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A Letter to Prospective ESL Teachers Pt. I

2 Jun

Every couple of months a friend or a friend of a friend asks me whats its like teaching over there (Korea-specifically Seoul). I after the first three I got to thinking how awesome it was how each letter was different because I was obviously learning new things every day. Here is a letter I wrote back in January when I was 3 months in- now I can tell you the plans I had at the end have totally changed but I guess that all part of the processes.


First off I have to tell you Seoul is great! Currently I’m in my almost 4th-month of teaching at a Hagwon (English Academy). There seems to be hundreds here, especially in the suburbs where I’m located. I live in Nowon-gu which is a 45 minute subway ride from the center of Seoul. I can tell you from experience that if you want a decent apartment be willing to live outside of the center of town definitely helps..

My job entails teaching 15 different classes, 1-2 or sometimes 3 times a week. If I teach one particular class of students three times I will usually teach them twice a week in one subject and then once in another. Having 15 classes does make learning their names really hard but they are all given english names so its not that bad. Some terms are easier than others. The schedule for terms is usually the same through I have to be at work at 2:30pm everyday. I start at 3:15 on Monday, Wed. Friday and 4:45 on Tuesday and thursday. Every day I’m done at 9:40pmm I do have at least one 50 minute class off every day- but every Wednesday I was teaching 6 classes in a row and then got my break- that was difficult at first. Also during the normal term you only have 5 minutes between each class while during intensives you have 10 in the morning and then a massive 90 minute lunch, then it goes back to 5 minutes between classes. So far as training goes I came in the middle of a term and had one day of shadowing and that was it. Its kind of trial by fire but everyone gets through it and just accepts their first 2 weeks just kind of stinks. Right now I’m doing intensives. Its when the kids are on break from school so they come academy from 9am to 4:10, so as I teacher I’m there 8:30 to 5pm. M, W, F I have a 90 minute lunch break and Tues./Thurs. I have the same break plus one period off on Tuesday and 2 afternoon periods off on Thursdays. With intensives the breaks are nicer and I feel like I’m creating less worksheets right now, however you have to work on Saturdays. Its not too bad tho, its only 9am to noon for a month.

I’m one of 2 foreign teacher at my academy, my director and 6 other co-workers are all korean. My old director could barely speak english- this is apparently very common. The other girl I worked with said at her old academy there were only 2 korean teachers and every one had to speak english. It’s a mixed bag here and everyones got there own “right way” of doing it. I love my co-workers tho- they’re all girls around 27 to 35 and just really sweet nice people who will go out of their way for you. I feel like most Koreans will do just that- I wasn’t expected everyone to be as nice and generous and even as genuine as they are. The only reason I will probably not be renewing my contract is I’m trying to get into this 4 week intensive CELTA course in Vietnam- also I can’t miss another Christmas, my parents, particularly my mom would kill me. That another thing I wasn’t prepared for. Christmas isn’t a big deal here so at my academy the last day of the final schedule was christmas eve-eve and the first day of the new term was the day after christmas therefore I go a very firm no when I requested christmas off 2 months in advance. But my friend who works for a private international school did get to go home for 10 days.

Seoul is self was a bit of a shock for me- I’m from seattle and I wasn’t used to the pollution here. The city smelt like like diesel and sesame oil as I was driving through the city on my way, coupled with the humidity left over from an indian summer- the air feels so heavy. I was sick for almost 2 months with in a week of arriving. It was probably just that “new country cold” but I’ve never been sick for that long. Good news tho! All teachers get health insurance here, they are also very generous with the cold medicine. My doctor at the hospital didn’t have the best english but it was functional and I got this massive baggie of individually wrap meds to tied me over till I got to the pharmacy. As far as the weather goes- its 18 degrees F right now and its a very dry cold, I get nose bleeds at least every couple weeks. They do have a monsoon season here- apparently lat year it rained for almost 2 months straight. Flooded streets, etc. nothing like the flooding in SE Asia this fall but still, it can get bad. In the summer its apparently very tropical- just hot and humid so I’m expecting something like Louisiana in July/August. The city isn’t the prettiest place I’ve ever been to or the ugliest. It does earn the name concrete city. That being said there are tons of museums, great restaurants, things going on all the time so you won’t get bored. I live in the north east corner of the city and there are mountains all around me, its really great.

Regarding applying for jobs- have you heard about the TALK program? Its specifically for associate degree holders and I believe they set you up with a public school. If I read it right. Most schools start in late feb early march or late august early february. I would definitely check it out. Heres the link I found- I also know people who don’t have ANY kind of post high-school education and they found great jobs in China. So with you degree and certificate you would make possibly more than you would make in Korea.

I’ve attached some pictures of my apartment. I definitely lucked out. Some of my friends closer to the city have tiny places they had to completely furnish themselves. However I have yet to meet someone who said their apartment was over run with bugs or rodents. Its a very westernized country with, what I feel like, is a very good standard of living. We are however ogled- a lot! Its pretty much guaranteed that if someone if over 40 and hasn’t been to school past high school here- they will not be able to speak english. So whenever I have a problem I find the youngest person I can and ask them- its usually some 10-12 year old guy/girl. I get stared at by the older people on the subway all the time. I even got told off last week by this old man for laughing- not even loudly. He came right up to us and said- “This is not your living room”. I would say my one complaint is subway culture…. you just keep your eyes averted and don’t say much of anything. Other than that everyone is so nice and so patient while I struggle through my broken korean. A few universities and community centers offer free survival english lessons which I’ll be start next week so I’ll let you know how that goes. There are Korean Language academies and also intensive University course and they cost about the same ($1500).

Please let me know if you have any other questions, I’m happy to help.

Good Luck!



So when I finish in October, I’ll spend 2 weeks at my friend apartment here, then head to Hanoi- hopefully pass and get my CELTA then December with the folks and definitely back here in Seoul by January. I’m getting the CELTA because I want to try teaching adult and maybe get a university job down the line. Those are apparently the best kinds of jobs. A friend I have here teaches at seoul national university but shes also got a masters in TESOL. I’ve heard its easier to get Uni jobs with just a degree and CELTA out in the country or even China. So we’ll see what happens.

Top 10 Korean Sports Rules

2 Jun

1. BYOB always: the nearest g25 will always be your friend as will the lacks or lack of drinking laws in Korea. No trip the the World Cup Stadium in Seoul is complete with out a trip to the Home Plus next door. I’ve seen people walk in with full cases of soju and a large Costco style pizza.

2. Sing and dance: if anything it will improve your Korean a little and believe it or not soju will help with your intonation- really!

3. Be loud and proud: wearing your teams colors- hell even knowing your teams colors is a step in the right direction

4. Be consistent: I’m not saying got to every game and follow the them out of town but make an effort. If your seats are decent trying sitting there every game – you’ll make some friends along way.

5. Don’t be “that” waygookin: Yes Korea has a big drinking culture but that’s just it! It’s a part of the culture, so you showing up at the stadium. Losing your cookies or picking a fight before you get to the game is not the way to go. Use common sense

6. Don’t just pick a team- Pick a player: Know a little about him that way when they do something half decent you can sound like a real fan and impress neighbors. Nothing brings people together like trash talking.

7. Mark your territory : You will find this cushiony picnic blanket at your nearest convenient store or Daiso. These blankets (sorry I I feel this goes against every American sports habit but people won’t mind. Just grab some friends, food/drinks, lay that sucker out and enjoy the game.

8. Get social: Like everything thing else is Korea sporting events are social events, but I feel thats pretty universal. Keeping with tradition, invite everyone you know. In  Korea it’s the more the merrier. Sharing your fried chicken and beer will always make you friends.

9. Know your haters: Rivalries rule sports- hell it’s what makes watching exciting. Get to know your team and the teams that hate them.

10. Most importantly know the game: or at least have a vague idea of the game.  in Korea is relative easily because we’ve all grown up with at least the basic rules of baseball and soccer. When I went to Oz it took a little more to learn the rule of Ozzie Rules but hey that’s why your here to learn about things, gain knowledge know when to cry in your beer and when jump up and down wildly with the stranger next to you.

How to Stop Hating and Start Dating in Korea

2 Jun

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not the biggest fan of the Korean couple culture: matching outfits, constant hand holding, PURSE HOLDING? Who am I to begrudge an entire culture. There are other definite positives like love motels on every corner,  multibongs, and DVD bongs which are famous as underage hook up spots. If your going to stop hating you’ve got to start accepting. “it is what it is” will be your mantra from now on. Also like all new personal ventures you need  to know your strengths and weaknesses.

If there something about you that doesn’t fit the Korean mold your going to get some attention especially from the opposite sex: maybe you have curly hair, blond hair, your a little chunky- I one time has a 21 yr old begging to have sex with me because I was “warm” like his mother…. Yes this really happened. My chunkiness is why I think I have gotten the action I’ve gotten. No one is impolite about it either. They try (or maybe that’s just the way they talk) to make it sounds like a compliment…sort of.  In my case he kept saying warming, the word he was looking for was friendly. However comparing me to his mother..uh no no no.  It made me start to think about the way Koreans must view us way gooks. I’ve heard time and time again about Korean women calling their foreigner boyfriend fat. By in large (hehehe) they’re not lying. However when the beauty standard say women should be no more than 50kgs and men 75kgs well yes most westerner are going to be considered portly. That being said what gives them the right to poke fun or just poke in general?

Going along with everything I’ve just said and what I’ve gathered, your best bet in securing a long term relationship with a Korean (guy or girl) is by completely assimilating and even then your going to be getting its an atypical Korean. From what I’ve seen you just don’t date out of your class and dating (seriously and publicly) with a foreigner is just not really done.  However that doesn’t mean you can’t try. Whether that means having your hair styled like your girls/guys favorite Kpop idol, responding to the 30-40 text she will send you every day, or dropping those in wanted pounds. As bias as it sounds I feel girls have a tougher time being taken seriously. Sure girls can probably hook up easier by going to any big club, but fitting that perfect mold is a little more time consuming. However going on the “K pop girl group cup diet” (more on that later), getting a magic straight, and dying your hair an unnatural shade of black brown or red wont hurt your chances either.  When it comes to dressing like a young Korean woman it’s all about that classic look. All of my Korean friends that are married are not trying to be alternative or cover themselves in labels, although a good and expensive designer bag is worth it’s weight in gold as far as status goes.  The women here dress by enlarge in w very classic way. That is being classy while wearing veering short skirts. Cover your top and shorten that skirt. Then again if you have the chest for it wear that low cut top but be prepared for some stares. Pastels are the key for daytimes. Think of  ultra feminine modern mad men era. Here women are expected to dress like women especially if your looking for a husband. Further more men should be dress just as sharp. Jean and your favorite a &f shirt need not apply- I don’t care if it it has a collar and the jean don’t have holes in them-NO! You should be long and lean and your hip bones should always stick out. But you must also work out unless your going for that ultra fem slightly androgynous look.

Now you know what you must do to start dating but how do you stop hating? Easy-

1. Work it out: not only will this help you fit it to those ultra sleek suits guys or get those pencil thin pins ladies ( but ladies remember not work out too much because you can’t have bigger muscles than you boyfriend …it’s just not feminine).

2.Join something… Anything. With all of the free foreigner/Korean lets get together groups your bound to find something and someone to spark your interest. Remember language exchanges are just code word for pre-date screening.

3.Get a Korean hobby : You like music? Start hanging out in Hongdae. You like books start trolling the local bookstores? Maybe fashion is your thing? Head down to Gwangjang market and see if you can have your very own lady and the tramp moment with you both reach for the same ratty sweater. There are so many hobbies to choice from! Hiking has been a big winner from what I’ve heard and I’ve recently taken up cycling. While I may not meet people right now I certainly have an excellent view of nice butts in spandex.

In an effort to practice what I preach I’m going to start  follow my own advice. Dropping the weight will be key and that is my first plan on action. Next will be language and finally once the weight is gone I will attempt show off some of this snazzy ultra fem korean looks and see if this work or I’m just blowing smoke out my a**. I would like to mention that some people don’t need any of my unsolicited advice. I know of a few way gooks who have actually gone on to marry a Korean. However I’m not them, obviously, or I wouldn’t be writing this. This is going to be my social experiment- how far must one go to seriously date. Or at least be taken seriously. We’ll see what happens. My old outdoorsy, loud, self is coming out more and more everyday so this could just be doomed to fail.

6 Month Revelations

16 May

With my 6th month anniversary of first landing in Korea having come and gone I’m going to reflect… As you do…

There have been some definite ups/ down and even some current battles with agoraphobia. It’s been a beautiful and ugly experience. However the summer has brought me out of my cave.

I don’t really know how to start –

My first weekend in Korea was amazing, which unfortunately set an impossible standard which also set me up for some catastrophic (yet self made) disappointing weekends.  You know how it is… You head to a new club all wide eyed and full of booze with your best friend by your side. You meet some pretty cute guys … la di da as you do. You have some fun and then say adios and thats it. Surprise surprise I get asked for a proper date 4 days later after meet this guy my age and fast forward to 2 months later I’m crying into my pillow. I become embarrassingly irrational after that… every weekend I didn’t get any attention was a personal failure in my mind.  . Yes I know how hideously pathetic this sounds- but honesty. However while all this was going on I would love to say I was being productive.. But I wasn’t I was sitting there buying pizzas… Burgers… Sandwiches and picking fights with my friends or just plain making excuses to not go out. RIDICULOUS !!!!!!!!!! So  with the knowledge I’ve wasted almost my first 6 months on a species of man that once in a blue moon would want a serious relationship with a foreign women  and will be so cute and cheesy and do and almost say anything just to get what they want (wow maybe all men really are just the same). Regardless now I’m on a mission of redemption to have a ridiculously blissed out next 5 months and to get back into my travel blogging.

First I would like to redeem my self a little and say that’s not to say I have explored Seoul but only the places everyone else has. Last weekend I got lost in Gangnam looking for the new location of a tattoo shop. Because I have extensively kinda of. I feel like its been a real hit and miss. Every weekend tho I’m going to explore two different things in should to make up for my 6month of sitting on my ass hating the Korean men in my life. Needless to say from here in out there will be no more talk of the male variety of any nationality. Side bar tho! I’m on a mission to lose 10 lbs a month so yes I will be randomly ranting about that periodically and all the Korean specific activities like hiking, cycling and soon indoor rock climbing.

Morning Cycles

25 Apr

Dong love…

25 Apr

I don’t care what anyone says I love my Dong (neighborhood). I’ve completely neglected this blog and now that its warming up and the cherry blossoms are out its time to show you a regular ol’ weekday in my dong, Junggye-dong that is.

The morning usually starts off  around 8:30-9:00am with me snoozing a few alarms on my phone. I can already see how bright it is so I pull the covers over my head and catching up with the people I play “draw something” with. Then its down the ladder of my loft and off to feed Tux, my adorable little mutt (see below left) I got from a local animal shelter via his foster mom.

If the weather is warm enough I’ll take Tux out for a very short walk around the park across the street, due to his abuse from his previous owners he has back and hind leg issues- translation: he will pee uncontrollably if too excited (but he is getting better). He also can’t walk for very long or be outside when the temperatures dip. In the winter its afternoon water aerobics in the massive kimchi tub I hide on the roof of my apartment build. Luckily it’s already pretty warm out so I throw on my biking clothes and grab a banana before I wrangle the little guy into his leash without him peeing everywhere.

By 9:30am muttly has been walked, fed and watered so I’m out the door to bike for 2-3 hours. Yesterday I made to Apbujung in about an hour and a half  one-way which shocked a few of my Korean friends who don’t exercise because its gives them “horse legs” or “radish thighs”… yes really.

It’s a great ride, I start cutting through streets and around vendors selling fruit, fish and bedazzled ajumma resortwear. After I pass the “Love Bread” bakery I ride down a little creek that connects me to the bicycling/walking interstate. This runs along another smaller river which will eventually turn in to the Han River which cuts through Seoul. Clusters of outdoor exercise equipment and soju snack shacks are my versions on roadhouses on this daily trek. Both are predominately used by seniors. I wonder if this is where the aged go to party at night. Further down the river I pass a group of ajusshis fishing (see right).

Three hours later I’m dragging my tired self home. I’m pooped and my elbows are killing me I have to work on my form. Once I get home I have to remember to head straight to the bathroom because Senor Pee Pants also has a weak bladder and if i give him any kind of attention he’ll pee on the spot. By this time it’s about 12pm, time to wash the stink off then catch up on emails and see who is on Skype while my hair dries. By 1pm I’m ready for a nap or a Hot6 (Korean Red Bull). Lately I am going through a food funk, its been a lot of bananas, oranges and GS25 Gimbap (see left) and ham sandwiches. When I have money I’ll stop by Paris Baguette on the way to work, it’s definitely not the healthiest or the most Korean of meals but it is what it is. At 2:15 I head out of my apartment to buy the my convenience store lunch/dinner. It’s a 3-4 minute walk to my hagwon. I prepare lessons and watch my co-workers preen and take pictures of themselves from 2:30pm to 4:45pm.  The melodic bell chimes out and its off to my first class. Today I’m teaching 5 classes of kids aged 6 to 12. They really do say the craziest things sometimes the rudest and most backwards things too but hey they’re kids! Today is two different levels of speaking one is with our youngest students (6 year olds), lots of energy and no volume control and the others are about a year or 2 older than that with one boy who is about 3-4 years old than them I feel so sorry for him. Then its two levels of listening classes. Today we’re were talking about descriptive word pertaining to people. I said draw a girl with braces, bangs, braids and a bow (far right) and finally a TOEFL prep class with our oldest and most advanced student who like to tell me how the other teach have diseases like P.D.: the Pretty Disease or V.D.: the Violent Disease. Thankfully everyone is manageable today largely because the older trouble makers are taking the week off to take their middle school tests. From what I understand it’s a test to decide what middle school they can get into or if they can even get into middle. There is a test for everything in this country.

Now its 9:40pm and I’ve starving so I say goodbye to my co-workers and director then head down the street to get some duc-boki. The duk boki is mixed with something that I think is sweet-potato noodles shoved in pig intestines then fried and cut up and put in this spicy sauce that has rice cakes in it .(see left). I usually get a couple of octopus tentacles while I wait. Today I have to elbow in because the middle schooler has taken over my favorite food stalls its a hazard of working in a hagwon dense dong. I usually ask for a big bowl and take it home and eat half now and half for breakfast the next morning. However that will not be happening tonight I’m so hungry. After mut-pie gets his dinner and I eat mine it’s about 10:30pm and all the academy buses have taken most of the kids to their homes so the streets are a little clearer. I take him for another quick walk around the park. Every night  I get to see a slice of the Korean demographics the young couple walking their poodle, the old ajummas and their weird dog that looks like a little old man and of course middle and high schoolers smoking and drinking beers sitting on the covered picnic tables. It’s almost 11pm now and I try to catch an english tv show to veg out on before heading back up my ladder to my loft to do it all again tomorrow.

Why I love my job…

27 Dec

It’s times like this that make me love teaching English. I throughly enjoy it and could easily see myself doing this longterm.   Recently I’ve started to notice some kids that have a particular talent for “creative writing”.  I’ve decided to start a link specifically for these little gems I find in class called “Tales from the Classroom” . This will be the first of many, so ENJOY!

Free Korean Lessons in Seoul

25 Dec

In 3 months I’ve mastered the following handy Korean phrases:

Yeok – Station (like subway station)

Yogi – Here

Chang nam han ya – Are you kidding me?!

An-nyeong-ha-se-yo – Hello

Ne – Yes

Ane – No

Chin sa – Really?

An-nyong-hi ga-se-yo- Goodbye

Kam-sa-ham-ni-da! – thank you

Haaaaaa chum – a loooooooong time

Impressed? I wouldn’t be either. Thankfully in February the free Korean classes I’ve heard rumors about will start-up. Hopefully, I’ll start to get a firm grasp of that aspect of native life that has forever elude those who don’t speak the language. Or at the very least I’ll be able to order take-out.

The free Korean classes start February 18th at the:

갈월 사회 복지 회관
51-19 Galwol-dong (144 Huamdong-gil), Yongsang-gu, Seoul

There are 4 levels ranging from 0-4

0 being just the alphabet and 4 for the people who can read, write and want lots of practice. Be sure to click the link for more information.