South Korea: Hagwon vs. International Schools

On a totally different topic from what is usually covered in this blog, just thought I would write a bit about my current experience, teaching at an International Elementary School here in Korea,  and  comparison of this kind of work with a standard “Hagwon”/”Hakwon”  (Private academy).

While “Private Academy” sounds rather prestigious in many countries, those familiar with English learning in South Korea will understand that Private Hagwons are “a dime a dozen,”  and often not very prestigious institutions,  though of course they range in quality,  being privately run.

In comparison,  “Public School” jobs are rather more difficult to obtain in Korea (though not particularly hard,  the remaining positions are generally done through GEPIK or similar programs),   but are  far more sparse these days, due to government cutbacks in hiring of Native English instructors.

An  “International School,”  like the one I teach at now,  is generally privately run (like a hagwon),  but is generally far more reputable,  and the primary difference is that this school is the Primary/Main  school for it’s students (they attend in the daytime),  as compared with hagwons which are usually afterschool academies.

So whereas in a Hagwon position I was working afternoon/evening hours  (from about 1:30 pm to about 9:30 pm, though I often stayed a bit later, till around 10, voluntarily),   now at my present International elementary school,  I work in the daytime,  from about 7:50 am to 4:10 pm.

These hours are actually far preferable for me, though all people are different.   I know some people actually enjoy being able to sleep in very late, and work late.

For me, I enjoy the natural aspect of being able to wake up in the morning, (with the sun and most of the animals), and being finished by the afternoon, giving me the evening free.   But again, everyone has different preferences.     (and to be sure, I actually wouldn’t mind sleeping in an extra hour or so).

The biggest differences are probably in the details of instruction.

Hagwons often use largely “pre-packaged” lessons, out of textbook, etc.

At my hagwon (an academy for students all the way from Elementary grade 1, to first year high school),  we primarily worked basically straight out of English textbooks.  (actually, rather low-quality  Korean-produced English textbooks,  occasionally with  typos  or slightly awkward Konglish constructions).

For this hagwon work, there was little preparation necessary (though I always went through the pages in advance), as teachers (I was the only Native English teacher there actually),  were expected to stick very closely to the curriculum, and make sure pages were completed.

Though this saved prep time, it certainly left something to be desired in terms of a feeling of autonomy or control over lesson planning,  or the ability to be more creative with how we did things in class.   That was certainly lacking at the hagwon.

(though at my hagwon, this was partly made up for by a demand to make “activities” (often silly games and things), for the younger students.   I personally found this to be often a burden and a chore, though some teachers who love making up games, etc., might actually enjoy this aspect).

International School:  More Freedom and Creativity Involved in Lesson Planning

In contrast, at my International School,  there are fewer class hours,  but more prep time,  but I must make all my own lesson plans,  and design my lessons with some creativity.

I have more leeway to complete the curriculum as I see fit (though there are still arbitrary requirements to fill all the pages, etc., etc.),  but there is much more autonomy to design my own lessons,  ability to show relevant videos in class,  discuss things in a more open-ended manner, etc.

In this respect, I far prefer the International School format, (and can see why they are more discerning with the teachers they hire),  because frankly,  having some autonomy over how one does one’s job is a major aspect of job satisfaction,  and this makes my work far more interesting and fulfilling, where I can design and plan my own lessons how I like.

Have any experiences with hagwons / Public schools / International Schools in Korea?  If so, leave a comment and let me know.  Thanks for the feedback.  Until next time, warm wishes.


The wish of the HSP or Empath to “Help the World,” and preliminary thoughts on roles as teachers

[Appended Note: though this post came from the heart, it is of something of a low quality, largely due to the feelings of mental fatigue and residue of slight overwhelm referred to in the narrative. The quality of the thinking or writing may not be top-notch, and I have not yet been able to take this and edit it for improvements. Just wanted to let you know. Peace and goodwill.]

I have been very tired today – actually, mostly this afternoon. It has been a good but busy day here at Amritapuri, Amma’s Ashram in Kerala.

In the morning I did my laundry (handwash in a bucket as always), before going off to do my Seva shift with the compost team.

After this I had lunch, prior to coming back to my room. My roommate, Didanath, is a really cool and nice guy; he has been affiliated with Amma in some way since 1989, when at the age of 5 he met Amma with his mother. At that time Amma had only a handful of followers.

Amritapuri ashram, by the  Kerala backwaters
Amritapuri ashram, by the Kerala backwaters

Now of course, Amma must have thousands upon thousands of followers worldwide. I am not sure precisely what is the population of this ashram, but at any given time, particularly on weekends, there must be at least a thousand (perhaps a couple of thousands) of people here.

This must be one of the largest ashrams on earth, if not the very largest.

What actually tired out and overwhelmed me perhaps the most today, was talking at such length with my roommate Didanath. As I said, he is a really cool guy. That said, perhaps many HSP’s can relate to the notion of being thoroughly worn out by certain conversations, particularly with extroverts, particularly at certain times of the day, or in certain circumstances.

As it stands, this is not quite the easiest circumstance for me – that of sharing a room.

I think many HSP’s will recognize this feeling – the difficulty of lacking one’s own, completely private space to spend time in.

My situation is not so bad, as I am very lucky and blessed, that as Didanath is in many ways part of Amma’s own “inner circle” he actually spends very little time in the room itself. So a lot of the time it is my room.

But, I really like to have my own space, as I believe is the case with most HSP’s. It gives a feeling of security, of safety.

In any case, I could have just not spoken to D very much this afternoon. I was very tired – after doing my morning’s work, and then having a substantial lunch, I had entered what felt like a “siesta/rest” time of the day.

But, how to say…. I guess, since we have been roommates for several days already, and have barely spoken at all, I just wanted to “get him on my side,” so to speak. To show that I was a good person, and to develop some camaraderie, friendship, or at least good feelings, between us.

And in that, I think this being – this Highly Sensitive Person, with ulterior motives – was pretty successful.

We all want to be liked. And we all want others around us to think and to know that we like them as well (at least, HSP’s generally feel this way).

And so that was good. It tired me out, and it prevented me from perhaps being productive in other ways that I had planned.

But perhaps it is all for the best.

The Purpose of HSP’s here on Earth?

This discussion tunes me into and reminds me a little bit of the wider subject of higher purposes, particularly of those who are HSP’s or what are called in some circles, “Empaths.”

I get the impression, reading the literature on HSP’s and Empaths, and also speaking to the HSP’s and Empaths whom I know personally, that HSP’s/Empaths above all tend to have a strong sense of their purpose and drive as being some destiny or importance to help others or to help the world.

There seems to be a strong element and desire for selfless service in the HSP or Empath.

(In this sense, life at projects like Sadhana Forest, as well as at Ashrams such as Amma’s Ashram, where there is a focus on karma yoga, or the yoga of action – manifesting as Seva or selfless service (that is, work not for one’s own personal good, but work as spiritual practice, or work for the good of humanity, etc.) would seem to be something that HSP’s and Empaths should give a try to sometime during their lives. I personally highly recommend trying to get into some sort of voluntarism or selfless service – that said, I tend to believe that likely the majority of HSP’s are already involved in some kinds of voluntary work already)…

I have noted in myself, even when it comes to something as mundane as “conversations” – that often there will arise in me a strong drive, simply, to “make the other person happy.”

Often, there will be a feeling on my own end, that a conversation, that talking, is really not something that I want to do right now.empath thing aura bubble

I feel like it will wear me out, suck out my energy, etc., etc.

But there is a feeling that it may be good for the other person.

So it was in part this early afternoon with Didanath. I wanted to make him happy, and make him feel good about the arrangement in his room.

Though of course there was also my own personal ulterior motive previously alluded to – that of making my roommate “like me” – and become an ally and friend of mine, particularly useful early on in this relationship, prior to any possible issues arising with the room and energies surrounding it.

This leads to the interesting question, of whether we, as HSP’s or Empaths, are really helping people, by simply making them feel happy (even when it is done through an activity that we may experience as draining).

I believe this is a complex question, and may depend on the individual situation.

That said, I was very inspired to read at one time, in this direction, something about the mission of HSP’s and Empaths in general, “on earth.”

As Empaths, we tend to be able to take on the negative feelings and energies of other people.

We can sometimes absorb all of their energies like a sponge (and generally do).

That said, I was reading (and now I wish I remembered the source), that the real mission of HSP’s is not simply to absorb everyone’s energy, and give back love and light.

But that rather, in particular, the mission of HSP’s is not simply to alter people’s moods, in the moment, but —

To show people how not to be attached to their changing moods; or to show them how to bring out positivity in themselves, by themselves or for themselves.

(A little bit like the simple old proverb – that to give a man a fish is to feed him for a day, but to teach him to fish, is to feed him for a lifetime.)

I was struck and inspired by this notion and image of HSP’s and Empaths as teachers. As teachers in particular of how to avoid negativity, and how to bring out the sensitivity, positivity, and light, which are the true homes of HSP’s when they are in balance.

Thoughts for Later On

As I am wearing myself out a little bit writing all of this, on this long day, perhaps I should pause here for now.

That said, I wish to take this up in more detail in future posts – I wish to continue to look along the lines of, how specifically HSPs or Empaths can be teachers of these disciplines… And what sort of disciplines in particular these are.

The first things that come to me are that the disciplines of mindfulness, of equanimity, of meditation, and so on, would seem to be largely central in this regard.

That Empaths and HSP’s – so prone to getting caught in the world-wide-web of emotional energy, that is all around us, themselves – could, if they are able to master certain techniques for handling these powerful emotional energies – end up being individuals who can pass on this knowledge to the rest of the world.

Perhaps HSPs and Empaths can, then, help the world in this way. I like the thought that this can be the kind of positive outlet for the desire for selfless service that is native to the HSP temperament.

I am very interested as always to hear your feedback. Love and peace. : )