From Carolina to Korea

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A new teacher experiences a new world

New teacher Lauren Bell is finding that differences in culture can be interesting, especially for someone whose first teaching job is 6000 miles from her hometown of Williamston. A 2009 graduate of Palmetto High School and a 2013 Elementary Education graduate of the College of Charleston, Bell is experiencing a new life and a new culture, teaching in South Korea.

“I’m navigating a brand new culture, a brand new country and a brand new job, and I’m having the time of my life,” Bell said in an emailed interview.

Bell is employed through the Korean government program EPIK and teaches English to Korean kindergarteners through sixth graders, at two public schools in a town roughly the size of Greenville,

“My job is simple,” she said. “To get students excited about learning English and to raise their English level.”

Bell said the job of teaching seems to be universal, however cultural differences take some getting used to.

“It is strange to be the only non-Korean in my whole school building,” she said, “but the skills needed to teach seem to be the same everywhere. Some of the transitions to the new culture have been fairly easy, but in many cases, culture shock has ruled my life for the past month.”

Bell said that where she is, in a rural area of Korea, very few people speak English and stores and restaurant chains that can be found almost anywhere in the US, are non-existent.

“It is by no means a tourist destination, which means that very few people speak English, and Western restaurant chains are non-existent. Everyday tasks like buying groceries or getting my hair cut can be quite a challenge and usually turn into a big game of charades.”

There are other culture differences which present interesting circumstances.

“Other differences, like the fact that showers in Korean homes are simply a showerhead with no stall, have also taken some getting use to,” she said.

According to Bell, one of the most challenging differences is the cultural belief that personal space does not exist.

“Having my personal bubble invaded constantly is still incredibly annoying, but I imagine we would do things similarly in the USA if we had to squeeze 50 million people into a country the size of Kentucky.”

She said that the differences between Williamston and Korea seem endless, but she has come to prefer some of the customs, like brushing her teeth after the school lunch.

“No one wants to smell like kimchi (spicy, fermented cabbage) for the rest of the day.”

Bell said that in the short time she has been in Korea, some of the differences are starting to feel normal although she said she has a long way to go with learning the language and the complicated etiquette system. “Which I constantly mess up to the amusement of my co-workers,” she said. “I came here thinking I would like to stay for a couple of years, but I’m enjoying myself so much it may be tough to get me to come back home!”