Oliver Grant is a US-born English language teacher, residing in Seoul and reaching big audiences in Korea through his online videos. He is active on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook, and in Part One of this two-part interview, Oliver talks to us about his journey from Texan exchange student to celebrity teacher. He also gives some tips to those thinking about broadcasting their own video content.
From Texas to Seoul. How did that happen?
I came to Korea for the first time at the age of 14. A Korean exchange student that I knew from school invited me to visit his family in Korea during the summer. The month I spent with his family in Korea was a life changing event for me. I became fascinated with the language and culture. I knew I had to eventually come back and not just for vacation.
Since I was studying linguistics in university, I decided to get certified in TEFL one summer in Spain. It was a great experience because I was able to apply what I had learned in my bilingual education course at university by ‘code switching’ between English and Spanish in the classroom. While working in Spain, I met a few teachers who’d taught in Korea. That’s when I realized that Korea was my next destination.
I found a job as an English teacher at a Seoul public school and moved to Korea only a month after my graduation ceremony, in winter of 2010.
How does Seoul compare to living in Texas?
Seoul is safe, somewhat clean, and the transportation system is fantastic. I lost my wallet twice on the subway and got it back both times because someone turned it into the police station. The restaurant scene is incredible and it’s not too expensive either. The only major cons I can think of are the pollution and population density.
However, what I miss most about Texas, besides my family, is Texas winters. They aren’t too frigid and sometimes you’ll even get t-shirt weather in January. Summer is hot, but not too humid like it is in Korea.
Would you recommend South Korea as a place to work?
I would recommend South Korea as a destination for anyone interested in teaching English in Asia. But something to watch out for is the place you’re applying to for work. I suggest doing some thorough research on Korean ESL blogs and groups on the web to try to see if you can find any reviews about the hagwon, public school or university you’re applying to.
So, what prompted you to move from the classroom to video creation?
After teaching thousands of students during my seven years at Seoul public schools, I noticed a lot of common English mistakes among Korean students. Teaching the same level of students every year allowed me to take notes and customize my lesson plans for Korean learners. However, having to teach the same common mistakes over and over again with each new batch of students became very boring. So, one day, I decided to make a one-minute video clip on a phrase that my students almost always had trouble with. After uploading it to Facebook from my phone, it started going viral.
I thought that maybe I just caught the Facebook algorithm at the right time, so I made more videos with my iPhone. They also got great reactions. I was soon convinced that I needed to upgrade to a DSLR camera and advanced editing programs, to start taking video production seriously.
Any recommendations for teachers who are thinking of creating and posting their own videos?
If you want to build up an audience quickly, I would suggest keeping the videos brief, to the point, and somewhat entertaining. Also, fan mail is a great resource for video ideas because you might come across questions about language or culture that you didn’t think of before. And don’t limit yourself to YouTube. There are many other new platforms evolving out of decentralized platforms like Steemit and DTube. I think these platforms will open even more doors for content creators of all types.
In the second half of this two-part interview, we’ll talk to Oliver about learning the Korean language, his tips for learners of English, and his plans for the future. To read more about using YouTube and other tools in your classroom, take a look at Using technology in the language classroom.