The Countdown Begins

Spring Conference was a few weeks ago in the beautiful location of Jeju-Island. It was, as most Fulbright Korea events are, packed to the brim with programming, discussions, and workshops. It’d been a little over two years since I’d last been there.

The last time was as a college junior finishing off my semester abroad at Yonsei University. I was a young, fresh, 20-year old who was embarking on her first truly solo vacation around Korea.


I’m three years older and in a different place in life than I was then. I’ve grown in my relationships and priorities in life. I still care way too much about people and things that I shouldn’t necessarily give my time nor thoughts to. But, I’ve gotten much better at physically and emotionally moving on and doing what’s best for me, even if I occasionally wonder what if. That’s being human though. And it’s something I accept about myself.


The conference was a great way for me to see how far I’ve grown as a teacher. And I think it was a similar experience for all of the ETAs participating in the conference.

Whereas Fall Conference was more of a troubleshooting conference where we bounced ideas off of each other and commiserated over our troubles with co-teachers, homestay families, and students, Spring Conference was the opposite. For the most part, everyone had figured out how to navigate their major struggles. Most ETAs (me included) were no longer struggling with teaching. Instead, many of us wondered how do we continually improve and/or how do we keep our students engaged 8~18 months in?

SCON 2018

Spring Conference brought many different topics to the forefront of my mind. The first was intrinsic motivation. Almost a bane of my existence as a teacher right now. I’m constantly wondering how I can continue to motivate my students to learn English without overusing external motivation like prizes. Luckily, I don’t have to use external motivation enormously to get the students to participate. It’s still a struggle though. But as Director Shim said, “you can’t give up on them.” I haven’t and so that’s a good sign.

The second was the school year/grant year coming to a fast close. Spring Conference is the last official gathering of the Fulbright Korea 2017 Grant Year. We have final dinner in a couple of months. But, we aren’t required to attend. And as such, Spring Conference was a time to start preparing everyone for the “end.” Kyle Hall and Shannon Coombs led two great large group presentations/discussions centered on the end of the grant year, going home to America, and reverse culture shock.

It spurred me to think about the end of the grant year and actually make a bucket list for the rest of this grant year.

  1. Go to Boseong Green Tea Fields
  2. Go to the Jindo Sea Road Festival
  3. See a Concert
  4. Get a Facial done

Making a bucket list has been great! Mainly because it really solidified some plans for the rest of the grant year and made me think about what I want for the next year.

It’s been about three weeks since Spring Conference started and I’ve already completed bucket list item three (see a concert) and am planning on completing numbers one and two in a couple of weeks. The list is going great!

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All of this is to say that the countdown to the end of the 2017-2018 Grant Year has started. This week my students are preparing for midterm examinations and next week I have a three day weekend for Children’s Day. There’s only so much time left this year and I need to decide how to use it wisely. Time is of the essence so let’s get to crossing off those bucket list items!



Adjustments & Expectations

The first three weeks of the semester were especially difficult.

And to be honest, I didn’t expect it. Last year when I started teaching for the first time, it was, in a few ways, easier to adjust to the new school.

Now, I have developed that dangerous word that latches onto your mentality like a bad Korean cold it takes you months to get rid of. If you’ve been following my blog from the beginning, you may remember that I actively avoided one word. Expectations.

Well, guess what? I had/have(?) a case of expectations. Pretty seriously actually. I didn’t even realize that I did until signs hit me square in the face. These expectations have been making it harder for me to adjust to the new school year.

Second Years? First Years?

I somehow, magically, expected my second-years who had been first years up until three weeks before the week of the 12th, to know what they were supposed to do with the textbook and in my second-year formatted class. They had literally been doing a semester of extremely slow grammar points and one class had spent a month on an “English” video project.

Isabel Teacher…

What we’re you thinking?… Continue reading “Adjustments & Expectations”

First Week Feels

I didn’t have a better title for this post. *shrug* The 2018 school year officially started on Friday, March 2nd! YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Or is it really YAY? My students’ reactions to this first week of full classes are varied. Some are SUUUPER excited to be back in my class. Some are continually reeling from the usage of English being thrown at them after two to three weeks away from my class. Others are already ready for the semester to be over. And others still are surprising me by speaking more English than they ever did last semester.

Graduated Third Years
Graduated Third Years ㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠ

I find myself on an energy high. And that’s to be expected. I’m excited to see my students again. I’m excited to be a productive human again. It’s the first full week back at school and things feel old but also new. Classes have the same students, but the set-up is different. I see new faces, faces that I already know, and those that hid from me last semester, coming out of the woodwork. I also occasionally miss seeing my third-years who graduated last month. Everything is familiar and yet also unfamiliar.  Is this what every teacher feels like I wonder?

There are new teachers in my 교무실 (office). The dynamic has really changed. We’re all female now and the new teachers are much more stylish than me. I mention that not because it’s affecting me but, because it does make me wonder if I’m now being compared to the new teachers for my undeniably laid-back, American, business casual, casual attire. Luckily, the music teacher remains and seems to be getting along well with all the “new faces.” However, because they’re all new and older than I and I maintain my position as youngest in the school, I’m left a little flustered and unsure about how to interact with them.

To be clear, I do like them. Or what I’ve seen so far. My new co-teacher has a bright personality. Actually, they all kind of do. I feel bad because I can’t help her more with her preparations for class. But I suppose we all have to go there when we’re new. She’s helpful and kind. In class, she steps in to help but never to interrupt. Which I appreciate in a co-teacher. She said she trusts me and that she already enjoys my class. We’ll see how well that holds up as we go into the textbook. Oh, and she wears a lot of pinks. Maybe she should’ve been the Phi Mu (haha)? I don’t know as much about the two math teachers. They always seem to be in or out of the 교무실 and I only have time to talk to one in the mornings when we’re the only two in the office. It seems that they’re already becoming close due to their status as new teachers. I’m sure/hopeful I’ll find a way to worm in there.

My main co-teacher is on maternity leave from the school. She’s due later this month. In all honesty, I can’t wait for her little bundle of joy. And I look forward to meeting the little one.

The last student in the office fam. No more.

Before I left for Australia in January, my principal, main co-teacher, and I had a meeting. We discussed various things. Towards the end, my principal asked my co-teacher who I should sit with in the 교무실 if she was no longer going to be here. She didn’t have an answer. The other teachers in my school (with the exceptions of my co-teachers) aren’t as comfortable with me due to the fact that I speak English as the Native (English) Teacher. Try as I might, it’s hard to break down perceptions of native English teachers when they’ve been exposed to more than just me. 

My co-teacher and I had been close with the math teachers who had just left the school. And so with all three of them gone, I was essentially “alone.” Thinking back on this meeting now, my current 교무실 arrangement must be part of the administration’s way of looking out for me.

My first, first-year class is today. The others got canceled for various reasons. The class will be held during the seventh period. On a Friday. Someone is setting me up for failure haha. Every now and then, I stop to take a breath. And I can’t help but wonder, “How long is my energy going to last?” and “When will things just feel familiar?” The answers? Probably a couple of weeks.

The End of the School Year

Wow. I did it. Well, almost. In a few days, I will have completed my first semester as an English as a Foreign Language Teacher. I’ve taught a lot of students. In return, I’ve learned a lot from them and my co-workers. And yet, I’m still nowhere near where I’d like to be.

Every day is a bit of a struggle. A struggle to find the energy to harness their energy. A bit of a battle to get up the third flight of stairs wearing all of my winter layers. A mental fight to make it to lunch those days I have four or three classes in a row in the morning with a smile on my face. But, every day is also a lot easier than the last. I find my rhythm. I find my sweet spot. After “rehearsing” the class multiple times, I finally figure out what to say and when to say it. My co-teachers aren’t as concerned as they were the first couple of weeks. And for that matter, neither am I. We’re about to go into the new school year, my second semester. I’m excited about it. Plus, since I just finished logging in my end-of-the-year surveys, I hope that I can actually successfully apply the results to my teaching and classes.

It’s quite a shame that I fell off the wagon of writing a weekly blog post since a lot actually happened in the months of November through January. Keep reading to see how the last few months of my teaching experience have been. Continue reading “The End of the School Year”

5 Transportation Tips for South Korea

Taxis, city buses, trains, subways, regional buses. South Korea has it all. Here are some tips on navigating South Korea’s transportation scene. 

1. Grabbing a Taxi

The great thing about Korean cities is the amount of taxis that they have roaming the city. Korean taxis are clean, cheap, and get you to your destination much quicker than public transportation. Grab a taxi by waving one down. Try to make sure that you’re standing on the side of the road that is going the same direction you are. Some taxis don’t want to take the extra time in taking you around to the other side. 

Pay in cash or card (or your T-money if you have it) and you’re good to go. Always get a receipt. If you leave something that receipt is the best way to find it. And last but not least, 빈차 means empty car. And try to avoid the black taxis. They’re expensive. 

2. Buses 

Buses run both earlier and later than the subway. To get on the bus, go to the stop in the direction you need, tap on and then tap off when you leave. 

*If you tap off the fare will end here. If you decide not to tap off, you get one free transfer within a half hour. 

3. Subway 

The subway is pretty straightforward. The free transfer rule still applies. There are pink seats for pregnant women and seats of four at the ends of the train for the elderly and disabled. The trains will tell you your stops in Korean, English, and Japanese. 

When you’re going up or down the escalator, be sure to stand on the right and walk on the left. 

4. KTX 

Everyone talks about Korea’s high speed trains. KTX Stations are different from your regular subway station. They’re above ground and to ride on a KTX train, you’ll need a paper or e-ticket. You can buy them easily at the station counter. There are three main KTX stations in Seoul. Seoul Station, Yongsan Station, and Yeongdeungpo Station.

When you get to the station, tell the attendant where you are going, buy the ticket, and either wait or go straight to the platform that the train leaves from. Occasionally an attendant will go around making sure that everyone has a ticket. So don’t lose the ticket while you’re on the train. 

5. T-money 

Similar to the Suica or Pasmo Card in Japan, the T-money is your main transportation card. Get it at most major convenience stores. You can reload at bigger convenience stores (ask the cashier first) or you can reload on the kiosks in the subway terminals. 

T-money can be used to pay for public transportation and taxis. 


If you are traveling somewhere, it’s always good to have the place written in hangul to give to a taxi driver or show people if you need help. 

Happy Travels! 

5 Tips For Eating Out in South Korea 

The simple act of eating in a foreign country can be confusing. Here are five tips that are a little different from what you’ll find on the internet. 

1. Utensils 

If you’re eating at a Korean restaurant chances are your waiter isn’t bringing you your utensils, there isn’t a cup that is holding them, nor are any utensils waiting for you at your seat. Your utensils are probably hiding in a secret compartment. Look under and to the left or right of your table. And you’ll find a drawer that has chopsticks, spoons, (probably) some napkins, and (rarely) some forks. Violá you’re ready to eat!

2. Self-Service 

When you eat at a restaurant in America you may be used to being serviced. While someone will take your order. Korean restaurant staff won’t necessarily be at your beck and call. Sometimes there is a sign that says “self,” “self-service'” or “셀프.” This means that you can fill the side dishes or 반찬 on your own. If there’s no self, you’ll have to ask the server for refills.

3. Stool Drawers 

When you go to eat Korean BBQ or 고기 (gogi) sometimes you’ll be sitting on round, black metal stools with a cushion on top. If you lift up the cushion you’ll find a container that you can put your coat/purse/bag in so that it doesn’t smell like barbeque. 

*not my photo*

4. Calling the Owner/Waiter/Waitress 

You generally have two options. You can say 여기요 (yeo-gi-yo) which means “here,” 아줌마 (ah-jum-ma) or 아저씨 (ah-jeo-ssi), or clicking a little red and black service button that will call them right to you. 

5. English Menu 

Ask for 영어 메뉴 (yeong-o men-yu) 

Happy Eating! 

5 Free Must-Have Apps to Download Before Coming to Korea

My Aunt and Uncle are coming to Korea this weekend. YAY!!! I won’t be here for the beginning of their trip so I’m giving you guys (and whoever is reading this) some tips on Korea! 5 days until they come. So, 5 posts with 5 tips every day.

Today’s topic is 5 Free Must-Have Apps to Download Before Coming to Korea. These are apps that I think are useful for both travelers and anyone living/wanting to live in Korea. Keep reading for my suggestions~

1. Papago (Naver Dictionary)

Papago is Naver Dictionary’s Translating App. It’s so (x100) more useful than Google Translate and is much more accurate. You can translate from English, Japanese, Chinese (Simplified), Chinese (Traditional), Spanish, French, Vietnamese, Thai, and Indonesian to Korean as I’m writing this post.

There are also options to speak into the microphone and take a picture of a text (similar to the Google Translate feature).


While I’m at it, I’ll also suggest Naver Dictionary. Naver is the main search engine in Korea. You’ll see a couple more “Naver” suggestions below. Naver Dictionary being the “parent” application of Papago, it also has much more in-depth definitions for words. You can also translate from various languages into Korean and vice versa.

2. Memrise

If you’re coming to Korea and you haven’t learned any Korean. Or maybe you have learned Korean and you just want a refresher course, I would suggest you download the app Memrise. While Korea and Seoul especially are very traveler friendly. If you want to travel outside of Seoul, it can get harder to find people who speak English to the extent that you need for communication. Or worse, it gets harder to find signs written in English.

Memrise is an app that you can easily download onto your phone or tablet. You can also log into their browser online. You can even download courses to learn offline.

If you haven’t learned any Korean yet, simply join a course that is about learning “Hangul,” the Korea alphabet. Hangul is known for being a simplistic letter system that can be learned in as little as a few hours. You don’t have to push yourself that much. But it’s certainly something you can do on the plane when you’re tired of movies.


Image result for Memrise app learn korean

3. KakaoTalk

Kakao is a texting platform that everyone uses in Korea. If you’re visiting Korea and you don’t have a sim card, getting Kakao is one of your best bets for communicating with people in Korea. Sometimes stores are open but they’ll have the door locked. What the store owners will leave instead is a phone number and often times a KakaoTalk ID.

KakaoTalk will enable you to communicate with people here in Korea more easily. Why? Because everyone has it. My 10-year-old host sister even has one. If you do Air Bnb your host will most likely send you an ID that you can use to communicate with them. Think of it this way for any Americans reading this, KakaoTalk is the Facebook of Korea.

4. Navigation Apps (Kakao & Korea Rail Map)

Did you download KakaoTalk yet? Yes? Well, now I’m going to recommend some more apps that are owned and operated by the Kakao Corp. Korea has a WONDERFUL transportation system. It’s equipped with some of the best public transportation and has an extensive bus and rail system that connects the whole country.

If you like the simple interface of Kakao, I’m going to suggest KakaoMap, KakaoMetro, and KakaoBus. The three are separate apps, unfortunately. But, the Metro and Bus apps give more in-depth details than you’ll tend to find on single Map apps. That being said if you don’t have storage space, KakaoMaps will do you just fine.

If you don’t the Kakao interface so much, I’ll suggest the Korea Rail Map app. It’s clean, simple, and might I even say elegant? It even has a feature where you can tap into tweets around the stations that you’re visiting.

Regardless, if you’re staying in Seoul, downloading a subway and transportation app is something you should do stat.

5. Airbnb

You’ve probably heard of this website and app before. And chances are, if you’ve traveled to any larger city, you’ve probably used it before. Airbnb is a website that acts as an online hosting platform that allows individuals to lease or short-term rent out their private lodgings. People will list anything from extremely expensive houses to small one-room apartments to just a bunk in a guesthouse or hostel.  I particularly like that not only does it have nicer accommodations but also many guesthouses and hostels.

If you’re trying to save a buck by renting out a bunk or a room in a guesthouse, you don’t have to download another app. You have the best of both worlds.

If you’re traveling here for a while or even if you’re traveling here to live in Korea, Airbnb is a good account and app to have.


And that’s it for my 5 Free Must-Have Apps Before Coming to Korea! See you tomorrow! And happy packing Aunty and Uncle! ❤