Category Archives: conservation

The difference between being a dive instructor and an English teacher

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I was a dive instructor for 8 years but became restless. As part of a couple I found myself being shoe-horned towards office jobs instead of teaching and guiding and I refused to be pigeon-holed because of my gender. I took a few years out to get back into normal life and then decided to get back into teaching of another kind: teaching English as a Foreign Language. I love traveling and exploring countries by living in them so this was a perfect way for me to keep my lifestyle going. The quality of my life is more important than  chasing dollar signs so teaching/ traveling/living outdoors suits me to a t.

I believed that teaching English and teaching scuba diving would be much the same. Same same but different.

Pros of being a dive instructor:

– You get wet every day and see awesome wildlife.

– You get to teach a variety of ages.

– Your students generally WANT to be there, they’re on holiday and they are happy.

– Small class sizes with additional helpers with a class of 8+.

– You can choose whether to certify someone or not based on their ability.

– Fast results.

– You get tips.

– You can drink with your students after class. Students can become friends… or conquests.

– You are usually in good shape because you do moderate exercise every day to off-set the booze you drink with your customers.

– You can swear underwater and no one will understand you.

– The majority of people you encounter during your working day will share English as a common language.

Cons of being a dive instructor:

– Less holiday time, long hours and early morning starts. You work when everyone else is on holiday (Christmas, Easter, New Year, school holidays).

– Commercial pressure on you to perform/ bend standards/ pass students.

– You have to spend a lot of your free time with customers to give them an unforgettable experience. This leaves less time to nurture personal relationships.

– There is a large amount of egotistical, crazy managers and dive shop owners in this world and no human resources department to support you in case of maltreatment.

Pros of being an English Teacher:

– You have lots of fun and laugh a lot.

– You get a good amount of holiday and enough money to travel.

– You are making a difference, especially if you teach in a government school. Even if the kids still suck at English, you are teaching them about the wider world and acceptance of “other”. When you’re a dive instructor you mostly teach people who are well-off who can afford to see the world and travel.

– You get letters and gifts from your students and they love greeting you outside of school.

Cons of being an English Teacher:

– Large class size, hard to give individual attention, kids get left behind.

– Everyone passes regardless of ability.

– You will encounter discipline problems and language barriers to a degree not encountered as a dive instructor.

– More creative lesson planning required as opposed to pre-planned formulaic PADI teaching.

– You can’t swear.

– You may be the only foreigner at your school so you may feel isolated because of the lack of English around you.

For me, Teaching English is more challenging but far more rewarding. I miss being a dive instructor and in an ideal world I’d alternate between the two jobs.  However, I managed to educate 600 teenagers about the ocean and conservation last year. I would never have been able to teach that many students how to dive. I may have moved battle grounds but the fight remains the same: education in order to preserve oceanic species.

Pohang Botanical Gardens

Teacher Trips are par for the course here in Korea, as are teacher dinners. Some people HATE these events and are always whining about them on waygook.org , trying to find new excuses to avoid attending. LOL. These guys don’t realize that Koreans become waaay more confident in their English skills after a few drinks. It’s the BEST time to talk to other teachers who are usually very shy and reserved.  You have to realize that they are curious about you and the country you are from, they’re dying to ask your opinion of Korea and the rest of the world but they’re usually too shy to speak English in front of everyone else, should they make a mistake. Going out with your Korean co-teachers is a great privilege- I can’t stress the importance of attending enough. It’s like mainlining Korean culture.

Yesterday we went on an afternoon trip to Pohang’s Botanical Gardens aka Arboretum. The gardens opened up in 2001 and feature 24 sections separated by theme and season. The iris garden looked a bit rubbish because it’s not quite the right season yet but it’s full of tadpoles! A section near the top is dedicated to the foliage of Ulleungdo island.

There is a pond which features some pretty big carp and a mini replica of Dokdo island in the centre (Dokdo is a disputed island territory between Korea and Japan, who call it “Takeshima island”).  Many foreigners find Korea’s  Dokdo propaganda  excessive but it has very rich fishing grounds so you can see why they are fighting for it (nevermind historical proof of ownership).

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Dokdo island replica

My teachers told me about Jangseung, the Korean totem poles we saw in the gardens. Traditionally a male and female wooden totem pole were erected on either side of the road at village boundaries to scare ghosts away and to keep the villagers safe. 

I also learnt about Dooly the dinosaur, the “famous” Korean animation series (another statue on the grounds). Gotta say, I’d never heard of it but here it is:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MxgJvYxr6J4

There was also a moon bear statue. One of my teachers explained to me that the bears, Asiatic Black Bears, are used in Chinese traditional medicine. “Medicine for what?” you might ask. According to wikipedia “It is purchased and consumed to treat hemorrhoids, sore throats, sores, bruising, muscle ailments, sprains, epilepsy, reduce fever, improve eye-sight, break down gall stones, act as an anti-inflammatory, reduce the effects of over-consumption of alcohol, and to ‘clear’ the liver”. Sore throats and hangovers. Awesome. The Korean government recently elevated the bears’status to protected level to ensure their survival however illegal farms still exist and there is a big bile tourist trade in China.  Read more about moon bears here and here.

The gardens were pretty but not exactly Kew (wink wink!). HOWEVER, the drive that leads there is probably the best I’ve done in Korea so far. The road winds slowly up the mountain and the views on the way up are incredible! I kept on thinking “This would be awful to cycle!!!”and then “This would be amazing to cycle!!!!” So, I’m well keen to cycle this baby once I have a lighter bike that can handle gear changes 😉

If you don’t own a car or don’t fancy a killer bike ride, you can take the bus there too. From Pohang Intercity Bus Terminal, take Bus 500 bound for Cheongha (청하). From Cheongha, transfer to a local bus bound for Sangok/Haok (상옥/하옥).  By car the journey takes around 40 minutes from downtown Pohang.

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Dolphins

I finished my 30 day Instagram photo project on Monday, but it had an unexpected ending.

I woke up at 6AM, made a flask of coffee and dragged my bleary eyed ass down the road to get some shots of the early morning hustle-bustle of Jukdo Market. I got some nice shots of the vegetable shops before I headed to the fish market- standard stuff, pleasant enough. I originally thought it would be nice to get a photo of the sun rising over the market. When I got to the fish market there was an octopus auction in motion so I couldn’t see much other than lots of octopuses crawling over the wet cement, and people. Then the auction finished. People bagged up their octo-purchases and moved away. And then I saw it.

A dead dolphin. Someone was trying to sell a dead dolphin. A female dolphin just over 1.20 meter long with a slit throat lying in a puddle of blood.

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I couldn’t believe my eyes. I kept calm and took photos. Touched it. Dead. Hard. The merchant didn’t seem to mind me. I was in a sleepy , incredulous state, taking in the scene before me. I left, checked my photos and wanted to go back to get a better shot, but I didn’t want people to think I was being a pest so I used my best wide angle shot for my instagram photo. I went to the river, drank some coffee and a few tears rolled across my cheek. I didn’t want to cry in public so I went home, tried to put the image out of my head and got ready for school.

It was only when I came back from school that I could really release the emotion that I’d been holding like a breath all day. It’s 4 days later now and I’m still crying every time I think about the dolphin. I wish I’d never seen it.

I’ve always had a thing for dolphins. Before I learnt to scuba dive I was afraid of going beyond the breakers but on my 21st birthday there were dolphins passing by Jeffrey’s Bay’s main beach (South Africa). They were following their daily route- I’d seen them do it many times from the safety of the shore. That day, I decided to swim out to them, just past the breakers. My decision was bolstered by the fact that there were lifesavers lying on their surfboards in the area should I need them 😉   I could only see half their bodies because the visibility was low but I could hear their clicks. It was bliss. I fell in love. Shortly afterwards I went to  Port Elizabeth’s oceanarium  to see a dolphin show. I was early and the stadium was empty- I was one of 3 people there. One of the dolphins jumped out onto the shallow pool ledge to say hello. It would have been rude of me not to return the greeting so I touched it and only saw the “don’t touch” sign after the fact. It’s skin felt different than I always thought it would. It was smooth and rubbery, but with more give that I’d expected.

After I became a scuba diving instructor I saw dolphins very often, especially along the Sodwana Bay coast.  Once, I had to stop my student’s navigation exercise because a dolphin swam right in front of us. I’ve always considered seeing dolphins on scuba a great privilege- it gives you such a high to see these mammals in the wild. Gosh, I’ve even seen dolphins mating. They have such a way with humans, the way they play in the wake of boats, how they jump! When people snorkel with dolphins they emit the greatest sounds-  coos and shrieks of pure delight. It’s pleasure in it’s purest form.

The Cove opened my eyes to the enormous suffering that these cetaceans have to endure at the hand of human beings. Last year I taught my high school students about the human pressures on our marine environment, educating them on the issue of dolphins in captivity and the impending extinction of New Zealand’s Maui and Hector’s dolphin populations.  I stopped short of showing them the film but told them to watch it.

In Korea, the law states that it’s illegal to kill whales and dolphins on purpose, BUT if they’re killed by accident, it’s OK to sell their meat. There’s a lot of whale meat in Korea. If I went to Jukdo Market early every morning, how many dead dolphins would I see? I didn’t see ANY boat damage to this cetacean, only the gash across its throat. Who polices this law? Who enforces the  law that’s supposed to protect these animals?

This is how I’d prefer to see dolphins: free and wild.

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