16 April 2020

My work in ELT: Nepal & Seoul

I won’t spend too much talking about the early days in Nepal or the three months of language and cultural training. I’ll just say it mostly went well and I, for one, wasn’t feeling clear on what I had gotten into. No doubt it was a mix of nerves and the churning of culture shock.

I arrived in my village in the Eastern foothills of Nepal in early January 1991. My headmaster had arranged a for me to live in the school office building where a few students boarded. The school was a long, ranch style building with six classrooms. Primary classes ran in the morning, secondary classes in the afternoon.

This was it. I had a degree in English literature, a poor understanding of grammar fundamentals, and little practical education related to teaching. To say I wasn’t prepared would be an understatement. I taught Primary 1–3 and my smallest class was 54 students—the largest was 92! I liked being with the students, especially as they were very eager to learn. But without any background in lesson planning, my classes were haphazard and I moved far too slowly through the material. I was just able to cover half the material for the year. I loved it, and I remember singing a lot with them, but looking back, I can only smh.

In my second year, I moved to Dhankuta, the capital of the eastern region, to become a primary school English teacher trainer. Yep, after just a year of teaching, I had become a teacher trainer. That meant I would get an assignment, bus or hike to a district center, work with local teacher trainers to conduct a 35-day training and then return to the office to prepare for the next training. Fortunately for me, there were tons of material to work with and every class was time-tabled. And the teachers were a blast to work with. I learned a lot during those trainings from my counterparts and was appreciative of their support and dedication.

Three teacher trainings, a couple of short treks, and the monsoon season took me into October 1992. My last weeks as a volunteer in Nepal were spent working with a batch of incoming volunteers, providing training, observing classes, making plans for the next step … which was teaching English in Seoul for three months. So I went back out to the primary school and the education office I had worked at, and to the family I had lived with, to pack up my things and say goodbye to teachers and friends. I then returned to Kathmandu for blurry days of farewell parties, feasts, and shopping for gifts to bring home.

I landed in Seoul in early January 1993 and began teaching English conversation to young adults right away. Wow! What a difference! After two years of teaching with little or no electricity or running water, in classrooms with dirt floors, benches crammed with dozens of students, blackboards made out of wooden boards, I arrived at a school with copiers, computers, and shelves of materials; classrooms with folding desks, whiteboards, carpeting, climate control, glass in the windows … and class sizes of 14 to 18 students. And the surroundings! My views went from foothills, trees, and trails to modern concrete towers, five-lane highways, and packed subway lines. The smells went from fresh mountain air, wood fires, and lentils to urban pollution, perfume, and kimchi. And do you remember that song ‘Gangnam Style’? Well, the school I worked at was right in the heart of Gangnam, one of the wealthiest areas of Seoul. It was time-travelling without time travel. Woo-eee!

Classes were run monthly and met for an hour two or three days a week. As the students were university aged or 20-somethings, it made preparing and facilitating lessons easy. I guess I had learned something in Nepal. Classes went smoothly and the students were amazingly friendly. They would ask me to lunch with them, for coffee after class, or even out to bars or clubs in the evening. They took me to museums, historical sites, amusement parks, shopping malls, outdoor markets; we went hiking, ice-skating, shopping; played table tennis and billiards. And at the end of each month, students gave their teachers gifts: shirts, belts, socks, lighters (I used to smoke), change purses, wallets, caps. Their kindness was sincere, warm, touching. It was hard to leave, and a couple of fellow teachers tried to persuade me to stay, but I’d been away from my family for 28 months and it was time to return.


  1. Very special experience to teach in Nepal and Seoul,and a good starting point for ELT work. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Yep. A fabulous experience with wonderful people.


Thanks so much.