Culture Shock is real and happening

Hey all,

I can’t believe it’s been 4 weeks since I’ve updated my blog. I thought I would be better about it, honestly. The truth is, writing posts is hard work! It usually takes me about 2 or 3 hours to write one post. I’m trying to pare down what I write to just the important stuff instead of things like “We arrived at the station at 11:04am and it was super busy.” Things like that don’t really need to be in my posts. I’m just so long-winded, I’m finding it difficult to find the time needed to spend on these posts.

Anyway, something happening with me as well is that I’m going through culture shock. Thinking back, I’ve been going through for the past 2 or 3 weeks, it’s just hitting me really hard this week. The way I’ve been experiencing it is through my job. I know I’ve stated that teaching is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Well, I’m not kidding. I thought by the one month mark I would have it down and feel great about it. Not true. Truth is, I feel even more unsure of myself than I did in my third week when things were going well. At this time, teaching feels like something that I won’t get used to. I know that a lot of people go through periods of uncertainty and doubt in their abilities and I’m not alone. But boy, does it feel like I’m alone.

Part of this stems from the fact that I haven’t really had a day of rest in . . . 3 or 4 weeks possibly? Every day I’m not at school, I feel I must stuff it full or it’s a day wasted. I’ve always been an extrovert, so it’s no surprise that I have been making plans with and trying to see people all weekend. My body is exhausted. My mind is exhausted. This week it’s finally caught up to me.

Since I work at a middle school, the 2nd and 3rd graders have testing at midterms and finals. This week is midterms at both of my schools. There was no school on Monday because of Foundation Day, so I had a day off. Which was nice, but I spent it travelling and doing stuff, so it was not restful. Tuesday, I had review classes with my 2nd graders and a “fun” day with my 1st graders. It wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be, though. I played a game where the students were called out by themselves to try to guess a word their team was describing. My first grade girls DID NOT like that. They are so painfully shy. My 2nd grade girls loved it! It’s astonishing the difference one year can make. Wednesday (yesterday), I woke up and felt disgusting. So drained and sore and exhausted and my throat hurt. It definitely felt like I was coming down with something. Also, Ulsan was in the path of a typhoon. The news was saying that Typhoon Chaba would be rolling through mid-morning, so a lot of the EPIK teachers in Ulsan were wondering if school would be cancelled. A lot of the schools in Ulsan cancelled classes, but the teachers still had to go in (including my second school). My first school was not cancelled. We all were there together in the school. I had no classes for the day because of midterms, so I sat my desk all morning and planned some lessons for next week. I also got some work done. It was so nice to just sit and rest and not have to yell over the incessant chatting of the first and second graders.

(A note about Typhoon Chaba: My area did not experience the really horrible flooding that some of Ulsan experienced. The worst of the flooding and damage was along the Taehwa River. My school is located about 2 miles south of the river and while we did experience a power outage – I got to eat lunch in the dark – my school did not sustain much damage. I did get a really horrible-quality video of the street my school is on and the temporary flooding that happened, and though the street looked like a river, it cleared up by the time I walked home 4 hours later. I did hear that 5 people were killed and 2 people are missing, so it was a pretty serious typhoon. One of my Korean friends who’s lived in Ulsan his whole life has never seen anything like it and got a video of a car being washed down the street.)

Because of midterms, we got to home early on Wednesday. I got home at about 2:20 and took a nap. The two hour nap helped me feel better, but I was still exhausted. I cancelled plans with a Korean friend I was supposed to meet with and stayed in. By the time I went to sleep last night, I felt better, but this morning, I woke up and still felt nasty. Not as bad as yesterday, but still down and exhausted.

I’m currently sitting at my second school drinking some Jasmine tea, hoping the tickle in my throat disappears ASAP. My 2 classes were cancelled, so I have a full day of desk warming, and again, no teaching. Actually, during first period, I monitored one of the 3rd year tests. They were so cute and it was awesome to be reminded of how much the kids are excited by my presence. I haven’t heard a class get that excited to see me in some time and it was refreshing.

It boils down to this: my body is finally experiencing the exhaustion that has slowing been piling up on me. I’m trying to stay positive, but it’s really hard when I feel so tired and not excited to greet the day. Honestly, the timing couldn’t have been better. With midterms and actually getting some rest from teaching, I’m finally able to rest. It’s just so hard to admit to myself that this is hard and it’s not getting any easier. I’m not sure what to do to make myself get out of this funk that seems to have lasted for the past 3 weeks or so. Just get through it day by day? And last week, I remember thinking once “Is this what I really want to do?” and fantasized about breaking my contract. That’s how crazy my brain has been. I also have a lot of trouble not taking things so personally. It’s really hard when a certain class reacts to a lesson or game a certain way when I was sure they’d love it. During my desk warming yesterday, I did some brainstorming for my shy 1st grade girls and I hope the next few classes I have for them brightens them up a bit. I know a lot of my fellow guest English teachers also struggle with middle schooler motivation to learn English and the overwhelming lack of it.

I think eventually, I’ll get this teaching thing down, but I just have to go through this awful uncertainty and self-doubt first. Culture shock is very common and manifests itself in different ways and I’m just really struggling with teaching right now. Truth is, I love Ulsan!! I love Korea! Seriously! I can’t wait to learn more about my host culture and even the language barrier isn’t getting me down – it’s spurred a deep desire to continue learning Korean.

But my shock has come from the actual job. Having never taught before has really solidified into this mental block – I don’t know what I’m doing. My coteachers do not give much feedback, if any at all, and this has thrown me for a loop. It’s hard to be thrown into this job with no instruction, except “Make sure to finish chapter 8 in 2 weeks.” I finally asked my main coteacher about it and she said I should include more fun activities. English conversation should be fun, right? Yes, it should. I just feel that if I spend too much time on games, the kids won’t actually learn anything, so this has been a hurdle to think about these past 2 weeks.

I just miss knowing exactly what I’m doing at all times. Half Price was so easy and I was so comfortable there. Even though I was often bored out of my gourd, at least I knew what I was doing and what was expected of me. I also miss all my friends and family from home who know me so well and always make me feel better. I wish I could give you all a huge hug and just get a beer or play games or watch a movie and chill. And get some wings. But I will say, fried chicken in Korea IS SO MUCH BETTER. It’s unreal. It’s difficult being so far away from people who know me as well as I know myself. It’s also really hard not being able to come into work and say to the whole staff (like I used to do at HPB), “I’M TIRED.” Being surrounded by people who don’t speak my language has helped me develop a filter, though, which is really positive, I guess.

Alright, so I’ve basically word-vomited all my thoughts about my own brand of culture shock. I think I’ve taken some things from own post here and need to just write them down as THINGS I NEED TO LEARN immediately:

  • patience
  • flexibility
  • Korean
  • things take time to get used to – I can’t have it all immediately
  • how to give myself a break
  • when to rest
  • what vitamin routine I need (I finally bought some Vitamin C)
  • deep clean my apartment – it’s seriously disgusting



  • converse in Korean
  • if I can get by without coffee – seriously considering taking it up –
    • or, what gives me energy and enthusiasm in the morning
  • how to cook Korean ingredients
  • where I can get healthy food for cheap
  • how to motivate my students
  • how to make English fun and engaging
  • how to get by without feeling so much depression about my job
  • how to appreciate what I have to give and give it
  • make more Korean friends (it’s amazing!!)
  • decorate my apartment


Okay, so I’ve talked about my feelings enough. Now it’s time to actually get some work done since I am at school and everything. . . . Please send me some good thoughts and, if you want, messages on Facebook or Whatsapp. I really miss all my friends and I love keeping in touch.

****I just have to finish by saying that right before I posted this, I just spoke to one of my coteachers (who is maybe 55?) just now and he said after a 2 minute or so conversation about our long weekend: “I think you are losing weight.” Oh Koreans and their bluntness. I guess that’s a good thing, right, because I feel so bloated all the time. Korean food is so salty!!!!

I love everyone and miss you all so much. ❤

Keep in touch and look forward to a post about Seoul (I’ve started it) and another post about what else I’ve been up to (Busan and Gyeongju cultural heritage site as well as happenings in Ulsan).


2 thoughts on “Culture Shock is real and happening

  1. Bridgette

    Your blog is amazing! I am currently in California researching how to apply to teach in Korea for next year and I am so excited I found your blog!

    I hope everything this past week has been more positive! I love the pictures. Everything looks so exciting and fun!


    1. Emily Balamut

      OH wow! Thanks so much for the amazing compliment! Please let me know if you have any specific questions. If it’s about the EPIK program, I’d love to help you out!


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