Wednesday, March 4, 2015

[Teach Abroad Blog Carnival] Advice letters to my past self

Today’s article is written for the Reach To Teach Teach Abroad Blog Carnival, a monthly series that focuses on providing helpful tips and advice to ESL teachers around the globe. I'll be posting a new ESL-related article on my blog at the start of every month, and the carnival is always published on the 5th by that month's host. Check back for more posts, and if you'd like to contribute to next month's Blog Carnival, please contact Dean at, and he will let you know how you can start participating.

This month's host is Holly Beddome of Adventures with Holly, which is where you can read all of this month's entries.

Prompt: Write a letter back to yourself when you were just planning your trip. Give advice, forewarning, hopes and encouragement.

I'll split this into two shorter letters, one before teaching in Spain and one before teaching in Korea. I'm keeping it really personalized and specific to my situations, so advice to other teachers would look completely different. (Note: If you want some real advice, go here for teaching in Spain and here for teaching in Korea!)

Dear Past Pre-Spain Me,

Do not have such high hopes for your teaching positions. Both schools have a low level of English, poor curriculum/materials, and won't know how to effectively use you.

Where we had English class at the M/R school

It won't be what you're expecting, but that's okay. Why? Because you'll find fulfillment in other activities. Put your energy towards ultimate and your private lessons, and don't spend so much time making PowerPoints or that Halloween picture book for your schools.

You'll still be in contact with your private students four years later (aka now), connecting Natalia with an American girl to potentially do a private exchange this summer.

Two of my private students, with me in the middle

Do not schedule private lessons with Pablo when you're supposed to be at your Thursday school! That will put you in a really horrible (by your standards) situation one night when the English teacher randomly passes you off to her math-teaching co-worker after class and asks you to stay and sit in on a math class when she normally tells you to go home (and when you had promised Pablo's mother you'd be over for a private lesson). The following week you'll get scolded for leaving early and be shown your duties in the contract, and then basically fear this teacher (unnecessarily so) for the rest of the year, when it was really just a terrible misunderstanding and poor communication.

Enjoy the time when the head teacher lets you be alone with the students, and when the M/R teacher lets you plan and run class completely on your own. Be thankful for Conchi, as I think you were.

And really appreciate the time living in the same city as Hannah, Herm, Max and Q+D—plus the metro so you can easily hang out with these friends any time! In a few years (cough, now, cough, Korea, cough) you'll really look back on this year, missing the close friendships and ease and frequency of spending time together.

Just playing Settlers of Catan with my besties

Finally, know that you will come back. And you can easily always come back; Madrid will remain a second home to you.


Dear Past Pre-Korea Me,

You should watch the heck out of Eat Your Kimchi videos all summer, instead of discovering it like the week before you leave. Start learning Korean back when you signed your contract, to make your first day surprise television appearance less daunting (and an easier transition to Korea overall).

Also, open a Citi Bank student checking account in the states before you go, as that'll make banking from Korea 1,000 times easier (and save you from this 4-month headache, plus the headache later in the spring when you accidentally transferred out all the money from your brother's student Citi Bank account that he opened for you to use, causing the account to be closed).

Ask the UW grad student assistants to help you find your school on a map back when you get your assignment, so you won't think (and tell everyone) you're going here when you're actually (to your surprise on the taxi ride upon arrival) living here.

You live near a university—take advantage of it and try to meet people. Also, you can eat an amazing meal in the university's cafeteria for 5,000 won (less than $5).

No need to stress out around YJ—she is super kind and thinks very highly of you. She'll just be really busy during the first school year because she's also the head teacher, but it doesn't mean she's not satisfied with you. That said, don't stress out about EJ either. She has high standards but you'll meet them! She doesn't chit chat much because she's always so busy—it's not a reflection of you, so don't get lost in your thoughts.

Your co-teachers will change come the new school year in March! And your entire class schedule will change, too. You won't have Special English Class during the second school year, so please don't spend your spring break planning lessons for them (like you did... le sigh).

Just do your best and be yourself! Know that the "work vacation" you'll take in June is the reason why you have a location-independent job today. Those hours of focused work really went a long way!

Savor the children's smiles and keep on taking hugs from that cute first grade girl every day she offers them. This will all keep you going, and give you the tiny pleasures in your day-to-day that make the struggle worth it.

Enjoy the food, and let yourself eat out more than you normally would.

After all, Korean food is expensive in the US!

• • •


  1. I enjoyed these! Teaching in Spain vs. Korea must indeed make for an interesting comparison. And I agree- it's not much more expensive to go eat a good Korean meal in a restaurant than it is to cook something at home (especially something foreign) so why not enjoy it! I hope you did often enough :)

    1. I'm glad! Ehh I could have eaten out more, but oh well. Meeting up with fellow Korea teachers this Saturday to try a Korean restaurant in town!