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Kwan-Ak H.S.

Friends in Korea

Other links in Asia

Korea Japan China Hong Kong
Taiwan Asian Trip Y2K Thailand 2001
Eurasia 2001 (unfinished)

Land of the 
morning calm

Korea has taken up such a huge part of my life in the last couple of years. From Aug. '96 to Dec'98 I've eaten Korean food with Korean chopsticks, slept in Korean 'Onduls', taught Korean students working alongside Korean teachers, spoken Korean with my many Korean friends etc... As you can imagine I was pretty immersed in a Korean life for nearly two and a half years.
At the risk of sounding like a guide book or one of the proud nationalistic Koreans I'll say that Korea itself is wholely understated as a travel destination which is compounded by the relatively few foreigners who dare to find out for themselves about a country that for many people is a total mystery. I've had questions about Korea such as 'where is it?' and 'What language do they speak?' and comments about life there such as 'Oh I thought that the people whould live in small huts' from people who never imagined that the majority of people (in the cities - and even still they are the majority) live in 15-20 storey apartment complexes.

recently while working at the Independant Travellers World convention in London I was asked questions about Korea by a young guy who's booked a two week holiday in Korea. I was so happy for him as I feel that Korea has a lot to offer people in the way of experiences despite the recent 'Westernisation' and for myself I will be eternally grateful to Hoang Young-Ju who gave me the opportunity to find this out for myself.

Brits on the stage

It was my good friend Hoang Young-Ju who advised me to apply for a teaching position with the Korean Embassy, as he had seen vacancies for teachers in the UK edition of the Korean Herald. I had two interviews and in August '96 found myself flying on the ten-hour flight to Seoul, Kimpo. Once having arrived myself, and others from the flight including Scott, Valerie, Frank and Murdoch were driven down to the Korean National University of Education at Ch'onju.

Click for enlargement
There were 93 of us in total from many different countries, mainly Canadians but there were a few of us Brits. We were part of the KORETTA (Korean Teacher Trainer Assistants) Programme and we were to be in Ch'onju for two weeks and then into our chosen schools.


My first experience of exploring Korea came on the second day I was there. I took a bus from the KNUE to Chochiwon and then a train to Seoul were I met my good friend Lee Moon-Suk at the Train Station in Seoul. He drove me around the city for a while, we went to a coffee shop and then dined in a Korean restaurant before I had to return to the University as we had a curfew (Koreans are generally highly burocratic due to the fact that only until sometime in the last fifteen years the country was under dictatorial rule.)

Exploring Korea

By the end of the second week everybody had found their cliques and discovered who they did and didn't like and thankfully we got to know where we were heading. Luckily I got my first choice, which was Seoul and about twenty of us or so were put up for a further week at the Puk-Ak Park Hotel. After this week of seeing yet more temples and sites of interest we were allocated to our schools and to the teachers who would be responsible for us in the school environment. Before this we had to sign our contracts which I and several others refused to do as the wording had been changed to include the possibility of housing with a Korean family for the whole year instead of our 'own' accomodation where we would be more self sufficient. This wording had changed since the letter of agreement that we had each signed in our own countries. At the KNUE we had been warned of this possiblity by Schyler Roche who had come to work with KORETTA in a previous intake. The head of education, a Mr. Song, was furious with us for not trusting them - but we weren't about to throw away our own security just to pacify him.

My Students

Eventually three weeks after we had arrived in Korea we were introduced to our new schools and the students. I was introduced to Mr. Kim Jae-Ho and Kwan-Ak High School in Young-deung-po-gu, Seoul.

I was surprised to see these Korean youths still at school, in uniform, at nineteen years old. The Korean School system is based on the US system and highly regimented with it. It was not uncommon to see student's lined up on their hands and knees with their backsides in the air waiting for a visit from Mr. Four-by-two from Slapland!


One unfortunate thing about the Korean way of doing things is that there doesn't seem to be much in the way of planning. Let's look at the figures. My first interview was around April, the Korean Ministry of Education had 'planned' to accept 1000 Native English teachers, by the time I flew out in August there were less than 500 and when I eventually was earmarked for my particular school there was no accomodation prepared. Luckily, my supervisor, Kim Jae-Ho had arranged for me to stay with a Canadian English teacher, Erik Pearson, in Ilsan. Unfortunately I have no photo of Erik, as he's a really nice guy, so above you can see his kitten, 'Friend'. Can you imagine my surprise after noting that Erik's telephone number had the same area code as my friend Moon-Suk's. I'd travelled five thousand miles and been put up in an apartment that was five minute's walk from his.

I was horrified to discover that one of my first task's at Kwan-Ak was to direct the school's English play at the school festival. Little Red Riding Hood I had less than three weeks to complete this task but managed it pretty well with the support of Kim Jae-Ho and the students who took part. The stars of the show had to be Lee Hwa-Yong (who played Red)and Bang Byoung-Oo (Wolf). Both of these Student's joined my later supplementary classes and Hwa-Yong will never know how much his gift of a Kim Young-Dong CD meant to me when he graduated and left school.

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