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CELTA in South Korea

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Grayson Hale, a recent Rhodes University graduate tells FundiConnect about his decision to complete a CELTA Course and move to South Korea in order to teach. CELTA refers to a ‘Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adult’ and is similar to a TEFL course. TEFL is an acronym which stands for ‘Teaching English as a Foreign Language’. 

The idea of travelling the world is one that appeals to many young people these days and for good reason: never before has it been so easy to pack up your belongings, jet off to another country, and be paid good money to do it!

My name is Grayson Hale and I was a student at Rhodes University for three years, graduating with a BA degree in Organisational Psychology in 2012. For the next two years I would spend most of my time unsuccessfully chasing my dream of becoming a music journalist, while spending the rest of the time working part-time jobs in the service industry. I soon realised that perhaps my writing would be better suited as a hobby rather than a lifelong career and I decided to change paths.

My second-greatest desire was to travel but I had never had the means of doing it due to work commitments and financial burden. But now I found myself in a position where my studies were complete and work wasn’t an issue yet, so I simply had to find a way to fund my trip and I would be good to go!

But how exactly would I do this?

After some careful research, it became quite clear that teaching English was by far my best option. Just by virtue of being a native English speaker, I could be paid to move to a foreign land (flights reimbursed and housing provided) and immerse myself in a new culture, while still having ample opportunity to travel elsewhere during holidays. First, however, I would need some form of teaching certificate, which could be obtained in a number of different ways. There are too many to name them all, and it would be wise to do your own research to decide which one is best for you, but many of the more lucrative countries now require slightly more than a simple online TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate.

Beginning the CELTA journey

It was for this reason that I opted for the CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults), which is widely considered to be the ‘gold standard’ qualification for teaching English to non-native speakers. It’s a lot more costly than the other courses and perhaps not necessary if you only plan to do a year or two abroad, but I can highly recommend it for anyone willing to challenge themselves or who might be thinking about a career in teaching English as a Second Language.

The CELTA was, without a doubt, the most difficult course I’ve ever done in my life; not necessarily in terms of its content but simply because of its intensity. You’re expected to live, breathe and sleep CELTA for four straight weeks and you’ll soon discover that you aren’t even able to escape it in your dreams! Even experienced teachers are quick to point out that the CELTA isn’t for sissies, so if you go with this option know what you’re in for! However, the experience is one that you will never forget and I can promise you that your life will be changed in some way by putting yourself through this rigorous training. Plus thereafter, you’re Cambridge approved for life! Score!

Deciding where to go

After getting my CELTA, it was time to decide where I wanted to go! I had considered Japan, China and Thailand but ultimately decided on the EPIK Program in South Korea, as it seemed to be one of the more popular and well-organised options available – something very important to me as a first-time traveller. The application process was a long and painstaking one, something that won’t be necessary if you’re the adventurous type who just wants to pack up and go, but it was well worth it in the end. I began in August 2014 by filling out my application, motivational essay and demo lesson plan, before having my Skype interview a couple of months later and finally receiving my placement (in the beautiful city of Busan in South Korea) in January 2015.

Korea – expect the unexpected

I arrived in Korea in mid-February of 2015 and expected to find myself completely overwhelmed, but that never really happened thanks to the EPIK Program’s exceptional organisation. I was put straight on a bus to Daejeon where our 9 day orientation was being held. There, we were put through (another!) intensive program which included many hours of lectures, Korean lessons and field trips. We got to experience some of the local cuisine, visit a traditional village and were even treated to a traditional dance/music performance. The only downside was the fact that it was the middle of winter, there was no hot water in the shower and, of course, I’d forgotten to bring a towel! But above all else, it was just a great opportunity to meet new people and make friends with the other travellers who would be spending this year with me.

So, just how have my first three months in Korea been? In all honesty, they’ve the best three months of my life. Of course, it’s always possible that others will not be so lucky (school/location placements, co-teachers and working hours will all differ) but the EPIK Program does seem to provide at least a respectable amount of consistency. As long as you arrive with an open mind and are willing to adjust to any cultural differences that may arise (the infamous ‘Korean surprise’, a strange phenomenon in which you are told critically important information at the very last minute, comes to mind) you will almost certainly have one of the best years of your life. I’ve gone on beautiful hikes, visited temples, sung karaoke on a train, eaten some ‘interesting’ food, and of course made plenty of new friends, both foreign and Korean.

A quick word on the EPIK Program

As competition for places has increased and budget cuts have seen a significant reduction in the number of candidates accepted, you will require at least a degree and teaching certificate to be accepted. Also, as of next year, South African applicants will be required to prove that their schooling was conducted in English from grade 7 onwards. If you do not meet these requirements, don’t worry! There are plenty of private institutions in Korea, known as hagwons, which will be willing to accept you even without these. But be sure to do thorough research beforehand, as there are horror stories out there of people being lured to other countries with promises of big salaries and benefits, only to be offered a completely different contract upon arrival… Eeek!

Pick your Destination!

South Korea is only one of the many, many options available to you. Vietnam is fast becoming a popular destination and Thailand has always been a favourite among travelling English teachers. If the East isn’t really your vibe, there are plenty of opportunities elsewhere. Really, any country that doesn’t have English as a first language is open to you – from Saudi Arabia to South America – but naturally some places are tougher to get into than others. Preferably, think about what you’re hoping to gain out of the experience and make your choice from there… there’s something for everyone in the world of English as a Second Language teaching!

Regardless of where you go I can assure you that, with the right attitude, you will flourish in your new home… just don’t forget to bring a towel!

If you would like to follow along on Grayson Hale’s adventures be sure to check out his awesome travel blog:

Student Opinions:

Kimberly Pet (Durban): “I started looking at the TEFL course because I wanted to travel but wanted to earn and get experience at the same time. Having finished my studies (for now) I didn’t feel ready to enter the working world just yet and I still have so much I want to do before I “settle”. So I signed up for the 150-hour online course and am currently completing it at the moment. It was a little bit of an adjustment having to study something completely on my own and at first trying to motivate myself was difficult, but the course is interesting and engaging so I got into it. A lot of the content is an expansion of common sense knowledge so it’s doable for anyone and the exercises in each module fully prepared you for the mini tests (in the form of multiple choice). So far it’s been interesting, it’s taken a little of my time but will result in such a rewarding experience.”

Mpumie Mncube  (Pietermaritzburg):I decided to do the TEFL course because I’m interested in teaching English! I believe the world operates predominantly in English and anyone who wants to learn the language should be afforded an opportunity to do so. I want to pursue teaching as my future career and use my knowledge to help foreign language speakers to enhance their abilities. Language is a beautiful gift to give to any person; providing the opportunity to communicate their ideas, apply their minds and have the confidence to speak a language fluently. I’m excited to be a part of that!”

FundiConnect 2cents

Not many can afford to pack up and travel without saving up a great deal beforehand or working while traveling. If you would like to become immersed in a different culture, create an overseas family and travel to new parts of the world, then doing CELTA in South Korea, or anywhere else in the world, is a great opportunity to earn money and keep the travel bug happy.

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