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 About Korea

 Work and Live

 ESL Teaching

 

 

 

 

 


The First Month
  The first month can seem to be the hardest and loneliest time in one's life. In a strange country where you don't speak the language, can't do simple things like read a newspaper, order pizza over the phone or simply ask someone on the street for directions. One of the first things that hit most foreigners, being an avid reader, was that they are illiterate here and couldn't even read a store sign. There are many things you have to cope with your first month. Relax, have a cup of green tea and muddle through it. You've just started on a great adventure. Enjoy it.

Get Your Motor Running
 The one thing we would recommend is to buy yourself a scooter or motorcycle. There are thousands here and they are a great, fast, cheap way to explore your city. You can get one for about 500,000 won or $650 Canadian. They are cheap to run.
 So, if you really want to explore, get one and be   adventurers. Korea is a very safe place and you shouldn't experience any trouble, unless it's scooter wise. Always carry a cell phone with your manager/owner's number or a close Korean friend. They can help you if you get into difficulty.
One of the problems when owning a scooter is that they get stolen...a lot!  They seem to be very easy to hotwire and 2 healthy men can easily put one in the back of a truck. So, always make sure that you lock it (usually the dealer will give you a lock as part of the sale) to something solid and try to park it on the sidewalk in a busy area (lots of street traffic). This will cut down, but not eliminate the chances of theft.
Also, always remember to wear your helmet. The police will stop and fine you for not wearing one.
You don't need a license for any scooter that is 80cc in power, but anything bigger and you'll need one. For city travel, a standard scooter has more than enough power to get you where ever you want to go, but if you want to explore the countryside you might want to go with something bigger.
Remember to drive defensively. Korean drivers aren't going to show you any deference while you're on your bike and tend to ignore them.
You'll often see people riding their bikes in the rain., but you really have to be careful. Those people have been doing it a long time

Getting Adjusted                         
 In many ways, Korean culture is similar to that of western culture. It is still different enough that it can be a real shock to the system for the first little while. Here are some of the things I've experienced since coming here.
Koreans are some of the friendliest, kindest, helpful people on the planet. Sometimes, they are too friendly. Don't be shocked when on first walk around the neighborhood you are stopped to chat by an unfamiliar Korean. No, they aren't looking for money. They are for some reason fascinated by us and also want to practice their English.  Usually, though, they are just curious and ask the standard questions. Where are you from? How long have you been in Korea? Can you speak Korean?" Things like that.
Koreans are extremely curious about foreigners. They will stare at you when you walk down the street. Kids will giggle and point, yell hello and then try to hide. To them it's not rude. So, be prepared. It's a little unnerving at first, but you get used to it. you find that the Koreans in your neighborhood got used to you and later hardly pay any attention to you.
We suggest that, your first weekend, you walk around the neighborhood and check it out. Find the friendliest convenience store people, pick a nice little restaurant and have lunch, and just let the area sink in. Convenience stores are the same everywhere, though korean stores tend to be hole in the walls with a little bit of everything for sale.  just pick what you want, hold out 10,000 won and let them make change. Most store keepers are honest as there is a lot of competition and they don't want to get a bad reputation. Most restaurants are easy, too. Many have menu pictures on the wall. Just point and eat. There are also thousand of take out and delivery restaurants here and it's a good idea to find one that you like and set up something so they know where you live and can bring you food for those nights your too tired to cook. Many are more than happy for the business, as again a lot of competition, and are very cooperative.
 We highly recommend befriending your Korean staff members. They can be extremely helpful. While you find it easy to get along without much help,  They are especially helpful with setting up the above restaurant idea, getting cell phones, opening bank accounts, etc. Fluent English speaking is still a rarity here and most forms and menus are in Korean only(although most good restaurants have both). So, unless your going to take a crass Korean language course before you come, ask a Korean friend along. They are usually more than willing to oblige.
The best thing about Korea is the bars. The staff are unusually friendly. Korean beer is very similar to Canadian beer,  The prices are fairly reasonable, too. The friendlier staff will even play English music for you

There are a lot of stuff you have to deal with in your first month. Take your time and don't let anyone rush you. It's good to make a list of things you need to do and do them. Don't give your self added stress by trying to do everything at once. This includes teaching. Allow yourself to get adjusted to your new environment, in and out of the school. If things get hectic, then just stop. Have a cup of green tea (or whatever) and remember that you're here for the year. You'll adjust and hopefully have a great time.

Going Native vs. Isolationists
There are two schools of thought on adapting or living in Korea. One is to dive right in and live like a native Korean. The other is to surround yourself with things and people of a Western nature and to ignore the fact that you're in Korea as much as possible.
Both of these work to a varying degree. If you are not the adaptable type than you might want to seek out things that are familiar. There are many westerners here and they tend to congregate together to cope with feelings of isolation. You'll find that they have favorite bars which they take over after a hard weekend of teaching, they'll plan on events that include a bunch of them (trips, movies, card games). The only time they associate with Koreans is during work and sometimes afterward if the Korean is westernized enough.
 Other foreigners try to learn the culture and fit into the new society they are living in. They tend to avoid Isolationists who frankly spend too much time complaining about the country and all things Korean. They learn the language, often date and marry Korean women, and generally live the same as their native neighbors.
 Which is the better route to adapting to living and working here? Well, it really depends on you. some enjoy a lot of Korean food, but often find themselves eating Western style or at one of the Korean Fusion Restaurants where you can get Western food with a Korean twist. We think it is important to understand the culture you're living in when you are visiting a new country. You have to at least respect the culture, if you don't practice it as a sign of respect for the people, but again that's my opinion.
You know yourself (hopefully), and the best way to deal with the beginning of your contract year is to find things that make you comfortable and stress free. It might be a simple thing like finding a nice park to relax in during your breaks, finding a good bar with a friendly staff, or just making good friends that will make you feel less isolated. Whatever works, find it, or else it's going to be a long, lonely, stressful year and you might not make it through. Many foreigners who don't.

Getting Around                         
Hopefully, you're school is within walking distance of your apartment. If not, ask the school for a taxi note or which bus/subway you should take. Get them to write you a note (for taxies) that get's you to the school and back home. In fact, depending on where you're living you might want a lot of taxi notes. Taxies are relatively cheap here and are faster than the bus. Also, you get to see the city.  
Get a taxi note for any place that you like to visit within the city. Your favorite restaurant, your favorite bar, whatever. Usually your Korean staff will be pretty helpful in this area and its also good to memorize your notes and be able to tell the driver where you want to go. You can try to tip them, but tipping isn't customary here and many won't take it, though, I've found in the bigger cities that they are becoming more progressive and will accept them.

The Basics of Life
 Everybody has certain things they need to survive. Food and water being the primary ones, but of course there are other wants in our life that we consider needs and seek them to keep ourselves happy and comfortable in our environment. This is probably even more important here than back home as many foreigners feel a lot of stress and isolation at first (If these feelings don't go away, then maybe you need to rethink your career choice.).
Probably the first thing you need to do once you're settled is to find a good department store where you can buy things you need. You could have a walk around and see what's nearby or ask someone at your school where the best place to shop is. Every city also has a downtown shopping district that also tends to be the center for entertainment, so its a good thing to know how to get there. These mecas of fashion and entertainment generally have western style restaurants, movie theaters, and other amenities that we take for granted back home.
Make sure when you're food shopping to avoid the small butcher shops. Korean health codes are high, but they don't have the manpower to check every shop on a regular basis. Buy your meat and anything that is perishable at a big grocery store where they have good refrigeration and don't keep the product in the cooler till it sells.
On a similar note, be careful when you decide to try food at a street vendor.  hygiene is not much of a consideration with these vendors and again you don't know how long the meat has been sitting out. Of course, most of these vendors fry things and the seering hot oil may kill all the bacteria, but do you really want a case of the trots to be the result of your first dining experience in Korea.
Buy bottled water or boil it at home as well. There are bugs here that you just don't want to catch.
 Some of the bigger Western style grocery stores also have a foreign food section and you might find things there that you enjoy. Remember, you're going to pay more for this stuff, so you might want to see if they have a Korean brand that might be much cheaper.

Crime
 Korea is one of the safer Asian countries, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't still be careful. Korea has one of the highest traffic accident rates in the world, so watch out for drivers and don't assume because the light is red that it's safe to cross the street.
If your a Woman, be careful at night especially when taking a taxi alone. There have been incidents where women (Korean and foreign) have been attacked by cab drivers. Use licensed cabs and be wary of anyone offering to give you a free ride.
Basically, use the same common sense you would at home and you should be fine.
Don't let your Korean experience be tarnished by breaking the law. Korean prisons are not the paradise they are back home. Drug use is especially looked down upon and you might find yourself with a long prison stay.

Foreign Districts
Some cities have what they call foreigner districts where there are products and services that are similar as those in the West. The degree of similarity can be small. For example, Busan has a foreigner district but it's actually more of a Russian district and  more for sailors when they are on leave
You're better off finding the nearest US military base. There is usually always a shopping area that caters to them, although again you might balk at the prices they want for these goods and services, but if you're really in need of that box of KD then suck it up and shell out the cash.
Pyong Tek is proudly the most famous of these shopping areas, but maybe not in a good way, though the area has been cleaned up and is much more family friendly these days. You can find a lot of food stuffs that we're used to back home as well as clothing shops that cater to larger sizes. There are also some good restaurants that reflex various cultures (thai, chinese, etc). and the place is always swarming with foreigners (though they tend to be military types who sneer at us civilians).

The Right Stuff
  A lot of teachers come to Korea and adjust fine to living her and at least finishing their one year contract. Some don't. Some don't even make it through the first month. It is really that hard to adjust to living in Korea? We don't think so, but it ain't home that's for sure. Have a look and figure out for yourself if you have the right attitude.

It's Only a Year, Right?

Not everyone is suited to teach or live in Korea.  So, before you come to Korea you have to ask yourself Am I the type of person who can teach there?? Here뭩 a list of traits that I believe a person needs to work as an ESL teacher in Korea.

1. You have to have an open mind. Korea is a big adjustment for many people, mainly because they judge Koreans by western standards.  You have to realize, that here, you must behave as a Korean and not the other way around.  Koreans have westernized in many ways, but their culture is still strong and must be respected if you wish to live harmoniously with them.

2. You have to adjust your personal space. Koreans, especially children, don't have the same social boundaries that we have and don't understand the concept. You will be stared at when you walk down the street.  Younger Koreans will shout greetings to you to show off to their friends.  Often, they will then run away laughing.  Don't be offended.  We are still a novelty to them, so we must be tolerant. Korean friendliness is sometimes overwhelming.

3. Speaking of personal space, Don't be surprised when your younger students poke and prod you, ask you a million questions, some even your own wife wouldn't ask you.  Koreans still view us as a novelty and often treat us as a science experiment rather then as human beings. So leave your personal space at home because it won't be respected here.

4. Even in small cities, you will find restaurants that cater to western appetites.  But where the fun in that. One of the best parts of Korea is its food and if you like spicy food you won't be disappointed. So if you have a taste for the exotic, Korea is a great place to experiment. you can easily accomodate your western tastes here.

5. They say that patient is a virtue. Well, We hope you are very virtuous as you will need a lot of patience both inside and outside of class.  While there are many things you can do without speaking Korean, you miss a lot if you don't have at least the basics.  The foreigners? best friend is a pocket Korean-English dictionary or phrase book.  We would recommend however to learn some Korean as it will make your stay here that much more enjoyable.

6. A good sense of humor will keep you sane especially through your first few transitional months.  Take everything with a grain of salt and you'll find that Korea can be a wonderful place, with wonderful people, good food, interesting places to visit, great shopping and on the whole can be an experience that you will never forget.

7. Excuse me, is not a phrase used much here.  You'll find that shopping and public events are overwhelming at times. Picture your favorite mall during the Christmas rush and that seems to be the rule for everyday shopping in Korea.

8. Driving, too, can be a real adventure here. Koreans are very aggressive drivers, to put it nicely, so if your not We suggest leaving the driving to other braver individuals. Luckily, most cities have excellent public transportation and you can easily get around.

Get your motor running
  Traffic is a real problem here in Korea. Koreans love their cars and the roads are often clogged all day with people coming and going. So, many people solve this problem by using motorcycles and scooters. There are millions of them here, all shapes and sizes. Though, you have to be careful, Koreans aren't very strict regarding licensing and it shows, owning a vehicle here gives you a lot of freedom and the chance to explore this beautiful country on a whole new level. This page may come as too negative for some, but some foreigners really feel that Korea has a major problem on its roadways and there has to be stricter management of licensing and vehicle ownership. Korea has more accidents and deaths from vehicles than any other country in the world. Korea has such potential to become a leader in the 21st century, but problems like this hold it back.

 Getting a Korean Drivers License
 If you're a Canadian, getting a Korean license is easy. As long as you have a valid Canadian license, you just have to go to the Korean Driving Department and show them the ID, fill out the form and get a medical exam on site. The medical is easy and takes about 5 minutes. They might want to confiscate your canadian
license, but you can usually convince them otherwise.
By the way, you don't need a license for any bike under 100cc. Scary, when you see how fast small bikes here can zoom down the road, but true

Parking
 Parking can also be a nightmare here. There are way too many cars compared to legal parking places and parking lots here. Businesses don't have to have any parking spaces for customers, especially the small ones. If you are going to a large department store they usually have a parking garage(some are free, some are not), but some are huge so, remember where you parked or you may never find your car again.
Be wary of parking on the street, unless you can afford the $50 illegal parking fine. Sometimes you can get away it, especially on side roads. This can make it a problem since with cars parking(illegally) on both sides of the street you it usually turns into a one way and Murphy's Law means there will be someone coming the other way.

Scooters and Motorcycles
 A couple of brief notes on bikes. First, scooters tend to get stolen if you don't properly secure them when you leave them, even at your apartment. Sometimes, they disappear even if you do lock them up. So, be warned. Double, triple lock it, buy a big dog and leash it to the thing.
The second thing  that although helmets may seem optional from watching Koreans drive their bikes, they are mandatory

Buying a Vehicle in Korea                               
A lot of foreigners who come to Korea are only here for the short term(1 or 2 Years) and aren't really interested in making the investment or going through the hassle of getting a car. If they're living in a big city, like Seoul, then a car isn't that useful since most of the big cities have excellent public transportation. If you live in a smaller city or town or if you want to bum around different places on the weekend, you can find used cars available her for under two thousand dollars. Korean cars are remarkable reliable, even when they hit the usual retirement age of ten years. Compared to what you're earning buying a car in Korea can be an affordable enhancement to your experience here. Short timers will find used motorcycle or scooter shops everywhere and if you like to haggle can get a reliable bike easily for under $500. Again, you'll be amazed at the quality you get for that price. If you're thinking about a bike, and you like a little power, go Japanese. Daewoo makes great bikes and are really peppy even when a big oaf like me is touring around on one. You have to register cars, just like in Canada, and any bike 100cc and over. If a bike is under 100cc, the owner of the shop will do it for you. You'll also need insurance for cars and big bikes, but it's pretty for the amount of accidents in Korea every year.

Driving in Korea
Driving in Korea can be nerve wracking at first, and then only scary once you get to it. It's almost like Koreans have Dr. Jeckel and Mr. Hyde complexes when they step behind of the wheel. Their doesn't seem to be any driver's etiquette over here and traffic laws are more like suggestions or dares to break.
Always Drive Defensively in Korea.
Don't assume that any of the rules apply over here, they do, but a lot of Koreans drive as though they own the road. Do to their work lifestyle, they seem to always be in a hurry, especially taxis, and will do anything in their power to get anywhere ASAP. This is especially true when you're riding a scooter and driver's aren't going to be looking out for your safety while you are putting or zooming around. You really do need eyes in the back of you head and on both sides when you drive here. Koreans view insurance as the lottery and any accident is the big win, unless they are to blame and then you'll have to deal with Korean insurance companies, which is like going to the dentist for a root canal and he's out of nitrisoxide.
Pedestrians beware as well, just cause the little man is green, do like our mamas taught us and look both ways. Chances are that someone is running the red, cause they gotta pick junior up from Tae Kwon Do practice.
Traffic can also be a problem, so give yourself lots of time to get places especially if you are travelling to another city during a Korean holiday. Traffic jams are frequent then and it only takes one accident to slow or stall traffic for long periods and kilometers and kilometers and kilometers and...