Vail Daily travel: Thrown into the teaching fray |

Vail Daily travel: Thrown into the teaching fray

Nicole Frey
Travel Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the Daily/Nicole Frey

Editor’s note: Vail native Nicole Frey spent 16 months living in South Korea and now is traveling through Southeast Asia for a few months. We’re serializing her blog about living overseas Sundays in the Vail Daily for the next few months. E-mail comments to

It appears that bus drivers here feel a little put out about having to pause at all those pesky bus stops around town. So to make up for the inconvenience, they ignore a majority of the red traffic lights they encounter. It started out as unnerving, but now it’s just one of the little joys of living in South Korea – blindly careening through the streets, hanging on for dear life, since there aren’t actually many seats on the bus. (The better to squeeze more people in, I suppose.)

I’m now in my third week here in Busan, South Korea. After a week of orientation (during which I was given no direction except to observe the classes I would take over), I was thrown into the teaching fray. So far, I’m keeping my head above water, though I’m not sure why it seems to take me so much longer than the other teachers to plan my lessons.

School ends at 9 p.m., and while most of the foreigner teachers bolt immediately, I’ve been in the faculty office planning lessons until after 11 p.m. Granted, I’m still learning the ropes – the books, the procedures, etc. And as a new teacher, I have to map out each of the eight, 40-minute class periods by two-minute increments, as opposed to the brief overviews the veteran teachers are allowed to do.

The school, English Center for Children or ECC, occupies three stories of an office building. At 27 years of age, I am the oldest of the seven foreign teachers from the United States and Canada. There are also five native Korean teachers. To me, their English skills are dubious. I hear they write and read better than they speak, which is good, since they’re responsible for all the grammar lessons. Each hour-and-a-half class is broken into two 40-minute sessions. A Korean teacher teaches half, and a foreign teacher teaches the other half.

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m generally pretty anal and organized. The Korean teachers are not. It’s very slowly starting to perturb me. Oh, who am I kidding – it’s very rapidly driving me completely nuts. I was in a class today wondering why none of my students brought the right books, only to figure out half-way through the class that the co-teacher had changed the lesson plan. Of course, it was Bossman Nick who brought that to my attention, (He watches my classes through the window in the door) adding that it was “half my fault” that I hadn’t checked with the teacher before class. Why the hell do we have lesson plans if we’re not going to follow them?!

My students range in age from 5 to 17. For the most part, they’re good kids, though I had the preconceived notion that Asian kids are very well behaved, and that’s not necessarily the case. I get the impression they’re better for the Korean teachers and try to get away with murder in front of the foreign teachers. I enjoy the 10- to 12-year-olds the best. Their English skills are generally decent, but they still have a sense of fun. The older teens are dead inside. Really, they’re just super overworked and exhausted. With regular school, extra math classes, extra science classes, extra music classes (and on and on), those extra English classes just aren’t a priority. They’re unprepared, unenthusiastic and mute in class.

The work day here is an OSHA nightmare. It starts at 1:30 p.m. There’s a one-and-a-half hour planning period, and classes start at 3 p.m. There’s a 5-minute break between each class, and you have classes straight through 9 p.m. There are no sick days, per se. You do not accrue vacation time, though there are national holidays that I’ll get off. I go in early and stay late to plan my lessons. It’s week 2, and I’m exhausted.

Of course, I’m not skimping on the fun either, but that’s a story for another day.

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