Last month, Danielle Fraser traded sunny Miami Beach for the snowy mountain town of Gohan, South Korea, where she will teach English for a year with Greenheart Travel’s Teach Abroad program. Danielle has been documenting her move and her first month in Korea in her blog Rocks in the Road, where she candidly talks about her experience and handling cultural differences, such as standing out in this small town not just as a foreigner but also because of the color of her skin. Impressed by her journey, Greenheart Travel interviewed Danielle about her decision to teach abroad and her new daily life in Gohan.
Tell us a little bit about yourself!
Well, I will go with fun facts:
What motivated you to apply to teach abroad in Korea?
About a year ago, I started researching ways to take a year off and volunteer abroad. I needed something that was economical being that I was just a retail manager. At the time, I was living and working in Miami Beach, FL. I was overworked and underpaid. I felt like I wasn’t being challenged anymore and I needed a break in order to recharge my batteries and put things back into perspective. I came across teaching English abroad. I did a lot of research in preparation for this adventure. I was deciding between Thailand, China and Korea. I decided against Thailand because of the benefits and from everything I read it just seemed on yearlong vacation and I really wanted to challenge myself. I didn’t do China because I had a couple of people tell me if between Korea and China choose Korea. Fast forward one year later and here I am in Gohan, South Korea.
Tell us about the community you’re working in.
Gohan is a small town in the Province of Gangwon-do and in the county of Jeongson. It is what I refer to as a sleepy mountain town. The people are pretty friendly and the students are great…low English proficiency but really sweet children. From what I have gathered, no one that lives in Gohan is from Gohan, so most people travel on the weekends back to their home town. During the winter time it is supposed be a real tourist destination with a ski resort and casino. It hasn’t snowed yet but I can’t wait to start taking skiing lessons. It is definitely a change from sunny Miami Beach, but that’s what I was looking for.
What do your days look like?
Monday through Friday I usually go to work where I teach anywhere from 2 to 5 classes a day. I then come home and meet up with the other foreigners in my area. We will sometimes have dinner together or with our Korean co-teachers. We also are taking a tae kwon do class to immerse ourselves more in the culture. I also go to the local gym in my town (that is free, what a deal). It’s a pretty easy life. On the weekends we try to check out a new town or explore ours.
In your blog Rocks in the Road, you have talked about being a person of color in the small mountain town of Gohan. How has being a minority in this community impacted your experience so far?
Being a person of color has definitely impacted my experience here. I find people take a little longer to warm up to me than my other foreign counterparts. I don’t think it is because they are scared they are just curious. I have people stop while walking to stare at me. I also realize that most people I come in contact with don’t know the history of black people in America. They are just curious about my skin and how did it get to be different. One thing to note about Korean culture it is very homogenous, everyone looks the same. Their features are uniquely Korean. In America we all look different so we are just more aware of different looking people.
Do you have any advice for someone considering a cultural immersion program but unsure because of their background or identity?
Before I embarked on this journey my experiences in life and my upbringing made me culturally aware that I was going to be an anomaly in rural South Korea, even in the bigger cities I am still pretty rare. My only advice to someone coming here is to let go of your perceived notions of people and difficulties you have experienced in your home country. Korea is different and you have to treat living here with a clean slate.
What is something new you have learned about yourself since starting this adventure?
I haven’t really learned anything new about myself. I feel like this adventure just magnifies everything.
What’s your favorite Korean food?
My favorite dish right now is duk boki. It’s street food – what’s not to love? It was the first dish that was cooked for me, in a Korean teacher’s house. It was delicious.
What’s your favorite Korean word or phrase?
My favorite word or phrase in Korea right now is the word for “move” – umjig-im. One of my 5th grade students taught it to me and it has just stuck. I think I also like it because I taught her the English word and she taught me the Korean word. Now we exchange words like this twice a week.