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To South Korea and Back Again


South Korea has a way of bringing you back. Maybe it's the rolling mountains or the incredible, clean, convenience of everything (it's certainly not the 'fresh' air), but no matter what I do, or where I go, I keep finding myself drawn back here. 

When I first moved to South Korea in 2019, it was a journey filled with cultural exchanges, personal growth, and professional development. For many of us South Africans the experience brings with it a unique set of challenges and rewards, and, with such vast differences in cultural backgrounds, teaching methods, and lifestyles, a bit of culture shock is to be expected! From the airport androids to your first subway ride, to your first spitting ahjussi, your first few months in Korea are a non-stop roller-coaster of new experiences and personal change. One of the biggest changes, bar none, is adapting to the work-life balance that Korea offers. Outside of your working hours, you're free to explore public parks, incredible architecture, and bustling markets in one of the safest countries in the world.  While at work you're constantly exposed to a culture and way of life that is as alien as it is beautiful. And make no mistake, Korea does things very differently. 

Korean curriculums are often rigorous and comprehensive, with the focus placed not only on developing language skills but also on preparing the students for various tests like the TOEIC and TOEFL. For me, this meant adapting to a curriculum that was far more test-oriented than the one I'd be educated in. This can lead to a fairly high-pressure classroom environment, where the workload is balanced against parent's ever-increasing expectations of their children. Many of the 'nightmare' stories one reads about online when looking at moving overseas to teach ESL are born in these exact circumstances, and during my first two years in Korea, I was, unfortunately, no stranger to any of them. Eventually, I'd had enough and left Korea to continue my studies elsewhere, certain that I would never return (except maybe to visit - as a treat). 

South Korea, however, has a way of bringing you back. And this time, I'd hit the jackpot.

Unlike other after-school English Academies (or Hagwon, in Korean), Twin.kle places its focus squarely on teaching students through upliftment, encouragement, and above all, fun! This creates a much more relaxed environment which the kids (and, if I'm being honest, the teachers) are excited to be a part of. My transition back into teaching was made far, far easier this time around, not only thanks to the perspective gained from my previous experiences but because of my incredible, supportive colleagues who've helped guide me through Twin.kle's bespoke curriculum. It also certainly doesn't hurt that Twin.kle is incredibly thorough in its student selection process, which ensures that the students you receive will be able to engage with the curriculum (and all your wonderful plans for it) with ease. 

Twin.kle has a clear teachers-first policy, and works hard to accommodate everyone as best they can. Before I'd even landed I had someone help me find and rent suitable accommodation, sort out my pre-flight checklist, and make sure I'd make it home from the airport once I'd arrived. In my naïve days, I didn't realize how many cultural differences there would be while living and teaching in Korea, and how even relatively simple matters like those mentioned here can quickly become a real headache. Having someone on your side who's completely invested in making sure you settle in as smoothly as possible is about as close as you get to a comfort blanket around here.

As a South African, I had not appreciated how diverse and multicultural my own country was until I got here. In fact, there are still many areas outside of Seoul where it's very rare to see a person who isn't Korean, let alone a person of colour. Learning a few basic Korean phrases and building a deeper understanding of cultural norms, such as bowing as a sign of respect and the importance of communal meals, went a long way for me in building that essential rapport with both students and colleagues. My ‘rainbow nation’ had not prepared me for some of the most amazing experiences in Korean traditions, festivals, and cuisine, all of which have enriched my teaching experience and broadened my cultural horizons. I have learned so much from my students, my colleagues, my mentors, and yes, even the ahjussis. 

I'm really happy Korea brought me back.



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