Middle School Teacher, Shelby (Ellie) Hart, Gangwon-do, South Korea

“I honestly think the Korean government handled this ideally. The most important thing is concise and frequent information to the public, distribution of test kits, efficient testing, and last but not least a communal goal.” 

Ellie Hart

Ellie Hart is originally from the suburbs of Louisville, Kentucky, USA where she lived for the vast majority of her life until going to school at college and graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology. Ellie returned home after graduation, briefly working alongside her mother and her grandmother at the family business where they “celebrate life, for a living,” as event planners at Eventualities.

But Ellie vividly remembers the moment in October of 2018 when she was sitting in a Starbucks studying for the GRE while listening to “Seoul” by RM and thought to herself “I should just move there.” She shortly found an opportunity to teach English abroad in Korea and earn a decent living, ending up in Sokcho, which is a city in the Gangwon province. Currently Ellie is teaching middle schoolers–which she describes as both “a joy, met with serious frustration.”

Ellie has enjoyed her time abroad so far and the things she’s learned through her international experiences. She plans to remain in Korea for a minimum of one more year–potentially longer. She’d like to return to school at some point, but is currently reevaluating what she would like to do long-term, since she’s found herself extremely interested in foreign cultures.

At the moment, Ellie is just going to keep focusing on teaching English abroad, and working toward learning the Korean language, (“to anyone that has not tried a non Latin based language… you should and you’ll understand how difficult English is for no reason….”) as well as finding ways to be a better teacher, growing as a person, and making new friends to expand her worldview. 

Read more about Ellie’s experience quarantining abroad in Gangwon-do, South Korea, and how the country has been handling this global pandemic, below:

Expanded worldviews

Where exactly are you living right now, and is this where you permanently reside or is it a temporary living situation due to the pandemic? Who are you quarantining with?

“I currently live in Gangwon-do, South Korea on the north east side close to the DMZ. I have lived here since August 2019, and it is a “permanent for now” situation. I don’t know when I plan on leaving, but my living situation was not affected by the pandemic… Unfortunately I have been quarantining alone. I live in a small apartment by myself. As I tend to be more of a social butterfly, it’s definitely was a challenge to try and figure out ways to circumvent my outgoing nature.”

What has your community been doing to fight the rate of transmission? Is this how you think the situation is best handled?

“The Korean government has honestly done the best job of handling this situation. At the height of the pandemic here, we would get automatic notifications on our phones (a PSA similar to Amber Alerts back in the U.S.). They would notify the public of current numbers of infections and COVID related deaths. They swiftly created a website that would outline the exact whereabouts of each individual prior to testing positive for the virus. Therefore, many individuals that could have been in the same location around the same time could be notified and get tested quickly as possible. While this could be considered for some as an invasion of privacy (because they would look at your location through your phone, your credit card info, people you had spoken with recently, etc. in order to get location and time stamps), I think that has been very helpful in tackling this virus. 

Early on (though some koreans argued it should have been earlier) they canceled all group related activities and social gatherings (churches, festivals, movie theaters, restaurants in hot spot zones). They’ve encouraged social distancing and even mandated stay at home work for the public work force. Many private companies allowed their workers to work from home. I have seen that some large companies like Samsung and Naver help out the medium to small companies when it comes to technology, allowing free use of their products for a certain period of time.   

Another aspect is their rapid response in handing out testing kits and setting up drive thru testing centers around the country. As far as I know, they utilized the test from the WHO and quickly distributed to hospitals around the country. The public and private sector were streamlined so that the private sector would receive public funded technology to create this mass testing system. I believe this had a lot to do with the fact that they re-evaluated their pandemic/epidemic structure following MERS around 2015.

Tests were also free of charge for anyone that was showing any of the symptoms (even just one) and if that individual came within range of an individual that tested positive. Foreign nationals or individuals that were not currently on healthcare did not have to pay for the test as well. I’m not sure on the expense of treatment but I know that Korean healthcare is actually relatively affordable for non insurance holders. For example: I had a friend break her arm, she went to see the doctor, got an x-ray, and got a cast all for $50. 

I honestly think the Korean government handled this ideally. The most important thing is concise and frequent information to the public, distribution of test kits, efficient testing, and last but not least a communal goal.” 

Keeping a positive attitude

What has been your daily routine so far during the pandemic?

“When I had to work from home it was slow going, and much more difficult to stay focused and motivated. Normally I would wake up around 8a.m. and sometimes I would do a morning workout, even if it was just 10 minutes, and I would make breakfast and coffee. Then about 9:30/10 a.m. I would start working.

I am an English teacher, so while my students were not coming to school I would lesson plan or make materials. I would make lunch around 1 p.m. and watch some Netflix, a little later I would work for maybe 2 hours (there’s only so much lesson planning you can do before hand since we didn’t know the circumstances around teaching). Then I would study some Korean for a bit. Any unused time I would spend on Social Media (after I got tired of Netflix~~ yes it is somehow possible!), but again we’ve been social distancing since mid-February.”

Gigi, Damian, and wine are the ultimate quarantine partners

What’s the biggest challenge you think you’ve faced during this quarantine situation?

“I would say the feeling of restlessness where nothing you do feels satisfying or having any sense of accomplishment. I found a sense of accomplishment in properly cleaning every inch of my house. It was proper spring cleaning any southern mamma would be proud of! But it’s interesting the things you find pride in when there isn’t much to do.” 

What have you been doing to keep your spirits up on a day-to-day basis?

“I video chatted a lot with my mom (she usually keeps me sane) and finding things that give me a sense of accomplishment. Doing home projects, creating something, going down rabbit holes of information, haha, studying Korean, finding new music or things that inspire me.” 

Has this travel ban/quarantine situation impacted any important plans you had laid out for the near future?

“I guess “important” is a relative term, but I had exciting vacation plans in February and for summer, but I had to cancel those trips. It’s also difficult when you just move to a new place and haven’t solidified a sense of community and then you have to isolate yourself…So I’ve definitely had to learn how to keep myself entertained.”

Ellie and her friends abroad

Is there anything you feel that this experience has taught you that you’d like to share as inspiration for everyone going through this together?

“I think this has given me a great opportunity to work on personal growth. Sometimes when you have so many things going on and you are constantly busy you don’t ask yourself the why questions: Why do I think this way, what are my small medium large goals, Why do I have this habit? Etc…” 

Since Ellie shared her story with me, South Korea had a second wave that started in a part of Seoul. Everyone in that area was required to get tested and be in quarantine. Unfortunately she happened to be one of those people.

“It’s been an interesting few weeks needless to say. Wouldn’t recommend the test if you don’t need it. I wouldn’t put it in the “fun” category.” She expressed.

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