English Teachers Around The World: Ardyn in South Korea

University of Toronto
English Teachers Around The World: Ardyn in South Korea

ardynPlease introduce yourself and tell us where you are from and your educational background.

Hello! My name is Ardyn Baia and I am originally from New Zealand however I studied university in Canada and have dual citizenship of both nations. I love being both a Kiwi and Canadian and it definitely makes for an interesting introduction for my students.

I graduated with honours from the University of Toronto with a Specialist English Degree. I absolutely love English literature and language and my dream is to teach English literature to high school students. I also have the TEFL certification from the University of Toronto.

I am currently working in South Korea as an English teacher at an elementary school. It’s going on to my second year and I plan to stay for at least 3 years as I am truly enjoying this development in my teaching career and it’s also a great experience living in South Korea and learning all about the culture and customs.

Could you give our readers a bit of background on your TEFL career to date, including when and where you qualified?

I gained my TEFL certificate during my final year of university. I did an online program as I wasn’t required to do the in-class course due to my English Specialist degree – this is what my future employers told me at the time, it may have changed. After graduating and completing the program I was able to get my current job teaching EFL in South Korea.

I feel that the TEFL course did equip me well for my current position, however having an English degree is my best asset as well as actually wanting to be a teacher as a career. If you are planning to teach ESL/EFL abroad please come with an open mind and a passionate drive to teach – as you will be teaching and responsible for young minds. If you’re not serious about the students then you’re not made for the job.

Could you tell us about your current job?

I teach at a South Korean elementary school in the countryside. I was recruited by a company that works with the Korean government and they gave me the option to choose where I could go and I asked specifically for a small town as I wanted to be out of the city after living in Toronto for 3 years!

My job was a bit shaky at first as the Korean system usually requires you – the ESL teacher from abroad – to work alongside a Korean teacher who may or may not have studied English in University and may or may not speak English fluently. So, at first it was a little challenging to get use to the idea of sharing a classroom and unfortunately I wasn’t trusted to teach with my own ideas or creatively for a long time.

However it got a lot better! I had new colleagues after 6 months and now I am fully trusted to teach whatever I want and be as creative as possible. It has been successful as a recent “open class” (teacher evaluation/ observance) was very successful and full of compliments for both myself and the Korean teacher I teach with. There are days that are stressful but 9 out of 10 days here are amazing as I am truly growing and learning as a teacher.

The Korean system follows a textbook written by Korean English teachers and professors, however they have multiple textbook companies given to schools and the final exams could be based on any of the textbooks used. This can be a little stressful as the topics differ for different textbooks but overall they’re similar and a good teacher will try to cover as much as possible on each topic so that they students are well prepared to get other/different vocabulary in the final exam.

What got you interested in teaching English abroad in the first place?

I have always wanted to teach English abroad as I grew up watching my mother do it! I have lived in Singapore, Japan and Brunei due to my mother’s teaching contracts. I would really love to move from Korea to Brunei one day as I went to an international school in Brunei and love the Bruneian culture. They also have a great English education system there so I think it would strengthen my career also. So, you could say I’ve always known I would teach abroad. I’m basically following my mother’s footsteps but I’m certainly starting a lot younger!

I would love to, after Korea, go back to New Zealand for my teaching qualification and that would open bigger and better doors for teaching abroad as you are certainly more in demand if you are a qualified teacher. However, getting this job straight after university has been such a blessing. Even if I did not want to be a teacher forever I think this is such a great opportunity to gain independence, open-mindedness, experience and maturity. Traveling is one thing, but living and breathing with the locals day in day out is so different and it’s a life changing experience that only a few lucky people are able to have – so if you have the chance I’d say go for it. That’s how I see my current job, even through the ups and downs, teaching abroad is so rewarding, in so many ways.

What have been your most enjoyable TEFL experiences so far?

I have really enjoyed being creative in the classroom. I am a total ‘lefty’ , I love art, drama and literature and so I’ve been able to really let my creativeness fly due to teaching at elementary level. Although I would have liked to have been placed in a high school I am thankful I get this time teaching the young ones before eventually moving to secondary level. There are so many fun and cute moments teaching children and they are always so excited to learn. I think one of my best memories thus far has been teaching English cooking classes for the after school program. We have so far made Egg Salad Sandwiches, Banana popsicles and soon we’ll make chicken kebabs. It has been such a blast teaching cooking vocabulary while actually practicing the act in real life and my students absolutely love it.

I’ve also really enjoyed the welcoming nature my school has started to really give me, it wasn’t immediate but now I feel quite at home there. I’m greeted with loud hello’s from all the students and even in my small town I’ll hear a “Hello! Mrs.Baia! ” while shopping – and it feels great. I think every teacher should have a chance to teach abroad as it’s such a good reminder to stay open and know that students around the globe can all be alike in their charm and enthusiasm.

What are your own particular goals as a TEFL professional, in the medium to long-term?

I would love to one day make a TEFL textbook with tons of templates and lesson ideas. I do think that I could really make some great resources for TEFL teachers abroad. I’ve started my own blog called Mrs. Baia’s Classroom where I document all of my most creative lesson ideas and post photos of student work and outcomes. It’s been a huge motivator for me to constantly think creatively. Some of my smaller goals would be to try out different teaching styles and methods I studied during my TEFL course, there are times were I wish I had no Korean teacher to translate so that I could push myself to explain this and demonstrate things clearly enough for a ESL student to understand without translation but, then again, it’s great to have that helping hand for comprehension check so I take advantage of the translation ability also.

What advice would you give to those who have either just qualified, or are thinking about studying to become an overseas English language teacher?

Do it! But on one condition – you are doing it to teach before anything else. I know that sounds cheesy but I hear of or see too many TEFL teachers abroad who aren’t in it for the students and put themselves before their students. This is not what teaching is about, and not only do you ruin your reputation but you tarnish the reputations of those of us who truly care about teaching and our students. If you feel you aren’t mature enough to teach – don’t do it, teaching is a selfless profession and it’s what you’ll have to do once abroad for the majority of hours and minutes you are abroad – those vacation times in between that you use to travel are indeed fantastic but remember, you’re abroad to teach, inspire and work with those young minds…traveling and going out will only be a fraction of the experience, so make the entire time count!

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