IMMERSING yourself in a new culture can be a daunting prospect for most people.
But try teaching a classroom of young pupils how to speak English and it adds a whole new dimension.
That’s what happened to Buckingham man John Mayston, 32, when he took a year out to teach English in South Korea and Japan.
Mr Mayston, of De Clare Court, has released a book of his experiences called Kimchi with Everything: A Year in the Life of a TEFL Teacher, which is a diary of his time based at a local hagwon (language school) in the small town of Kanghwa, in South Korea.
Speaking to the Advertiser and Review, Mr Mayston said he was travelling overseas after graduating from university when he met someone who suggested he give teaching abroad a try.
He applied for a job teaching in South Korea, advertised in a national newspaper, heading out there at the end of 2002.
As well as breaking through the language barrier, Mr Mayston also had to deal with being only one of six foreigners in Kanghwa.
He said: “The school had a headteacher and other teachers who could not speak much English, but there were some Canadian teachers who helped me out.
“I taught from five years old up to 16 – quite a varied range. The children go to their normal school during the morning and early afternoon and from 2pm onwards, they go to their language school.”
The hagwon usually runs each day until 10pm, making it a very long day for the students.
The children were also under enormous pressure, attending school from Monday to Saturday and being punished if they did not achieve high marks in their tests.
During his time teaching in South Korea, Mr Mayston also had a chance to take a look around.
Kanghwa is close to the border between South and North Korea, and in his book, Mr Mayston said he hadn’t realised how close the town was to the secretive North Korea.
His experiences also lead him to spend New Year celebrations of 2002 in Seoul, South Korea’s capital, with Canadian teacher, Jon - a night he said was, ‘one of the most amazing and scariest nights of my life.’
Health and safety seemed to hold no sway in Seoul with the crowds creating their own fireworks displays. People bought their own firework tubes and set them off in their hands while children waved sparklers, only narrowly missing Mr Mayston’s jeans as he walked along.
He also had a chance to spend some time in a Buddhist temple, living like a monk for a weekend and taking part in tea ceremonies.
After teaching in South Korea, Mr Mayston spent some time teaching in Japan.
Of his experiences with the pupils he said young people in Japan appeared to be eager to learn, but were often afraid of making mistakes.
“Children are children though and parents allow their very young children to get away with a lot,” said Mr Mayston. “Then it turns into, ‘You must study,’ and suddenly you get these teenagers who seem to turn within themselves.
“There is a lot of pressure from their parents and teachers to do well at school.
“South Korean students are more prepared to have a go.”
Mr Mayston also visited the Peace Park in Nagasaki and Tokyo.
He hasn’t ruled out going back abroad to teach and has written another book, called The Fun Guide: Games for Learning English.
His current book, which costs £7, is available to purchase from www.amazon.co.uk. It was published through YouWriteOn Publishing and edited by David Pickering, from the Buckingham Old Gaolers.