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Kickin’ it in Korea

8 Jun

Kickin’ it in Korea is a picture blog that I’ve recently come across and now visit on a regular basis. Unless you’ve been to Korea and/or taught English abroad, you probably won’t find this remotely funny. But having lived in Korea for almost 9 months now and experienced many of these ‘cultural  quirks’ that the Koreans are famous for, this blog makes me roll about the floor laughing! And having been in similar situations to most of the references in the blog makes it all the more funnier!

Here’s a few of my favourite personal experiences…



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Gies a joab!

13 May

English translation: ‘Give me a job’

Me with the Kindergarten

Since I’ve been in Korea a number of friends from home have asked me how I went about getting a job in South Korea and each time I find myself copying and pasting the same links into an email with the same chat. So I thought if I write a wee blog post, I can direct folk to that instead of getting repetitive strain injury from typing the same speel each time.

Basic requirements
You must have a degree (in any field) and be from one of these 7 recognised native English speaking countries: UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, US, Canada and South Africa. When you arrive in Korea you’ll have a full medical including blood and urine tests and if you have HIV or any trace of illegal drugs in your system you’ll be on the first plane home at your own expense.

TEFL
Although not compulsory to get a teaching job abroad, having NO teaching experience whatsoever, I found my TEFL course really useful as a starters guide to things like lesson planning and class control. I did the 100 hour online and in-class course with TEFL Scotland, and if you’re lucky enough to be Scottish, you can apply for an Individual Learning Account (ILA) to pay for most of it. Win.

South Korea v  Japan
When I was deciding where to go, I narrowed it down to Japan and South Korea, based on standard of living, potential money earned and benefits with the job. You make more money in Japan but the cost of living is super expensive so you come home with about the same at the end of the day. Not that i’m biased, but here’s a good blog post that weighs up the pros and cons of both countries.

Lucky for me, my friend Ellen had already been working in Korea for 6 months, so she pointed me in the right direction. There are a lot of good recruiting companies that can help you get placed, and upon Ellen’s recommendation I registered with  Flying Cows. They were great through the whole process, from my initial application to my arrival in Korea, and I know a fair few people over here that have used them as well with good reviews.

Public v Private
From there, ESL Starter contacted me about applying for EPIK – the public school programme. And this was the initial route I went down.

Benefits of public school: Extensive training/ orientation, less teaching hours, more vacation, job security.
Downsides: 30-40 kids in a class, less money than private, no say in your location.

To cut a long story short I was rejected from that programme about a month before I was due to leave the country, after which ESL Starter dropped me like a hotcake. Cheers. But not one to be put off so easily, I got back in touch with Flying Cows and they arranged telephone interviews with several private schools (hagwons). And within a few weeks I had been offered several jobs and accepted one at a private English academy in Daegu.

Benefits of private schools: generally more money than public, max 12 students per class, choose your city/area, work alongside other foreign teachers.
Downsides: little or no training, only 10 days vacation, more teaching hours, lots of dodgy hagwons out there.

On a field trip to a sweet potato farm with the kindergarten

I just want to point out that private schools are a much bigger gamble than public. A quick search online and you’ll come across an abundance of horror stories about hagwons mistreating foreign teachers. But for every disreputable hagwon out there, there are a dozen decent ones. The best advice I can give you, if you decide to go down the hagwon route, is to speak with the current foreign teacher at the school and ask them any and all the questions you can think of, and if that doesn’t put your mind at rest, then go with your gut and decline the job.

As well as dodgy hagwons, there are several dodgy recruitment agencies too, who don’t give a hoot about your preferences or what school you’re placed in, all they care about is the placement fee. So be wary, use your head. I registered with several agencies to begin with to keep my options open, then I narrowed it down when the interviews and job offers were coming through (this is when you can tell which companies actually listen to you and try their best to match your preferences).

A few other reputable agencies off the top of my head are, AclipseKorvia and Korean Horizons. Although I don’t have any personal experience with them, I know people who have had good experiences with them and they all have excellent information on any given topic about South Korea and teaching abroad.

So, you’ve accepted a teaching position, now your faced with the epic task of gathering all your documents to apply for your working Visa. This is not for the faint hearted.

Documents needed:

  • Degree certificates (notarised and apostilled) – anything from £30-£60 a document
  • Criminal Record Check/ Disclosure Scotland – £20 (notorised and apostilled) – an extra £30-£60
  • School contract – signed copy
  • Health Statement – signed copy
  • 2 x passport photos

(This is only for private schools, you need more documents for public!)

Now for the most important part, the mulla!
You don’t need any savings to teach abroad, except enough to see you through to your first pay check. The school will pay your return flights and also your accommodation for the length of your contract. The only money I spent before hand was on getting the visa documents ready (about £200) and my vaccinations (rabies, Japanese Encephalitis, Hepatitis B, Polio, Diphtheria and Tetanus £300) most of which I didn’t even need! My monthly salary is 2.1 million won (£1,100 approx) and from that I can easily save about 1.4 million won a month. It’s easy to live cheaply in Korea.

It may seem like a laborious process, but it’s worth it in the end. If you are like me and you want to travel but lack the funds, this is the ideal solution! So get your finger out and get practicing your chopstick skills!

How high?

27 Feb

Warning: Serious post

First of all apologies for the seriousness of this post,  but this week I’ve set one of my classes a homework topic about teen suicide, and it got me thinking about the issue that affects so many teens in Korea. Teen suicide rates in South Korea are amongst the highest in the world and it is the leading cause of death in 15-24 years olds in Korea. (www.voicesofyouth.org)

One of my classes where learning is still fun


Academic pressure

South Korean children are under the utmost pressure at all times to achieve academic excellence. This is without doubt the main factor in teen suicide. It’s hard to convey just how much pressure these students are under. They are at school almost 12 hours a day, if not at public school, then they are at one of the various private academies (hagwons) that their parents have saved their whole lives to send them to. Be it English, maths, science, piano or taekwondo – Korean children rarely get any free time to be children.

Just last month, a student at a near-by school, who was also a student of my friend, took his own life by jumping in front of a subway train.The school that I work at isn’t much better in terms of the extreme workload and pressure to ‘be the best’. Thankfully I’ve not known any kid at my school to take such drastic action either recently nor before my time. But the school’s high levels of expectations, being rushed through levels, and allowing the parents to decide what’s best for their children, doesn’t help matters, nor does it ease the pressure put on these kids.

The strive for a flawless appearance
The ul-jjang culture is another leading factor. I’ve never known any country to be as vain and to put as much emphasis on appearance as the South Koreans. These days, the media is to mainly blame for the unrealistic image of what is beautiful in many societies, Korea has taken it one step further and fully judges a person based on appearance. It is obsessed. The strive for a flawless appearance is constant. It’s common for many teenagers to  get cosmetic surgery as a reward for doing well at school. And if you’re not a size 6 then you can forget about it. It doesn’t help that women are second class citizens here and men have unrealistic expectations of how a woman should look and behave, but that’s another issue.

What needs to change
I’ve read that the government has taken some steps to try to reduce the suicide rate, even if it was only a half-assed attempt. But it’s the parents and the teachers who need to completely change their mindsets and instil a set of values and self-worth in these children and teach them to love themselves regardless of their academic ability and appearance, and that it’s ok to fail. Then hopefully one day soon, a South Korean child’s happiness will reside over academic success.

Sh*t English Teachers say in Korea…

31 Jan

I saw these tongue in cheek videos posted on a Facebook Group for ‘English Teachers in South Korea’. They sum up some of the scenarios I’ve found myself in since I’ve been in Korea, namely ‘yes I do have grey hair’, ‘do you have any western sizes?’ and ‘I love soju!’
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And in this one: ‘let’s do taekwondo!’, ‘this stupid washing machine ate my clothes’, ‘do you understand ANYTHING I’m saying?’ and ‘I gotta go Skype’.
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Harder, better, faster, stronger

29 Jan

One of the downsides of teaching at a private school instead of a public school is not having any lengthy vacation time. In total I get 10 vacation days – 8 of which are determined for me and 2 that I can take when I want. I must admit I’m finding this hard to accept especially when compared to my holiday entitlement I had in the UK. And even more so when my friends who teach at public schools here boast about their 6 week-long winter vacations where they are jet setting off to the likes of Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, Cambodia…

However, these lucky people at the public schools aren’t let off that easily. Before they are set free to travel the rest of Asia, they have to endure 2 weeks of camp both in Winter and usually another 4 weeks in Summer. These camps are basically additional study time for the kids during their vacation – as if they don’t work hard enough! But some camps aren’t as strict and I’ve known some teachers to get creative with the kids. A friend recently pointed to one such example on YouTube of a class doing their own version of Daft Punks ‘Harder Better Faster Stronger’ – I don’t know about you, but I was impressed!