Waegukin - living and teaching in Korea

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What should I bring with me to Korea?

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

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Best Day

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

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My EPIK timetable

Prospective EPIK teachers might be interested to see what an example work schedule looks like. This is my timetable for this semester. Yours will be different.

All EPIK teachers are contracted to work 22 hours per week. It so happens that at my school, there are 6 fifth grade classes and 5 sixth grade classes. I see each of these classes two times a week. Read more

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Stories Teaching 

Wintery Sunday Afternoon – Bonggok-dong

Back in Korea. I missed a blizzard and the country turned white in my absence.

A couple of months ago a family of kittens arrived in the vacant lot I cut through on my way to the bus stop. Korea’s has a combination of advanced and primitive garbage collection laws: all foodstuffs must be seperated for recycling, but then they are merely dumped in a large pile on a street-corner, and this means there is a feral cat problem. All the cats, I was told, have diseases, but of course I tried to befriend the family of kittens anyway. I was unsuccesful. They always ran off when I approached, no matter how much I tried to fascinate them with twigs scratched erratically across the ground. Over the weeks they grew, and eventually scattered.

This afternoon I found one dead in the snowbank by the side of the road. It was half-grown and very thin. I don’t know why it died: the cold, hunger, a car. And it wasn’t my pet, and I won’t say it filled me with grief, but I’d watched it play, and watched its mother hunt for scraps in the rubbish-piles, and I felt bad that it was dead, and bad because it seemed to represent a feeling that had been with me since I got back to Korea yesterday. Read more