I graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Chemistry from an Engineering School whose English department was laughable at best. My peers were all destined for greatness, with highly coveted six-figure salaries at major pharmaceutical companies competing against illustrious Masters/PhD programs at top universities for my fellow undergraduates. Then there was me: a Chemistry and Biology nerd with no desire to trudge through the bureaucratic nonsense that is Science Academia, and with no idea what to do next.
But the one thing I remembered loving was working summers in high school at a daycare, when I got to work hands-on with kids. That's what I wanted. That's what I knew I could do well and could picture a life of doing. So of course, teaching seemed to be the best option.
Here's the problem. Fresh out of school with massive loans and debt, going back right away just wasn't the option for me. After a year and a half of miserable part-time jobs that featured just as much bureaucratic nonsense as every other career I had seen, I still had no idea what to do. I felt trap, stuck in a cycle of repetition with no visible end.
Luckily, a friend of mine visited. She had been teaching with EPIK in South Korea for a year, and she loved it! She made it sound so easy that even I could do it. It would also give me more time and a chance to explore a side of the world I would have never ventured otherwise. So, I got the required certification and began the glorious hunt for a job to get me there. It was easy, within months I was ready.
Of course, as with most things that seem too good to be true, it was.
My name. I'm sure there are many names that sound as blatantly non-American and obviously foreign as mine. Appearance-wise, it's pretty obvious that my family isn't originally from there. And thanks to Korea's proclivity to seeing photos of prospective hires alongside resumes, recruiters saw so too.
I felt so discouraged that, after having searched for months, no one called back. I spoke with so many recruiters and heard crickets. But surely, there had to be plenty of reasons. After all, I was a science major, hardly the type to become an English language teacher. It was off-season, maybe in a few months it would be easier? Plenty of reasons filtered through my mind, until one candid recruiter told me honestly that due to my name and race I would be unlikely to find a job. Never mind that I had been a fluent English speaker my entire life with the credentials and experience working with kids to back it up. Nope. I wasn't white enough. And that sucked.
Instead of giving up, I started looking for individual listings for hagwons, having reached a point where I would take practically anything. I almost did with a hum and drum franchise of impersonal schools where I wasn't really promised anything except at least setting foot in the country.
Then I saw the Twin.kle advertisement.
The pay was pretty tempting on its own, but what really sold me was the post itself being completely different from the copy and paste format I had become accustomed to while perusing Dave's ESL Cafe. Just by reading the post, I knew someone had taken the time to personally reach out to people. Instead of some no-name who had never even seen the school, this one was written by someone who actually seemed to care. The love of reading children's books was the second biggest factor, as I continue to re-read books I first read at age 9 and probably still will at age 99.
I went through the terrifying process of hiring, faced with the chance to get something I really really wanted and would do anything to get. I spoke with the boss and the head teacher, a phone call that felt more like a chill chat with a friend as opposed to a daunting business interview. I even wore my pajamas! How crazy is that?!
At the time, I was also finishing the application process for another franchise, wherein I had to make a 1 minute video introducing myself. It took me 3 days and a lot of frustration to film. Twin.kle asked for a 5 minute video of me talking about my favorite book. I filmed it in half an hour with a smile on my face. That was pretty much the best sign there is.
There was never any mention of how I looked or what my name was. One of the people I spoke with on the phone had a clear British accent, so clearly there was no preference to American accents that seemed to be standard in Korea. The diversity I had become used to back home seemed to have found its place in somewhere as far from diverse as South Korea. I got to access the Twinkle website and interact with the students directly. I was encouraged to chat with everyone, and I even managed to become pen pals and friends with one of the other new hires. I already had a family, and I hadn't even set foot on the plane.
When I did arrive, I was shown to my classroom. An actual room, my own. From what I had heard, the standard would be a box of school supplies and maybe a computer in a crowded teachers' room. At Twin.kle, I got a blank canvas of a classroom and the opportunity to do whatever I wanted with it. So I did. And I love it more than it seems possible to love a room.
You'll notice the astronaut and space poster. Maybe you can somehow read my chicken scratch on the board and see that I taught my students about Ancient Greece and Alexander the Great today. That may seem out of place at an English academy. But it isn't.
At Twin.kle, I teach Non-Fiction. Which means that I get to teach my students vocabulary, reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills through the medium of science and history. And for a self-proclaimed science nerd and history buff, it's honestly a dream come true. Yesterday, I taught fourth graders the chemistry behind batteries and a sustainable, environmentally friendly alternative to them. Today, I taught my second graders the life of Alexander the Great by having them write a diary entry as the famed conqueror himself! And on Thursday, I get to teach my third graders how atoms their chemical properties work together to create everything in a way they actually seem to enjoy.
Do you remember that one teacher for that one particular subject, who made you fall in love with a subject you previously thought of as insignificant or boring? At Twin.kle, I get to be that teacher.
The curriculum is set of course, and there are books we read that are completely different from those read in the Fiction classes. There's even a custom workbook lovingly crafted with our tears and sanity. But what's really amazing is that I have the creative freedom to make my own materials and try something new.
I've had my kids put on talk shows with participants of the American revolution in attendance, an alien news broadcast meant to bring on mass hysteria a la War of the Worlds, and we've even mapped out the absurdity that was Indian succession in precolonial India. In third grade, the students read a series of How to... books, including How to Build a Rocket and How to Live on Mars, etc. One day, I thought of something new I wanted to try. Instead of answering questions about the reading, I wanted the students to take what they learned from the books and find a way to think critically while applying it. So I made a space agency, TASA or Twin.kle Awesome Space Agency. I decided the students would build their own rockets to send to the moon and design their own space rovers to visit Mars. I made all the materials and decided how I wanted to teach it. The kids LOVED it, we even have a ridiculously loud and obnoxious cheer we do every class before we start the activity. The head teacher loved it, my boss was impressed by it, and I even got to add it to the books. It's not perfect, by far. I'm still making things up and fixing them as I go, but just having the opportunity to try something new and contribute in such a way gives me a feeling of pride I didn't think I would find anywhere, if I'm honest. I did it because I could, because Twin.kle gave me that chance.
Yes some topics seem boring, they can't all be fun. Try teaching a bunch of Korean students at 7 PM on a beautiful day about the formation of the three branches of the American government post-Revolutionary War. Riveting, I know. But I have the ability and the freedom to teach it in a way I can make it interesting with students who have the capacity to understand it and apply it to their work. If we want to take those principles and apply them by making our own governments for fictional countries with ridiculous names and laws about poop, we can. It definitely beats the usual textbook style lecture hall that is every other hagwon.
At Twin.kle, I can be myself. I don't have to pretend to be a serious adult, I can be silly, fun, and energetic with my students. I can sing random off-key operatic numbers to call attention in the middle of class or even play Bohemian Rhapsody while the kids do their work. I can meet my coworkers on the weekend and feel like I'm meeting friends. I can be honest and talk to my boss or supervisor about any issues I might be having. I can go home with a smile on my face. I can let myself be me. (I also don't have to wear a blazer/suit during Korean summers, and trust me that makes the BIGGEST difference)
I won't be here forever, the plan was always to go back home to America some day. In the beginning, I just wanted to escape the realty that was post-graduate stress and the feeling of going nowhere. Yet somehow, I have a plan now and an idea of where I want my future to go. Thanks to Twin.kle I was able to learn more about myself and find my own little niche in the world, without any awful bureaucratic nonsense.
And seriously if I can do it, so can you.