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Alumni Guest Blog: South Korea

Name: Christian Clampitt
Graduation Date (month/year):
May 2012
NYU School/Program/Major:
College of Arts and Science, Philosophy

Current Title: Guest English Teacher
Current Organization/Employer:
Korean Ministry of Education
Current Location:
Cheongju-si, Chungcheongbuk-do, South Korea

Where are you from originally? Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Littleton, Colorado.

Did you study abroad while at NYU? If so, where? What skills/experiences did you have while abroad that prepared you to work globally (if applicable)?

I did not study abroad while at NYU. I was a transfer student; while at my previous university I studied abroad in England. (Transferring to NYU, New York itself felt like an exotic location!)

For going abroad, what’s most relevant is your patience, especially the greater the length of time abroad.

Three months abroad (whether working or studying) allows plenty of cultural exploration, but concludes before the ‘honeymoon’ is over. The period after the enchantment is when challenging cultural differences genuinely appear. Anyone can read about a cultural difference, but the actual practice of navigating cultural differences day after day requires the virtue of patience. Are you patient enough to reflect on how cultural others interpret your behavior? Are you patient enough to set aside your own feelings in order to accommodate the other culture’s approach?

(It’s best to learn to like the differences, but if they were so easily overcome, they wouldn’t be cultural differences! So in the meantime, there is patience.)

I learned to practice the virtue of patience in England, but I’m learning it even more in South Korea. If you’re planning on short term work abroad, then the same skills that make you a great student (ingenuity, independence, responsibility) will make you a great young professional. But if you’re planning to work abroad longer, you’ll need to supplement your regular skills with greater patience.

How did you end up working in South Korea? Were you targeting that location specifically or seeking a position abroad?

At my previous university I took an ESL course, had many Korean friends and attended a Korean-language church. The pastor taught me how to read and write Korean! As my graduation from NYU neared, I knew I wanted to spend some time abroad after college. I had always wanted but never been able to visit Asia, and since I already knew some Korean, South Korea seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Did you encounter challenges pertaining to visa/work authorization or language barriers during your job search and the application for this position?  How did you overcome them?

The Korean Ministry of Education’s English Program in Korea (“EPIK”) makes a great effort to minimize the language barrier and manage the ‘paperwork,’ especially during the application and orientation processes, by allowing applicants to use English-language agencies. For example, I researched EPIK independently but then used an ESL placement agency (ESLstarter) to guide me through the application, interview and visa documentation. The founder, Claire, even met me at Incheon airport!

What types of activities/experiences prepared you to work internationally? (classes, extracurriculars, study abroad, internships, etc.) 

Language and history classes are very beneficial. Even if English is commonly spoken at your destination, knowing some of the local non-English language communicates respect and care. Knowing some history also demonstrates that you find the location and culture interesting and worthy of study.

What are some of the benefits and challenges of working in South Korea specifically, and outside of the U.S. more generally?

Korea is a small country in a great global location. Nothing is ever too far: I can take an inexpensive and comfortable bus to Seoul, a city bigger than New York, or to Beopjusa, a Buddhist temple on a secluded mountain range. Both trips only take an hour and a half. And when you’ve finished exploring Korea, it’s easy to fly to New Zealand, China, Japan or the Philippines.

The challenge I have to mention is the high language barrier. Korean isn’t as hard to learn as Mandarin or Thai, and in many ways I like it more than English – but it’s still hard work to learn. And since it’s not uncommon for a Korean’s English to stop at ‘Hello’ and ‘Nice to meet you,’ you will have difficulty communicating if you don’t learn some Korean.

Sometimes, a cultural difference can be a benefit or a challenge, depending upon your patience and attitude. For example, the younger generation considers itself increasingly westernized and therefore modern, though Korea is still very much an East Asian culture. For example, this means that while there are more nearby high-end coffee shops in my “small” city of 600,000 than in my old neighborhood in Manhattan, the work culture remains very communal. I regularly play volleyball, get coffee and eat dinner with my office co-teachers and even the whole school. At first this work culture felt like an intrusion into my private time – but I was patient and now I quite enjoy it! I’ve even gone camping and fishing and traveled to Jeju Island with co-teachers. So, some cultural differences that initially feel like a challenge may become a benefit.

I think this is true for working outside of the U.S. more generally: cultural differences, depending upon your attitude, are either the main benefits or the main challenges of working abroad.

What advice would you give to students who are interested in a position like yours? (tips, resources, etc.)

Teaching English abroad is a great way to travel and to live abroad; there are many destinations and various short term and long-term opportunities available. Some places require TESL certification and/or a degree in education, but many don’t (Korea only requires a degree). For those interested, I would recommend researching TESL and exploring the community at sites like Dave’s ESL Cafe. I used ESLstarter as my recruiter – Claire was immensely helpful. Once you’ve decided on the destination, start to learn some of the local language.

What are your future plans? Do you see yourself coming back to the U.S.?

My plan is to return to America within the next few years to complete a few additional science courses before applying to medical school.