Expat in Korea: 6 Ways to Deal with the Communication Problem

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ESL Tate
I have been an ESL Teacher for more than 15 years and a Teacher trainer for the last three. Now I help new teachers start their journey traveling and teaching English abroad.
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As an expat in Korea, all too often we all get caught in the web and find ourselves in the middle of a communication problem that could have easily been averted if someone just spoke to the English Teacher.

It happens way too often and if you have taught or have been teaching as an expat in Korea, then you know exactly what I am talking about.

expat in korea: communication problem

Just yesterday I was told that I need to turn in 11 lesson plans for an extra class I have been teaching to increase the English level of the middle school students who are new to the English language. I was not told about this at the beginning of the class that started two months ago. All it would have taken is someone saying, ‘Hey English Teacher, you will need to turn in the lesson plans that you have to make up yourself because there is no textbook for the class on this and this date’. And I would have been like ‘okay’. Simple right? I guess not.

Here is the best part though. Since this is an extra class, I was also told yesterday that without the lesson plans, I will not get paid for the class. The pay is not based on the much improved speaking level of the students. Not the many power point presentations, phonics, skits, role plays and games I have come up with for the kids that are in my flash drive under extra class. It is solely based on the piece of paper that shows how I taught these lessons.

That’s not all yet

You know the best part! The office of education not only had informed the Teacher responsible for the class about requiring the lesson plans when the class started, they also reminded her last week that those lessons are due this week by the end of yesterday. And I saw her more than twice last week.

And as if that’s not enough, all of the teachers at the school who also do extra classes do not get paid unless we all turn in the lesson plans together. And I have been wondering all week why some of the teachers were a bit on the not so nice side and I come to find out today from my Co-Teacher (in the high school since I don’t have one in the middle school) I was responsible for keeping them from getting paid because of the lack of communication that I was unaware of.

And although we found out who was responsible for holding on to the information without passing it onto me, making me look like I am not doing my job, the damage is done. And I am the one taking the fault because no one said anything. My Co-Teacher in the high school can’t do everything. She is the one that tells me things in the high school and since the middle school is more or less none communicative, problems like this arise.

But I keep my cool. I am a stickler when it comes to communication and getting things done. Some have even called me a perfectionist at times. And for the most part, my co-teacher has come to understand and appreciate this about me. Getting everyone else on board is tough.

There are a few things to remember if you run into this problem with your school. I guarantee this will happen to you, if not already.

Being an expat in Korea, here is how to handle the situation

1. Keep your cool

Don’t get upset. There is nothing worse than anger in situations like these. Instead, focus your energy on what you can do now to remedy the situation. Talk to your co-teacher or anyone else who speaks English and explain that you had no idea.

2. Try not to point fingers

Save face for whoever messed up and do not call them out. You don’t want to tarnish the relationship because you will at some point need them for something. Plus you want a good working atmosphere, don’t you? And remember, whenever you point a finger, 4 more points back at you.

3. Do what they ask

Focus on the solution and not the problem. We all know what the problem is and they know deep inside that they messed up so there is no need to remind them. Instead, spend a few hours and fix their mistake, they will thank you later for it.

4. It’s all a big joke

Don’t take things like this too seriously, you might have a heart attack. Especially in schools where this happens on a weekly basis, your blood pressure will be through the roof. Luckily for me, this only happens every couple of months. But it’s always fixable, many problems are fixable.

5. Don’t stress yourself

It’s very easy to stress over things like this and understandably so. But whether you stress or not, the situation will still be there. My grandfather used to say this about alcohol: alcohol is like religion, it’s both the problem and the solution 🙂 silly old man. I miss him!

Good to Read: Teaching English in Korea: A note to new teachers

6. Smile through it all

My co-teacher always wonders why I never get upset with the kids or anything around here. I tell her that everything that happens here is a temporal temperance as my gramps would put it and because of that, there is no need for me to exert myself over the trivial things. And I just keep smiling and soon enough everyone starts smiling and a potential blood flow increase situation becomes less so. We talk, we fix it and we move on.

Be positive and try your best to look at the good side of things. 1. You are an expat in Korea making money, 2. seeing new things on a daily basis, 3. making lifelong friends, 4. making a difference in a fellow world citizen’s life, 5. and pretty much getting paid to travel. What is there to be stressed about?

Whether your school talks to you or not, it all shall pass. I mean, it would be great if we as foreign teachers/expat in Korea were included in a lot of the things we are excluded from but you can’t have it all can you! So when you run into a situation as I describe above, think about the six reasons I have listed just above this paragraph then follow the other six ways of dealing with the situation and EVERYTHING LITTLE THING WILL BE ALRIGHT!

So keep doing your job and making a difference in the best way you can. Being an expat in Korea may at times be a struggle because of communication problem, but you can always ignore, fix and move on from the small nuisances.

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