Where East Meets West: Madison native Andie Vaughn learns, and shares, that the “real world’s got seoul.”
Story by Kathryn McBroom
Photos by Angelina Bellebuono
Morgan County isn’t the first place that comes to mind when planning a trip to the world’s most exotic locations. For Madison native Andie Vaughn, however, a new journey can’t begin without a pit stop in her hometown.
Vaughn left Seoul, South Korea, in late August after spending a year there, teaching English to elementary school-aged children. A recent Wake Forest University graduate, Vaughn departed for Seoul in July 2009 having only lived abroad once before, during a semester spent studying in Paris.
“I had thought about volunteering over the summer, but I realized I needed to be self-supporting.”
While researching volunteering options overseas, Vaughn stumbled upon openings for teaching positions.
“I started looking at teaching abroad, because once I looked at opportunities abroad I got really excited about traveling and seeing the world.”
Armed with only a history degree, a laptop and her luggage, Vaughn’s first month in Southeast Asia was spent in Thailand, training to receive her TEFL (Teaching as a Foreign Language) certificate, to make her transition into teaching easier.
From there Vaughn left for Seoul, where she began teaching English to South Korean children through a state-run school. As Vaughn settled into her new surroundings she grew more accustomed to the Korean language and way of life.
“I still don’t speak much Korean, but I can read Korean. Unlike Japanese or Chinese, it’s completely phonetic. Once you learn the alphabet it’s really easy to read.”
Having never taught before, Vaughn found the roles of teacher and authoritarian difficult at first, especially with the added language barrier, though she was able to say a few directives in Korean. In keeping with most English courses in South Korean schools, Vaughn had a co-teacher in every class acting as a translator and liaison between Vaughn and her students.
Though she admits there were the expected difficulties to work through, Vaughn wouldn’t trade the past year for anything. Equating the experience to waiting tables, Vaughn said, “It’s one of those things that can’t hurt you to do.”
“I feel like I’ve grown so much from the experience. It makes you more patient, more aware of your surroundings.”
Unlike North America, the Korean school year
starts in March and ends in September, which allowed Vaughn plenty of time to explore Southeast Asia.
“In January I got to travel through Cambodia which was amazing and beautiful. A friend and I went to Vietnam and Laos. I also went to the Philippines. I was fortunate; I had a lot of time off that other teachers didn’t have.”
Vaughn even misses the things she never thought she would—like the constant greetings from her more-than-welcoming students.
“If I was sitting by myself someone would always come over and say, 'Foreign teacher looks lonely!' They always wanted to sit and talk to me.”
Even outside of school, Vaughn could always count on her students to shout their hellos to her every chance they got. Calling her “Andie teacher” the schoolchildren would wave enthusiastically every time they encountered Vaughn on the street.
“Everywhere I went I would hear this. I kind of miss it, as annoyed as I was at the time. They were so cute and so wonderful, and they’re always happy to see you, which really makes your job easier. It makes me want to go to work when the kids are happy to see me.”
Before leaving to spend a year in Istanbul, Turkey, on Sept. 15, Vaughn surmised that it was the thrill of the unknown that lured her to Eastern Europe, citing the fact that several of her friends had satisfactory experiences during their stays in the Czech Republic, Turkey and Bulgaria.
“I wanted to go somewhere I know nothing about it and haven’t seen it before.”
Unlike her time in Seoul, Vaughn will be teaching English through a private company in Istanbul. Instead of children, she’ll be working to help young professionals improve their English for business purposes.
“I’m a little nervous obviously, because I’ll probably be younger than most of my students.”
Though she’s unsure whether or not she’ll continue teaching upon her return to the U.S., Vaughn would suggest teaching to anyone thinking of living abroad for an extended period.
She cites the ability to receive a steady income while traveling and heightened cultural immersion as two of the best aspects of her job, suggesting that anyone considering it should conduct their fair share of research first.
“It’s hard to narrow it down. You really can go anywhere in the world."
Printed in the September 23, 2010 edition.