Gina Lappé: Ready to teach, learn, and hike in South Korea

Teaching overseas has been a dream of Gina’s for the past six years. This coming school year, she and her husband will be making that dream a reality as they head to St.Johnsbury Academy, Jeju in South Korea! This couple has a great sense of adventure, love of nature, and fantastic advice to share.

Please introduce yourself! Why did you want to teach overseas? Was there a compelling call or interesting story behind it?
I am a middle school science teacher at an Expeditionary Learning charter school in Asheville North Carolina. I grew up in California and first started teaching as a teacher naturalist in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I got lots of practice working with different groups of students as we saw over 90 school groups a year at the residential environmental education nonprofit where I worked. After two years there, my husband and I moved to Asheville and I started my first position as a classroom teacher. I am now in my fourth year teaching 6th grade science.

Teaching overseas through international schools has been a dream of mine for about 6 years. When we left the national park, my husband and I considered moving to Asia to teach english, but we decided to ground ourselves in a community here in the states for a few years first. I wanted to teach overseas with a teaching license and at an established school, not in the more informal way that we would have needed to pursue at the time.

My husband is an nonprofit manager so will not be teaching overseas. He is thrilled to be getting the chance to live overseas and get involved with our communities wherever we end up. We both feel like that there are just too many exciting adventures available all over the world to stay in one place. We have a great life and community here in Asheville, but feel ready to head out and see what else life has in store for us in Korea!

What encouraged you to sign up with a service like ISS, and how has your experience been?​
​​A few colleagues at my current school worked overseas and they all recommended using a service like ISS. I appreciated how ISS allowed me to have all of my materials in one central location and to have access to job postings from all over the world. The snapshot of information about each school was helpful as well, especially given that I would be applying with a nonteaching spouse. Being able to see salary ranges and cost of living estimates made it easier to know which countries would be feasible for us to live on one salary.

I also really enjoyed the job fair that ISS put on in Atlanta in December. As it is one of the first fairs, it is pretty small. I did not get a position at the fair, but after speaking to school directors and attending school presentations I was able to narrow down what I was really looking for in a school. It also provided some great tips about the kinds of questions to ask in your interviews.

What excites you most about your new role and/or school? How did you know when you found the right fit?
We are so excited to be moving to such a beautiful location. We love hiking and spending time outdoors and had assumed we would have to give some of that up when we moved abroad. Many of the positions I applied for were in large Asian cities where getting outside to hike would have taken a bit more work. Now we have lots of hiking, swimming, surfing and other adventures right at our doorstep.

I am also excited to be joining a relatively new school as that is what I have some experience with. I was a member of the founding faculty at my current school and I am looking forward to bringing my experiences to Jeju. The science department is new, but very well resourced and I am hopeful I will be able to learn about lots of new teaching platforms and tecniques alongside the other science faculty.

I had gotten a couple of other offers before accepting the position at Jeju and I can’t point to one reason why I knew this one what the right fit, but as soon as I got the offer I knew I would accept it. I enjoyed my conversations with the principal and head of school and felt that I would learn a lot and have some valuable experiences to offer. I also know that the location will suit my husband well and, especially because he wont be teaching, I want to make sure he feels excited and at home where we end up.

What research did you do before accepting your job?
My husband and I did the same kind of research for this position as all the others. We look at cost of living data to make sure that living on one salaray wont be too tight. We also looked up safety information, travel potential, location activities, and fun facts. My husband would do most of the location research and I would look into the school. I asked about my schedule / teaching load, responsibilities in addition to teaching, salary and how it was delivered (currency and time), student demographics, and curriculum basics.

What advice would you give to educators looking to recruit overseas for the first time?
​​I heard this advice over and over, so I am sure you have heard it too, be open minded and prepared to be surprised about where you end up. I thought I was looking for an established program, with a very diverse student body, not on an island. I am now headed to a new school, on an island, with a pretty homogenous student body, but I am totally certain it is the right fit for myselft and my husband. I applied to positions in Asia, South America, Eastern Europe, Central America and Africa. I was excited about positions I got, but upon further research realized it just wasn’t right and got really excited about the potential of positions I didn’t end up getting. I was certain I would leave the job fair with a job, but that didn’t happen either.

Think about what is non-negotitable for you. For us that had to do with safety and cost of living. Again, because my husband wont be teaching, we did not want to end up in a stressful financial situation due to a high cost of living. Push yourself outside your comfort zone, but don’t overdo it. We were open to most of the world, but not everywhere. We are young so we felt ready to push our comfort zone by applying to positions in developing nations and off the beaten path. We are pretty sure that this job is the first job of many that may keep us overseas for awhile so we don’t feel pressure to get everything out of one place.

Finally, one you have an offer, take your time getting the information you need before saying yes. They should understand that this is a big decision for you and be willing to make sure you feel comfortable saying yes. You got this!

We’re so excited for you and your husband to find communities to connect with and mountains to climb together in South Korea. Thank you for sharing your story Gina, we’re cheering you on!


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