Amanda Pool
The Only Thing I’d Ever Taught Was Swimming Lessons: A Journey Through My First Year Teaching Abroad


I didn’t come to Korea to be a teacher. Well, technically I signed a contract saying I’d teach in exchange for a flight over, an apartment, and a monthly salary, but teaching wasn’t why I wanted to come.

Before Korea the only thing I’d ever taught was swimming lessons. I hadn’t even taken an online Teaching English as a Foreign Language course. I couldn’t see myself as a teacher. And I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I wasn’t (and still am not) a certified teacher.

But the journey began.

The day after I arrived in Korea I found myself standing in front of a classroom. Twelve sets of eyes stared at me as I stammered through an introduction of myself and quickly explained a few classroom rules I’d copied off some ESL teaching website an hour earlier. When the bell rang thirty minutes later my palms were sweaty, my throat was dry, and I wondered how I would make it through a year of this.

At the two-month mark, I was no longer terrified to come to work, but I still wondered if I was teaching anything. My students didn’t like me much. Every day they told me how much they loved my co-teacher and his funny jokes and strong arms. I remember one day I glanced down at my watch and there were still ten minutes until the bell. I sighed and turned to the board for another round of hangman.

At the six-month mark, I was halfway done with my contract. I looked forward to seeing my students, who told me stories about their loose teeth and the hikes they went on with family over the weekend. Students were running around the room, searching for pronouns and screeching with delight as they threw down the verb and picked up the slip of paper with ‘he’ printed on it. Later, when asked to circle the pronouns in a sentence, they could.

Month eleven. I was almost done. My students were about to move on, and so was I. They were writing speeches about their favorite memories of the school year. The girl who could barely write her name a year ago turned in three paragraphs about a pajama party, seeing a lion at the zoo, and her favorite teacher. With capital letters, periods, and complete sentences.

Month twelve: I made it.

Today, I am looking over the final report cards, and I find this note from a mother.

Dear Amanda teacher,

I sincerely appreciate you teaching Danny this year. Danny’s improvement is due to your great teaching and encouragement. He will never forget the memories with you. Please always be happy.

Thank you,
Danny’s mom

Reading this, it hits me. I am a teacher.

Amanda Slavinsky currently teaches writing at an English immersion elementary school in Seoul, South Korea. Most of her time is spent searching the capital city, usually with little luck, for the three things she misses most from the USA: avocados, sour cream, and good Italian food. She recounts tales of her travels on her blog, Farsickness.


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