BY KATHERINE MOREHOUSE
Mark Rideout stood at the head of his class, looking at the horde of rambunctious kids around him. He didn’t think he could have the patience and attitude it took to handle a room full of children, but after teaching abroad for a month, things changed. He’s gone from feeling overwhelmed to learning how to “go with the flow”.
During class one day, a month after Rideout, 25, began teaching, he realised he had become more calm and collected with his students; he stopped worrying about the little things. He learned how to keep the class going after students try to disrupt the class or act out so that no time is wasted.
For Rideout, the younger students have begun to affect him the most.
“The five-year-olds changed my perspective. I felt like I was really making a difference in their lives,” said Rideout.
There are more than 100,000 positions offered for English teachers abroad every year. According to the International Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) Academy the top five countries to teach abroad are China, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and the Gulf States.
Rideout decided that the best place for him was South Korea. He first landed in Incheon, on August 11, 2016, and from the moment he set foot off the plane, he knew everything was going to be different.
“My first thought was, ‘Wow, I’m as far away from home that I can be on all of planet earth,’” said Rideout.
In popular East Asian cities like Seoul, Shanghai and Tokyo, there are over 10 million people. There are around 1,000 language schools in those cities, and they are employing up to 15,000 foreign English teachers every year.
Rideout had graduated from UNB with a Bachelor of Business Administration in Finance and Accounting and decided that he wanted a change of pace in life. He said he was bored of life in Canada and felt like nothing was changing. For him, South Korea was a safe place full of rich history and promise.
Rideout emailed several recruiting firms who were looking for teachers in South Korea. He sent them his resume, Skyped with the and received job openings.
“I had a few interviews, some went well and they offered contracts and I just chose the one that seemed best,” Rideout said.
After the paperwork for his VISA was finished, all Rideout had to do was get himself to South Korea. With the little bit of savings that he had, along with some assistance from his family, Rideout had enough money to buy a one-way ticket to Incheon.
Although Rideout has his BA in Administration and Finance, but he instead chose to take a different path in careers. He said he’s developed a change in taste than he had before.
“I’ve become less obsessed with material possessions and wealth. It also was the reality of those jobs (in business and finance). I don’t know a single person in accounting who actually likes the job, they’re in it for the money,” said Rideout.
He believes the thought of working in finances turned him off. He said stock prices don’t always make sense, and most of it is based on luck. He prefers rational and safe things.
Rideout teaches in a private school not far from the capital city, Soeul. He teaches students aged anywhere from five to 14.
In a normal day, Rideout arrives at school and prepares for the day until 10 a.m. He has five 30-minute classes until 12:30PM. After that, his schedule varies depending on what day of the week it is. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays he stays until 4:40 p.m. at school. On Tuesday and Thursdays, he goes to the afternoon school at 1:30 p.m. and teaches older students along with other teachers. “Afternoon school” is a school that students go to after regular school hours to study and practice the subjects they are finding difficult in their classes. What they do in afternoon school does not get counted towards any grades or marks, it’s just extra help.
Rideout was used to things being planned and organized in his life in Canada, but everything had completely changed after his first day of teaching. Not only did he not receive any training or advice about how he should teach, but he knows very little Korean.
“I only know a few phrases and words so I experience a language barrier regularly, especially ordering food or explaining things to some coworkers,” said Rideout.
The language barrier and culture shock may be enough to scare some away from this opportunity, but for Professor Rodger Wilkie, he took it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience that everyone should at one point try.
From 1998 to 2002, Wilkie lived in a small farming village in South Korea and taught at Suwon University.
“So it seemed like a good fit when I found out that I had the qualifications to get a job teaching at a university. That seemed like a good job to have, so I did,” Wilkie said.
50 per cent of people who teach abroad stay for a second year, and Wilkie decided to stay for an extra three years because of how much he learned while living there.
During his time in South Korea, he became very close to a farming family, to the point that he began helping them on the farm.
“I actually learned a lot about actual day-to-day life in the fairly traditional Korean context,” Wilkie said. “Whatever else I learned from my time there, that really is the core value of the experience is just actually becoming part of a community while I was there.”
Wilkie says that during his time there working at Suwon University, he earned about 2.3 million won per month, which right now equals out to roughly $2,600 CAD per month.
Rideout lives five minutes away from the private school, in a single studio apartment in a complex with other teachers. His apartment fees are covered, and he is making around 2.2 million won, which equals to around $2,300 per month. It may seem lower than what Wilkie was making in 2002, but Wilkie says private school teachers were only making around 1.8 million won at the time that he was teaching abroad.
“Disposable income and not worrying about money at all is great,” said Rideout. “But the best is probably the kids, some of them at least.”
Each year, approximately 15 to 20 per cent of English teachers teaching abroad go to a new school or a new country after one year. Rideout plans on finishing his one year in Incheon, and said that afterwards, the opportunities are endless for him.
“I’ll probably teach English for a few more years, but the world is big and many places need English. With that lead up, maybe go somewhere else and teach English. Japan, Vietnam, Thailand maybe. Hopefully pick up a language within a few years and go back (to UNB) for an MBA in International Business or something along those lines,” Rideout said.
When looking back on his four years in South Korea, Wilkie said it’s still changing him to this day, and the hardest part of coming back to North America was the culture shock he experienced when he came back home.
“It was really hard; learning how to live in North America again,” said Wilkie.
Teaching abroad was one of the best experiences for Wilkie, and he encourages anyone who gets the chance to travel and learn something new.
“Go someplace whose assumptions are different from your own, because then you learn how conditionally your assumptions are, even the things you take for granted your entire life. It helps you see how constructed even the basic fabric of your thought is.”