Korea: It’s Worth It
By: Curtis Broker
So you want to teach English in Korea? Well then let me bestow upon you some wisdom that I have acquired having spent a year in Korea and now very much looking forward to going back. The first time I went over I tackled the whole process cowboy style, found a recruiter and before I knew it I was signing the first contract that came my way. I had an amazing time my first year don’t get me wrong, but there are just some things that I know now that I wish I knew then.
The VISA Process for Teaching in Korea
The visa process is ever changing and even in the span of just eighteen months since I applied the first time the requirements have changed. This is what I would recommend any person do with regards to the order of things that need to get done. As soon as you know you are going to Korea and will be leaving within 6 months head out and get transcripts from your university (a 3 year degree is required to teach in Korea), and grab a police background check (this needs to be notarized before bringing it to the closest Korean embassy where it will be notarized again). This should start you on your way to getting all of your things together. Once you find a job and agree to a contract its all engines go on Fedexing everything over to your school. Use Fedex because there is Fedex in Korea as well.
The package should contain:
Photocopies of your passport, your original degree, sealed transcripts, criminal background check that has been notarized by someone like a lawyer and the Korean embassy, 4 passport photos, and a signed copy of the contract that you have with the school.
Note there are fees associated with obtaining most of the things on the list so de be prepared to pay for them as well as sending things over isn’t exactly cheap either.
Preparing to Head Abroad to Korea
There are plenty of posts and articles with advice on what to bring to Korea. People have lots of suggestions and a lot of them are valid. It is hard to find some things in Korea but you can usually find them and not having most of them isn’t the end of the world. If you’re over 6 feet and have massive feet consider bringing your own shoes and don’t plan on buying them there. That being said nothing is impossible to find and things can always also be shipped over to you. This time when I head back I will be packing a lot less than I did my first time around. I won’t need all the undershirts, the year’s supply of dental floss, and brand new socks. For my build which is 6 ft with an athletic frame I had absolutely no problem finding clothes or shoes.
Flying to Korea
I remember my flight the first time over to Korea was non-stop 14 hours and relatively painless. You will most likely fly into Seoul but you may very well fly directly into your city as well. Either way your school should have made arrangements to pick you up or have arranged a ride to where they are located. Don’t fear not being able to find your way around the airport or to your pick up point. There are lots of very helpful people working at tourism booths airport staff that are more than happy to help you find your way.
Living Overseas in Korea
Once settled into your apartment, which should of course be supplied by your employer, you can start to get a feel for what everyday life will be like. Travel in Korea as extremely easy for everyone without a car. Get hooked up with a transit card (I believe in Seoul it’s a T-Money card). You can use this on the bus or subway or even to purchase things from vending machines with just touching it to a sensor. They make life a lot easier if you will be using public transit often. Eating is another concern most people have when travelling to a foreign country. Speaking from experience I really enjoyed the food in Korea and the culture and tradition that surrounds it. There is a wide variety of new foods that are delicious. Yes some are spicy but you can ask for things that aren’t, yes, there is a lot of Korean barbeque but even a vegetarian can find meals at these establishments. There are of course chains that are familiar to us like McDonald’s and Burger King in the larger towns and cities.
Going out on the town can be an absolute riot once you know your way around. Ask a fellow teacher to show you the hot spots for foreigners in your city. There is usually a bar or two or three that are frequented by other teachers such as you and often are the meeting places for the best social events such as softball leagues, movie nights, or ski trips. I wouldn’t recommend going to Korea by yourself and not getting involved in a social circle such as this. English movies are shown with the original soundtracks and Korean subtitles so there isn’t a problem there, lots of places have the menu in English as well but any language barrier issues are usually over come with a little work.
Learning the Language While Abroad
As far as learning the language is concerned, things are easier than most would think. Korean isn’t like Chinese where there are thousands of symbols that each mean something different. Korean is a phonetic language and the symbols can be explained using sounds in the English language. I often tell people when talking about learning how to read Korean that it is much like a code language that you may have made up in elementary school to pass secret notes. That’s at least how I relate it to my life. With a little hard work you can have the basics of reading Korean down in about two hours. You won’t know what you are reading but you will be able to sound it out phonetically. This skill comes in handy when getting around the country; you can use it to double check things with signs that don’t have any English. Reading the menu is a lot easier when you know what your favourite item’s spelling is. It also of course goes hand in hand with learning how to speak the language as well. Getting together with a Korean or joining a language exchange and making a real effort to learn the language and make friends which will greatly enhance your year abroad.
Think about it. It’s an entire year in another country; make the most of it. Keep an open mind and try to get out the most you can to experience the culture first hand and don’t be afraid of making a few mistakes. Koreans are a kind people and are more often than not happy to lend a helping hand.