Let Me TaLK to You: Self-Discovery & Cultural Adaptation

Let Me TaLK to You: Self-Discovery & Cultural Adaptation

By: Mila Luong | Psychology Student
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Throughout my work term with Teach and Learn Korea (TaLK), I got to live independently, learn a new language, develop new interests, and adapt to Korean culture. Not only is the TaLK program generously funded by the Korean government, the instructional teaching hours are only 15 hours a week. This gave me time to explore the country and learn more about myself. 

Living Independently

Before my work term, I lived a very sheltered life. I had not been outside of Canada and had not lived on my own or prepared my own meals. It was my first time abroad and I still remember the moment I left my family at the airport to embark on this life changing journey. In the first few months of travelling, I relied on my friends for navigation, but once I became more comfortable I took my first 3-day trip alone in Jeollanam-do (a province 5 hours away). With the help of Maps app, some Wi-Fi, and my broken Korean, I was able to successfully navigate three cities.

Learning a New Language

The first thing I noticed when I arrived in Busan, Korea was the language difference. I wanted to learn a little Korean before my departure, however I never ended up doing so. Thankfully, people in Korea are very nice, and were super helpful when needed.  However, I would recommend that prospective TaLK scholars learn some basic Korean before departing. Although I learned a bit of the language during orientation, it was through my placement that I became more efficient by using a book and phone app to learn. 

Adapting to a New Culture

I was placed in Andong, a city of beauty, culture, and heat. On my first day settling into my cozy studio apartment in Andong I was happy. I finally had the opportunity to be independent, which was something that I always wanted but had been too scared to try. Summer in Korea is quite hot and a bit humid which I was not used to. Initially, I greatly disliked the heat but after the three-week orientation I became so used to it that even at 30 degrees Celsius not once did I need to use the air conditioner.

                

On my second day of work, I had to catch the bus alone for the first time. In Andong, buses usually don’t stop if I don’t run out to the street and wave them down. I learned that the hard way, by missing my bus (50 minute intervals) on the second day of work. I’ll always remember that moment, when I was filled with anger and tears. But I didn’t let it stop me. With time, I learned to observe other peoples’ behavior to improve myself. That is how I was able to travel all over Korea both in groups and independently.

I love music and art so I registered for an introductory drawing and painting class. I also took Gayageum lessons, which is a traditional Korean 12-stringed instrument. Both of these skills were challenging but so rewarding. What made it more challenging was that the instructor used Korean and gestures to teach me. Through these extra-curricular activities, I was able to learn more Korean and also meet new people in my community which was important to forming a sense of belonging.  Having these things to focus on relieved any stress that I had after a  day of teaching and helped me relax and enjoy the moment.

   

I didn’t eat spicy foods when I was in Vancouver. However, something I noticed about meals in South Korea is that they always come with kimchi and other types of spicy radishes and peppers. I didn’t really eat much at first but I came to enjoy the spice very much. An ability to adapt is definitely an important quality to have for someone taking on such a big change. It was nice that I adapted enough that with time I was able to ask for the price of a product, say thank you and express gratitude in Korean.

I also was really lucky to have had a tremendous amount of support from my Mentor-Teacher, and Korean co-scholar. They helped me navigate my placement and always answered my questions. Just like the spiciness of kimichi -- which I’ve come to love and will never forget -- the experience that TaLK gave me has spiced my life in ways that I could have never imagined. It has broadened my scope of life and showed me that I have more potential than I know. Most importantly I learned that getting lost, failing and crying is a part of the learning process and only makes us stronger. This job opportunity definitely changed my life.


Beyond the Article

  • Follow Mila on Instagram 
  • Interested in teaching English in South Korea? Learn more about the TaLK program from students who have comepleted placements
  • International co-op is a great way to gain valuable experience while traversing new continents. Check out the International Co-op page to learn more

 

 

Posted on June 22, 2017