Saturday, January 12, 2008

See the world, teach English abroad


At 28, Quinn Mattingly already is more well-traveled than most people twice his age. He has taught English since February 2005 in South Korea and Vietnam, and during that time has capitalized on his home base by going on journeys in other nearby lands.

The 1997 East Clinton graduate went roaming through Mongolia twice in 2007, both times renting a van, a driver and a guide. Mattingly said he pointed to locations he wanted to go to in Mongolia on a map, and was transported from place to place in the rent-a-van.

On his first trip to Mongolia, which is south of Siberia in Russia and north of China, he went to the Gobi Desert and rode around for a week, staying at white guest tents some nomadic residents have set up for tourists. Nomads, after all, can relate to wanderers.

“You see nothing for hours and hours, then you’ll see a little tent pop up on the horizon,” said Mattingly.

The Mongolians will cook for the tourists, but usually Mattingly did not sleep in the tent the nomads live in.

The primary livestock species of the nomads, said Mattingly, are sheep, goats, horses, camels and cows. In order to feed them in the scant land, the nomads have to keep moving around to find fresh pasture.

The Mongolians sell sheep wool as well as goat wool for cashmere, he said. Goat milk is for their own consumption, he thinks. They milk horses and make an alcohol out of it, their national alcohol, said Mattingly.

“It’s awful,” he said of the fermented mare’s milk.

Like cowboys of the East, the nomadic herdsmen usually appear “burly and rough,” said Mattingly.

In contrast, almost everybody in South Korea has a modern, settled middle-class lifestyle, he said.

After graduating from Bowling Green State University in criminology, Mattingly moved to Los Angeles. Searching for something else or somewhere else, he started doing some internet research and found a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) school in Prague, Czechoslovakia. He said he decided to take the course “kind of on a whim,” wanting to go to Europe for a while, anyway.

He completed the one-month class in Prague and then, via e-mail, was hired for a job in South Korea teaching English.

As he puts it, he “kind of just fell into” the combination of teaching abroad and traveling. It affords him the opportunity to live somewhere else and soak up another culture, while also making it more feasible to travel other places far from the Americas.

He said he enjoys teaching children. It’s a fun way to spend the day, he said, “usually, most days.”

He also has found it’s not difficult to make good friends. There are quite a few other English-speaking teachers with whom it’s easy to meet up with, he said.

Mattingly has made a lot of native friends, too. That’s fortunate, because it helps a lot to be friends with someone who, for example, speaks Korean fluently.

“If I didn’t have Korean friends, I probably would have gone mad trying to figure out some of the things I had to figure out,” he said.

There is a lot of demand in foreign countries for people to teach English, said Mattingly. In fact, “it’s pretty much getting more and more” as business becomes more global and companies become more transnational.

In South Korea, English language classes used to be offered mainly in private schools in after-school programs. But the Korean government is putting a foreign teacher in every public school — elementary, middle and high school, said Mattingly. So now a majority of public schools have an embedded English teacher working in the school, making the demand in Korea even greater than before.

Mattingly usually tries to teach a class only in English, which is possible because usually “it won’t be the students’ first day in English class.”

When a communication gap does arise, sometimes there’s a Korean teacher sitting in the classroom or just down the hall.

“If the children don’t understand, generally a picture can help or another kid will understand and relay it,” said Mattingly.

“I didn’t speak any Vietnamese when I was teaching there this past summer. Didn’t really need to. They’re pretty good, better than my Korean students,” he added.

Mattingly taught English in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. The old core part of the city is still referred to as Saigon, he said.

Mattingly had not been born when the American war in Vietnam ended.

“Traveling around the country you can still see things that you know why they’re there. Taking a train up to Hanoi, you can still see bomb craters all along the railroad tracks,” said Mattingly.

A lot of the drivers of the pedal taxis — bicycles with a cart — are “left over from the war” and like to tell Mattingly war stories. He said they are in a “bad situation,” not being eligible for passports or government benefits.

In Vietnam, Mattingly taught the children of the upper middle class — children of families that financially are better off than much of the Vietnamese population. The extracurricular English language classes are voluntary and carry a tuition.

Economically, Vietnam is developing and hatches more smaller businesses than South Korea, Mattingly said.

The streets, he said, are “lined up with shop after shop after shop.”

In South Korea, on the other hand, Mattingly estimates at least three-quarters of the South Korean male population work either for Samsung or LG. To advance in those global companies, an employee needs to know English, he added.

Mattingly, who returned to Clinton County for the holidays, said he will probably sign a one-year contract to teach in Vietnam and probably stay as long as he likes it.

“There’s still a lot of that country I want to explore,” he said.

1 comment:

Peter said...

Great article - a really interesting read! If you or a colleague would be interested in teaching in the far-east there may be an opening for you in one of our centres in Korea, Thailand, China, Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, or Indonesia. Visit for more information!