English teachers in Korea are constantly on the search for that perfect, all-in-one website with valuable advice, beautiful lesson plans, and maybe some funny student stories. Jackie Bolen has lived in Korea for 7 years and blogged for 4, and provides a one-stop-shop for all of your ESL needs! Her blog about teaching English at a Korean university is thorough, helpful, and cheerfully-written. If you’re looking for ESL information or just want to see what a truly helpful blog looks like, check it out!

How did you end up in Korea and how long have you been here?

I came to Korea when I finished university for the typical reason: a desire to travel but having student loans. I came for a year and then went back to Canada for grad school. I missed Korea the whole time I was away and came back after grad school, found a job at a uni and have been here for 6 more years (7 in total).

Why did you create your first blog and how has it transformed since you first arrived?

I created my blog as a way to help myself become a better teacher-by thinking about what I do, why I do it and generally just how to effectively teach Korean Uni students. When I first started it, I posted lots of ideas for games/activities and these days, I just seem to answer a lot of reader questions. My blog comes up in the top 10 for lots of Google searches on things like, “Korean uni job” so lots of people email me asking how they can get the same job I have.

Your blog is a thorough database for ESL teachers, and those seeking information on ESL. Can you describe your ESL background a little bit?

I didn’t study ESL in uni, although I did do some tutoring at home in Canada. I thought Korea would be a one year thing and then I’d go back home and get a “real job.” I have done lots of professional development through presenting at/attending Kotesol conferences and I think I’ve probably read the same amount of books/articles about ESL Teaching that most people who have a Masters Degree in Tefl have! I’m currently doing a part-time Celta Course in Seoul at the British Council.

What about Korean culture are you most passionate about? Food, language, customs, Seoul, hiking?

I love Korean food. I’m totally addicted to Kimchi and everything else spicy like Dakgalbi, Yukgayjang, or Kimchi Chigae. If I have a choice between a Korean hole-in-the-wall restaurant and a nice expat place, I’ll usually choose the Korean. I even cook it at home and think that my kimchi chigae or chop-chae is perhaps even more delicious than an ajuma’s since I put in some unexpected ingredients such as tomatoes in the chigae, or egg in the chop-chae.

I love hiking the mountains also. I go out at least once a week in all seasons to the mountain behind my house. And I’ve been hiking at all the major parks in Korea: my favorite one is Songnisan in Central Korea. I generally just like walking around Korea. I’d like to do the entire Olle Trail on Jeju Island one day. So far, I’ve done about 4 sections. I used to study a lot of Korean, but these days, I know enough that my daily life talking to taxi drivers, asking directions, with my students, or in restaurants, or at the hospital is easy enough so I’ve stopped studying.

How has blogging about Korea and ESL changed the way you experience it and teach?

Blogging about the Korean ESL industry has been interesting in the past few years because it seems like the tides of popular opinion in the Korean media change every few months with regard to Native Speaker teachers. It’s interesting to have a record of it in my blog. As for my own teaching, I like having the record of how my ideas about teaching have changed over the years and what has stayed the same. I’m not sure blogging has really affected me that much except for having a record if I want to look back.

What blogs and websites do you read to keep up with happenings in Korea?

I read a lot of blogs every morning in Google Reader. Some of the more popular ones are: A Geek in Korea, Alien’s Day Out, Brian in Jeollanam-do, Chris in South Korea, Zen Kimchi, Expat Abundance, Roboseyo, and Rok Drop. I read a lot more besides these as well.

Where do you find your subjects and what do you look for in good blog post topics? These days, I answer a lot of reader questions. And talk about the ESL industry. There is lots of news about school districts cutting Native Speakers. So these subjects kind of come to me and I don’t go looking for them. And I’m sure I’ll be posting lots of stuff about my Celta Course. I think I’ve blogged about every single game or activity I do in class at this point. Basically, I blog on whatever inspires me at the time. It seems to change every few months.

If you had to write a mission statement for your blog, what would it sound like? Mission statement…to be a comprehensive resource for ESL teachers in Korean unis and to provide information for those considering it.

Do you have any advice to aspiring bloggers? Advice? Everyone wants to be popular (obviously!) but most people don’t want to do the work it takes to become so. Focus on providing helpful/information/interesting/funny, regular posts over a long period of time and people will take you seriously and you will get lots of readers. Also, advertise your blog whenever you can. I have been on the Seoul podcast twice, and always mention my blog numerous times in Kotesol presentations! I always tweet my updates and link to the blog on all the other internet things I have going on.

Something you think we should know about Korea that you don’t think most people know!

Something people don’t know? Hmmm….that’s hard! Maybe that there is more to Korea than Seoul. I’ve lived out in the countryside for 5 years, surrounded by rice fields and mountains and it’s very peaceful. And I spent a couple months on Jeju Island last summer and experienced a whole different pace of life than in Seoul. And it’s easier to meet people outside of Seoul I think, locals and expats. Not that Seoul isn’t the “real Korea” but it’s so Westernized that it sometimes feels like that. Going out into the countryside gives you a glimpse of what life in Korea must have been like before their rapid development.

Interview by Julia Bass

Images: Jackie Bolen and