Korea TESOL: A Love-Hate Relationship

by Wayne Finley , 08/10/2018


Korea TESOL, or KOTESOL, is the largest organization in Korea for foreign English teachers. They host conferences all over the peninsula: Seoul, Busan… and even as far out as Jeju. Some of the most famous names in the world of English Language teaching regularly fly in to strut their stuff: Scott Thornbury, Stephen Krashen and Dave Sperling, the guy who launched Dave’s ESL Café. You would think that such an organization would be the most popular thing since sliced kimchi. But it’s not. It’s proverbial marmite: people love it or hate it. 

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The Good, the So-So and the Golden Raspberries
Most presentations are awesome. You leave with a newfound sense of purpose. ‘Teaching is what I was born to do! This is my calling!’  Some are… so-so. Others leave you calling for a taxi. Just like a movie studio green lights a movie production based on its script, KOTESOL vets a presentation on its proposal. There’s no way for the organization to truly know if the presentation’s going to pick up an Oscar or empty out the CGV. After some people see the Golden Raspberry winner, they assume that all KOTESOL presentations are equally awful and miss out on a masterpiece like Oldboy in the very next slot.

What’s that cliquing sound?
KOTESOL was established in 1992. That’s a long time. Most computers didn’t even have Windows back then. Cell phones? Forget it. Unbelievably, you can still meet some of the founding members of the organization today. It is not uncommon to meet people who have been members for a decade or more. Unfortunately, because many members have known each other for a long time, the organization can be misinterpreted as cliquey. The truth is that KOTESOL is always looking to welcome new members, but at first you may feel like the new kid at school. ‘Mom, take me home. Now!’

You can cut the pretension with a knife
There’s nothing worse than feeling like the fresh fish in The Shawshank Redemption, “I don’t belong here!” KOTESOL has been thought of as an organization for university teachers to show off their extensive knowledge and ‘mad skills’. ‘Look at me!’ While that may sometimes be the case, the majority of members are anything but show-offs. A great many members are high school teachers and hagwon teachers: regular people who enjoy sharing and discussing ideas. An old image is hard to break, however, and so KOTESOL is still often, unjustifiably, seen as the ‘stuffy professor’ place to be.

Show me the money
KOTESOL members are charged an annual fee of ₩50,000. ‘What a racket! Who set this up, Al Capone?’ There are countless perks to being a member, such as discounted conference registration rates and glossy magazines mailed out to you. The reality, though, is that KOTESOL would fade faster than Marty McFly in Back to the Future without such fees. There is no fat cat sitting in an ivory tower counting the Korean won: all the money goes directly to the various departments that put on great conferences. Still, the cries of ‘KOTESOL is a rip-off!’ unfairly ring clear.

You’re all amateurs!
It’s true, KOTESOL is a rolex replica watches professional organization run by everyday people. Nobody is getting paid. Everything is created, organized and managed by the members, most of whom are full-time English teachers. They all have their reasons for getting involved. Perhaps it’s a passion for helping others, an enjoyable pastime or simply a way to pad their resumes. Unfortunately, an organization run by everyday people is not immune to the occasional mistake or organizational mishap. When a mistake is made, it gets noticed. Publically. When people expect perfection, they leave badly disappointed. ‘Amateurs!’  For an amateur organization, KOTESOL is incredibly professional.

The best place to really judge KOTESOL as a professional organization is at the International Conference between October 13-14. By far their biggest conference, it takes place at Sookmyung Women’s University in Seoul. It attracts all the biggest names and has the biggest turnout, with over a thousand people attending every year. There won’t be many Golden Raspberries, as presentation proposals are intensely-vetted to ensure only the best presentations reach center stage. At the popular wine and cheese event you can meet the real, everyday people who make up KOTESOL, with no cliques in sight. See the real value of KOTESOL and experience the fullest of what it has to offer this October.

About the Author: Wayne Finley is the associate director of admissions and enrolment strategy at Sol International School and Endicott College of International Studies in Daejeon. He helps promote Korea TESOL, because he’s strongly in the ‘I love it!’ camp, with Kathleen Kelley, James Grant Rush and Maria Lisak.

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