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Question from a reader: Coming to Korea as a teacher?

Author’s note: everything old is new again, especially when blogging about the same things and places for several years. This seemed a good time to publish a question that’s commonly asked, upon realizing how long it’s been since I’ve seen a blogger in Korea approach the topic.

Do you have a question about Korea? Do a quick search on the blog, then send me an e-mail at chrisinsouthkorea AT gmail DOT com and your question might be answered here!

A reader writes in:

My name is [H.]. I discovered your blog today & am in love with it. I’ve been thinking about teaching in Korea for a a bit & I was wondering if there is a section of your blog that has information on how to become a teacher in Korea; like what’ll ill need to qualify & the steps in going about it. I want to ask all these questions but if you already have a blog entry about it, I didn’t want to waste your time. So if you can direct me to it, I’d greatly appreciate it.

[H.L.]

Image credit: Wikipedia

I start with the following caveats:

  • Despite the appearances of being a well-paying stable job, teaching jobs are anything but. A one-year contract is standard, with no guarantees or promises of renewal. Public school positions are being cut, while there’s no guarantee the programs will ever reach their previous level.
  • Did you take the ‘Should you teach English in Korea’ test? While far from official, it’s a good clue on whether you’re ready for the job.
  • The current regulations state that only native English speakers from the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Ireland, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand can become English teachers on E-2 visas. It’s worth noting, however, that Filipinos married to Koreans on an F-2 (residential) visa can legally work as English teachers, despite the locals’ misconceptions and prejudices.
  • You’ll need an undergraduate degree and a clean background check of a national nature. Note that traffic tickets or infractions of a parking nature are no problem, as far as Korea is concerned. While minor infractions (e.g. petty theft) used to be overlooked, it was quite rare to hear of any major infractions (e.g. driving while intoxicated) being waived. Anecdotally speaking, I’ve yet to hear of or meet anyone that’s come in within the past couple of years with any sort of criminal blemish on their record.
  • Being young and reasonably attractive definitely helps your chances. Discrimination is common – a significant percentage of ads for teachers openly state their preferences for, say, an American woman, a ‘kind’ and ‘gentle’ person, or a taller guy. The younger you are (or can make yourself sound), the better. As one recruiting website states, “We do our best to accommodate as many candidates as possible in this sector but as recruiters we’re limited to the hiring practices and demands of the schools.” One craigslist ad wraps up the open discrimination succinctly: “That’s what students want.” Get used to thinking of eight-year-olds not as your students, but as your bosses.
  • It seems inappropriate at best, but a photo is a mandatory part of your application – while you’ll never hear it from the horse’s mouth, one reason your application might never get a call back is because your teeth are yellow or your hair looks unkempt. If pictures are worth a thousand words, that single wallet-sized photo included or attached in the e-mail says more about you than the rest of your application. This might be the time to get a professional headshot.

If you’ve made it this far, I’ll assume you’ve realized that this job search is less straightforward and more complex than originally thought. If you’re ready to continue, by all means get started!

What to do

First, get your paperwork in order. This includes a copy of your college diploma, a criminal background check at the national level (if you’re an American this can take three months), and a few other pieces of required paperwork. A recruiter’s website will have the complete list as it stands currently, but don’t count on it being completely accurate. Regulations change, and inconsistent answers are abound.

Second, learn about the country. A lot of jobs are available across the country, but it seems a lot of them are in the suburbs of Seoul. That’s actually kind of a good thing – it’s a nice compromise between big city life and being comfortable and where you live. If you’re not picky about where you live, then definitely consider some of the other cities for areas around the country. How to choose? This 10 question quiz will tell you.

Third, learn how to teach and learn what to expect. This post by a fellow bloggeris apt, and a TEFL/TESOL certificate of some kind is required or highly recommended for the public school jobs. The hagwons don’t require one, but these days they’re easier than ever to get in a short and relatively cheap manner.

It is also possible to get your certification through an online university. This is probably the easiest way to earn your certificate, since you can complete coursework on your own time and finish as quickly as you wish. If you are hard-pressed for time and want to complete your training immediately, online certification is highly recommended. Keep in mind that you will receive the exact same level of training that you would if you were in a classroom.

Fourth, get ready to say goodbye. You may think you’re only going away for a year, but you’d be amazed how many people come to Korea for a year, then go for a second, a third, fourth, etc. The visa process is hardest the first time around, and seems easier each time. Many people go back home for good, while some go home for a few months only to return to Korea. Quite a few people come to Korea and, once they’ve experienced life here, they never want to leave.

Fifth, choose to live. What I mean by this is to think about coming to Korea as a serious life change – like getting married or having a child. It is what you make it to be. If all you choose to do is sit around and complain about your job, or drink your nights and weekends away, you will see the results from that. Choose to be productive with your time in Korea, whether that means being the very best teacher, or building your talents for something even greater. It’s too easy to coast along when you’re in your home country, surrounded by people you know and things that make you comfortable, but coming to a foreign country– any foreign country – forces you to rethink some of those assumptions.

Conclusion

In short, life in Korea is what you make of it. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by wonderfully talented people making the best of their opportunities, and creating new ones in the process. Who you hang out and associate with is and always has been your choice. One can delve whole-heartedly into the English-teaching community and KOTESOL, or find a good use for your interests and energy via volunteer organizations. Still others will sing, act, dance, write, photograph, play in a band, tell jokes, appear on radio, appear on TV, network, start businesses, and many other ventures.

Choose it and do it.

Question from a reader: TEFL certificates and teaching in Korea

A READER writes in:

A few weeks ago I begun doing research into the possibility of teaching overseas. I think this is something I could turn into for the next 4-5 years of my life (I’m a recent college grad and having a hard time settling down). I do not have my TEFL certificate, so I was thinking I’d work for a company that doesn’t require it at first and then work towards getting the certificate.

I was curious if you have any suggestions or information to pass om to someone in my shoes. Recommendations for where (country/city) to teach, any companies that are legit and you recommend, what it’s like to be a English teacher/world traveler in my mid-20’s. Anything that your willing to advise, I’d love to hear.

[N.B.]

Credit: hpeguk on Flickr

N.B.,

I don’t have a TEFL certificate either, and at this point any employer that disregards 4 1/2 years of experience in favor of a piece of paper is probably not a place I’d want to work for anyway… In your case, however, I’d highly encourage getting one before leaving your home country – they’re relatively cheap and are almost always a plus in your favor. Unless you’re going for one of the longer programs, I think you can generally get them inside a month or so.

As for suggestions on where to teach, I wrote a couple quizzes on those very subjects: “Where in Korea should you teach English?”  – and “Should you teach English in Korea?”. I’d also recommend tefl-tips.com – a great insight in ESL teaching across the world.

I’d definitely come to Korea again, with all its flaws and shortcomings. There’s plenty to see and do, while the teaching life can be frustrating at times. Plans change, parents complain about a perceived slight they ‘re hearing about through a child’s perception, and co-teachers vary greatly in competence. If the comparison between profession and sport could be made, teaching ESL in Korea is like surfing. It takes time and preparation to get started, and you’ll find yourself going with the flow, trying to stay in the pipeline (the place of calmness, if you like) and away from the crash of water.

With that said, virtually every expat I’ve met in Korea originally intended to just come for a year. It’s because they had a good time (or couldn’t stomach going back home) that many folks stayed – some for a decade or longer. Instead of committing to any long-term plans, keep them open to change as you go.

You’ll know it’s a good place when:

  • You feel comfortable buying furniture, without worrying about how you’re going to move it.
  • You’ve found an apartment / job / lifestyle that feels like it fits well.
  • You’re associated with something in the local artistic scene, whether you’re a creator or an admirer.
  • You find yourself not observing holidays from back home that don’t seem as relevant anymore (July 4th passed like any other day, for example)
There’s also no law that says you have to go from one job to the next straightaway. More than a few people I’ve met finish a one-year contract, pack up and go home for a couple months, then take another job they find on the internet. There might be a couple logistical things to sort out (where *do* you store a sofa for a month?), but you’ll have that whenever it’s time to move or change jobs…Truth be told, there’s only so much research you can do. It’s been almost 2 1/2 years since I wrote this post about “discernment from afar“, and much of that advice is still true today. If it’s not a good fit, you move on as gracefully as possible and avoid burning bridges.
Readers, have you found your TEFL certificate to be useful? Or is it just a piece of paper schools want to see?
I guess my biggest concern is the legitimacy of some of these programs. I mean going to the other side of the world is a scary situation and I’d hate for something to happen once I get there. I’d truly like to know I have a legitimate school I’m working with, and honestly I think that’d make the rest of the process much more enjoyable. 
What do you mean a legitimate program? On one hand, most hagwon (private school) are as for-profit as an American bank. That means inflating a student’s grades, passing a kid that isn’t ready for the next level anyway. A public school program has at least as much bureaucracy as any other government program. You as a teacher in this system aren’t likely to make a huge change.
Your average jobs can be found on any of the job boards (notably, waygook.orgeslcafe.com, the craigslist in Korea), among many other places. There’s a lot of cross-posting, and a lot of jobs are pitched by the same recruiters. Once your resume is in their system, they may not proactively contact you again unless there’s a match.

Is there a lot/any Americans or American influence throughout the country? I think that part of this adventure is cultural immersion into something new, but I like to know what to think before I get there. Also, are you teaching at a school with some other Americans? Im wondering what (if any) support is in place through the companies that bring in teachers. 
Seoul has the most American feel to it, thanks in part to the large number of Americans that have lived there over the past 100 years or so. The support system, however, is a mixed bag. On one level, you’re in a new country, and as such the transition is something most schools or co-teachers will assist with. After you’ve been in the country for while, you’ll realize you need less and less help.
The concept of cultural immersion – if you’re looking for that, consider coming as a tourist or a volunteer. Unless you make a concerted effort to learn the language or the culture, you’ll find yourself drawn to the foreigner-friendly bars. That goes triple if you’re in Seoul. Your better bet would be to find a smaller city or something that isn’t bending over backwards to be like the West.
2012 has been a difficult time for me. I separated from a long term relationship, which was followed by a serious of deaths (unfortunately a handful) in my family. It took me by storm and truly made me reevaluate where I am in life. Yeah, the economy sucks and it’s hard finding a job, but I think I’m too eager to see the world, with nothing holding me back. I really think teaching could afford me that opportunity. Ideally, I would want to wok in one country per year for the next 5 years or so of my life. However I can see how easy it would be to just acclimate to life in another country, as you said. 
I’m sorry to hear of your losses. I actually had been dating a girl for almost two years before coming to Korea. Over time, it hurt less; when I heard through Facebook she had had a kid and gotten married, I was happy for her. It sucks far worse when you’re here, however, and are unable to go home (or are unwilling to pay for the plane ticket). That’s happened to some good friends, and merely drinking with them at the bar isn’t nearly enough to console them.
For a shining example of what can be, I’ll refer you to http://valerieandgriffin.com/. They were cubicle dwellers in the US, who came to Korea for awhile, and are now traveling the world on money saved and money earned. I’d imagine they’re making a little more from their blog and donations, but that’s pure speculation. That ‘on the go’ nature means it’s a bit more difficult to feel settled – I wrote a guest post about that for Nomadic Chick – http://www.nomadicchick.com/nomadic-or-static-whats-better/. Moving to a new country every year means a few months of settling and a learning curve, along with a few months of planning out your next trip. It’s doable, very much so – but tell me you want to do that after a year in Korea and I’ll buy you a beer at your going-away party.
What type of monthly salary is typical? Should housing be included? Vacation (how much traveling throughout a country will I be able to do?)? Health care? Airfare?
These variables are usually the most commonly listed. Housing should be included when you first arrive – merely giving you a stipend does nothing to actually find you an apartment. If you’re the adventurous sort without a lot of stuff, and are willing to muddle through the process (or are willing to move into a foreigner enclave like Haebangchon), you’ll make it fine. The key money (large deposit) may be an issue – most folks would have a hard time putting $3,000-$5,000 down on a place in a new country. 

Note that if you’re in a school-provided apartment, you’re generally close to the school. A few caveats: they’re usually small, and not necessarily in the best of shape. Be sure to work with the school with any issues.

Vacation: one to two weeks, which tend to be dictated by the off days of the program. In public schools, there are a number of holidays, testing days, field trip days, and other days you’ll show up to work but not actually teach classes. Personally, the vast majority of my trips take place on the Friday-night-to-late-Sunday-night, stretching every second of weekend out of it. Remember that Korea is about the size of Indiana, and has an extensive train and bus system – you can get virtually anywhere on the mainland and back home as a day trip.

Health care: should be standard. I say should be because Korea has a single-payer system. Your school should be taking out a percentage of your salary (about 2.5%, if memory serves) for that exact purpose, and sending it on to the National Health Service. Both you and your school contribute an equal share.

Airfare: again, it varies. They may reimburse you (which looks to be more common these days), or they may give you a set amount with which to make your own arrangements. I’ve noticed there’s more strings being attached to this fairly large sum of money – in some cases, school’s won’t reimburse you for your flight until you’ve been there for 3 (or even 6) months. They’re trying to make sure they get their money’s worth out of you. If you’re already in Korea, they’re likely to reimburse you for the visa run to Japan in one of the aforementioned ways.

Question from a reader: online shopping in Korea?

A reader writes in:
Hello Chris,
Let me first thank you for the wealth of information you have in this blog; I have several of your pages saved in my favorite places for reference.  I’m currently in the process of working with a few recruiters to land me a teaching job somewhere out there and reading your blog has been very helpful.
I have a question regarding online shopping in South Korea.  Here in the U.S., I do a lot of my shopping online.  Clothes, electronics, exercise supplements, etc.  I guess I mostly shop on Amazon.com, but there are a few other sites as well.  What I want to know is how easy is it to shop online in South Korea?  Is their online market place as robust as ours?  I know I could always just use the same websites I use here, but the shipping costs would probably be through the roof.
Probably seems like an odd question, considering all the other things that should be on my mind, but I haven’t really this topic mentioned anywhere else I’ve looked.
Thanks for your help,
[K.F.]
To be perfectly honest, online shopping in Korea as a foreigner is a pain. While one of my older posts talks about the hassles of registering on social-couponing sites, I haven’t spent much time attempting to shop on Korean websites. There’s the language barrier, uncertainties on payment and shipping, and no guarantees if there’s a wrong size or color. Living in Seoul allows for plenty of shopping options; Busan and other larger cities all have plenty of malls and department stores a bus ride away.
If you’re looking to give it a shot, start with these sites:
Online shopping in Korea:
http://english.gmarket.co.kr/  – perhaps the most popular and easiest place to get started. Owned by eBay, Gmarket has plenty of apparel, beauty stuff, sports stuff, and a little bit of everything else. Just like eBay, it’s merely the trading platform to facilitate commerce from buyers and sellers.
http://www.ezshopkorea.com/ – an expat-friendly combination of Costco products and things waygooks miss from home. Before you suffer sticker shock, remember that many of these products are only sold in a few places offline around Korea, so you’re paying more for convenience than anything else.
http://www.adventureteaching.com/addons.html – although it’s aimed at providing some things from home before you even leave Korea, there’s a way to order things if you’re already here. Things like sheets, transformers, and big towels are available in some Korean department stores.
http://ticket.interpark.com/Global/index.asp – get your tickets for shows, performances, and so on. It’s easy enough to navigate, but payment can be a little tricky.
http://www.whatthebook.com/ – the brick-and-mortar is located in Seoul’s Itaewon area, but the same bookstore shops nationwide and can order any book you like.
I can’t comment on the social-couponing sites based on personal use, so consider these a simple listing of what’s active (and note they’re mostly to entirely in Korean):
Still works in Korea:
http://www.ebay.com/ – still a favorite amongst expats from around the world. While shipping will be higher than to your home country, you may find it’s still a cheaper price even with the higher shipping. There’s always the classic ‘ship-it-to-your-parents-and-have-them-ship-it-to-you’ plan.
http://www.amazon.com/ – great for books, e-books, and everything else Amazon is known for.
iTunes – keep your account and banking information in your home country, and shop for music, apps, etc. in much the same way.
Craigslist – the Seoul craigslist has plenty of expats and gyopos (Koreans who have lived abroad for some to all of their life) unloading furniture, cameras, electronics, and offering ‘EVERYTHING MUST GO’ sort of sales.
Honorable mentions: 
http://www.kshoppers.com – essentially an intermediary between you and Korean shops, primarily dealing in clothing. They ship worldwide, although you’ll pay more and wait a few weeks to receive your selections.
http://collectkorea.com/ – another service to help you with your Korean shopping needs.
The good news – the real-name verification system is on its way out. Whether the sites have made much progress in making registration easier for foreigners is still very much in the air, however. Just like the recent FTA between Korea and the US, just because the laws change doesn’t necessarily mean things have gotten better / faster / easier.
Readers, do you have a question about life in Korea? Do you have a burning question about travel or life in Korea? Do a search first to see if your question has been answered, then send me an e-mail – chrisinsouthkorea AT gmail DOT com.

Question from a reader: Controlling diabetes in Korea?

A READER writes in:

Hi Chris,

I was very fortunate to stumble across your blog after some searching on the internet. For the past year, I have been saving up for an international exchange to Korea. I’m happy to say that I was accepted at Korea University in Seoul, and will be arriving at the end of next month.

Something I’ve been worried about pertains to food and exercise in Korea. As a Type 1 Diabetic, I stick to a very healthy diet – I eat an abundance of whole grains like quinoa, fruits, vegetables and breads without wheat in them. I also stay away from milk (I stick to Soy), sticking instead to clean dairy sources such as eggs and yogurt. To keep my blood sugars intact, I also make it a point to go to the gym almost every day – my readings have been stellar as a result.

With all this in mind, do you think that I’ll be able to find these food sources in Korea (i.e. quinoa, etc.)? Are test strips and insulin available at local drug stores? Moreover, do Koreans have the same standard for physical fitness as Westerners? By this I mean a variety of weight ranges and equipment at fitness centers, various supplements such as whey powder, etc. I know Korea University has a ‘Tiger Dome’ complex, but I haven’t been able to find any information about the fitness area…

Thanks for any help you can provide,

D.R.

Photo credit: Jill A. Brown (CC)

D.R.,

If you had asked me this question a couple months ago, I would have had no idea. My girlfriend, however, has done a great job controlling her own Type 1 diabetes while living in Korea. She writes:

Test strips and lancets are available at many pharmacies (usually the bigger ones), but really the proper store to go to for them is a 의료기 ([ui-ryo-gi], medical supply store).  They may or may not have the same brand as your reader uses – I had to buy a new machine here.  Machines are expensive (100,000 won or something [about $90 USD]?) while test strips are comparatively cheaper than in the West.  Big hospitals and university hospitals are more likely to be helpful with such things and may even have insulin in their own attached pharmacies.
Another note about Type 1 [diabetes]: there are many different kinds of insulin.  As far as I’ve seen, all of them are available in Korea, including the pen cartridges that I use and the newer brands like Lantus. 
Type 2’s, however, don’t take insulin (at least not at first) so they can’t just eat a lot and then add more insulin to compensate – they really have to be careful about making sure they get the exact right amount of food.  This presents some obvious difficulties in Korea. 
As for doctors, I’ve found Korean doctors in general are not very knowledgeable about diabetes, but he ought to be able to find a decent diabetic clinic.  Again, try a university hospital or one with an international clinic.  

~~

I’ll note that she’s had no problem having insulin shipped from Canada, although the last time she ended up having to pay a small import tax.

As far as weight equipment goes, Korea has an increasing number of Western-style gyms, often promoting a three-month or six-month membership for a decent price. The quality varies from gym to gym, of course, but look for the 회트네스 (hwi-teu-ne-seu, or ‘fitness’ gone Korean) and 헬스 (hel-seu, or ‘health’ gone Korean) signs as you meander your new neighborhood. You’ll also find the public gyms for some light workouts – they tend to use your own body weight to offer resistance, but are good enough if one is close enough to you.

While your diets are a bit different, check out a fellow blogger in Korea: Alien’s Day Out. He blogs about being vegan in Korea, and there’s plenty of helpful information. Some foods (e.g. quinoa) are hard to find, while others (fruits and vegetables) will be no problem at all.

Bonus vocabulary: 당뇨병 (dang-nyo-byeong) is diabetes (the disease), while 당뇨병 환자 (dang-nyo-byeong hwan-ja) describes a diabetic person. Insulin is 인슐린 (in-syul-in), and sounds almost the same in both languages.

Do you have a question about travel or life in Korea? Please do a quick search to see if your question has already been answered, then e-mail me at chrisinsouthkorea AT gmail DOT com with your specific question.

Question from a reader: Seoul vs. Busan vs. Daegu

A reader writes in:

Hi! Just found out your blog and really liking it. I thought I would ask you some questions regarding your thoughts of Busan, Daegu and Seoul.

I’ll probably go on a trip to Korea this year to take language courses and I can’t  make up my mind on which city to take.

I know that Seoul is a megacity and it feels like one but how’s the other cities in comparison? How’s the feel and atmosphere to them?

Are there alot of shopping and food districts? Are there much to do in these cities? How’s the foreign population in each city? Do you see foreigners everywhere? Is there much to do outside the more popular areas?

Culture-wise? Old districts? Looks in general?

If there’s anything you would like to add please do.

Thank you!

[C.M.]

Oh boy… This is bound to get interesting. To get some more perspective on living in cities I’ve merely traveled around, I reached out to Chris Tharp (well-known for his ‘Tharp On’ column in Busan Haps and his blog Homely Planet) and Asif Quadri (a fellow travel blogger based in Daegu) for their takes on living in Korea’s largest cities. It goes without saying that we bring our own biases into what we see in the cities, but hopefully they balance each other out.

Seoul

[Chris in South Korea]

The New York of Korea. Huge, fascinating, random, relatively easy to get around, and plenty to see / do. The most cultural options by far, and the most foreigners are around. Seeing foreigners ranges from rare to the majority, depending on the area and the day. Three magazines (10 Magazine, Groove, and Seoul Magazine) keep the English speakers up to date.

Main advantage(s): the country looks up to Seoul – if you can make it here, you can probably make it anywhere. Easy to find foods and other things from home. Most people speak at least a little English, and it’s easier to blend in / be anonymous. Plenty to see and do, and the city is always changing.

Main disadvantage(s): Depending on where you live, you may be tempted to not socialize with the locals – quite a few foreigners tend to live in expat enclaves such as the Itaewon / Haebangchon area. Pushing / shoving / working your way through your crowd may be considered part of your everyday routine. The ever-changing nature of the city may be too much for some, and irritating to others.

 

[Asif Quadri] 

Seoul – Megacity, many foreigners, high level of english, crowded metros, very western, palaces, museums, DMZ, every western cuisine

Seoul can keep you busy enough that you dont need to explore the rest of the country much. My bias is the southeast as there is so much to do (Daegu, Busan, Ulsan, Andong, Gyeongju, Haeinsa, Cheongdo, Jinhae, Geoje) and the winters are milder

He’ll find foreigners, western restaurants, shopping and food, in every big city. You can never run out of things to do in Korea. Culture/history/activities etc I would direct him back to yours/my blogs as there is so much to see and do depending on interests (western/traditional/sports).

 

[Chris Tharp]

Seoul. The big Kahuna. I mean, what do you say? Seoul is… well… really damn big, so big that I get a bit frightened everytime I go up there. I don’t feel really qualified to talk about Seoul, seeing as how I usually go up there to perform gigs (I’m a weekend warrior standup comic) and just get hellaciously loaded and see very little outside of the foreigner ghetto called Itaewon. Seoul is the real deal, where EVERYTHING goes down. It’s buzzing and cosmopolitan and has the perfect mixture of bravado and arrogance that make a first city work. There’s a reason twenty million people live there. They all want a piece of the action.

What I love about Seoul is that it’s so large that you’ll never discover all of it. I’ve explored NEARLY all of Busan at this point, but I have a feeling that Seoul constantly offers surprises and hidden gems around every corner. And it’s a LIVING CITY, so everytime I go back, it’s changed just so.

Like any behemoth of a Burg, Seoul comes with a load of baggage: It’s expensive, it’s crowded, it’s polluted, and the taxi drivers are nearly all racist douchebags. When anti-Americanism rears its nasty face (which happens every two years or so, by law I think…) it goes down most intensely in Seoul. The summers are stifling and the winters are so cold that even CANADIANS whine. It has a big city attitude: you gotta bring something to the table. Seoul doesn’t give a shit about you. She’s out to impress no one. Welcome to the big city, kid.

Busan

[Chris in South Korea]

The San Francisco of Korea. By the water, large, interesting, quite a bit to see / do, some unique elements to the city, easier to reach the southern half of the country.Some cultural options abound, and the foreigner community seems to be thriving (see the local magazine Busan Haps for more information on that). Seeing foreigners is rare outside of the popular areas.

Main advantage(s): sometimes perceived as ‘Seoul lite’, less pushing and shoving, a thriving city with plenty going on. Subways and buses come around pretty often. Right next to the water – great for beaches in the summer.
Main disadvantage(s): beaches aren’t as much fun in the winter (although the Haeundae area still has plenty of bars and clubs near the beach).
[Asif Quadri] 

Busan – The Hong Kong of Korea. It has an international feel with the film festival, fireworks festival, hopes to build an ocean skyline, and would have bid on the 2020 Summer Olympics had Korea not won the 2018 Winter Olympics.It has many foreigners, good level of english, good metro system, beaches, and an international airport and ferry terminal.

I wouldnt live in Busan/Seoul as to me it doesnt feel like Korea/Asia and is too much of a western feel to it (and Seoul is bloody cold!)

[Chris Tharp]

I live in Busan and, short of a pants-shittingly-awesome job offer somewhere else in the country, it’ll be the only place I live in Korea. I love it here. And the funny thing is that I ended up here entirely by accident… I was ready to get out of America and wasn’t being too picky about my placement. I lunged at the first job offer thrown my way, and it just happened to be not just in Busan, but in Haeundae, just a ten minute walk from the beach. Not bad, eh?I mean, what’s not to love about Busan? You got the beaches, which amps up the quality-of-life factor immensely. In the summer they become literal writhing masses of human beings, but it’s a fun time and the party never stops. Busan’s beaches are best seen in the winter, however, when the air is clear and the sun reflects off the cold, blue water. The beaches are nearly empty this time of year, and you can bundle of up and stroll in the chilly winter sun, taking in the salty air and almost always feeling a little bit better about whatever’s on your mind when you leave.Busan is a port town, and had the energy of a city facing out towards the whole world. It’s vibrant and dynamic (“Dynamic Busan” is the city’s slogan. Yes, it’s cheesy in its overcooked Korean eagerness to please, but accurate nonetheless). The city’s always buzzing and on the move. It’s a literal mix of old and new – from Centum City’s glass and steel towers to 600-year old Jagalchi Market. The people are proud and indepent, if a little rough around the edges. They have their own flavor and distinct dialect which sets them apart from the rest of the country. And the baseball games are the biggest party on the peninsula.Busan’s a convenient place to live, with an exenstive subway system, readily available Western amenities (Costco is just five minutes from my house), and countless great Korean restaurants, often serving up regional cuisine. The cost of living is much less than that of Seoul, and there are a lot of expats, though they tend to cluster in a few areas of this serpentine city.The expat scene is thriving here. The music scene alone would rival some places back home, and there’s also comedy, theater, and most any diversion you can name. It’s a big scene but more close-knit than that of Seoul, which is so big that things can get a bit dissipated. The core of the expat scene is comprised of a group of folks who have been here a long time and intend to make it their home for some time to come, so there’s a sense of pride and belonging that may be absent from other places in the country.

Another consideration is the weather: Busan is the warmest city during Korea’s nut-freezing winters and the coolest in the deadly humid summers. It’s seaside location also keeps the air circulating, so compared to some other towns, it’s a pretty breathable place.

Busan’s is also the closest Korean city to Japan. A high-speed ferry shoots over to Fukuoka and Tsushima Island every day, which is great when you’ve OD’d on Korea and need a bit of chilled civility that can only be found in Japanese environs.

Busan has almost no US military presence (the one base was closed down four years ago), which is nice. It causes the locals not to hate us as much, and also preserves many a snarky ESL teacher’s face from disfigurment at the hand of a 19 year-old private from Texas with too much testosterone and jagermeister coursing through his veins.

Did I mention that Busan is a beautiful town? Especially from the air. Dalmalji Hill, located next the water, brings to mind San Francisco. The old neighborhoods are made up of little blue and white houses stacked up on eachother, nestling the hillsides, with narrow alleys running between, giving the place a sometimes Latin American feel. But unlike Latin America, this town is as safe as it gets. You can wander anywhere at anytime at night without fear of getting jumped or hassled (well, men at least… women must exercise caution).

Everything said, the city isn’t for everyone. It can never compete with Seoul cultural-wise. Seoul has all the good museums, gets all the big concerts, all the big events (save the Busan International Film Festival, which is the highlight of the year around here), and is it the absolute center of everything that happens in Korea. There are MUCH LESS foreign food options than Seoul, though this is improving each month. Busan can also seem a bit provincial at times. The people are generally conservative and English is not widely spoken. You feel like you’re living on the edge of Korea down here, somewhat separated from the rest of the country. Being from Seattle, I’m naturally drawn to cities, which, through geographically isolation, are forced to develop distinct personalities of their own.

I love this town and could trumpet its virtues all night… it’s been very good to me and I’m lucky I ended up here.

Daegu

[Chris in South Korea]

A good base for traveling around southern Korea, and smaller / less intimidating than the other options above. The industrial element of the city is present, but not one the average tourist would see much evidence of. A small but growing foreigner community, with some restaurants and beginning to cater to English speakers. Seeing foreigners is rare outside of the popular areas, although the community is getting better connected (see In Daegu and the Daegu Theater Troupe on Facebook)

Main advantages: with only two subway lines and a good bus system, getting around is less confusing than in other cities. A good choice if you’re looking to embrace the Korean lifestyle vs. live up the foreign lifestyle. Daegu girls are supposedly the prettiest in the country. Culture  and tourism are increasing, and everytime I go back there are noticeable improvements. Plenty of day trips around the city and province.
Main disadvantage: There are elements of culture and interesting things to do, but aren’t as diverse as Seoul or Busan.
[Asif Quadri] 

I chose Daegu as its a better location to travel and explore whereas Seoul would have longer commute times to other parts of the country.I dont know what guide book came up with ‘daegu is an industrial city but the girls are pretty’! This has been reposted in so many other places since. It is more residential than industrial. I’ve seen more industrial areas in Ulsan near the port and along the Busan coast than in Daegu. There is a big expat community, the next largest after Seoul and Busan. We have four army bases that compliment our population. We hosted the IAAF games with Usain Bolt and the Asia Song Festival in 2011. Both drew international crowds.

Daegu is also famous for the Mount Palgong range with Gatbawi, Donghwasa, Pagyesa, Buinsa, and numerous smaller temples. The Mt Apsen range in the south is also a popular hiking trail with smaller temples and a skyline view. In some ways its reminiscent of Germany with the wide roads, highrise tower blocks, and green mountain backdrop on all sides.

Seomon Market and the Herbal Street are also famous going back generations. There is also a Colonial legacy from the turn of the century with the first Missionary houses and School, and European Cathedral. Line 3 subway is also halfway built and Daegu is a good base for exploring neighbouring towns and many weekend festivals (Andong, Haeinsa, Gyeongju, Geoje, Jinhae, Cheongdo).

I would disagree with ‘if you can make it in Seoul you can make it anywhere’. Because Seoul/Busan are full of foreigners and very western there is less effort to learn Korean unless you have a genuine desire. Like you said, there are expat enclaves that dont interact with locals. There is a higher interest in Daegu to learn Korean and interact in daily life.

My reasons for choosing Daegu
– comfortable size city, Seoul was too big
– on the KTX line to Seoul/Busan
– close to historic city of Gyeongju
– easy access to the beach on Busan
– warmer climate than Seoul
– large expat population

I had no idea about the many festivals and things to do in neighbouring towns so I really lucked in when I got here
We have an International Airport but it has limited flights, mostly to Jeju/Incheon/Beijing/Shanghai (seasonal HongKong/Bangkok) so I more often have to use Busan airport or Incheon.
Also Seoul/Busan tend to attract more of a ‘party/beach’ crowd whereas Daegu is more balanced with a large active expat Christian community although we have a lively bar/club scene too.
Daegu knows it has an image problem compared to Busan/Seoul when it comes to tourism and attracting teachers. The city is addressing that both with a tourism campaign and a push for english teachers. I’d call it an emerging city but still trying to find its niche outside of hiking and temples.
I dont know why those guide books call us just a transit point for going to Haeinsa or Gyeongju. We have a high retention rate in the expat population. The only complaints are about their schools not the city. We have an Opera House, newly opened Art Museum, host many exhibitions like the Trick Art and Dinosaur Expo, and have many theatre shows like Phantom of the Opera, Mamma Mia, and the Three Muskateers.
All the heavy industry is in Pohang with the Posco plant not here!!

 

[Chris Tharp]

I’ve visited Daegu on may occasions now and think that the town gets a bad rap. Yeah, the outskirts are all ass-y and industrial, but the city itself it pretty cool. This especially goes for the downtown, which is the best, hands down, in Korea. The whole area is a pedestrian center, with cobbled streets and shops, bars and cafes and best yet: ALMOST NO CARS!!! It’s how every town should be and moves Daegu up several notches on my scale. Weekend nights are great… you can just walk around from joint to joint and run into many people you know.

Daegu is flat, one of those fry-pan kind of cities, meaning it’s surrounded by mountains which can be hiked on the weekends. The countryside around Daegu is some of the best in Korea, and it doesn’t take long to get out of town. It’s a well-laid out place.

It is said that Daegu girls are the hottest in Korea, and I believe it. And they’re up against some pretty stiff competition, because Korean girls, in general, are absolutely gorgeous. But not only are the girls hot, but the town is hot. The fry-pan location become literal in the summer, when the place turns into an unendurably hot furnace. It’s also tits cold in the winter. Yikes.

I think all and all Daegu is a good town, a perfect place to live if you want the balance of expat life (the scene is large but not overwhelming) and “real Korea”. It’s just too fuckin’ flat for my taste. I gotta have some topography.

Daegu is also always full of drunk, young GI’s on the weekend, which is never any fun. Older GI’s running solo are usually the coolest guys you will EVER meet in Korea. I have all the time of day for them. But roving packs of drunk, super-young soldiers who had never left their county before enlisting are just a recipe for trouble. I avoid them like VD.

~~

So there you have it – Seoul, Busan, and Daegu, in a 2,500+ word nutshell. It’s safe to say that there no wrong answer between the three – people have and will continue to make lives for themselves in these and other cities across Korea. There might be a more correct answer for individual people, of course – myself personally, I’m a Seoul guy. Chris Tharp is a Busan guy. Asif Quadri is a Daegu guy. Your own mileage will vary, but I suspect you’ll find your own place within Korea.

If you need a little more guidance, please check out a little quiz entitled “Where in Korea should you teach English?“.

Readers: I answer your questions about Korea! Do a quick search to see if your question has already been answered, then e-mail me at chrisinsouthkorea AT gmail DOT com if it hasn’t.

Question from a reader: the application photo

A reader writes in:
Hey,I’m presently looking for my first EFL job in Korea and have a question a about a CV. Everything in my CV is solid, I’m well qualified and have some relevant experience relating to teaching English. However I have heard that a photo is of serious importance to Korean employers in their hiring process. Taking the view that intelligent people could not possibly expect to judge a persons ability from a still image of them, I sent in a photo I took using a phone (very clearly an unprofessional photo). My question is:Do you think my chances of getting hired will be dimmed by a poor photo? Also is it true that the Korean’s do indeed take a photo very seriously. While I am not outright worried about this point, it has been playing in my mind.

I appreciate your help a great deal,

Very best,

[G.C.]
There is a relevant post to check out – http://www.chrisinsouthkorea.com/2010/11/question-from-a-reader-dress-code-and-physical-appearance – which partially answers your question. Read that, then read on :)
Looks do matter in this country – easily more here than in the Western world. While the latter have instituted laws to prevent obvious discrimination, it still happens (pretty or handsome people tend to make a higher salary than fat or ugly ones). The former, having seemingly no laws and very few court cases defining the matter, makes it up as they go. It wasn’t too long ago that the Grand Narrative translated an article about how adding singing and dancing to your hobbies could help women find jobs. If there is a law or a fear of being punished for discriminating, it’s not affecting employers.
To be clear, it happens in other countries. Prada bosses in Japan have removed the ‘old, fat, and ugly‘ from employment in their stores, while a Chinese airline recruits flight attendants that are pretty, can sing, dance, and serve as security officers. Even in the US, a Newsweek survey has shown looks matter more than where you went to school and a sense of humor.. One New York Times opinion piece places the income difference at 10 to 15 percent.
You probably could find a job with a simple photo taken with your phone. You could also throw a baseball with your good arm tied behind your back. Get a good photo taken (whether you do it yourself or ask a friend), and send that on with future applications. Make sure it’s well-lit, in focus, showing a smiling face, etc. It’s not a perfect analogy, but the acid test is if you would upload it to a dating profile. If you wouldn’t, try again.
Readers, what have your employers said about photos? 

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Question from a reader: what to tell your parents

A reader writes in:

My parents seemed quite impressed and supportive when I mentioned that teaching in Korea was a possibility for graduates like myself, but now that I’ve actually started the process, they’re, well… less than, shall we say.

Any advice/tips/resources you could recommend to help put them at ease? I’m going to go through with it either way, but it is nice to have them on one’s side..

[D.S.]

D.S.,

“You’re doing WHAT? WHERE? WHEN? WHY?!” The questions are as varied as the people, and the responses aren’t necessarily straightforward.

For twenty-plus years, they’ve been trying to keep you safe, out of trouble, and possibly bailing you out of a tough situation. To most parents, choosing to leave your home country will come as a shock, or at the very least a change of plans. In most cases, however, being a twentysomething means the need to recognize your independence.

Some questions parents commonly ask:

Why are you going to South Korea? Good answers: to make some money, to experience a new culture, to get a decent job, or to do something with my English / Education degree. Bad answers: to meet Korean girls (or guys), to drink all the time.

Why don’t you just get a real job around here? This is a tricky one. Depending on the area, there may not be any ‘real jobs’ at home, or even in the area. There’s also the concept of what exactly a real job even is – the concept of working at one place for more than a few years is increasingly foreign to our generation.

Why don’t you just go to Europe? Europe is more dangerous, more expensive, and the rules make it extremely difficult to find a job there. Combine that with the austerity measures and the debt crises in multiple countries. Europe may still be fun to tour, and if you’re ok with under-the-table sort of jobs, can get across the continent.

Where are you going to live? If your school provides the apartment, explain that the free furnished apartment is part of the compensation package. If not, your school is likely helping you with that process, putting down the key money,and so on.

What happened to working as a [insert a career related to your major]? Again, another tricky one. After four years of getting a Business degree, the only companies interested in it / me were only hiring hourly workers. Despite months of searching I couldn’t find a decently-paid job – and this was 2004.

What else are you going to do while there? The options are many, and the number is usually expanding. From singing and acting to dancing and traveling, there are tens of thousands of other foreign English teachers around the country.

What’ll you do if you get homesick? If you went to college that wasn’t within commuting distance, you’ve had four (or more) years to get used to life on your own. Otherwise, being far away from friends and family can be a legitimate concern. The need to leave the proverbial nest is a big one, especially to the college graduate. There are plenty of places around Seoul and Busan to socialize with fellow foreigners. If you’re not in one of the big cities, you’ll probably want to turn your apartment into a little taste of home. Alternatively, use technology to keep in touch – Skype, e-mail, etc.

When are you coming home / when is your vacation? Explain that vacations are part of the contract (because you’ve checked, right?), and that the dates are determined by the school’s schedule. You can’t just take vacations whenever you want. There’s likely time to make it home during summer or winter vacations, if that’s an interest – but you’ll want to factor in the cost of flying home.

Will you be able to find everything you need? There are local versions of virtually everything from home, and plenty of other stuff is imported into the country. The locals sleep, drink, eat, play, and work just like everywhere else in the world. Some things will be a little harder to find than at home, while others will be easier. Places like http://www.thearrivalstore.com make finding some things easier, although life in a foreign country feels more authentic when you use the same things the locals use.

What should we send you? You won’t know that until you arrive – and your two suitcases and a carryon can hold a lot of stuff. I’d say to send them an e-mail or Skype them once you’ve settled in and realize what you need.

Isn’t it dangerous there? / How close are you to North Korea? I’ll get worried about this one when the locals do. It’s a threat they’ve lived with for 60 years, and despite the saber-rattling they don’t typically get too worked up over it.

Do you have enough money? A question you’ll want to answer yourself. Don’t expect to make your first paycheck until after your first full month of work. If you’re arriving on, say, November 20th, and they pay on the 15th of the month, it could conceivably be two months without a paycheck. Your two biggest expenses (e.g. a place to live and a way to get from A to B) will be quite low, but you still need to eat. Aim to have enough cash to buy at least 1,000,000 Korean won (about 872 USD or 638 Euros) as a minimum; the more the merrier.

Will you have a cell phone / a computer? Yes, you’ll pick up a Korean cell phone once you get your Alien Registration Card, and your laptop from your home country will work in Korea. You’ll want to pick up either a basic plug adapter (to physically transform the plug size) or a transformer (to change the type of power received). The first is usually all that’s needed – a couple thousand won and you’re done.

What about your bills at home? Definitely something to take care of before leaving. Make sure cell phones are cancelled, electricity and water accounts settled, and apartment leases / contracts taken care of. Make sure your credit cards and student loans can be paid online. Also, ensure your bank knows you’re moving to Korea, and that you have a debit card to access your home bank account.

Is South Korea developed? Unless you’re living in the biggest of cities in the Western world, it’s safe to say Korea is more advanced / developed than where you’re living right now. 300 km/hour trains, public transportation that’s cheap and dependable, plenty of wireless internet and electronic devices, and a generally ambitious population

Well, I remember seeing on M*A*S*H… This one I would laugh at if I heard it. While that may have been the image seen by many from our parents generation, the show ended in 1983, and major hostilities on the peninsula ended decades earlier. There were decades of rebuilding, to be sure, but the present is much different from that ‘historical’ record.

Have you learned Korean? The short answer is that you don’t have to learn Korean before coming to Korea. Knowing some basic Korean will help immensely, and being familiar with the hangeul letters will make a huge difference. You can also explain how living in the foreign country will require you to pick it up. There’s still lots of English across the country, until then.

You can expect they’ll have a thousand other questions, especially of the ‘who-what-where’ nature. While you may not have all the answers (especially if you talk to them early on in the process), you’ll want to know the following:

  • What city / town you’re moving to (the proper Romanized version you can find on Google Maps). If you’re moving to a big city, it’s also really helpful to know the gu (district), and what subway station is closest.
  • How far your apartment is from the school
  • When you’ll be leaving (explaining that the final details won’t be set until the paperwork is complete and you’re almost ready to go)
  • The name, type, and age group of the school
  • How much you’ll be making (convert the millions of won into your local currency)
  • Your working hours / when you’ll start working

Readers, what questions did your parents ask you before you came to Korea?

Questions from readers are always welcome! Check out previous questions to make sure it’s not been answered before, then use the contact form, or just e-mail me at chrisinsouthkorea AT gmail DOT com.

 

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Question from a reader: must-knows before coming to Korea?

A reader writes in:

Hi Chris! I love your blog and have learned so much about various experiences in Korea. I am leaving on Friday to Seoul for a week of training and then living in [city redacted] which is nearby Seoul. Just wondering if you have any must knows that you could share with me, as I am clearly becoming nervous as time comes. Thanks so much!

[S.P.]

Coming to Korea remains a scary thing. Despite the abundance of information, it’s hard to cut through the out-dated and biased info to find the useful nuggets.

  • MUST KNOW #1: What to bring. No need to bring an abundance of razor blades and shampoo – plenty of familiar and Korean brands are around in the department stores. Clothing for non-anorexics (or bigger people, if you like) is becoming easier to find, but it’s still a good idea to bring plenty of your own collection. There isn’t much that’s hard-to-find, but bring some Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups with you and you’ll have a friend for life :)
  • MUST KNOW #2: How to read hangeul, the Korean alphabet. Start practicing the Korean letters on your plane flight over, or otherwise try to engrave the letters of hangeul into your brain. You’ll find a lot of words that are the same between English and Korean – but you won’t know that until you’ve learned the letters. At the risk of a shameless plug, my recent e-book “Korean Made Easy” may be exactly what you’re looking for.
  • MUST KNOW #3: Something about Korean culture, or Asian culture in general. Foreigners are forgiven most faux pas at the start, however. Start with the Culture of Korea page on Wikipedia (a decent general introduction) and the general page of Korea, then dive deeper once you arrive.
  • MUST KNOW #4: Where and how to get connected. Plenty of expat groups are on Facebook, and plenty more advertise in the local magazines, on craigslist, on meetup groups, and so on. In fact, I’ve started a new page (Get Connected!) to help people do just that.
  • MUST KNOW #5: Dealing with electricity is a hassle. The good news is there are plenty of converters around – anything from a simple plug adapter to a bigger and heavier transformer. Bring some electronics if you need them, but know you can buy almost anything here as well. Korean tech is up to snuff, while foreign tech is increasingly ubiquitous.

Readers, what do you wish you knew before coming to Korea? What would you have brought or done differently?

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Question from a reader: stuck in a rut?

A reader writes in:

First of all I would like to say that your website is fantastic! Really refreshing, and you seem to cover all angles.

I moved here about four months ago now. I love Korea, everything possible is different from home. Not necessarily better or worse, as I don’t like comparing it in that way but it is exactly the change I was looking for. I am very lucky with my school and adore the kids. However, I’m already getting stuck in a rut. I came here with the intentions of experiencing a different culture and taking myself out of my comfort zone. However, I find myself trying so hard to justify to my fellow co-worker why I don’t want to spend every weekend in Hongik being submerged with fellow expats. I enjoy it every now and again but i’m not learning anything there. However, i’m considered “no fun” for wanting to hang out there.
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I want to experience as much as possible in my stay and wondered did you stick with fellow foreign co-workers out of politeness or did you branch out on your own adventure? And any advice where to start…

Thanks again for your insight,

[J.M.]

Hi J.M.,

I recently wrote about 10 things to do instead of being jaded – not quite the same as being stuck in a rut, but possibly some answers might be there as well.

In my case, I either travel on my own, with my girlfriend, or with a friend that enjoys traveling. There’s no need to invite someone out of town that would rather be partying it up in Hongdae or Itaewon. Having the confidence (or at least the mindset) of traveling on your own is required, of course.

The two questions I would ask are these: what are the Korean teachers at your school like? What’s stopping you from traveling on your own? The former might be friendlier than you think (especially once they’re finished with work!), although they’re likely to be busy with friends, family, and their relationships. The latter, however, is easier than you might think. The only thing that gets awkward when traveling solo is (sometimes) eating out at a Korean meat restaurant. No worries about coordinating schedules.

I came here with the intentions of experiencing a different culture and taking myself out of my comfort zone.

Good intentions – although a bit vague. What elements of Korean culture interest you – the music, the dance, the food, the customs, etc.? Taking in an entire culture can be overwhelming – focus on an aspect or two you really enjoy.

…did you stick with fellow foreign co-workers out of politeness or did you branch out on your own adventure?

In three-plus years, I have yet to go on a trip out-of-town with a co-worker. Dinners and drinks, sure, but no traveling. That hasn’t been an intentional slight – either plans were already made, there were concerns about being a third wheel, etc.

I’d like to offer five tips for getting out of a Korean rut:

  • If not working, get out of your apartment. Grab your camera and take a long walk around your neighborhood. Find your local Gimbap Cheonguk or similar restaurant (they’ve served me with zero problem even while by myself), or enjoy a coffee on an outdoor patio. The change of pace is sometimes all you need.
  • Be proactive – in other words, be the person that makes the plans, whether that’s for yourself or a group of people.
  • Start learning Korean – any number of groups bring together Koreans learning English and foreigners learning Korean. Even a basic understanding of the language helps to understand what’s happening.
  • New friends – posthaste. There are plenty of people that are either over the partying scene, or never really got into it in the first place.
  • Consider making a Korean ‘bucket list’ – more than a few other bloggers have created their own. See exhibit A, exhibit B, and exhibit C. There’s even a waygook.org thread with plenty of ideas for your own bucket list.

Where to start? That’s based on your interests – and there’s plenty of ideas here! Head to the Destinations section to show all posts of places that might be worth visiting.

Readers, how did you get unstuck from a rut?

 

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Question from a reader: school gives bad references?

A reader writes in:

I’m having a problem. I’m trying to find a new job in [city redacted], but no hagwon owner will hire me without speaking to my previous school about why I left early. (They stopped paying me on time and I gave them notice and left 2 months before my contract was up. It was an amicable separation.) However, it seems that [hagwon name redacted] is giving me a bad reputation or something, because once I give the recruiter info on my school, I don’t hear back from the recruiter. And, I figure I can’t exactly lie and say I’ve never been to Korea, because they will see that I’ve been there before once I try to apply for a second visa.

Thanks for any advice!

[Anonymous]

I actually had some similar issues with a school I previously worked for. The next school I worked at was with adults, and they were primarily interested in my experience teaching computer classes to adults (which I had done back in the states). After leaving job B, job C was a bit trickier because of the same problem: job A wouldn’t give a fair reference. I told the recruiter I got fired at the 11 month mark (true), and that I wrote the school a letter threatening to sic the Labor Board on them (also true). I also mentioned that if there were some problem with my teaching ability performance, it would’ve come up at SOME point in the 11 months I was there. That pleased them enough to keep things going, and a school offered me a position.

After getting job C, I cut the school in job A off my resume completely. I say that I’ve been in Korea for X years, and will show all my jobs in Korea except for that one. When / if a recruiter asks, I say that my first experience in Korea was not a good one (got paid late occasionally, very little support, got released at the 11 month mark), and that I wrote them a letter threatening to sic the Labor Board on them. If pressed, I’ll say it was a hagwon in western Gyeonggi-do, which is as specific as I’ll get. They’ll see from the fact I’m still here that it was the school, not me, that’s screwing around. There might be some pay rate difference between showing, say 2 years and 3 years of experience, but for the most part hagwon pay is pretty standard for most experienced E-2 teachers.

In your case, I would simply state your working experience, being vague about the school’s name or location. If a recruiter wants to verify things or get all investigative, they can call Immigration to confirm dates (I’m under the impression that recruiters and/or employers have access to Immigration data, either legitimately or otherwise). I’d emphasize the fact that you’re already here, documentation in hand (you do have your documentation in hand, right?), and ready to go for the next school. The fact that you’re already here saves the school the couple million won in flying you over – a sizable sum of money the school might be happy to save. You might also call up the recruiter that stopped contacting you and get their side of the story.

There’s very little benefit toward confronting the school, and there’s really no way to ‘force’ a good reference. For all the talk about libel and slander in this country, I’m not aware of a libel lawsuit ever filed by a foreigner, even in a case where actual reputation damage was done. There’s also no evidence here – how does a court know the school wasn’t just following some hiring guideline? Maybe it just didn’t like your picture – completely unfair, but an uphill legal battle at best.

Readers, have you ever received a undeserved / unfair reference? How did you work around it?

 

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