Teaching English abroad in South Korea isn’t always the most fun thing in the world—even on the stunning Korean island of Jeju, with its island beaches, mountain hiking, green tea plantations, hidden coves, sunrise-friendly crater, Korean cherry blossoms, and Jeju winter snow-days. While we work at a fantastic hagwon (Korean private school), learning and teaching a second language always has its obstacles, especially since we mostly teach 4-7 year-olds. And let’s face it—kids want to be kids. And you know what? They should!
That’s why our favorite days of the year are the days we get to put down the books, and let these kids—brilliant and studious and guaranteed-to-be-successful, as most of them are—just be kids. Enter Water Fun Day.
Our school’s Water Fun Day rings in as the talk-of-the-town ’round these kindergarten parts. Scheduled sometime in the summer before our week of summer vacation, Water Fun Day ranks as one of the most looked-forward-to day by student and teacher alike (and frankly, we see it as one of the best parts of teaching English abroad!). We deck out the roof of our building in Jeju-si in pools and shade-bringers and floaty toys, and all the precious kiddies come dressed to impress in the littlest of swimsuits, sunhats, and sandals. Not to mention, super-soaking water guns that rival their bodies in size.
Kids Will Be Kids
Beyond the absolute joy of a sunny summer prance on the roof, Water Fun Day marks an important break in the study-heavy lives of the South Korean children we teach. Of course, this study-centric lifestyle is in no way unique to our school. Amanda Ripley of Time Magazine charges the heavy study emphasis of Korean culture with “educational masochism“—an “addiction” to hagwons so deep that authorities have been compelled to enforce a curfew to keep students from studying at after-hours academies late into the night.
While the kindergartners we teach in the mornings have not likely been touched by that extent of a study-heavy hand, it’s not uncommon to hear of our afternoon elementary students visiting a math academy, a music academy, an art academy, etc., in addition to our English academy and their regular elementary school—all in one day.
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And why? In only a single generation, South Korea has managed an incredible feat—rising from one of the world’s poorest countries, to a remarkable high-earning, developed country, a period of speedy economic growth referred to as the Miracle on the Han River. And to what do we owe this great miracle? The incredible hard work of the Korean labor force, and yes, a strict emphasis on studying.
So study culture is here to stay in South Korea, and will most likely always define the experience of those teaching English abroad. But it certainly makes days like Water Fun Day all the more enjoyable!
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Water Fun Day: The Fun Side of Teaching English Abroad
Taking full advantage of the island summer weather Jeju spoils us with, we trek enthusiastically up the stairs from the floor of our school to the roof, and get up to some serious funny business. No talk of prepositions or the magic “e” or pronouns or any of that other language stuff that comes out of your mouth when teaching English abroad, just some good ol’ food for the soul in the form of splash-happy frolicking and good-natured water battles.
While some of the kiddie clan splash and wade in the pools, others armor themselves with water artillery, filling up their super-soakers for some classic child menace, beaming with joy as they prance around the roof in search of a good teacher target to douse.
But, of course, we teachers don’t let the little rascals get away without a little payback! Teacher’s don’t bring their own water guns, but hey, we’re teachers—we can just take the kiddies’!
Sure, teaching English abroad gets you benefits like free rent, 50% medical, and a contract-completion bonus—but hands-down the most luxurious benefit you’ll come to appreciate in South Korea is the unlimited access to the squishiest of cheeks you ever did see. It’s the little things in life!
So there you have it. Over one year of living and teaching English abroad, and the purest joy we have at our jobs is letting the kids be kids (and letting ourselves be kids as well!). Water Fun Day, along with our field trip days and special holiday parties like Children’s Day, Christmas, and Halloween, brings us foreign teachers the chance to simply play with the kids and create the fondest memories we’ll bring back home with us. While we’ve certainly learned so much during our time teaching English abroad, one of the most valuable lessons is the reminder that, stripped of language, culture, nationality, study-emphasis and whatever else, the little humans that we teach, at the end of the day, are kids.
…And kids are really weak and easy to steal water guns from.
BOOM. Teacher out.
Have you ever considered teaching English abroad? Let us know in a comment below, and send us any questions you may have about our experience as ESL teachers in South Korea!
This is our experience teaching in South Korea. Want to learn more about teaching in other countries? Check out this post about teaching English abroad in Nepal and Japan, or this helpful guide on teaching English in China!
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