Since graduating in 2013, Ian McKay has been teaching English as a second language to children at Wolbong Middle School in Cheonan, South Korea. Currently, 2,500 alumni are teaching in the San Diego area; however, PLNU Alumni Communications Coordinator, Audrie Hill said only a few students from each class year choose to teach abroad.
McKay will return to the States from teaching in March of 2015 and plans on pursuing a graduate degree or getting involved with a 2016 presidential campaign. McKay, the former student body vice president and political science major, took some time over email to share his experiences in South Korea with The Point.
The Point: Was teaching English abroad a spontaneous decision?
Ian McKay: Like most Point Loma graduates, there came a time senior year where it really hit me that I didn’t know what I would do after Point Loma. I had a couple ideas, but they were not confirmed and I didn’t want to move home with my parents or work at Starbucks. Right when these crises about what to do in the future started, I found out about this program.
How did you find out about teaching English abroad?
IM: The program that I am in is actually associated with the Nazarene Church. I just can’t seem to escape the Nazbos. Brian Becker of the Spiritual Development Office met with me and gave me a lot of information on the program. My program is through Korean Nazarene University which is kind of a sister school to Point Loma here in Korea.
How did you qualify to teach English? Was it hard to become qualified?
McKay: Qualifying to teach English in Korea is really easy. You have to have a bachelor’s degree and a TESOL or TOEFL certificate. I got my certificate after I arrived in Korea for free, which was really nice. The program I am in paid for it. A TESOL Certificate is a crash course in how to teach English to non-native English speakers. It wasn’t difficult at all.
Why did you choose to teach in South Korea?
IM: The Nazarene program was the only one I really considered and it was only in South Korea. My best friend in middle school was from South Korea but this was never a place I thought I would go. I am really interested in conflict resolution and the South-North Korean relationship has always fascinated me from a political point of view. I thought working here and getting to understand the culture could help me understand the conflict more.
What exactly does your job entail?
IM: I am really lucky to work at a great school. I get to plan my own lessons and the entire 45-minute class is mine to teach. My role is kind of an English motivator. I try to get kids excited about learning English so we play a ton of crazy English games and watch funny videos on American culture. There are other English teachers at my school that are Korean so they teach the grammar and vocabulary to the students. My job is to make them actually speak English. I teach 20 hours a week and the other 20 hours I have free time to plan new lessons for the next week.
What is your least favorite part about teaching English?
IM: So the Korean education system is built upon Confucian values that really stress the importance of education. Students come to school for eight hours a day AND then go to private academies after school, sometimes staying there until 11 p.m.. We are talking about seventh graders that have no lives outside of school and studying. Everything revolves around test scores and a student that does bad on a test in seventh grade might not get into a good high school, which would lead them to never having a chance to go to a good college. English is a crucial part to succeeding in Korean society. There is even an English section on the Korean SAT. Imagine if we were tested on Spanish to enter college!
Would you recommend teaching English abroad?
IM: Teaching English in Korea is definitely not for everyone. You have to be incredibly flexible and good in front of people. Sometimes I have to make up a lesson on the spot because my projector doesn’t work or the students don’t understand the content. Being comfortable speaking in front of people is also a must. If you are shy, you won’t do well holding the attention of 36 kids for 45 minutes.
What has been the most difficult thing about living in South Korea?
IM: I think the most difficult thing for me is not being able to communicate well with those around me. My Korean is getting better and I hired a private tutor but there is still a lot to learn. Unlike America, Korea is a very homogenous society that has a history of distrusting foreigners. Most of the people I have met have been some of the nicest people I have ever met, but there are some that definitely don’t want me here. Once I was out with three of my teachers on a Friday night and the restaurant we were trying to go to wouldn’t let me in because I wasn’t Korean. My teachers argued with them for about 20 minutes and then we left. I wish I could speak the language to defend myself and let people know that I am here to serve, not to be served.
If you could say anything to current PLNU students about teaching abroad, what would you say?
IM: When I was a senior, I was terrified about what would come after Point Loma. Teaching abroad has been a perfect bridge out of Point Loma and into my “professional life” (whatever that means). I think it’s good to make a clean break with Point Loma and move on. Being in Korea has helped give me some perspective on my time at Point Loma and some perspective on being American that I wouldn’t have gained by staying in Southern California. If you decide to teach abroad, it’s only a year of your life and full of new experiences and fun.