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Life Lessons I Learned From My Students

Allison with some of her students in Korea.

Sometimes as a ESL teacher, the students teach you more than you can teach them.

Before setting off to teach English in Korea for a year, I had never really spent a significant amount of time around children, especially little ones. Sure, I had volunteered in schools and worked at summer camps but it was mainly with older students. I’d also never worked with children for an extended period of time.

As my departure date got closer, I worried about all different aspects of my job.  Would I be able to connect with the kids? Would they like me? Respect me? Would we be able to communicate clearly? And, of course, my biggest concern—can I even teach? What if they don’t learn anything from me all year?

However as the months went on, it became apparent that at the same time I was teaching them, my students were also teaching me—just in very different ways. While I was helping them practice their English and improve their skills, they were teaching me some very valuable life lessons.

1. Every day is a new day.

No matter what happened yesterday—whether you had a nasty fight with your best friend, you spilled your milk all over the desk and yourself, or your teacher yelled at you—it’s over now. None of that matters anymore. That was the past, and today is a brand new day. There are too many (much more fun) things to do today to waste time worrying about yesterday’s problems. Better yet, just forget it even happened.

2. No snack is too small to be shared.

Whether you have a whole cookie or a tiny piece of a peppero stick (a favorite in Korea) left, it’s worth sharing with your teacher and your friends even if it means less for you. I’ll never forget the obvious joy on my students’ faces when they gave me a little bit of whatever they were snacking on, regardless of the size.

This lesson, of course, applies to much more than just snacks. When it comes to sharing or giving anything, the amount isn’t the most important part.

3. It’s never too early to smile.

If you’re not a morning person, like me, you know that this one can be a real struggle. Often, the last thing you want to do when you drag yourself out of bed, still 95 per cent asleep, is head off to a school full of noisy, happy, energetic children all under the age of seven.

However, when you’re greeted every morning by a van-load of adorable, smiling
children shouting, “Allison teacher, good morning!” it’s pretty hard to remain a sourpuss for long. Who cares what time it is? If they’re happy, why can’t I be? It usually didn’t take long for their happiness to become infectious.

4. You can still be happy when you’re stressed.

For many people (myself included), when you’re stressed out, you feel like you can’t be happy. My Korean students definitely proved me wrong on that this year. Despite their overwhelmingly busy schedules and school workloads, many of them were still genuinely happy kids. While telling me about their hectic schedules and the mass amount of homework they had or tests they were preparing for, they were laughing! What seemed like cause for a breakdown to me was just another day in the life of a Korean student. Maybe laughter really is the key to happiness—or at the very least stress management.

5. Be proud of all your accomplishments, not just the big ones.

You don’t have to do something huge in order for it to be considered an accomplishment in life. Sometimes, remembering how to spell that tricky word right (after spelling it wrong for the past 10 days) was like winning the lottery to my students. The look on their faces when I made a big deal about it was a huge eye-opener for me.

As adults, I think we often get too caught up in the big picture. We have big ideas and major goals that we work towards, and the little steps along the way aren’t as celebrated as they should be. Working with kids this year reminded me that even the little things can be big accomplishments, too.

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Allison Burney

A small-town Ontario native, Allison Burney studied journalism and human rights at Carleton University in Ottawa. Volunteering in Guyana sparked her desire to keep travelling and learning about different cultures. Interested in teaching ESL? Perfect! Allison lets us in on her experiences teaching in Korea.

Website: allisonburney.wordpress.com/

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