ESL Teacher Feature: Leanne Glasser

This month the spotlight’s on ESL teacher Leanne Glasser. Read on to find out about her experiences while living and working in Busan, South Korea.

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Where did you live abroad and how long did you stay?

I lived in Busan, South Korea for three years. I lived in Choryang-dong (near Busan Station) for my first year, Yeongdo (a small island accessible by bus or car near Nampo-dong) for my second year and in the beautiful Geumnyansan (near Gwangan beach) for my third year.

What did you teach?

I taught English as a Second Language (ESL) at Bonghak Elementary school (on Yeongdo) for two years. I taught English to all grades and classes from kindergarten to grade six. In addition, I hosted the English morning broadcast once a week, after school classes, teacher classes and summer/winter camps. In my third year in Busan, I taught at the Busan Global Village (near Buam) as the grade one teacher for International School Canada (ISC). I had the same group of students for the year and taught from a Canadian curriculum.

after school class

Bonghak Elementary After School English Class

What was your living arrangement like?

My apartment in Choryang-dong was very small (one room) and on the top floor of a building that also had a spa and flower shop. There were just four apartments on the top floor, and we were all English teachers at various public schools in the area.

In my second year, I continued teaching at the same school but opted for a larger apartment (with 2 bedrooms, a full kitchen and two balconies) on Yeongdo. The apartment was a 5-minute walk from a track and beautiful park beside a river (and about 15 minutes from Taejongdae). It was a longer commute to visit friends and to get to downtown areas in Busan, but I preferred being closer to my school and the quiet “small town” lifestyle of the island. I lived with my puppy Winston, so being close to parks and having the extra space was amazing for both of us.

My third year, I lived in Geumnyansan (near the beach) which was amazing. The apartment was small (one room), but it was a dog friendly building. And it was close to hiking trails and the beach. The entire building was securely locked and almost all tenants were teachers at the Busan Global Village.

What was the wildest experience you had while you were there?

I don’t know if this would be considered a “wild” experience, but the Holi Festival in Haeundae was one of my favourites. It was a colour festival where we danced and threw coloured powder into the air and at each other. The festival is traditionally celebrated in India, but Busan had its own version and everyone was welcome. Busan has amazing festivals year-round (Chinese New Year; Buddha’s birthday; Children’s Day; and Chuseok just to name a few).

holi festival haeundae

Holi Festival at Haeundae Beach

How did you meet people and what was your social life like outside of work?

For my first two years living and working in Korea I was part of EPIK (English Program in Korea). They held an orientation for all teachers where we took classes together and got to know each other. This was a great opportunity to meet other teachers in Busan and stay connected. We all exchanged email addresses and phone numbers, which made it easy to plan big group events.

When I taught at the Busan Global Village, all my colleagues lived in the same building as me, which again made it very easy to make friends and make plans to go out together.

Where else did you travel in Southeast Asia?

I was able to travel to Boracay in the Philippines for summer vacation and loved it! I also traveled to China, Japan, and Bali in the three years that I lived in South Korea.

What was the biggest challenge in moving and working abroad?

The biggest challenge in moving abroad was saying goodbye to family and friends. Things like Skype, Facebook and email made communicating with friends and family back home easier, but I did miss seeing them. Living so far away meant that having visitors was difficult and expensive.

The biggest challenge of working abroad was getting used to cultural differences in the workplace. Sometimes the language and culture barriers meant that feelings could get hurt and communication could be difficult. Having patience and understanding can really go a long way.

What was your biggest accomplishment?

My biggest accomplishment came after moving back to Canada to pursue my master’s degree in education. I received an email from a former student who told me that I inspired her to keep studying English. She said that nobody ever believed in her, but that I made her feel special and like she could accomplish anything. She told me she had plans to become fluent in English, to visit me in Canada, and to someday be Prime Minister of South Korea. When I read the email, I cried. I believe in all my students, and I felt so blessed that even one student was positively influenced by my teaching.

What would you do differently?

The only thing I would do differently… would have been to stay longer! I left Korea in search of something more and ended up going to graduate school (which I don’t regret). I just wish I had stayed one more year to enjoy the lifestyle, having extra money to spend, and the ability to travel to new places.

What’s a piece of advice for other teachers or those considering teaching abroad?

Take every opportunity you can to get outside, explore, travel and document. When I feel nostalgic for Busan, I look back at all the photos and memories I have over those three years and feel so happy for the experiences I was able to have and the wonderful people I met along the way. The friendships that I made while living and teaching in Korea are lifelong friendships that I truly cherish.

Sounds amazing, right?!

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