PostsComments Interviews the Red Dragon Diaries

Recently, my blog was graciously recognized by TeacherPort – an online job site for teaching abroad.  Here is an interview I had with them about my blog and experiences teaching English in Korea.  Special thanks to TeacherPort for the recognition and taking the time to find out a little more about me.

TeacherPort sits down with Tom Gates of The Red Dragon Diaries to hear about how he ended up teaching in Korea and what advice he has for other teachers starting their teaching careers overseas.
Q.1) Hi Tom, thanks for sitting down with TeacherPort. To get us started could you please tell us a little bit about your background.
A) I’m from the United States and I was born and raised in New Hampshire in a very small town.  I grew up cutting firewood, bailing hay, and hunting.  It’s probably strange for most people to imagine a Korean growing up this way in America!
My father is American of English decent and my mother is Korean.  He was in the Army way back when and they met in Seoul while he was stationed there.  My mother is originally from North Korea, but fled to South Korea during the war.  It’s an interesting story, but one of a harsh period in history.
Though I never had the opportunity to learn the Korean language, I grew up eating much of the food and hearing bits and pieces about the culture.  Growing up in a place like New Hampshire makes it tough to speak a language other than English.  My mother attempted with my two older brothers, but to no avail.  By the time I came around she was more or less, “when in Rome…”
Q.2) What was it that first drew you to the idea of teaching abroad?
A) When I was younger I had a burning desire for the martial arts.  I played other sports as well, but the arts were always my passion.  When I was finally introduced to judo in my teens, it was the beginning of a lifetime journey.  I wanted so badly to become great in the sport that I took Japanese courses in college and seriously considered travelling there to train.
At about that time, one of my roommates in college (who is Korean) left for Korea after graduating to teach English.  I thought that would be such a great way to travel to Japan or Korea to train.  Though the plans didn’t ultimately pan out, I never lost the desire to travel abroad.
Fast forward to today.  Thanks to the economic downturn, I decided to finally take the opportunity to travel abroad.  It wasn’t for judo like when I was younger, but more for the experience and exploration of a new life change.  I have a career in the IT industry, albeit in shambles, but I wanted to open the door to new possibilities.  Maybe reinvent myself.  If for no other reason, it would be an experience I could always look back on and reminisce.  For me, it’s turned out to be that and a whole lot more.
Q.3) You keep a blog at The Red Dragon Diaries. How long have you been blogging and why did you decide to start your blog?
A)  I started blogging in my dorm room at orientation at Jeonju University (August 2011).  I didn’t post very frequently in the beginning as everything was so new.  However, about 7 months ago I decided to really start applying myself to blogging and it’s turned out to be an incredibly rewarding pastime.  I was blogging to put out information for others considering teaching abroad.  One thing I knew from personal experience is that when you’re considering taking this leap, you scour the internet for blogs and videos about other’s experiences.
Also, it was a way for me to capture my experiences and mind set during this time.  Someday when I look back at these posts they will bring me right back to the moment and help me remember where I was during it all.  Like a diary of sorts.  My nickname back in Florida (my recent home) was “Red Dragon” because I always wore the same red trunks to play beach volleyball.  Hence…the Red Dragon Diaries.
Q.4) Can you tell us about one memorable experience/story from your time teaching abroad?
A) Without question, it was a night at a popular “foreigner” bar called Thursday Party.  I was kicking back with my friend (a teacher from South Africa) and we noticed a gentleman maybe in his 50s sitting by himself.  We could tell he was trying to engage with others somehow, so we struck up a conversation with him.  Come to find out he was a professor at the Maritime University in Yeoungdo (where I am located).  Why was he a professor there?  Because he happened to be a retired Admiral of the Korean Navy.  That’s the Navy’s equivalent of a general.  He showed us his ID and everything.  He bought us drinks all night and gave us big hugs at the end.  When my friend and I were walking home we were like, “we just partied with a Naval Admiral!”  That’s one for the highlight reels.
Q.5) Are there any other countries that you would like to spend some time teaching in? Why?
A) There’s still a part of me that will always want to go to Japan.  Though I visited the Kodokan Judo Institute in Tokyo (judo’s birthplace and headquarters), I would still like to live there for an extended period of time.  If I could get a job teaching in Japan someday, I would gladly go.
I also like the idea of Hong Kong or Taiwan.  Korea is my home for now though, and I don’t really see an end in the foreseeable future.  When the day comes to move on though, I’ll look to those countries for opportunities to live and work.
Q.6) Finally, do you have any advice/tips for teachers thinking about teaching abroad?
A) Teaching in Korea is an experience.  For some it’s great, for others not so great.
It’s definitely different than the brochure! Usually people watch Youtube videos (including mine) and see all the colorful pictures of brilliant landscapes and beautiful temples online and they develop an expectation.  It is like the videos and pictures, but it also isn’t.  It’s Korea.  It’s the home and country to Koreans and it’s based on the way they do things.
It’s important to keep a flexible and open mind at all times.  Everything here will be different than what one may be accustomed to.  It’s easy to become frustrated for some if they don’t maintain an open and positive mind.  If you can stay focused on the right attitude, the little things will roll off and the experience will then turn out to be like the videos and pictures.  Embrace both the fun things and the differences and it isn’t a far stretch to consider staying longer than expected.
Thanks for taking the time to sit down with TeacherPort, Tom! 
If you’re interested in teaching abroad, please head over to the TeacherPort teaching jobs abroad page to browse through our currently advertised opportunities. Good luck!


  1. Interesting history that your Mom is originally from North Korea. Always enjoy reading your blogs.

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