holidays, attending festivals, and seeing traditional dress and performances.
Who is the current president of South Korea?
The current president of South Korea is Park Geun Hye. She is Korea’s first female president, and she has been in office since 2013.
I will have my first videoconference with these students next month. Stay tuned for updates on connecting with a classroom almost 7000 miles away!