Korean Surprise

Though it may not seem like it because of my often mismatched socks and my frequent irresponsible decision making, I am a person who likes control. I am the person that will gladly do all of the work in a group project. I am the person that does my work in advance. I like making lists. I like planning ahead, doing things on my own, and knowing the outcome before it happens. I have come to terms with the fact that living in the land of the Korean Surprise will be a growth experience for me.

The Korean Surprise is a phenomenon every GET (Guest English Teacher) is familiar with. Korean Surprise: a group of students shows up for a class you didn’t know existed. Korean Surprise: your landlord, drops by to paint your bathroom in the middle of the night. Korean Surprise: your principal offers you rice wine at 2:00 pm, while still at work. No matter how it appears, the Korean Surprise can be a difficult thing for people like me.

I showed up for my first day of teaching feeling incredibly inadequate. I didn’t know the students, the textbook, or even my coteacher very well. I stood in front of my first class, saying a silent prayer that maybe some of the talents of the many teachers in my family had rubbed off on me.

In an attempt to make me feel better, I once had someone compare dancing to teaching. I was told that if I could get in front of large crowds for so many years and perform dances, some of which I choreographed, then I could teach a group of students. Dancing never made me nervous. But for some reason, teaching did. On that first day I felt, for lack of a better term, scared shitless.

People have often called me brave for wanting to move to a foreign country to teach English. That is nothing compared to the courage it takes to stand in front of a group of kids and try to teach them about something they are so far removed from. I feel like a child behind the wheel of a car. However, I got through that first lesson. And my second lesson was a little better. And now, a week after I’ve started work, I feel like I can actually do this. And as my dad pointed out, the feeling of being a child behind the wheel of a car never really goes away.

Though the uncontrollable Korean Surprise has brought a few stressful situations, it has brought on so many more happy ones. On the bus last weekend, an old man came up to me, said “USA”, and gave me a thumbs up. We had a bilingual conversation that mostly made no sense. Yesterday afternoon, I got back to my desk after lunch and had been left a bundle of grapes and 5 ride cakes from an anonymous friend. Last week, as I bolted out of the grocery store near my apartment out of embarrassment of my terrible Korean, I was chased down by a man because one of my bracelets had fallen off. Say what you will about Nebraskans being hospitable and nice, but never in my life have I experienced random acts of kindness like I have in Korea.

At times, everything about my life seems daunting. Even going to the grocery store is intimidating. But instead of letting the language barrier or the Korean Surprises or how much I miss Mexican food darken my perspective, I am choosing to look at it as part of the adventure. Korean Surprise: I love Korean Surprises.



  1. Annemone · September 9, 2015

    Thanks for writing this. As someone currently planning *in detail* for EPIK Orientation in August 2016, I feel like Korean Surprises are going to be a fun challenge for me to deal with as well. I’m hoping I can find the humor (and the silver lining) as well as you seem to have found it! 🙂


    • skheibel · September 10, 2015

      I totally understand where you’re at! The EPIK process is so overwhelming but I promise you it is very worth it. If you have any questions for about EPIK, teaching, or Korea in general, let me know!! I’m happy to help!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Annemone · September 10, 2015

        Thanks!! I’m taking a lot of notes, but you’re right – the process has an intimidating number of steps. Watching someone else go through it is so helpful though!


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