Waegukin - living and teaching in Korea

blue dot
Aug
01
2012
Culture 

5 weirdest things about Korean culture

Korean actress Eugene demonstrates her small head

Yesterday I put on the floor a loaf of bread we would be using that day for English camp, and my co-teacher screamed in horror. The bread was in a plastic bag, but just the same she quickly snatched it up, before the ground could contaminate it, and placed it… on an air-conditioning vent. At that time I started to think about the weirdest aspects of Korean culture: the things I doubt I will ever completely understand. Here is my top five list. Read more

blue dot
Jul
26
2012
Living 

How to travel in Korea: Love motels and inter-city buses

Korean love motel

Korea may be the easiest country in the world for travelling, for two reasons: love motels and inter-city buses. With these, you can go anywhere in the country cheaply, easily, and without the need to book or plan ahead.

One of the sure signs of a newcomer to Korea is the question, “Does anybody know of a good hostel/hotel in City X?” There are some hostels in Korea, although not many, and they’re only for suckers – travellers who don’t know what else is available, and are thus willing to pay to sleep in a 16 person dormitory. For not much more, you can get a clean room to yourself, with cable television, an en-suite bathroom, and a bewildering variety of complimentary products*.

Such is the ease of travelling in Korea that I never book ahead, and outside of Seoul or Busan I never pay more than 30,000₩ for a room. Read more

blue dot
Jul
21
2012
Culture 

Smoking in Korea

Picture from here

Update: This article is dated, and changes in Korean smoking laws have significantly limited the number of places in which you can smoke in South Korea since I wrote this.

South Korean men smoke a lot. According to the OECD (pdf link) 40% of South Korean men smoke. Contrarily, there is strong social disaproval of women who smoke* and currently only 7% of Korean women smoke.

Cigarettes in Korea are cheap; they generally cost ₩2,700, or about $2.50. Western brands like Dunhill and Marlborough are common. Cigarettes can be bought at any mart, and a variety of other random stores. Read more

blue dot
Jul
14
2012
Living 

What is it like being a foreigner in Korea?

Comparative geography with my fifth graders. They drew the Kim Jong Il illustration.

A while back, a friend asked me if I could write to someone she knew who was thinking of teaching in Korea, and tell her what it is like to come to Korea as a foreigner. This friend had taught in Korea herself, but she is Korean-American, speaks Korean, and the experience is very, very different.

This was what I sent her friend. It is primarily for someone coming for a public school position – the experience of teaching at a hagwon is different, and something I don’t know a lot about.

Anything specific? I spent a year with the TaLK program, never missed home, then went home for a year and missed Korea like crazy. Now I’m back with EPIK.

Before I came, my biggest fears were not speaking the language, living somewhere really isolated, and not making friends. Probably you’re worried about similar things.

None are things you need to worry about. Read more

blue dot
Jun
15
2012
Teaching 

How to avoid deskwarming

My school desk. I was bored.

The standard contract for foreign teachers at Korean public schools gives 18 days paid vacation. The school, however, has about ten weeks when it is not in session. For part of this time, you will run English camps. But this still leaves a lot of time when school is out and there is no work to do. This is when foreign teachers in Korea engage in one of the least pleasant aspects of teaching here: deskwarming.

This involves coming to an empty school and sitting at your desk, with no assigned duties, and occupying yourself as best you can. There are two attitudes to this. Some teachers say, “Hey! Paid to do nothing. How long has this been going on?” And then there are other teachers who go insane at the waste of it all – who look outside and think of all the other things they could be doing, like drinking in dirt-cheap South-East Asian countries. Members of both these groups will spend time debating the two points of view, interminably and without resolution, on eslcafe and waygook. Read more

blue dot
Apr
17
2012
Living 

Teaching English in Korea: city or country?

korea neon

This is a supplement to the Waegukin big guide to teaching English in Korea. One question you will need to consider if you’re thinking of teaching English in Korea is where you want to live. Without getting into the merits of individual cities, you have three choices:

  • Seoul
  • Other metropolitan cities
  • Regional cities/the countryside Read more
blue dot
Apr
10
2012
Teaching 

Should I use a recruiter to find a teaching job in Korea?

Choi Min Sik

This is a supplement to the Waegukin big guide to teaching English in Korea.

A reader asks, “I’m considering applying for teaching positions in Korea, but don’t really know where to start. Is it best to go through a recruitment company? Or should I apply for jobs directly? Also can you tell me which recruitment companies are reputable? Thanks.”

Thanks for the question. The answer is… it depends. Isn’t that the answer to most questions?

For public school positions I think that you don’t really need a recruiter for the centrally organized programs like EPIK. The people who run those programs can all speak English, and they all have good reputations, so there’s not a lot additionally that a recruiter can do for you. For hagwon positions, though, I would definitely use a recruiter. Read more

blue dot
Mar
01
2012
Best-of Culture Stories 

Bullying in Korean schools and wangtta (왕따)

A photo I took after school one day. There was a fire next door and the smoke made the light amazing.

My co-teacher was upset this week by this story of a student committing suicide after suffering horrific bullying. I live and work in Daegu, so the story is close to home.

Following two days of questioning of the two students accused of harassment, police said references to harassment from Kim’s suicide note were substantiated, including allegations of beatings, stealing of money, and being dragged around by a cord around his neck. Regarding a reference to “water torture” from the note, however, police reported the students as saying during questioning that S brought water from the sink to perform the act, but that he decided not to after the other student said it was too dangerous.

Kids everywhere are cruel. Their awareness of social norms isn’t yet fully developed, nor is their empathy. But it seems that bullying may be a larger problem in Korea than elsewhere. My co-teacher thinks it is, and she says it has become much worse than it was when she was at school.

We talked about the phenomenon of wangtta (왕따), in which a Korean class collectively decides to ostracize another student. Wangtta is somewhat difficult to define clearly – it refers both to the phenomenon and to the victim – although in practice it’s easy to understand.* Read more

blue dot
Jan
21
2012
Living 

What should I bring with me to Korea?

A small Buddha at the temple on Geumo Mountain

This is a supplement to the Waegukin big guide to teaching English in Korea.

You can find almost anything you need in Korea – somewhere, at some price. But some things are not easy to come by. Here are some things to consider packing for Korea, if you’re coming here for work or study.

You might miss them. Read more

blue dot
Dec
18
2011
Stories 

Best Day

The infamous taga ride at Geumo Land

I’d been back in Korea a couple of weeks by then and I was feeling restless. It was high winter and winter had been going on too long. I was glad to be back and there wasn’t anywhere else in the world I wanted to be, but I wasn’t working and people were away. While I was gone a record snow dump had covered the entire peninsular and the landscape had changed and all of it somehow made me uneasy.

I went for walks around Bonggok-dong. I had a strange fear that there were parts of my town I would never see. I wanted to walk down all the streets and know my town completely. The days were sunny but cold and the snow beside the roads and footpaths melted slowly; I would tramp over it in my boots and feel its crunch beneath my feet.

I would go to my local cafe. It wasn’t one of the Starbucks-style chains, but an old school da bang. The coffee was instant but it only cost cheonobaek-won. You could smoke in there and the coffee was brought over by an ajumma who mixed in powdered milk in front of you. I would go there in the mornings and sit for hours and write in my journal and try to study my Korean. Sometimes when I was done I would walk up to the turtle fountain in Bonggok Park, but if it was too cold I would just go home again.

I got propositioned in the da bang by a girl in an eye-patch. At least I think I did, but these things were easy to misinterpret in Korea; like the time my naked co-teacher offered to scrub my back in the jjimjilbang. I knew about da bangs, but was surprised just the same. My copy of Lonely Planet Korea, a smug book that was always irritating me with directions that had me coming out the wrong subway exit, archly noted about da bangs that “sometimes the coffee girls offer more than coffee.” But my local place seemed respectable enough; I figured it wasn’t that sort of da bang. Read more