Friday, October 30, 2009

Should I teach adults of children?

This is the second part of my new little series of posts about teaching English abroad, but more specifically, in South Korea.

Should I teach Children or Adults?

This is a question many people ask themselves when looking for their first job as a teacher in another country. There are many jobs teaching adults in South Korea, but the vast majority of jobs are teaching children English. Some of the jobs teaching adults are at private language schools which can seem more like impersonal language factories or at universities. As for children, the schools that cater to them range from private kindergarten and university preparatory schools, to public schools.

For some people, teaching children is the right fit and for others, adult learners are what stimulate them as educators. I suppose that teaching children versus adults is much like comparing apples and oranges. You really cannot. There are very few similarities; they are people, they speak the same native language; and so many differences; they have a complete different sense of the world, work ethic, creativity, sense of joy, etc.

Who are typical students in Korea?


Adult students range from salary men to university students. Salary men are basically office workers. Many of them are enrolled in classes at private language schools because they are required to by their company or realize that they must improve their English in order to gain job promotions. Some of these students are enthusiastic about learning English, while others really resent having to spend their time doing so. The latter are the ones who may be a bit of a hassle since they can at times have a bad attitude and direct it towards you.

You may also find house wives who are studying English as a hobby or doing so in order to help their children who are too, studying English. The dedication of Korean parents is unlike that I’ve seen anywhere else. They will spend countless hours of their own time studying if they think that can in some way help further their children’s education. There are also retired people studying for something to do as well as apathetic university students who would often rather be elsewhere.
If you teach adults, every class will vary and the dynamic with every group of students will be completely different.

If you have the chance to teach children in Korea, your students may age in range from 4-18 years old. Many Korean parents enroll their young children in English Language kindergartens. They feel that this “immersive” English environment is the next best thing to sending their child abroad. Be warned however, these kindergartens tend to have the worst reputation of all language schools in Korea (for treating and paying teachers poorly).

Many children in Korea attend private language schools, or hagwons, after their regular school hours are complete. It is common to find children as young as six or seven in classrooms well into the evening studying.

How are they as students? Well, kids are kids. Kindergarten kids are energetic, exuberant and are a challenge. Basically, they are the same as kids anywhere. The older children (high school) are challenging for other reasons. Hormones are of course always a problem, but by this age, they are simply burnt out from studying. It’s nothing personal towards you if they are apathetic, you probably would be too if you had to cope with their daily schedule!

The Pros and Cons of Teaching Adults and Children (my opinion only)

Adults (Pros):
After two years of teaching children in Korea, I made the move to an adult school. Within my first month there, I learned more about Korean culture and history than I had in my previous two years. Through discourse with adults of various backgrounds, I simply learned a lot about Korea. I made Korean friends, was invited to countless dinners and drinking excursions by my students and had a great time. I also gained a broader knowledge about ESL education since I could then compare teaching young learners to mature learners.

Adults (cons):

If you are teaching at a private adult language school, your working hours will probably be painful verging on torturous. Most professionals only have time to go to language class before they go to the office in the morning and after they finish for the day. That means you will work a split shift. No matter how much you may enjoy working there, the hours will eventually take their toll on you, both physically and mentally.

The Korean sense of tact is different than that in Western culture. Koreans will often tell you things you might not want to hear. Our different cultures simply have different cultural rules, but it can be very tough to deal with at times. Cultural differences aside, I also had the misfortune of teaching quite a few bigoted and ignorant jack-asses over the course of my time at that school. Cavemen disguised as Brooks Brothers suit wearing office workers. I’m not sure how common this is, but I seemed to have at least one in a class every month and all of my coworkers complained about similar students.

If you are a young male teacher ( I was in my mid twenties), you may be hit on or approached by some female students. Although this may at first seem flattering and fun, this often can lead to a great deal of trouble for you. Some women may be after an instructor as a free way of improving language skills, some are looking for a fun little cross-cultural adventure and some are just plain nuts. If a student in your class is flirtatious, believe me, her classmates notice as well! This can lead to student complaints about you and your class. My advice would be to avoid these types of situations. As the old saying goes, “Don’t shit where you eat!”

Children (pros):
Kids are fun. Kids are creative. They have energy. If they are young children, they don’t judge and quickly forget reasons why they may have been angry. Young children are like massive sponges, ready and willing to absorb unbelievable amounts of knowledge. Simply put, its fun to teach kids.

Children (cons):
If you are not a patient person or in fairly good physical health, teaching young kids may not be for you. You need energy yourself and endless amounts of patience.

If you are teaching teenagers, you will have to deal with hormones and general apathy. Those two things combined can lead to a frustration cocktail. I personally found Korean teenagers to be generally the same as Canadian ones. They are ego centric, dramatic and normally don’t want to be in school. One difference between the teenagers of Korea and that of other countries is that Korean kids have to work ten times harder to get through their school system. They wake up at 6am and may not get home until 11pm at night from cram schools. Once home they have to study and do homework. They are often burned out and bitter and rightfully so. These will be your students!

The schools and parents themselves can also lead to some frustration. The Korean education system is based on the Japanese one, but far more extreme and Confucian. It is basically one way education. Teachers talk, students listen and don’t participate. Rote learning is the key. Students memorize and regurgitate facts and vocabulary with few chances to develop creative and critical problem solving skills. This is diametrically opposed to the education system you have come from. Don’t rock the boat though. Don’t think you can change things. It will be frustrating, but if you want to be happy as a teacher there, you have to learn to roll with the punches. Sometimes you will disagree with what the school and parents expect of you as a teacher, but they brought you to Korea to do a job the way they want you to do it. You might subtly be able to make life for the kids in your room a little more creative and enjoyable though.

There you have it. The opinion of one blogger/vlogger. If you were unsure about teaching adults or children, hopefully this helped.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Why Teach Overeas?

I’ve decided to start a short little series of posts about teaching in South Korea. I realize that this might not be everyone’s cup of tea and for many of the folks who frequent this blog, irrelevant. I can safely assume that many of you have never been to Korea and probably have little desire to do so, but the videos I have made for You Tube about teaching in South Korea still tend to be some of my most popular. I can assume from the number of people who watch them and leave comment, both good and bad, that there is a definite interest in the topic.
For my regular readers who have no interest in the topic, have no fear. These posts will be made over the next few weeks or maybe months, but the majority of posts here will still be about life in Japan and more specifically, Kobe.

Why Become a Teacher Overseas?

I suppose one of the first questions one must ask before making the immense commitment of moving their life to the other side of the world for a year or more is; “Why do I want to become a teacher in another country?” I suppose there is a different story for everyone out there considering this job choice. There seem to be some common themes though:

1. I just finished university and have no idea what I want to do with my life so I think I’ll become an ESL teacher.

2. I just finished university and want to put life on hold because the real world is scary and I don’t want to face it yet.

3. I owe a lot of money and with only a generic B.A., this is the best way I can think of to pay off the debts relatively fast.

4. I have a desire to travel and broaden my horizons.

5. I already have a great job, but am feeling burnt out and need a change.

6. I have a legitimate interest in the country I’m interested in heading to.

7. I just finished a long term relationship and it ended horribly. I just need to get away from that entire scene.

Of course there are a variety of different reasons why folks head to places like Korea to teach, but in my years there, these seemed like some common reoccurring themes.

Do Your Research

One of the first pieces of advice I give anyone thinking of becoming a teacher in South Korea is, “Do your research!” I can’t stress this one enough. Most of the information you are looking for is just a quick Google search away as well. All of the basic FAQ’s out there are answered on blogs, in You Tube videos and on forums. I will tell you however, before ever posing a question to a blogger or You Tube video maker, attempt to find the information yourself. If through research, you can’t find the answer to your question; then shoot a question out to someone in the interwebs. I say this because on an almost daily basis, I am peppered with questions on You Tube that the writer could have very easily found the answer through a quick Google search.

I am also going to suggest avoiding internet forums. Forums tend to be filled with some pretty bitter and angry people. They seem to lurk around these dark internet places for endless hours, waiting to pounce on “newbs.” They are normally anything but helpful. I always get a kick out of the hosts of the Seoulpodcast who refer to the forums on ESL Café as a big circle jerk. I suppose that can give you an idea that they aren’t always the best source of information. I will however suggest, skimming through them and reading some of the posts already made. Some of the information may be useful.

Teaching in Korea is a Real Job

No matter where I lived in South Korea and no matter how many teachers I met, there was one thing I realized. Many people “working” over there, in no way take their jobs seriously. Remember, this is a real job. Even if you haven’t had a “serious” job working in a company in your native country you must remember that the school that hired you, invested a lot of money in you. They had to get your visa, fly you abroad, put you up in an apartment and pay you! You should treat this teaching job the same way you would treat a teaching job in your hometown or city. In most cases, the more professional you are, the better you will be treated by your employer, coworkers and students.

Of course, this isn’t always the case in Korea. It is not uncommon for teachers to be treated like crap by schools. In some cases, schools treat teachers like cattle who are there only to serve them and make profit for them. They treat you with little or no respect. If you get the vibe that a school you are interested in seems a little too impersonal or “heartless”, you’d better look for a different place to work.

To sum this little point up, act professionally. Don’t come to class in the morning stinking like booze, don’t complain about unpaid preparation work (welcome to the life of every teacher in every country), show up well before your classes start, dress well and try to “play ball”.

Getting Rich

If you would like to work in Korea to pay off debts or start a nest egg, you’ve made a good choice. If you are planning on making lots of money, that probably won’t happen. For some strange reason, probably Korea’s questionable media, Koreans tend to think that English teachers make a lot of money. Many Koreans even think that English teachers are rich! This is laughable. Even with free rent, free airfare and bonus (something all Korean employees get as well), you are still only pulling in a lower to average middle class salary in a country such as Canada or the United States.

Another problem, if you are planning to stay in Korea for a few years or more, is that wages tend not to increase. Wages for Korea now are pretty much the same as they were when I first went there in 2002. A school teacher in a country like Canada though, would receive raises of several thousand dollars a year until their salary capped out.

As a young and single person, the salary in Korea is great. If you are expecting to support a family though, it is good, but that’s about it. Of course, some people who have been there for years have found ways to turn a very high profit, but they aren’t the norm. Again, I have no idea why many Koreans think otherwise.

Long story short, going to Korea is a great move for many people. Sometimes it can be a bad experience for people as well. Once arriving, you’ll soon realize that there is an element of Korean society who is not very impressed with foreigners coming to their country; that aside though, most people are very warm. If you do your research before you come, your chances of finding a job or location that suits will drastically improve. Also, act professionally and treat the culture with respect. You are not better than others because you come from Canada, England, the Unites States, etc. You are just different.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Izushi Blueberry Beer

It's been a long week and will get longer from here. For only the second time during my year and a half stint in Japan am on medication. It's nothing major, but it is kickin my butt and making me drowsy. I'm doing my best, but have been basically stumbling around throughout the day like a zombie. I suppose tomorrow will probably be no better.

This week is also a week of Halloween parties. As we come closer to the big day this Saturday, there are 3 parties at my school that I have to dress up for and help execute. Between field trips, zombie-like medicated stumbling and Halloween parties, there will be no You Tube videos this week.

I came across this picture this evening and wanted share it. During the summer, I visited the small town of Izushi, located in Northern Hyogo Prefecture. the town is known within japan for it's amazing soba noodles and beautiful scenery. While there I picked up this craft beer. This blueberry beer is made by the Izushi Shiroyama Beer Company.

I saved this beer in my fridge for a few months and had it in September. It was quite good. It had a very full and solid taste with a hint of fruity sweetness. In this picture you can see the one blueberry that was inside the bottle. I think I would have preferred it if there was a stronger berry flavour. This is a nice summer beer. Years ago, when I was living in Moncton, New Brunswick, I was a regular patron of the Pump House Brewery. They had a great blueberry ale there. I suppose to this day, i always compare any blueberry to that one and most normally come nowhere close.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Great Brazilian food in Kobe

This evening I revisited the amazing Brazilian BBQ place located in MOSAIC in Kobe. Braziliano is an amazing bbq buffet. For about 2,400¥, out get all of the amazing food your body can handle. The veggie buffet is great as are the Japanese and Chinese side dishes. The highlight of this culinary experience is having friendly and jovial Brazilian men come to your table with freshly charred cuts of beef that they slice on to your plate.

I came to this very restaurant a few months ago with fellow You Tube vloggers; myargonauts and KansaiPJ. we were there for Jason's (myargonauts) last night in Japan. it was great that night and even better today. It was better this afternoon since I was there early and didn't have to worry about closing time (last time there we closed the joint).

Mai and I had an amazing feed of great meat and a great buffet the staff was very friendly and very much on top of service. The cuts of beef were fresh and amazingly cooked.

The entrance to Brasiliano, which s on the 3rd floor of Mosaic. this is in the downtown area of Kobe. Get off at JR Kobe Station and walk through Harborland towards Mosaic. Once there, it is easy to find.

Kevin admiring the faux Brazilian meat cooking over a faux fire!

Wonderful food at Brasiliano.

It was a great meal. the last time I was there I was impressed and this time around I was again, impressed. When I visited this restaurant earlier this year, I was in a rush since we were there before closing. This time around, Mai and I were there earlier so there was no need of panic.

Check out my video from when I was at the same restaurant at the end of July. I was there to met for the first time and say farewell to Japan-vlogger, myargonauts.

Autumn Food in Japan

It's been difficult, but I have recently laced up my shoes and have begun running again. I was having a lot of motivation problems lately and just haven't felt the ambition to get out there. In August I applied for a spot in the 2010 Tokyo Marathon. I wasn't holding my breathe since I had about a one i six shot of getting in since there was a lottery. Much to my surprise though, last week I received an email saying I had a spot.It is on February 28, 2010. That's a Saturday. This will be my second full marathon and my first major one. I have a little more than four months to train and this time around I hope to take the training a little more serious than for my last marathon. I completed the last one without any problems, but I know I can push myself to do better this time around.

Long story short, I've been out on the road several times this week. Twice, running home after my Japanese class. It is about a 5 km run back home, but i have to do it with a fairly heavy pack on my back. Hopefully the training will continue and I will find my legs again.

Last weekend, I went to Osaka-fu with my wife. We were staying with some of her family for the weekend. it was a great rural experience. they live in a very small farming village called Nakamura. It just happened that on that weekend there was a large matsuri or festival. This village as well as more than a dozen surrounding villages were having a harvest festival. Groups of men from every village would push a danjiri, or portable shrine, throughout the streets of the village, singing, dancing and praying. They would begin around 6 am and continue into the night. The Nakamura danjiri stopped at the house next to where I was staying for a break. The men pushing it were refueling with tea, snacks and morning beers!

While in the country last weekend, we picked some sweet potatoes and soy beans to take home. It is Fall in Japan and sweet potatoes are a big deal here. Most bakeries carry seasonal treats baked using sweet potato. A few nights ago, Mai made sweet potato muffins at home. they were awesome. A great breakfast treat.

You can see what they looked like when they were fresh out of the oven. Many people also collect chestnuts and make seasonal baked goods with those as well. Yu can find both sweet potato and chestnut breads, cakes, muffins, etc., throughout the area.

Two Fridays ago, after work, I stopped in Sannomiya. Sannomiya is the main downtown area of Kobe. I was there to pick up a new camera. I purchased a Sanyo Xacti HD which will make my You Tube video making better. Mai and I needed a bite to eat so we wandered through the crowded back streets of Sannomiya looking for a restaurant. We stumbled across a Korean style bbq restaurant and decided to give it a try.

Korean food is really quite expensive when you are outside of Korea, but this place was reasonable. The meat was delicious, but the servings a little small. Grilled beef and a beer is a great way to finish up the week.

Great looking food grilled on hot coals. Although, I don't normally miss Korea very much, I do miss the food. Korean food is great and it was always so affordable to eat out at restaurant. It is no surprise that many foreigners who move to South Korea to teach and work, normally never cook at home. They don't have to because Korea has such an amazing restaurant culture. The food is cheap and good.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Gingerale Candy Bars in Japan

A short, yet sweet blog post!

Last night I made my draw for the Halloween Hello Kitty contest. It was won by a You Tube user in Toronto names "eskibaby." She won the Hello Kitty toy as well as a plethora of other cool Japanese snacks. Also included in the package will be something I saw for the first time this afternoon. I came across a Gingerale Kit Kat bar. I haven't tasted it yet and will leave it to eskibaby to make a video about this one!

Gingerale Kit Kat bar. I have no idea what to expect with this one.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Canadian Thanksgiving in Kobe

Happy Thanksgiving to all you Canucks out there!

It is Thanksgiving and I am here in Japan. Although it is not as important a holiday as in the United States, it is still cool to have turkey and enjoy a day off. Ironically, today happens to be a national holiday here too. It is Sports Day.

Tonight I made a little Thanksgiving meal. Instead of turkey we had chicken. Some mashed potatoes and veggies as well. To top it all off, my awesome wife made a pumpkin pie for the first time. it was absolutely incredible. We bought all of the ingredients at Kaldi, a foreign food store here in Kobe.

The pumpkin pie to die for! It was and still is so amazing!

A great spread. I plan to have a big fill of turkey this December when I'm back in Canada for vacation.

Here is the plated meal. Some yummy stuff. Mashed potatoes, chicken, carrots, red bell peppers with asparagus.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Typhoons, Turtles and Kobe, Japan

Another week finished and i finally have a day off. For many of those who may follow this blog or my video blogs on You Tube, you may now that I work six days a week. This is a situation of my own choice, but the extra money is very helpful. Hopefully, next year, I won't have to work a part time job and will have more free time on the weekends. Luckily though, with my current job, I have a lot of days of and some good holiday time.

Tyhphoon Melor came and went and it sounds as if the only place in this part of Japan that had some serious damage was Nagoya. A city that is traditionally prone to flooding, they had it happen to them again. I saw some surprising images on NHK of Nagoya Station flooding quickly while JR employees made a futile attempt to block the deluge with a few sandbags.

The typhoon sure sounded a lot worse than it really was. I suppose that's because I live on the top floor of a tall apartment building on a man-made island in the middle of Kobe harbour. there is very little protection here and the wind really lashes us. It was also made worse by the fact that Japanese buildings are normally not insulated. there is no insulation in the walls and the windows are always single-paned glass. The wind whistled loudly through the windows and rattled the heck out of them. When we got up on Thursday morning, we just discovered a lot of leaves on the ground as well as a lot of garbage that had blown around. That was it!

On a cuter note, while out the other morning and wandering through a large grassy field, I found this little critter. One of the few moments in life I wasn't carrying my video camera. I took a few pictures of the baby turtle, just before I released it into a nearby pond.

Gosh golly! What a cute little chap! I was really surprised at how sharp their little claws are. I suppose they need them for climbing up rocks and things.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Typhoon Melor hits Kobe

Typhoon Melor passed over us last night. It was moving faster than forecast and hit us starting around 12am. Buildings in Japan are not insulated so the wind howled through our apartment all night. It was my first time dealing with a direct typhoon so I have to admit that I was a little freaked out. I couldn't sleep most of the night because of the howling wind, rattling windows and the shaking building.

This morning, I awoke to the news that the weather warnings were still in effect, meaning no school. It is rainy and windy, but nothing more than a normal rainy day. Typhoon Melor has moved North towards Tokyo. I hope all of the folks in that dierection will be alright.

Here is my latest You Tue video. This one is about Melor:

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Hello Kitty, Halloween and the Big O

Good news and bad news.Bad news first. Tokyo was not awarded the 2016 Olympics. It went to Rio de Janeiro. I have to admit though, it is cool that the Olympics will be going to South America for the first time.

It is October and it is time for one of the biggest commercial holidays in North America. Although I live in Japan, the Halloween "spirit" in some ways is here as well. The Japanese love a great party and will co-opt holidays and events from other countries if they think they can have fun doing it.

I have a Halloween contest: