Waegukin - living and teaching in Korea
blue dot
Mar
12
2018
Living Teaching 

Love motel review: Daegu’s Green Motel

Daegu's green motel

Daegu’s Green Motel is an institution.

I concede it may not be an institution to everyone. Or even to many people. But, for those waegukin who have learned by word of mouth that it is the place to stay when you’re in Daegu – for those people, it is an institution.

I have been going to the Green for nine years. In my first year in Korea, when I lived in neighboring Gumi, it was where all my TaLK friends and I would gather to start our weekend nights in Daegu. And sometimes those nights started late because we were all in someone’s tiny motel room, drinking and talking; for among its good points, the Green has always been tolerant of foreigners, although I’m tempted to add the adverb “wearily”. Later, when I actually lived in Daegu, I still sometimes stayed there, even though a taxi ride home was cheaper. Admittedly, a lot of people thought that was weird. My logic was that sometimes it was nice to check in to the Green before starting a night out; to know that whenever or however the evening ended, I would have a bed to fall into, in the heart of Daegu’s downtown. Read more

blue dot
Feb
09
2016
Teaching 

Getting a job at a Korean university: the hiring committee

I think that most English teachers who plan to stay in Korea for more than a few years hope to eventually get a university job.

There are reasons for this. A lot of what passes for common knowledge among foreign teachers in Korea exists as a sort of grapevine of oft-repeated truisms, and the word on university positions is this: low hours, high pay, long vacations. This grapevine, by the way, is often not especially accurate, and in the case of university jobs, the truth is that conditions vary quite a lot. But for my job, I’ve found it to be mostly true. I have 14 contracted teaching hours per week and 8 weeks “official” paid vacation – although with gaps in the schedule there are usually a few more weeks on top of that. Outside of my rostered classes, I am free to set my own schedule, coming and going as I please. There are lots of overtime opportunities, with enough variety that I can pick things which are interesting to me.

There are also some things about teaching at a university that I find less satisfying than teaching at a Korean public school. Despite the rumors, my monthly pay is actually less than I’d make teaching at elementary schools with the same qualifications (although it is higher when viewed as an hourly rate, or if you include overtime). As I said, it varies: my university is pretty stingy and other universities pay more. Beyond the grapevine “facts”, I’d say that I don’t feel university teaching provides me with the same sort of culturally immersive experience that I got teaching at public schools. There, I was part of an institution that was integral to the local community; I was also the only foreigner, and always thoroughly “in” Korea. At my university there are many other foreign teachers, and the Korean staff we work with directly are all fluent in English. I also feel that as a university teacher I have less of a chance to have a positive impact on the lives of my students. Teaching Freshman English is more of an act of triage: trying to address the worst of the repairable damage caused by thirteen years of English education of uneven quality. Each semester I do have a few students who I feel I have helped a lot, but there is simply less that you can do as a teacher when you come in at the end of your students’ education, rather than at the beginning. And this is probably why I have written less about teaching university students than I wrote about teaching elementary school kids.

There are things I miss about teaching in elementary schools: the kids, the grandparents who hung out in the shelters on the school playground, the teachers who spoke no English but nonetheless drove me home and showed me kindness, the ajeossi teachers who smoked with me in the hidden places at the back of the school. But overall, university work is unquestionably better. I like my job a lot, and so do most of the other teachers who work here. I like the freedom and the extra time I have. The Korean staff I work with are great, and the other foreign teachers average quite a bit better than the usual run of waegukin you meet in Korea. Look, before I came here, I worked for three different Korean elementary schools in three years. Each of those jobs was wonderful in their own way, and I don’t regret any of them; but the fact that I’ve stayed in my current university job for three years should tell you something. So while I’d still recommend public schools as the way to go for anyone new to Korea, I would have to agree that if you plan to stay in Korea long-term, you are better off looking to transition to a university job eventually. Read more

blue dot
Jul
02
2015
Living 

The 5 best cities to live and teach in Korea

okpo city

When I started this blog, this was one of the first topics I ever thought to write about. It’s an obvious question, and people come here looking for information on this topic. It’s a topic I’ve thought about a lot; in all my travels in South Korea, I’ve always kept a mental list of cities that I wouldn’t mind living in, if I had the chance.

But I’ve never written this post. And the reason is this:

Competition.

If I ever went for a job in one of these places, I didn’t want to be competing with all of you. A good percentage of people interested in teaching in South Korea do visit this blog sooner or later, and I didn’t want to advertise my secret places. Sorry.

What’s changed? Well, at this point in my trajectory I think I’m unlikely to be competing with first-timers who have never been to Korea; I would probably be after different jobs. And anyone in Korea probably has their own list, or at least has the option of traveling to a place and checking it out. So I thought I’d finally tell you all my favorite cities to live in and teach in, in Korea. Read more

blue dot
Jun
13
2015
Teaching 

EPIK Fall 2015 updates

There’s some good news for people who are applying for EPIK’s Fall 2015 intake. After the fairly dire Spring 2015 intake, which was so small that EPIK never announced official numbers for it, it appears EPIK has had something of a rebound. Read more

blue dot
Apr
20
2015
Teaching 

What’s going on with EPIK these days? Changes, cuts, and Korvia

Students harvesting rice

For as long as I’ve been in Korea, the consensus has been that the public school programs are in terminal decline and will soon be axed altogether. This was true when I first came back in 2009, a time now looked on as a Golden Age of teaching in Korea. Today, it’s still what a one year veteran English teacher says to a newbie after two beers at the local foreigner bar.

I’ve learned to be pretty sanguine about it. People keep coming, despite the doomsayers. But the trend has always been towards budget cuts, higher standards, and increased competitiveness, and in the last six months or so there have been more provinces and cities that have experienced budget cuts (Daegu, Chungcheonbuk-do, Incheon). Jeollanam-do (not part of EPIK) has also had a budget crisis. It would be easier at this point to list the provinces and cities that have never had at least one round of severe cuts. Read more

blue dot
Jun
24
2014
Teaching 

How competitive is EPIK? An answer

One of the questions I’m often asked is, “How difficult is it to get in to the EPIK program?” I even wrote a long post about this, doing my best to infer the answer from economic data and Google Insights. My conclusion, broadly, was that it was not as hard to get into EPIK as people often suggested.

But it was impossible to say for sure, because while EPIK regularly reveals how many teachers it places in schools each semester, they’ve been coy about how many applicants they receive.

So I was very surprised when I received the latest edition of the EPIK newsletter, which contained this interesting revelation: Read more

blue dot
Jan
14
2014
Teaching 

The future of teaching English in Korea, part 2: Current and future trends

Students walking away

This is the second and final part of my look at the future of teaching English in Korea. Part 1, looking at how competitive it has become to find a public school job in Korea, is here.

One of the things that started me thinking about these posts was this article on the “Golden Age” of teaching English in Korea. The other inspiration was my own effort to find something a little more permanent for myself in Korea; something beyond the endless series of one-year contracts and one-room apartments offered by the public school system. Read more

blue dot
Dec
09
2013
Teaching 

The future of teaching English in Korea, part 1: How competitive is it to find a public school job?

“Positions in Korean public schools are becoming increasingly competitive.”

This is something you hear a lot; I’ve written it myself on here a few times. Sometimes you will hear even more alarmist things. “GEPIK is finished.” “The recruiters all have waiting lists.” “There are ten applicants for every EPIK position.” “In five years, there won’t be any native teachers at public schools in Korea.”

But what is the truth of all this? Official figures are hard to find, and much of it seems to exist only on the ever-rampant, never-terribly-reliable foreigner community grapevine. Read more

blue dot
Nov
18
2013
Living 

What to do in your first year in Korea

A minority of people who come to teach English in Korea are, I suppose, just economic refugees: unable to get a job at home, and in Korea for the money. But I don’t think this is true for most people. For most people it is a chance to do something different with their lives; to live overseas for a year or more, to experience another culture and hopefully change and develop as a person.

And yet for many people who come to Korea, this idea seems to go awry at some point. At first, they drink and find it all exciting, then they drink and find it all frustrating and hostile and alien, and eventually they go home with not much to show for it but some stories of cheap alcohol, clubbing in Seoul, and Koreans always telling them things at the last minute.

Why is this? I don’t always have the highest opinion of many of my fellow waegukin. Often, the problem is with the people themselves. For some, particularly the less mature ones, this really is what they had in mind by “exploring another culture” – seeing some beaches and temples and getting drunk in them. Meeting people from other countries, and sleeping with them. A sort of post-university gap year. I’m not making a moral judgment, because I was young once, too, and almost everyone goes through a period of acting up when they first get here – more on that later – but the people who come here only seeking that sort of experience can give everyone here a bad name, and leave a lot of damage behind when they go home. So I’m not going to defend them, either. I can understand wanting to have those experiences, but expecting to be paid for them is a bit much. Read more

blue dot
Jun
22
2013
Best-of Living 

On fear, travel, and coming to Korea

I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned it on here, but the main reason I first came to Korea was to force myself to confront fear. Actually, this is not a particularly unusual reason; I’ve met a few people who’ve had similar epiphanies and ended up in Korea because of them.

At the time I had been working from home and living alone for nearly two years. For an introvert this can be an appealing way to arrange your life, but in the long term it’s pretty dangerous to your mental health. For me, I was fine with that for a long while, and then I wasn’t fine anymore, and things fell apart for a bit. When I pulled myself back together, I had as a key understanding that I needed to do something radical with my life; something that would shake me out of my slumber and re-introduce some risk, because I had made things perfectly safe for myself, and that had become a problem.

Shortly after that, I was looking through job advertisements in the hope of finding something different to do, and came across an ad for teaching English in Korea. It was far more “different” than what I had consciously been looking for, and I was immediately gripped by a realization; that the idea was terrifying to me, and that it was also absolutely what I needed to do, and that if I didn’t do it, my realization about what I needed to do with my life was phony, and I was just a coward. Read more