Margaret, photographed near Chonji Waterfall on Cheju Island, September 2000. History: We started An American Teaching English in South Korea (ATESK) around May of 2000.

We included Margaret's journal and a photo album. If we were starting it today, I guess you'd say it was a blog. But back then, who'd heard of such a thing? Livejournal was maybe a year old, just catching on, and we were also about a year out from Peter Merholz's invention of the term by splitting "weblog" into "we blog." Even though we've added to the photo album since, and we keep updating the FAQs, the journal stops at 16 February 2001, the night before Margaret left for the airport to fly home. So in my book, ATESK isn't a blog, it's history.

Getting back to our genesis tale here: Margaret had been writing home since she'd arrived in Korea in February of 2000. Not email, not yet -- she didn't have a computer or internet access until May, and she wasn't too keen on the idea of using a PC-Bang. So for those first months she was sending real handwritten letters by snail mail, sometimes enclosing her film camera snapshots. I'd type the letters into the computer and email them to her friends. Then one day I thought it'd be nice to share the pictures, too. So, why not make a website? That'd be easier than attaching them all and emailing them, right? (Ha!)

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

In 1999 Margaret was unhappy in her job here at home, and she started looking for something better. "Don't settle for just anything," I said. "Keep looking. Eventually you'll find something you'd really like to do."

She did. One evening I was working at the computer, and she sat down next to me with a newspaper clipping. (Back classified ad in 1999 it still made sense to look for work in the classified ads.) It said, "Teaching conversational English for a private language school in Korea. $1500 per month, plus health insurance and furnished living accom. BA or BS degree in any discipline is required."

Margaret had studied Korean in college, 20 years before. Later, she'd sponsored (and traded letters with) a low-income Korean child. But this still came as a surprise.

Since I was on the computer, I ran a web search with the keywords "English Teaching Korea." I got some slick recruiting jabber, and some not-so-slick personal websites. I skipped right over the recruiters. What I read in the personal websites was -- shall we say -- not too encouraging. So I tried to talk Margaret out of going.

I should have known better than to fight 20 years' worth of interest in Korea. She sent the letter and resume.

Weeks went by. Just about when I thought it had all blown over, Margaret got a phone call from Mrs Lee's brother. He lives about an hour from us, and he's the one who'd placed the newspaper ad. Margaret met him at a nearby chain restaurant. A few days later she had a phone interview with BLI's director. The phone rang a few more times, fax machines hummed, pens scratched on paper, and it was a done deal.

I was still pretty rattled by all the horror stories of broken promises, run-down housing, unheated classrooms, loony directors, and unpaid salaries. But Margaret's intuition told her that BLI would be a good place to work.

She was right. I was wrong.

So I had a couple more reasons to put up this website -- as penance for trying to talk Margaret out of what turned out to be a great experience for both of us, and as a counterbalance for all the negative Korea teaching pages I'd seen on the web.

Why are there so many doom and gloom stories about teaching English in Korea? We think there are three reasons.

  • There are more jobs for teachers in Korea than almost anywhere else in Asia. More jobs means more bad jobs.

  • Because there are so many openings, it's easy to get hired. Some people who otherwise probably wouldn't get jobs and shouldn't be in Korea do, and are.

  • The troubled teachers are the ones most motivated to write. I'm sure they mean well, trying to warn people away from the bad schools, but in the process they make it seem as if all the Korean ESL jobs are nightmares -- and they're not.

Now, I'm not saying that South Korea is Utopia. It's crowded and noisy. The air pollution in the big cities is some of the world's worst. It's not a real great place to be if you're gay or black. And they eat dogs. But it's also home to some of the most optimistic, friendliest, and most alive people we've ever met.

So should you teach there? The only way you can decide that is by learning as much as you can about what Korea and ESL teaching are like. We've tried to present both the good and the bad here on ATESK. It's up to you to figure out which way it balances for you.

I will tell you this: Margaret says that teaching in Korea is one of the best jobs she's ever had. She loves Korea and thinks of it as a second home. She still has good friends among Koreans. She probably would have stayed if she hadn't had such strong connections to the US (fortunately she says I'm still one of them, even though I did try to talk her out of going to Korea).

Margaret and I think that if you have the right kind of attitude, teaching English in Korea might be a job you can enjoy too. So, what kind of attitude do you need?

  • An open mind
  • Patience
  • Confidence
  • Resiliency
  • Maturity
  • Love of adventure
  • Delight in the unexpected
  • And above all, the ability to "go with the flow."

It's not for everyone, but it might be for you.

Who we are: Margaret and I both grew up in the 1960s and 70s, with all that implies, so we were almost a full generation older than most people who teach ESL. We travel when we can and think of ourselves as citizens of the world, but in all honesty we're very much products of our US upbringing. No doubt that affects what we write about here, and how we write it. If you're from Canada, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand or some other English-speaking country, I hope some of this information helps you anyway.

Oh yeah, in case you hadn't noticed, we also talk a lot.

If you disagree with something we've written, please let us know. Say it nicely, and we'll probably write back.

Romanization: Korean is written in an alphabet called Hangul. It looks like nothing else in the world. Romanization is the process of approximating (usually not all that well) the sounds of Korean words with the Western alphabet. Most of the Romanization we do here is more or less based on the venerable McCune-Reischauer system, with, shall we say, some creativity. When she was writing in the journal, Margaret tended to just write what she'd heard. Who takes time to look things up when the words are tumbling out? For example, you'll probably find the Korean term for Karaoke room spelled as norae-bang, noray-bang, and nolay-bang.

Korea officially adopted a new Romanization system in 2000, while Margaret was there. We've mostly ignored it, but it's been (ahem) quite a while since then, so maybe one of these days we'll have to get with the system and change Kangnung to Gangneung and Pusan to Busan.

Privacy: Somebody told me that every website should have a privacy statement. I have no idea why, but just for the record, here it is:

Privacy is a good thing. This website doesn't use cookies, doesn't know or care what other websites you've been viewing, and doesn't collect any personal information. I have no idea what we'd do with that stuff anyway.

Our search engine is provided by Freefind. The search results page is hosted on their server. I don't see any tracking in it right now, but I might have missed something, or they might add something in the future. Thus, if you search for something, I can't guarantee that the results page won't track you or feed you cookies.

Freefind will log the date, time, and terms of your search. They send us a report every so often. Maybe if we saw a lot of requests for something we don't have on ATESK, we'd think about adding it, but generally we just file these reports away. You're welcome to read the Freefind terms and conditions, including their privacy policy, but it really only applies to us.

Sponsorship: ATESK is a little time capsule of the web in its youthful innocence. We all thought this small-d democratic new medium where anybody could build a website was going to save the world from nasty predatory corporate-managed media. Ahem. Well.

To this day, I pay all the hosting costs. ATESK has no commercial relationship with anybody, including recruiters, and never will. It doesn't carry any advertising, and never will. The only exception is the offsite search engine, which returns ads with the results. Sorry about that. Someday maybe I'll get ambitious and install our own ad-free search engine. Don't wait up.

Terms and conditions: Another of those you-ought-to-have-this things. ATESK is presented to you newborn-baby-naked and as-is, without any warranty whatsoever, be it expressed, implied, or statutory. Your use of ATESK is solely at your own risk. We are not responsible for the content of other sites we link to, or for your computer if you read something outrageous and spew coffee on your keyboard. If something offends or upsets you, you have the right to close your browser.

Reproduction Rights: No, this is not something you'd discuss with Planned Parenthood. If you were just about to right-click on a photo, or highlight and copy some text, we're talking to you.  

I've put a lot of work into this website over the years. I've written about a novel's worth of text, made dozens of audio recordings, and shot thousands of pictures (only a fraction of which I've actually posted). From time to time I run across our words or photos on somebody else's blog or website, uncredited. I'm not sure whether I should be flattered that the other person thinks our stuff is good, or annoyed that he or she leeched it.

Copyright is kind of hopeless; you can't really fight the nature of the web. It can also be kind of pretentious, making a huge fuss about Ownership of Stuff that no one else would want anyway. So at ATESK, we have copyleft instead. To wit:

The original material on this website (ATESK) is protected by Creative Commons BY/NC/SA licensing terms. If you're grabbing it strictly for personal use, that's fine with us. Go for it. However, if you want to use it for any kind of publication whatsoever, graphic, text, audio, or video; in print, on the web, or in a podcast, you have our permission if you follow these simple rules:

  1. You attribute it to the person who created it (that would be me or Margaret), mention our website ( as the source, and reiterate the licensing terms. For example: "Image by David Roden, from, licensed under Creative Commons BY/NC/SA. Reproduction is permitted under identical terms." This is the BY part.

  2. You use it only for noncommercial purposes. This means (among other things) that you absolutely may not, under any circumstances, sell it as if it were yours, 'cause it's not. Nor may you sell anything you make containing our work, even if you've changed it. (This is not intended to mean that you can't use this website for research, however.)

    You may have advertising on a public information website where you use our material (properly attributed), but you may not use the material to sell something. I hope that distinction is clear. If not, contact me, and tell me what you want to do. This is the NC part.

  3. You make our material, and any material you create using it (derivative works), available to other people under the exact same terms as this license. This is the SA (Share Alike) part.

You have a use in mind that doesn't fall under those terms? Let's talk. Contact me.

You're welcome to link to these pages for nonprofit, noncommercial, public information purposes. I'll try not to change their location unless I have to, which should help prevent broken links. If you do link to a page, I'd appreciate it if you would also link to the homepage.

Technical: I've tried to design ATESK to look OK and load quickly. I'm also a long time supporter of the Viewable With Any Browser Campaign.

I am not a big fan of "Web 2.0." It's mostly heavy on style and light on content. It's also bloaty and slow. Our lean, spyware-free Web 1.something pages are fast.

I use a bit of CSS where it makes sense, but if your browser supports HTML 3.2 and graphics, which is basically any browser released since about 1997, ATESK should look OK to you. I know, it's not mobile-friendly. Someday. If you hate my old-school html frames, well, I hate CSS floating menus, so we're even. Just navigate from the site map.

I use a little Javascript here and there, but you don't really need it. Nor do you need Java or browser plugins. If your gadget or computer supports it, the Flash plugin is kind of nice for playing embedded sound and video clips. If not, no big deal; just use the downloading links instead. I promise I'll never use Flash for "watch me" distractions. You'll also never see sliders or carousels on ATESK.

ATESK is currently hosted by Hostgator. They're mostly OK. The support was better before EIG snarfed them up.

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