WSC grad on the other side of the world

Debbie Hernandez teaches English to students in South Korea

Janet Grado, Staff Writer

For the most part, a lot of people will live in the same country they were born in. And for others, they might have the opportunity to live in a different country.

This is exactly what happened to Debbie Hernandez, a Wayne State College graduate.

Hernandez graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s in Graphic Design and currently resides in Jeonju, South Korea. The city is located on the west side of South Korea and is known to have the best Korean food.

Hernandez is currently in her second year teaching English in the elementary and middle school system.

“I really always had the intention to go to South Korea,” Hernandez said. “I discovered the teaching opportunity through YouTube. I watched a YouTuber talk about her experiences and watched some of her videos. I went through the graphic design program, but in the back of my mind, I always thought of going to South Korea. I always had the intention of travelling.”

The program that Hernandez went through to get her teaching position is EPIK (English Program in Korea). Once an individual applies for the program, a recruiter contacts the individual in a couple of days and they help one through the process.

“I didn’t find out where I’d live until a month before I actually had to leave after I got accepted. I was relieved. I felt excitement and I was ready for the unknown,” Hernandez said.

Before leaving for South Korea, Hernandez did study a little bit of Korean. She learned the alphabet and to read a little bit. Hernandez explained that’s what her recruiter recommended before setting off on her way. She learned some Korean from watching YouTube videos, but she has mainly learned Korean from living there.

Hernandez explained that the children she teachers are pretty well behaved. But there is a language barrier. She has a Korean co-teacher who helps her out. Sometimes the kids can get super wild. Other times the kids don’t understand what she is saying. So the kids who understand more English in the class will explain to the rest of the students what she said.

At the beginning Hernandez was pretty nervous about teaching. She wasn’t nervous with the little kids since with a good game, they can be entertained. Middle school kids make her nervous.

“The kids have a book over the curriculum they have to learn,” Hernandez said. “We go over the book and I work with my co-teacher. We do a lot of games. It’s basically your job to make the class fun. Sometimes the kids don’t understand, so interactive learning helps. The kids are pretty competitive when it comes to games.”

As for trying new food, Hernandez explained that she’s not a big fan of Korean food. She thinks they use a lot of chili pastes and weird meats. But when it comes to her favorite food she has tried, she likes the traditional ramen. The ramen consists of noodles, chives, fried egg or a boiled egg, and the cooks add their own spices.

Something that caused Hernandez to have culture shock was the standards of beauty. She explained that plastic surgeries are not uncommon and that fair skin is big thing. Hernandez said that a common practice there is eyelid surgery, which consists of creating another crease on the eyelid. Sometimes some of parents will even give their kids plastic surgery as a gift from graduating high school.

During her free time, Hernandez does a lot of traveling, which is very affordable in South Korea.

“I go to Seoul a lot. I feel like I haven’t even seen the whole place,” Hernandez said.

As for why Hernandez decided to stay another year, she said she wasn’t ready to go home yet. Hernandez felt like she wanted to see more of South Korea and see what else she could accomplish there. Her contract is up next October.

“In just the year that I’ve been here I’ve learned to be more fearless in front of an audience, own my mistakes, and to speak what I want and don’t want—always. I’ve still got a lot more to learn in my second year, so I’m trying to soak in as much as possible,” Hernandez said.