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South Korea

Palace Korea
Korea soldiers

“Order a new laptop charger before you leave.”

My mom’s words echoed in my ears as I laid on the couch in my new apartment in South Korea, alone and bored out of my mind. There was wifi here—I could see the little green light blinking on the router. I silently thanked the previous EPIK teacher for that.

However, every device I’d brought with me from the U.S. was, for some reason, out of commission. So I couldn’t connect.

At orientation, a friend had dropped my tablet and the screen broke. Neither my laptop nor the out-of-date smartphone I’d brought had chargers. So although the little light on the router blinked green, I had no internet connectivity that first weekend in my apartment here in South Korea.

I lay on the couch and looked at the little prepaid phone my recruiter had given me when I landed at Incheon Airport. I could call family and friends for quick blitz chats to tell them I was fine, albeit bored (and to call my mom at 4 a.m. a couple times when I was jet-lagged and tell her I was sick or scared—all the things a mother wants to hear from a child two continents away).

Korean TV droned in the background. I couldn’t understand anything that was being said, but I found a drama that seemed easy to follow and watched the pictures for three days as I tried to prepare mentally for what would greet me on the first day of school.

If I’d known then what I know now, I would have literally gone across the street to the nearest PC 방 (PC Bang, or PC Room) and Facebook with friends and family to my heart’s content. That Monday, I saw that that’s exactly what my friends from orientation had done so while I was in the apartment cut off, they had gotten together to explore some caves.

Although honestly that was fine for me because I was still recovering from being sick. So I spent that weekend recovering and rummaging around the apartment, reading the note and materials that the previous EPIK teacher left in the apartment and tried to prepare myself for that first day as best I could.

That first day at my school was very low-key, but about a month in I realized that my job was much more demanding that I’d assumed it would be. My school has a very strict curriculum that’s quite demanding for students (and therefore demanding for EPIK teachers) that includes evaluating presentations and grading essays. However, in those first few days, my co-teachers had given me about a week to get settled in. I, not knowing what was in store or what I would actually be expected to execute, used that week to make an edublog, a video greeting the students, to write my teaching philosophy (and, OK. To desk warm a little).

In hindsight, what I should have been doing was asking questions, discussing assignments, and setting expectations in a very real and honest way. Perhaps that would have prevented a few of the misunderstandings that arose later when the demands at my school started getting real.

Speaking of honesty, another thing I would do differently in those first few days at my school is be as honest as possible about my expectations and limitations. I work for public school, and part of that process entails attending a giant orientation week before receiving your placement here in South Korea. One thing they drilled into orientees’ heads (or maybe this is just what I took away) is that we as foreign teachers should try to be as open and flexible as possible—which is good advice. Where the advice falters, however, (in my opinion) is that they then tell us to try to “say yes to everything” in order to make a good relationship with our school.

It is true; in South Korea, relationships are very important. But speaking as someone whose relationship with her co-teacher is shot anyway, I think that it would have benefited me more to give honest responses to some of the more taxing demands, like teaching every other Saturday and staying every Tuesday until 8:20 p.m., initially, rather than waiting until all of the demands piled up and then having EPIK tell them that they were trying to force me to do a lot of things that are not in my contract.

My school didn’t particularly appreciate that course of action. Maybe instead, it would have been better for me to ask more questions. “Let me think about it…will there be overtime? Will I be able to stop when I want to? Will my hours be offset? Is there another time to do this? Well give me a day or two to think it over and I will get back to you.”

These would have all been appropriate responses that may have caused less damage to my relationship than bringing out the contract. Because let me tell you, once you bring out that contract, it’s no-holds-barred. You’ll find yourself getting up to use the restroom and your co-teacher will tell you to wait while she checks the contract about bathroom breaks.

Contribution by
Bryoney Hayes: lives and works in South Korea as an English Teacher

I walk into the restaurant, hanging back from the other teachers. I feel awkward, uncomfortable, shy—all things I feel daily since moving to South Korea four months ago. We have just finished railbiking, an activity where four people pile into a cart and petal it down a railroad track, and now we’ve transitioned to dinner.

I am not alone, but I am alone in the sense that I am not with my coteacher—the person whom, I believe, is charged with making these types of outings less awkward for a person who is culturally and physically different and who does not speak the language.

My coteacher and I haven’t spoken socially in months. These days, she has pretty much mastered the art of acknowledging my presence via a stiff “Good morning Ms. Hayes” in the mornings and an equally stiff and insincere “Have a good day” in the afternoons when one of us is leaving without actually acknowledging the fact that I am a valid human being with thoughts and feelings that are worthy of consideration.

So, I am in the restaurant with the other teachers and I am charged with finding a place to sit on my own.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not so arduous a task. The other teachers are kind, and moreso once drunken—which they will quickly find themselves after the initial Soju toast. They are curious about me, but they are usually too shy, or else they lack the language skills, to ask me all of the things they want to know, like what exactly it is I do when I’m not at school or if I have made any friends.

So it is not so much that it is a difficult task to find somewhere to sit at dinner as it is my own feelings of upset at my coteacher predicament; those feelings that rush over you in waves of rapid thoughts like “I don’t deserve this treatment/she’s such a [expletive deleted]/why would she be so petty and mean to a foreigner?”, feelings that have been heightened by the fact that not two hours before, my coteacher left me sitting in our shared office with only a “so you’re going to ask another teacher to give you a ride right?” before leaving to our shared destination.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of negative thoughts out here. Some days, the experience of being a foreigner in South Korea can be so isolating. You are different. You look different. People stare. You don’t speak Korean, but you know the word “waygookin” (foreigner) the way you know your own name, so you are aware when the people around you say it and start laughing. On those days, in those moments, it’s easy to fall into thoughts like “what am I doing here?” “I hate it here” or “I want to go home.”

Even good days as a foreigner in South Korea are peppered with moments of feeling awkward, uncomfortable, or like you unknowingly stepped on somebody’s toes—especially in the workplace. What will make those days good is that on those days you’ll laugh about it.

I find the three ladies whom I usually sit with at lunch—well, “sit with” is a stretch. More like creep and eat beside while they “sit with” each other. But I find them and I lob a timid “Kwenchanaiyo?” (is it ok?) while nodding toward the table’s unoccupied seat.  They of course tell me yes, and I lower myself onto the floor, preparing mentally to be both physically and mentally uncomfortable for the next hour.

My coteacher walks in and does not acknowledge me, nor do I acknowledge her.

Later, as I am eating dinner and smiling and laughing with the other teachers, as they teach me the names of foods in Korean (which I promptly forget) and try to get me to drink Soju (which I refuse—it’s a Monday, and that’s just not how I roll), I think that maybe it’s a good thing that I don’t have my coteacher to cling to in these situations. Maybe if I did, I’d experience the school and the other teachers only through her niche—through her friends and her conversations and her interests—her pocket that she made for herself in the school—instead of being forced to turn this circumstance into an opportunity to exercise my independence and carve out my own.

photo

Knowing what to pack for South Korea is very important because there are things you will not find in Korea from your home country and if you do find them, they are usually outrageously priced.

So today I am going to answer the question: what should I pack for South Korea. Let me give you the top things you might want to pack. They were the most inconvenient for me when I arrived in Korea.

packing for korea

  1. Deodorant
  2. You will have a hard time finding good deodorant. Why, Koreans don’t use it. If you do find it, it will be expensive.

  3. Spices
  4. If you like to cook, bring your spices. Korea is seriously lacking in Western spices, but you will find the basic ones but no beef bullion or anything like that.

  5. Tampons
  6. This is one for ladies of course. I give you the reasons why Koreans don’t use them in the video, although a rumor, it’s the closest to a proper explanation.

  7. Tea and coffee
  8. You will not find the likes of earl gray or English breakfast tea unless maybe in Seoul but it will cost you an arm and a leg. And as for the coffee in Korea, the water is stronger.

  9. Converter
  10. You can find one here in Korea but most of them are fragile and break easy so bring one from home. I have a fantastic one I bought at staples and it works all over the world.

  11. Skin products
  12. If you have sensitive skin and need to wear a special mascara or use a certain kind of shaving cream, bring it. Korea has great skin products but unless you read and speak Korean, you will not know what you are buying.

  13. Clothes and shoes
  14. This one is obvious but I put it here merely to remind you to pack for all the seasons just in case you are unable to find your sizes here. Korean shoe sizes end at 280, or 10 to 10 and a half. And Koreans are slim so a lot of us Westerners find it difficult to find the right size sometimes. But places like Itaewon, Hongdae and Songtan cater to the foreign shopper in this regard.

  15. Something that reminds you of home
  16. Korea can get lonely sometimes especially if you are not very social so bringing something that reminds you of family and friends helps a lot.

  17. Stomach medicine
  18. For some people the food takes getting used to.

  19. Pain killers
  20. You can find them in Korea but only at the hospital. So bring your own because if you have a headache or pain in the middle of the night you might just need Tylenol or ibuprofen and a trip to the Doctor will cost you more.

  21. International Drivers License
  22. If there is a remote chance you might stay in Korea more than a year, it’s good idea to get one. You might want to invest in a scooter like I did, it saves you a ton on taxi fare.

I think that’s pretty much it but of course this is not an exhaustive list and personal packing needs might bring certain individuals to bring more than I have listed here. To me, these things are the essentials to keep in mind.

Cheers, Like this post? Show the <3 by liking my FB page on the sidebar 😉

[tab: Find your way as a new teacher in Korea]

You have applied, you have gotten the job and now you are ready for Korea. You are excited, nervous and out right scared. But at the same time, you are ready for the adventure.

Now imagine this situation. You arrive at the airport and even though you arranged everything with your recruiter and school, no one is there to pick you up. What will you do?

I am not writing this to scare you. It has happened to a few teachers and it happened to me when I arrived in Incheon. I had no idea where to go or what to do and I want to share that experience and help you prepare for the worst possible scenario while hoping for the best for you.

So here is what to do.

Before you even leave your home country, make sure you have all the contact information from the school you are going to. Have them assign a contact person, get the school’s address from them and write it down. Also know the name of the city where the school is located. It’s also a good idea to have your school or contact person write the name in Korean and email it to you.

Get their phone number and the contact person’s phone number. Get his or her email address and email them your flight information so that they know precisely when you will be arriving.

fly

There are phone booths at the airport where you can call someone. That’s why it’s important that you write down phone numbers.

If you are teaching in Seoul, you will want to take the subway. If you are outside of Seoul, you can get to the express bus terminal by subway as well as the bus. All the information you will need is available at the airport so don’t hesitate to ask.

Don’t panic, others have experienced this, in fact, I went through this when I first came to Korea. I had to find my way to a town called Pyeongtaek. If I did it, someone who had never been to an Asian country before and did not speak the language, you can do it too. You just have to have the confidence to walk up to people and ask for directions.

Koreans will go above and beyond to help you. This is something I have experienced many a times. Of course there are some that are busy and not willing to help but that’s a given anywhere.

From my experience, younger people were the once more than willing to help and also the ones that spoke English well enough to help me. So if you are lost, ask for help.

Cheers.

visa

This is a question I get all the time. And recently a reader emailed me asking it. So I thought it was time to write a post about it. Let’s get straight to it.

The short answer is yes you can, but there are a few things to keep in mind. Remember that you generally have about fourteen days to go to immigration and report your change in visa status. They will give you a month from when your job ended to leave the country.

Even if your Alien Registration Card (ARC) is good for a month after your contract ends, you’re still required to report your change in employment status when your job ends.

But here is what you can do to stay in the country long after your contract ends: every three months you can make a visa run to Japan. You can take the ferry over, go through customs in Japan and then get right back on the boat to Korea. As long as you tell the immigration folks why you’re coming back to Korea. Good reasons are studying Korean, visiting tourist sites, learning to make kimchi and so on. Plenty of people do it and it’s not a problem at all.

You may also consider getting a D10 visa. You can find information on getting a D10 visa on this post.

The complication some people face however is when they want to travel to another country that’s not their home country then go to their home country before returning to Korea. In that case the order of things change a little bit. If this is the case, refer to your contract because some of them stipulate that in this kind of situation, the school(public, not sure about hagwons) is under no obligation to pay for your return flight to a country that’s not your home country.

However, most schools would give you a lump sum of your return flight if you so request. It is a good idea to let them know ahead of time about your plans. Because contracts in Korea are more like guidelines and not set on stone, the stipulation above is merely a caution. And this stipulation is contract specific.

And if you have any question about any of this, you can call Immigration on 1345, free from any phone and ask them.

I hope that clarifies things a bit.

Cheers

It is hiring season again, at least for public schools that is. Hagwons are always hiring. This means a slew of new teachers will be coming in to fill up the vacant positions left by teachers leaving in February. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you arrive in Korea.

travel
travel and see the world

No Internet or cellphone

It is very likely that you will go a few days, a week or even longer without internet or a way to contact your friends and family from within your apartment.

Don’t despaire. And you won’t if you know your options and that’s why I am writing this post. There are many other ways you can reach friends and family back home and let them know that you have arrived in Korea safely.

Coffee shops
I find coffee shops irristitable. If you have a smart device, laptop, tablet or even cellphone that can receive wifi, by all means bring it to Korea because you can use it at almost any coffee shop to contact family and friends back home.

Another option is to ask your co-teacher if you can use their internet at their house. They will be more than willing to help you.

As you will be without internet, so you will you without a cell phone because it takes time for immigration to issue you the documents you need to show to the phone and internet companies to get your services setup. However, once that process is started by your school, you can use the receipts to get everything set up.

Another alternative is to use the arrival store before coming to Korea. They will set up a cellphone for you before you arrive and other necessities.

Every little thing is gonna be alright

So don’t worry. It starts out rough for the new teachers but it gets a lot better once you get in the groove of things and you have your basic necessities in place.

After all you are in a brand new country you know little about and most of us don’t take kindly to change. But change is good and you will find that Korea is not that different from yours or any other country although the order of things and priorities might not be like your home countries. But that’s okay. You can’t expect it to be like home right, otherwise you might as well stay home :).

Look at me for example, when I first arrived to Korea I went a week without a cellphone and no internet. But the coffee shop wasn’t far from my house. Not only that, I was terrified because I didn’t know what to expect. Yet, three years later, here I am :). You can do it too, maybe you are not staying that long but you will quickly find out that Korea grows on you. It sucks you in. I didn’t plan on staying this long although I left after my first year, I came right back.

Somethings take longer to get used to but once you figure them out, you will be just fine. There are some things I still haven’t figured out but that’s okay. So keep your head up and try your best and like Bob says, every little thing is gonna be alright.

Cheers.

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