Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Expat's Podcast

Don't forget to check out my podcast, "Musings Over Makgeolli".

Friday, May 29, 2009

Do I need to send my original diploma to recruiters in South Korea?

Here's the question:

Hi there, I hope you can help me on this one...I was offered a placement to teach English in Korea through a recruiter that works with EPIK. Mix up on my part...I mailed in the photocopies of my notarized criminal background check and degree with the consulate seal to Korea instead of the "original" notarized CBC and degree. My recruiter still hasn't respond to me regarding this matter...only saying that they forwarded my package over to EPIK and see what EPIK have to say to that. But I am crunching on time and I am pretty nervous about all this. I really want to secure a placement in the public school system and do not want anything to go wrong! What are your thoughts on this? Do you think they can accept the photocopies or its better that I forward the "originals" to them?

Thank you so much in advance!


I must say that I'm wondering why "original" is in quotes. Kidding.

I could tell you a few stories about how much I resisted sending my original diploma, but it sounds like your short on time.

Let me save you some trouble: Yes, you most definitely HAVE TO send your originals. In almost every case, they will demand the originals of most paperwork and the diploma must be the original, no questions asked.

Contact your recruiter again and tell them that you are going to send your stuff again. Some recruiters have a bad habit of "forgetting" about a specific individual.

Again, all official documents must be original copies.

Gay in South Korea: A Little Assistance

Here's the question:

Im a 23 year old who just finishing up my degree in National American University and will be moving to a place called Mok-Dong in Seoul. Do you know it? I hope its a nice area with plenty to do and kind people here also.Youve helped me so much with other issues such as weight limits for teachers and visa issues with your blog I was wondering if you could help me with one more. Im kind of looking for a little romance in the 1 year that I plan to stay. Ex-pat, I'd really like to ask you about the gay scene there. Tolerance is not an issue for me (growing up in SD- ugh!) but I know its a very conservative country. Do they have like sodomy laws like in China or Japan? And how like, forward, are Korean guys? cos some parties I went to the Asian guys just hung out in the bathroom. So thats it I wanna have a good time, but I wanna be safe. Whattya say, Ex-Pat?

Thanks a bunch

Jim K

I think I'd like to start this one out with a little excerpt from a Michael Breen article on relationships within the expat community.

"One young North American lady once told me that she and her single Western friends in Seoul felt they were ``living in a gay bar." Neither Korean nor non-Korean men, they complained, seemed interested in them."

Of course, Korea is laughably nowhere close to a gay mecca, but I thought I should frame how many relationships go in the expat community. I wouldn't claim that expats only date Koreans (gay or straight) because it's not true, but it seems like a clear majority of the relationships I see involving (male) expats are with Korean women. The gay expat community, however, is much harder to gauge. It is rare to see gay or lesbian expats openly displaying their relationship on the streets and it is even more rare to see such a thing in an interracial relationship or among gay Korean men or women. As a rule, I must refer you to The Korean's post on homosexuality in Korea. It's great. Not only does he cover some serious issues and make excellent points, but the comment board also offers a wealth of information. It's a little lengthy, but definitely worth the read.

I think being from a state like South Dakota gives you a leg-up in terms of accepting or dealing with intolerance. Maybe I'm wrong about SD, but I can only assume that you're used to a little intolerance. (I'm from Tennessee which constantly proves out conservative and intolerant they can be.) If you were from a more gay-friendly city or state, adjusting might be more of an issue, but I think you should be fine. The gay scene, while not necessarily hosting weekly pride parades, does seem to be thriving given the popular mindset that homosexuality doesn't exist in Korea or can be cured by few visits to the doctor. There are a few popular spots in Seoul with gay clubs, bars and saunas. Itaewon, Hongdae and Jungno is where most of those places can be found. On top of that, you'll be living in Mokdong which is relatively close to all three of those places. My wife and I went to a place on Itaewon's famed "Homo Hill" called "Why Not?" a few months ago and had a lot of fun. While I'm not sure how all places are or how gay Asians party, I can tell you that most of the Koreans there were not hiding in the bathroom. The dance floor was very much alive and no one was being shy.

There's an organization for gay men that's based out of Seoul called "Chingusai" or "Among Friends". They have been operating for over a decade and offer a lot of services and assistance to the community. They've got a message board where people are talking about current issues, events and even arranging meetings. This site (and this one) also offer some assistance for newcomers and it wouldn't hurt to check out this facebook group or even Craigslist.

It looks like you're more interested in the legality and safety of potential relationships rather than where to find it, so let me talk about that. In Korea, same-sex sexual activity is totally legal and there is no mention of sodomy laws anywhere that I can find. Even if there were such laws, I would assume they would be nothing more than blue laws and therefore, nothing to worry about. However, the ROK military takes a different stance as they discharge soldiers for being gay and can even charge the men involved with sexual harassment for such an act. You might also find that a few gay-content websites will be censored, blocked or filtered by the government, but those typically tend to be only Korean-run sites rather than gay-content sites in general. Legally speaking, you'll have no problem and as long as you aren't too obvious or risky, you'll have no problems socially either.

In another email, you mentioned the prevelance of Hepatitis and other STDs which is, of course, a concern for anyone. I couldn't find anything about anything about Hep in particular, but I found this study on AIDS and HIV which seems to be the most current and comprehensive of its kind. There's also a thread about STD's at Daves's that, aside from the usual snarky comments, offers a glimpse into the STD world in Korea. If you're looking for a very detailed, academic and historical look at Korea's sexual past and present, then take a look Choi Hyung-Ki's exhaustive research on the topic. It talks about everything from sexual behavior to STD's and abortion.

I think that you'll find that Korea is more accommodating that you would think. As long as you're up for an adventure, then you should find a pretty solid group out there. There are plenty of gay Koreans and expats for you to find a meaningful relationship and have a lot of fun. The bars and clubs seem to be gaining popularity and always seem to be busy. You'll be just fine.

Update October 23rd, 2009: Korea Times has a write-up on how Social Ostracism Stifles Sexual Minorities. It's an alright article.

If anybody has any questions, just send me an email at or leave a comment

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ticket Reimbursement and Air Travel to South Korea

Here's the question:

I am coming to South Korea to teach English in August with CDI. I have to purchase my plane ticket, and I was wondering if you knew what the best airlines were. My third party recruiter, Aclipse, offers a travel agent, but I'm concerned this might be a scam. Also, CDI says that they will reimburse me for the ticket or only for 1,000,000 won expense (why?). If you have any info on this, I'd appreciate it. There appears to be little info on the net, sadly, about the flights and reimbursements. Current information, at least. Thanks again. I love the site, keep up the great work :-)


Thanks for the kind words.

Purchasing tickets beforehand is always a little unnerving for new teachers. When I was doing my pre-Korea research years ago, I stumbled across many schools that required self-purchasing, but I decided that stay away from them. It just didn't seem worth the risk at that point and still, I would suggest that teachers insist that the school take care of flight arrangements. I know that this might not be possible as some schools have well-established rules. CDI is one of those schools, yet I would not be concerned about reimbursement from them. Chung Dahm Institute is a reputable school so -assuming you have talked to a couple current AND FORMER CDI teachers- I'd say that you should have very little to worry about on that front.

The choice of airlines depends largely on you. Since it's still May, I would spend some serious time scouring the web looking for the cheapest flight. The reason CDI caps your ticket price is to prevent you from taking the best of the best or "accidentally" adding any extra or extended stops along the way. I would double check with your school about the 1,000,000 won though. For a long time, the exchange rate was hovering around 1 USD: 1,000 won (which is probably where they got the 1,000,000 won limit from), but these days currencies and exchange rates can fluctuate drastically. Today, 1,000,000 won will only trade for 789 dollars. Depending where you're flying from, that might not even be enough to cover the flight, so see if you can get them to put a 1,000 DOLLAR limit on there rather than a won limit. I say that with no idea of whether they will accept it or not, but it certainly wouldn't hurt.

I guess I should also mention that Korea is having a minor spat with teachers and swine flu and CDI in particular has closed down for a few days because of that "fear". It should be all cleared up by the time you arrive unless, of course, it turns into a hip summer protest like last years beef protests. I wouldn't worry about that though. If you're swine-free then you'll be fine.

For now, think about getting the dollar/won thing straightened out and maybe even send a current teacher an email and see what they think. Either way, suggesting an airline wouldn't help at this point. Deals change all the time. I'd start fishing around for cheap flights now since you have so much time before headind this way.

If anybody has any questions, just send me an email at or leave a comment.

Can non-native speakers teach English in South Korea?

Here's the question:
I've noticed that most of the ESL job openings require an English native speaker for the position. Are ESL teaching positions available for non-native speakers?

Thank you.

Best regards,

Ria Mallari

I've talked about this before in reference to a questioner who was wondering about his Hungarian girlfriend.

...there is very little chance for her to get a standard language education visa (E2) since she is from Hungary. If she were to speak and teach another commonly taught language in Korea, then perhaps she could find a job here, but I'd say her options are limited on that front.

Honestly, the answer is 'no'. You can't teach in the ESL industry in Korea if you are a non-native speaker. If you want to legally teach English or any other language in Korea, you will need an E2 visa. There are other visa options if you are set on coming to Korea, but for English education, you'll need your E2. The requirements for an E2 depend on the language you're teaching, but in the case of English, you must have a valid passport from either US, UK, Ireland, Canada, South Africa, Australia, or New Zealand.

Your other option is traveling to Korea on a tourist visa and trying to find private tutoring gigs, but they often are unreliable and sometimes difficult to obtain. Sorry to deliver bad news.

If anybody has any questions, just send me an email at or leave a comment.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cheap Travel from South Korea to Japan

Here's the question:

How can I buy a plane ticket through Jeju Air?I can read hangeul, but still understand very little. I have been on their website (of which they do not have an english language version) and see -or think I see- that they have cheap flights to Osaka. Much cheaper than Korean Air and Japan Airlines. I don't know if I will be able to navigate my way through purchasing a ticket online because of the language difficulty, plus I am worried that like many other websites, you will not be able to purchase it with your alien registration number. Do you know if there is any way around
this? For example is there perhaps a Jeju Air office in Seoul I could go to? Or a travel agency?


Surprising as it may sound, I found an eHow article on "How to Book Travel on Jeju Air". Lucky I guess, but it doesn't specifically address your request for a flight to Japan. Also interesting at the bottom of that page was this info under "Tips and Warnings".

* Jeju is also called Cheju, depending on the translation.

* This airline does not offer a Web site in English. There is no way for English speakers to book with them directly. If you would like to learn more about the airline, try an online translation engine.

* Consider Jeju Air's domestic challengers for the South Korean market, Hansung Airlines, Korean Air and Asiana Airlines. Hansung Airlines, another low-fare air service, runs most of the same routes as Jeju Air. Compare prices to get the best deal.

* Jeju Air only caters to South Korean domestic flights. Korean Air and Asiana Airlines are the Korean air services available for international travel. Their Web sites will have English translations

All of that seems pretty upsetting, however, let's follow that articles lead first. Jeju Air is based out of Gimpo Airport, so one would think that visiting the airport and purchasing tickets would be the best way to do it by yourself .You mentioned that you found a flight to Osaka, and contrary to what eHow said, I also found flights from Incheon to Osaka. I only saw domestic flights going between Gimpo, Jeju, Busan and Cheongju. I'm not sure about the ARC, so if you are close to Gimpo, I would suggest stopping by and seeing what you can dig up, but it looks like you'll have to go to Incheon.

I went to the Gimpo Airport website and did a little search. It showed me four flights leaving from Gimpo to Osaka (Kinsei). The main carriers are mostly national flag carriers, so they're going to be pricey. I think your best options, aside from camping out at the airport in hopes of jumping on stand-by, would be to look into some travel agents or even consider taking the boat. The travel agent that stands out to me has always been Xanadu. They're based in Itaewon and always have really good deals and packages, plus they speak English very well.

Start with them first and then go down the list of other options.

If anybody has any questions, just send me an email at or leave a comment.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Is there a weight limit for teachers in Korea?

Here's the question:

I understand that most of the time you are required to take a fitness test and have your weight and what-not taken, I am overweight and want
to know what would happen if they find that you are over-weight, will they not take you in? will they require you to do anything about it? I've
been working on my weight and don't expect to immediately fix it but i just wanted to know if it was going to be a huge problem for them?

Thank you,

You are required to take a medical test, but I think calling it a "fitness test" is a tad misleading. They are testing for "narcotic drugs, communicable diseases, HIV, AIDS, physical and/or mental illnesses. After entering Korea, applicants must submit themselves to a medical check at a government approved hospital, public health clinic or general hospital."

This pretty much means you have to submit one test before getting your visa and another one when you are applying for your Alien Registration Card (ARC). The test is certainly trying to ascertain if one is fit to teach in a school, but it's not asking if one is "fit" or in shape. As long as your weight isn't hindering your ability to teach and walk around a classroom for a few hours a day, then there will be no problem. They will not require you to lose weight.

However, some schools (hagwons mostly) have been known to cut teachers loose for some silly reasons. As you might have read, hagwons don't operate like educational institutes, but rather as small companies that value the opinion of customers (or mothers in the case) above all else. This means that some teachers get canned for superficial reasons, i.e., "too dark", old age, visible tattoos, unkempt appearance, refusal to shave long facial hair and even having a prosthetic leg. Of course, those traits have little to do with teaching ability, but in the end, it's the boss who has the final word.

I did not list weight above because I have personally never heard of such a dismissal. On a simple stroll around the block it is not uncommon to run into a plus-size teacher of either sex. Some heavy-set teachers might have trouble finding clothes and perhaps a few extended glares might come their way, but it will not affect the status of your employment.

Of course, being in great shape is always the healthy option and it sounds like you're on your way!

If anybody has any questions, just send me an email at or leave a comment

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Western Music Festivals in South Korea this Summer

Here's the question:

I missed the DJ fest earlier this month. I didn't even know it was going on actually. Are there any other Western rock or dj festivals this summer? Is there a festival guide?

"Some Dude"

With the apparent success of the 3rd Seoul World DJ Festival, I figured I would be getting a few questions about upcoming festivals. And just as the questioner said, missing shows and festivals is all too common since there is very little public advertisement for any non K-pop musical acts or event. I'm a little surprised that you missed the DJ Fest. They aggressively promoted the event on facebook, myspace, twitter, naver, cyworld and just about every other major social networking site. They even emailed me and asked if ESL Teachers in Korea could "host" the event. They had it right and maybe some other ad teams will take a few cues.

There are two western-ish music festivals coming up this summer. There's the Jisan Valley Rock Festival in late July.

I was surprised to see they had attracted some relatively well-known western acts. And of course, there's the Pentaport Rock Festival.

Notice anything? The powers that be decided that since Korea has so many international rock festivals, it would be okay to hold two on the same weekend. The reason for this is just as I've said before, Japan's Fuji Rock Festival, which attracts tons of major acts, is held the same weekend and Korea tries to take advantage of the musical presence in the region. All of the big names playing at Jisan and Pentaport are also playing at Fuji. I would suggest taking a long weekend and cruise over to Japan for their fest. It looks excellent.

Honestly, Korea isn't a festival destination yet. There are issues with pay, location, venue, turnout and organization that have yet to be sorted out or understood here, so until then, you must make-do with the local acts and dive bar bands.

For a more comprehensive list of good resources, check this out.

If anybody has any questions, just send me an email at or leave a comment.

Pension Contribution and Lump-sum Payment for British Teachers in South Korea

Here's the question (in response to the post on pensions):

I'm British and as far as I know, Yes we do have to pay the 4.5% into a pension fund! That's what I've been doing since 2001 at YBM ELS and they are clued up and legit on all this stuff. I've also checked it out at the local pension office in Daegu.

Brits don't get a lump sum refund. They get zero. I've read on some blogs that apparently payments here can be credited to your pension history in the UK. NOT according to the guy I spoke to in Newcastle Upon Tyne, the main UK centre. The only thing possible (which is in the extract from the pension act which you listed) is that after 10 years of contributions, you can receive a monthly pension from Korea when reaching 60. How many teachers stay 10 years!!?

If you know anything different or more positive than this PLEASE let me know. I live in hope! Thank very much


There also seems to be a discrepancy between what the law says should happen and what is happening. The law states that citizens of the UK must pay into the National Pension Fund every month. However, since there is a contribution-only convention in place, no lump-sum payments are made when leaving Korea. And yet, I have talked to several British teachers today who are working in different educational mediums and none of them are paying into the pension fund. I know that YBM is on the up and up, but this issue is proving to be more vexing than I originally thought.

Galbijim says, "Unlike the US and Canada, Korea and the UK have only agreed to a 'contribution only' convention, at this time. What this means to UK citizens working in Korea, is that your Korean pension contributions can be added to your accruing pension credits in the UK, of which you can begin to receive when you retire in that country."

I read the 12 page agreement that can be found on this site under the UK Social Security link and it said nothing about 10 years, but that doesn't mean it's not true. It appears that there is not a clear answer to this, so I would suggest you write several detailed emails to the HMRC and see how diverse the replies you get are. Maybe a few truths will be revealed.

Might I suggest that if you do find out that you must be here for ten years, then why don't you stay for another year a half (which would put you at ten years) so you will get those benefits that you've been paying into for the past eight years.


You can come back to Korea when you're 60 and retire.

I wish I could say that I had a definitive answer, but this one is tricky. The law states that you should get those benefits back in the UK, so I guess we have to assume that is what is what will happen. Of course, this doesn't help with the fact that so many British teachers are not paying into their pension every month or that the fellow you talked to told you something different as well. I'm going to ask around on my teacher group and see what I come up with. I'll update this soon.

If anybody has any questions, just send me an email at or leave a comment.

Tax on Severance Pay for Teachers in South Korea

Here's the question:

Do you happen to know if taxes are supposed to be withheld from severance pay. For example, if my salary is 2.2M, should the severance be 2.2M or 2.2M minus taxes?



All income earned is taxable and since your severance pay is part of your annual salary, it will be taxed as well. I know that job advertisements often make a point to seperate severance pay from the monthly salary by using words like "bonus" or "extra", but when it comes down to it, it's just part of your income and you must pay taxes on it. I'm sure there are some hagwon owners out there that try to skirt the tax law and pay under the table for one reason or the other, but in most places, you will be taxed.

On a side note, Nathan included his photoblog address in the email and I think it's worth mentioning. Check it out: Wandering, learning, sharing...

If anybody has any questions, just send me an email at or leave a comment.

Friday, May 22, 2009

What's the Deal with the Scars on the Arms of Koreans?

Here's the question:
What's the deal with the scar that most Korean women have on their upper arms? Is it from a shot? Can I touch it?

Ryan C

Ha! Yeah, you can touch it, but don't get weird with it.

I think many teachers here wonder about this and since it's pretty safe to say that most of us aren't doctors or medical students, it is totally common to be curious about those scars. The scar tissue is from a shot, however, there is a lot of speculation as to which vaccine left such a mark, but after talking to students and cross-checking their stories, it has become clear that the scars are from smallpox inoculations.

Smallpox has a long history in Korea and was treated as the works of demons when first introduced to the peninsula by the Chinese in 583. It was so bad in Korea back then that only one percent of Koreans made it to adulthood without contracting the disease. Of course, the 20th century was nothing like that, but there was still a concern as new strands of the old disease started creeping up around the globe. The 1950s and 1960s saw a steep rise in cases and in 1967 the WHO estimated that more than 60% of the world's population could be threatened. Korea did not take that threat lightly and inoculated most children born from 1953 to 1990. The common type of scar that can be seen on women AND men is called a hypertrophic scar although it should be noted that the shots can also cause the more gruesome keloid scar.

The only other type of shot that was very common during the second half of the 20th century in Korea was the measles shot. However, it is very unlikely that the scars are from measles shots because in order for such scars to appear, there must be an allergic reaction and I just can't imagine that every Korean had the same reaction to the shot.

On that note, I should add that if you teach kids now, you have certainly seen the domino-like 3-by-3 pattern on most of your young students arms. That is a new type of measles inoculation being used today. Luckily, it. Luckily, traces of the shot disappear by adolescence. They started to be used a lot in the late 1990s and early 2000s as some outbreaks started to gain momentum.

Some advice for those of you with close Korean friends. Most women don't like it when their scars are pointed out, so know that you know what they are, ignore it. The men usually don't care, but it's just better to leave it alone.

If anybody has any questions, just send me an email at or leave a comment.

Halloween Costumes and Lederhosen in South Korea

Here's the question:


do you know where I can buy lederhosen in seoul? Or maybe a good seamstress?

thanks in advance,


Awesome. This easily is the best question I have ever gotten. Ever. I'm not too sure what to make of this question. I mean, it's May still, so unless you're really prepping for Halloween, I just can't think of why anyone would need NEW lederhosen while in Korea. Still, I'll try to help...

Of course, I'm not too sure where you could buy lederhosen in Seoul. The only place would be Itaewon and they don't have any Bavarian stores in the area. So, assuming you're not looking for top quality hosen, I think Halloween stores might be your best bet. I personally do not know of any Halloween stores. Most expats here try to be really creative and make their own, but I did find this forum (and this one too) which discusses some options.

From Daves...

There's a store called Halloween near Sadang Station. From exit 14, walk straight out quite a bit more than 50 meters till you get to the part of the sidewalk with the wall along your left side. Continue to the three-way intersection (with the hospital on one corner). Turn left and immediately jink right down the first alley/sidestreet. Halloween (with orange sign) is about 20m down the sidestreet on your right, in the basement.

They also have a website here.

I don't know, but I have a feeling that most of the costume shops are going to be for kids, so if you really want nice lederhosen, your best bet is to go to any seamstress NORTH of the river (Gangnam will be too expensive), bring them a picture, some fabric and maybe even instructions in Korean and see what happens.

Other than that, I would consider buying it from an online vendor and shipping it to Korea. It'll probably save you money and a headache. When I taught kids, they always provided costumes through an online vendor.

If anybody has any questions, just send me an email at or leave a comment.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Cycling Clubs, Forums and Trails in South Korea

Here's the question:

I was wondering if you could give me some info on cycling clubs in Ilsan or the surrounding areas. I know that Seoul is just a hop skip and a jump away but lugging a bike there may be difficult. I am just getting into cycling because running at Lake park is starting to get too packed and I need something to do on the weekends since my girl is so crazy busy on the weekends. Any advice you could give me on hiking, cycling, or tennis clubs would be great. Also, any discussion forums where I could meet similar minded folks who speak a bit of English would be greatly appreciated since my Korean is just getting started.

Todd W.

I love these questions and this one is particularly fabulous because it covers so much. That said, I think it would be better if I split it up a little. This one will cover only cycling.

First of all, let me refer you to the little write-up I did on Ilsan. It doesn't cover your question, but it might help some new info seekers. The Lake Park can get very crowded since those types of parks in Korea are geared towrds families or first dates. They're great for a casual stroll, but if you want to work up a good sweat, then you gotta find a better place.

For a nice breakdown of bicyling in Korea, check out this site. It's more of an overview, but helpful nonetheless. There are not many well-established long distance bike trails that cover some serious ground, but you have a couple options. The Imjingak Bike trail is just west of Ilsan. It's a 82 km loop trail. It sounds intense to me, but if you're in good shape I would go for it. There are also six other pretty decent trails in Gyeongi-do, but they are all south of Seoul.

I am not much of a cyclist, so I don't have any personal recs for you, but I did find a lot of resources.

  • Bicycling in Korea has some simple information

  • The Korea Sparkling site allows you to create your own trip

  • Filthy seems to be the best and offers a lot of information about both street and mountain biking

    • As far as forums go, I found a couple.

    • Mountain Bike Korea

    • As always, there was a pretty good forum over at Daves
    • Facebook has one here

    • I found only one active club which was Filthy. Here is their info...

      I also found a few random Korean-language sites that might help at some point.

    • Wild Bike

    • Corea Road Bike

    • Young Cycle

    • At Hat

    • OD Bike

    • And here are a couple maps...

    • Filthy maps

    • Greater Seoul Cycling map

    • If you are into cycling, I would head over to some of those forums, ask about some good bike shops and start working yourself into a club. If you're really in for an adventure, the DMZ is opening up a cycling path this coming September. That would be interesting. And don't forget the Tour De Korea.

      If anybody has any questions, just send me an email at or leave a comment.

      American GI's in Korea: Why Are Some Teachers So Hateful?

      Here's the question:
      I'm an American who currently lives in Taean. This is only my second month in Korea, so me and a few Canadian friends visited Itaewon last weekend for a night of drinking and I was so embarrassed by the American military. They were all so disrespectful and are making it worse for the rest of us. What's the deal with those dudes?

      I'd like to start this one out with a grammar correction. "A few Canadian friends and I visited Itaewon..."

      This is big question and one of the more specific opinion questions that I have gotten. Fair enough.

      English teachers on the peninsula have an interesting and evolving relationship with American GIs. A lot of people come to Korea holding some sort of opinion of military personal. Depending on their nationality, those opinions might be positive or negative. Typically, American opinion runs the gamut. Some have nothing but respect for them and others have nothing but contempt for them. Unfortunately, the last few decades have been very politicizing for the men in uniform. They have been demonized by the actions of their leaders, so they sometime bear the brunt of the anti-war/military onslaught. For non-Americans, the soldiers serve as an icon of American meddling which of course doesn't bode well.

      I believe that teachers in Korea go through several phases on this issue. For many, the first reaction is negative like yours was. There are bases all over the peninsula, but the boys at Yongsan garrison in particular seem to generate the most anger among teachers and are the target for anti-American Koreans. This might be because of its proximity to Itaewon, a major Seoul nightspot, where the most interaction between teachers and soldiers takes place. In Itaewon there are teacher bars and GI bars. Of course, many of them overlap and it is not all that uncommon to see teachers and GIs socializing. However, it is not all that uncommon to see scuffles between the two groups either.

      In most cases, the average teacher is going to encounter GIs drinking, dancing, playing pool and chasing girls. Sounds just like an evening with English teachers. Sure, the GIs might be drinking faster than the average teacher (mostly because of their early curfew), acting a little more immature and maybe even pursuing women more aggressively (and more successfully?), but many teachers forget that a lot of these GIs are young(er) men. Some of them are barely twenty years old. The tendency is forgot this fact (and that we were all that age at one point) and blame them for acting in such a way. I did the same thing when I first arrived. I saw them acting like drunk idiots and yelling and fighting and blamed them because of my former opinion of them. Of course, later that very same night, I was probably doing the same thing minus the fighting. That's the first impression that many new teachers get and the first phase that they go through.

      The second phase will start after a few months of being in Korea. Slowly, teachers will start to hear more stories from other seasoned teachers and Koreans about how much trouble GIs cause in Korea. You'll hear more about fighting, a few stories about crime or rape and, of course, the tragic Armored Tank Incident. The stories only confirm your previously held opinions and the knee-jerk reaction is to try to separate yourselves from them. Some teachers avoid GI areas while others willfully badmouth them to other teachers and Korean students thus perpetuating a nasty stereotype.

      It boils down to this: many English teachers believe that American soldiers are unintelligent, come from low-income families and had to join the military because they were losers back in America. They believe that GIs give expats and all teachers a bad name, but trust me, there's plenty of blame to go around.

      If you have clicked on any of the links by now, you would have noticed that I am linking one site: ROK Drop. ROK Drop is a military blog run mainly by GI Korea. I discovered this blog two years ago and not a day has gone by since that I have not dropped by and taken a look. Even though I might not agree with his politics, he is a very smart, fair and dedicated blogger that always treats all issues with respect (except for global warming). If you are new to Korea, I would suggest you add his site to your list of daily reads. He has taken many of these issues head on and I would recommend that all expats tune in.

      Finally, the final phase sets in and teachers start to realize that the GIs are just part of the experience and slowly they'll start to drop the superiority act and just let it go.

      So, my advice: If you don't want to try and get to know the GIs, that's fine. Avoid them. Go to their off-limits areas and enjoy yourself, but don't do what so many people do and badmouth them. Both teachers and American GIs should be helping improve public opinion of the other because no matter how much you want to deny it, their reputation gets tied in with ours and vice versa.

      Remember, you chose to come to Korea and even though they chose to join the military, they didn't necessarily choose to come to Korea. Let's be respectful. Like us, they're just trying their best.

      If anybody has any questions, just send me an email at or leave a comment

      Wednesday, May 20, 2009

      Contribution and Collection of Pension Money in South Korea

      Here's the question:

      I'm worried that my school (hagwon) isn't actually contributing to my pension. My pay stub says they are, but is there anyway that I can find out before I try to cash in?


      Valid concern. Depending on what country you're from, you're entilted to a lump-sum refund. Some teachers, however, are not covered by this. I pulled this from the National Pension Fund website which is surprisingly throrough.

      Who is excluded from Coverage?

      ① Those nationals whose country does not mandatorily cover Korean citizens
      under its pension scheme. => Under this rule, only the nationals from the
      following 18 specified countries
      • ※ do not have to enroll and pay the NPS contributions.

      • ※ the Republic of South Africa, Nepal, Maldives, Myanmar,
        Bangladesh, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Armenia, Ethiopia, Iran, Egypt, Tonga,
        Pakistan, Fiji, Cambodia, Singapore, Belarus, East Timor

      ② Foreigners who are not registered under the Immigration Act, or to whom the
      forced deportation order has been issued under the same Act, or who are staying
      in Korea without being permitted to extend their term of stay.

      ③ Among the registered foreigners under the Immigration Act, those whose stay
      status falls under any of the followings; culture & art, studying abroad,
      industrial training, general training, religion, visiting & living together
      and others.

      ④ People excluded from the mandatory coverage of National Pension Scheme, by
      the social security agreement.

      Also, check this out if you happen to be British. There is a lot of rumors surrounding what happens with citizens from the UK. Here's a another post I wrote about that.

      Most schools will match your 4.5% monthly contribution into your pension fund, so each month you're actually investing 9% of your salary. It's a good system because it's essentially a forced savings plan for teachers who prefer to spend there money on booze or shoes.

      The best way to find out if your boss has been matching your contribution is to either call the pension office or go down there yourself. I would recommend you go down there just to make sure. The website won't let me link individual pages, but if you click the mini-map on the home page, you'll find a very comprehensive list of telephone numbers and addresses for your area.

      If you have determined that your school or boss is matching your contribution and it's time for you to leave Korea, you need to go to a regional pension office and follow these directions which I also pulled from the site.

      An Application for Lump-sum Refund (This form is available at any regional

      • His/her passport

      • His/her Alien Registration Card

      • A copy of bankbook or similar (registered in the applicant's name)

      • A copy of an airline ticket. (the date of departure has to be in less than a month from the date of the claim)

      • ※ In the case that an applicant has been insured under an other public pension scheme since before July 23, 2007 and he/she had insured periods under the National Pension Scheme before being insured under the public pension scheme, he/she can receive his/her national pension contributions as a lump-sum refund if he/she submits a certificate of employment and a copy of a certificate of coverage.

      If , for some reason, you needed to leave Korea in a hurry or forgot about your pension money, then you'll need to follow these directions.

      An application for Lump-sum Refund (it must be notarized from a
      notary's agency in the country where the applicant resides and be attested by
      the Korean embassy).

      • A copy of bankbook or similar (registered in the applicant's name)

      • ※ If the applicant applies for overseas remittance, an application for
        overseas remittance and a bank statement or void check which shows his/her name
        and account number are required.

      • A copy of his/her passport

      And if you need a third person to collect your funds...

      A letter of attorney (it must be notarized from a notary's agency in
      the country where the applicant resides and be attested by the Korean

      • ※ An applicant should specify that he/she intends the agent in Korea to
        receive his/her lump-sum refund on behalf of him/her. In this case the applicant
        must provide a signed or stamped letter of attorney containing the agent's full
        name, address, etc.

      • ※ An agent living in Korea who has received the letter of attorney should
        get their Korean-translated texts notarized again so the letter's contents can
        be generally identified.- A copy of the applicant's passport

      • An application for Lump-sum Refund

      • ※ An applicant must fill out the "Application by Agent" section in the
        "Application for Lump-sum Refund" form and then notarize it in a notary's agency
        of the country where the applicant resides and attest it in the Korean consulate
        or embassy. If the applicant's letter of attorney is tested by a public notary
        in the country where he/she resides or a Korean consulate or embassy, the
        "Application by Agent" is not necessary.

      • A copy of applicant's ID card (public documents issued by the
        government of the applicant's home country including a passport, social security
        card or other forms of identification)

      • Applicant's bank book (it must be notarized from a notary's agency of the
        country where the applicant resides and be attested by the Korean embassy)

      I have never heard of someone not getting their pension money back, so it seems that this is a pretty sure thing if you follow the steps correctly.

      If anybody has any questions, just send me an email at or leave a comment.

      Monday, May 18, 2009

      How Long Can You Overstay Your Visa in South Korea? Is There a Penalty?

      Here's the question:

      I am just getting ready to leave for Canada. I'm wondering if you know if I have to extend my stay if I stay a day past my work visa expiration? Or is there a grace period between the expiry date of my visa and the time I fly out?


      First of all, my response pertains only to E2 visa holders....

      Immigration issues are always unclear as I've mentioned many times before. The rules and laws are not enforced consistently, and this issue in particular is very ambiguous. I've heard from other teachers that you can stay anywhere from an extra week all the way up to a month. None of that is true of course.

      I just got off the phone with the immigration office here in Seoul (02-2650-6212) where I made three calls and spoke to three different people. To my surprise, I got the same response. You are supposed to leave the country within 24 hours of your visa expiration date. If you want to know when that date is look at your ARC, not the visa in the passport. They're usually the same, but immigration officers only look at the ARC date. I know departing in 24 hours seems a little rigid and many people want to spend a couple days or even weeks saying goodbye or travelling to a part of Korea you never got a chance to see. Luckily, you have a couple options.

      You can go to immigration with your boss and they'll give you an "exit order" date which must be within a month of your original visa expiration. For this, you will not need to purchase a plane ticket to be granted the extension. However, since you're doing this with your boss, they'll still be sponsoring your visa, so they might expect you to work or stay within ear shot in case your replacement falls through. I would not recommend this option.

      Your other option is to visit the HiSeoul Portal site or the G4 website. From there you can file a petition for an extension. You will need provide your departing flight information which should be within a month (30 days) from your visa expiration date and that's it. The website is more specific, but it's as simple as following directions. I would recommend that you do this a week or two before your expiration date because it can take up to 14 days to process.

      OpenMicah, five time Expat Dancer of the Year, adds...

      If you want to do it online with the Korean government's HiKorea Portal (which is the fastest option), you probably want to apply for a "Temporary Extension of Stay for Departure of Registered Foreigners". It is the application I used and it only took a few days to process. I don't know if that's typical, though.

      A few catches with this application (and perhaps most of them):

      1)You MUST have your airline ticket before applying. At the end of the application they ask you to attach your e-ticket.

      2) You want to have an explanation ready. They ask you on the application why you are applying for an extension. It's a not a big deal, but you probably don't want to say you're staying "just to fuck around some more". Chances are that's actually what you want to do, but don't say it. I personally wanted an extension just to be around for my last weekend, but I officially told them that I needed to arrive back home later than my visa so I could arrange transportation once I got there.

      3) The "Temporary Extension" application is only for under 30 days. If you want to stay longer, you need a different application. Different applications might have a more specific, less-lenient process. Be careful.

      Your last option is probably the one most people are wondering about. Can you just wing it? As you might know by now, there are many elements of the Korean government that don't care about the application of rules or laws, but instead focus on minimizing difficulties. The whole point of the departure rule is to get you out of the country legally. If you were to "confuse" the rules and, say, try to leave a couple weeks after the date on your card, then immigration officials have very few options. This comes with a warning though. You could be fined and detained until payment has been made. Typically, the fee will be waved and infraction ignored if you've only overstayed by a week or so, but if you're really pushing it, then expect to face some sort of penalty. However, it is totally dependant on the individual officer handling your case.

      Furthermore, if you intend to go this route, I would arrive at the airport a couple hours earlier than normal. Depending on the season, you might be held up for awhile and need to work that delay into your schedule. If you are detained, it'll be for an hour tops and will mostly be filled with a lot of questions in broken English. They might give you a piece of paper to sign that amounts to some confession/apology, but in the end, they will let you leave because after all, that's the point of the law.

      As many public school teachers now, there are no quick-access records kept of such an infraction just like there are no records kept on your previous visa or criminal background check. The second you leave and apply for a new visa, you're a totally new person with no record (unless it's a serious crime). It's not an efficient system in the least, but it works to those who want to overstay their visa.

      Of course, I would suggest you extend your visa properly or make arrangements within the scope of the law for a late departure. Don't rock the boat over something so easy to adhere to.

      If anybody has any questions, just send me an email at or leave a comment.

      Sunday, May 17, 2009

      Jet-Lag and Settling-in Time for New Teachers in South Korea

      Here's the question:

      Is it pretty typical to have to start work the day after you arrive in Korea? This has come up a few times on a couple message boards and it kind of freaks me out that I may not even have time to get over jet lag - much less unpack - before I have to show up at school.


      Unfortunately, it is common. I have known many teachers who arrived in Korea in the morning only to find themselves at school that afternoon. However, this is only the standard for hagwons. Most public schools have two big hiring drives (September, March) where the teachers arrive in Korea around the same time and are put into a week long orientation. From what I've heard, the orientation is pretty lame, but it does allow for some settle-in time as well as getting over jet lag.

      Hagwons and other private institutes are usually hard-pressed to get a teacher to start just as the previous teacher departs. This is usually why teachers are thrown into classes or at least immediate in-class training. The best way to combat this is to make sure you'll be getting some solid training/observation time which usually requires less on-site time. That's easier said than done as it's practically clockwork for recruiters to promise such settling time, but it wouldn't hurt to try. If you can help it, try to arrive on a Friday or even just as a holiday starts. I arrived the day that summer vacation was starting, so I got here on a Friday and didn't start until the following Thursday.

      If you're really worried about jet lag, then you have a couple options. You can either take some meds on the flight over and try to start the sleeping pattern or you can power through and drink heavily your first couple nights which will lead to you passing out and therefore forcing yourself to adjust. Your call on that one.

      I have never really been that affected by jet lag. I think it's one of those things that really gets to some people while the rest of us just like to talk about it as if we also suffered from it. If you're working for a hagwon, especially a small one, expect to start that day or the following morning. If you're going to be in some other type of school then you might get some more time. Either way, after a week or two you'll be adjusted and ready to go.

      If anybody has any questions, just send me an email at or leave a comment.

      Friday, May 15, 2009

      Watching American and Canadian Sports in Korea

      Here's the question:

      I'm an American and a big sports fan. I've been in Seoul for almost two months and haven't been able to see any MLB or NBA games. I'm okay with keeping track of those through ESPN, but I really can't miss football seasons! Go Bills!!! Where can I go? Itaewon?


      Really? The Bills? Being a Bengals fan, my gut reaction is to make fun of you, but then again, I'm a Bengals fan.

      Watching American sports is always a challenge in Korea. If you're a soccer fan and happen to British, then you're in luck. If you're like every other Korean and love Park Ji-Sung and therefore Manchester United, then you're really in luck. Korea Beat sums it up pretty well with their weekly Most Read Naver Articles. However, like so many American and Canadian expats, soccer just doesn't cut it. Sadly, there are not a lot of options for you.

      I remember my first year. I was totally gung-ho for watching American football and baseball, but I soon realized that watching them was quite a challenge and sometimes not worth the effort. As I'm sure you know by now, you can catch a few games on some of the sports channels that are featured on basic cable, but unless you're watching Hines Ward or UFC, it won't be live. I can't tell you which channel they might be on as it is differs between regions, but I can at least give you a quick breakdown of a few. Remember, unless a team is or sport has some connection to Korea, these channels will rarely play American sports and in most cases there is no pattern to what they'll show.

      Aside from that small and disappointing lineup, you can always try to find some bars that play games. From my experience though, most expat-frequented bars will play big games or they'll go to their backup of old hockey games. If you're in Itaewon, then all you'd need to do is ask the owners if they show any games or if they have satellite. Oftentimes, if the bar features American sports they'll be advertising it along with some drink or food special. I know that RMT really tries to show American/Canadian sports as seen in it's online viewing schedule. You could also check out Gekko's, Hooters and Big Rock. Hooters tries to play big games and Big Rock, like RMT, focuses on hockey.

      So, your choices for public viewing are limited. However, you always have the internet. That's the best way to insure that you don't miss any big games. I don't need to list online viewing sites since a simple Google search will suffice, but I will add that if you are an American college sports fan, most of those sites won't work. You will need to go to your team or school's sports website and purchase a membership of sort. You might have to wake up at 3am for the game, but to a true sports fan, that's no problem.

      I'd say just keep your eyes open and ears to the ground while you're out and you'll most likely discover a few solid places around town to catch the game.

      If anybody has any questions, just send me an email at or leave a comment.

      Transgender Community, Clubs and Bars in South Korea

      Here's the (different) question:

      Is there a large transgender population in South Korea? Are there good transgender bars?


      JT, huh? Hmmm, I wish it was JTT as in Jonathan Taylor Thomas because then it would make perfect sense, but then again it might actually be the boy wonder. After all, Vanilla Ice wrote into the Korea Times today, so who knows who's interested in Korea these days.

      I should say that I can't tell if you are curious for personal or academic reasons, so I will try to give you as much as I can about a relatively quiet community.

      Alright, rather than delving into the nuances of the LGBT culture, I will instead refer you to an excellent write up on homosexuality in Korea by Ask a Korean. As usual, he nails it down pretty well. There's also a book titled, "Gay and Lesbian Asia: Culture, Identity, Community". Pages 65-80 deal with Korea. I think it should cover the basics so I don't have to. Yes, there is a transgender culture here. However, like the gay and lesbian culture, you will find that it's either ignored, denied, pushed to the side or dismissed by the average Korean. Nonetheless, the overall LGBT has been active in recent years and some reports claim that there have been up to 70,000 Koreans who have undergone the transformation since the 1970s and while that number might paint a picture of commonality, it is still very much hidden from public.

      There has been one icon of the transgender movement in Korea and her name is "Harisu" who got her name because it sounds like "Hot Issue". You can read about her bio here, a music video here and her influence here.
      Now to your second question. I don't know what constitutes a "good" trans bar, but I can at least try to point you to where a few are. First of all, take a look at this page (oddly enough the url says something about friends and badminton). If you scroll down the page you'll find addresses and bar names throughout the country. I also took the liberty to do a google search for you about the well-known Transbar in Itaewon. You can click the links on the search page if you want. I am at work, so no chance there.

      I wish I could offer you a bit more information (or perhaps OpenMicah, the worlds strongest expat, could offer you some first-hand insight), but I just don't have a lot on this one. To wrap it up, there is a quiet transgender community here and there are some transgender bars, so I think your curiosity, be it personal or academic, will be satisfied.

      If anybody has any questions, just send me an email at or leave a comment.

      Thursday, May 14, 2009

      Rock & Ice Climbing, Bouldering and Rock Walls in South Korea

      Here's the question:

      I'm leaving for South Korea (Bundang) in two weeks to teach and want to know if I should bring my climbing gear. I mean, are their any good rocks, walls or boulders there? Is it worth the extra weight?

      Thomas G.

      Easy question here. Yes, it is worth it (because climbing equipment is very expensive here) and yes there are some excellent rocks to climb around on in Korea. However, I am not speaking from a lot of experience. I have gone climbing only twice since I've been here and one of those times, we were rained out. There does seem to be a close-knit groups of dedicated climbers on the peninsula though.

      There's a climbing club called Korea on the Rocks that has endless info about climbing in Korea. They also are pretty big on ice climbing which is not that common in the West. I preferred bouldering while in the States and they even have some good resources on that.

      The first time I went climbing here was with Korea on the Rocks. They're all pretty good climbers, but are more than willing to help the noobs. Many of them are long term expats and have cars which is always nice and super convenient for those hard-to-find climbs. If you don't their site provides forums, directions and other helpful links. Also, it never hurts to check out Adventure Korea. They always have some good ideas.

      You could also take a gander at...
      I'll also mention that the Korean climbers that I have seen are pretty damn amazing and they apparently have that reputation around the world. If you're okay with some traveling, then Korea is a perfect place for you to continue your climbing.

      If anybody has any questions, just send me an email at or leave a comment

      Wednesday, May 13, 2009

      Non-Teaching Positions in Korea and Visas for Wives

      Here's the question:
      My girlfriend is fluent in English and has a master's degree, but is not from an English-speaking country. Is there any chance she could get a job as an English instructor in South Korea? If not, and we were to marry, what difficulties would we face in her being here? Could she find any kind of work, not knowing how to speak Korean?

      My follow-up question: Where is your girlfriend from? What is her master in?
      She's from Hungary with a master's degree in sociology from a Hungarian university. I think she's passed the English language exam but I don't know enough about it to say for certain. She has to write her thesis in English, I think, and her undergraduate degree was in American studies.

      I touched on something similar to this in a previous post. First of all, there is very little chance for her to get a standard language education visa (E2) since she is from Hungary. If she were to speak and teach another commonly taught language in Korea, then perhaps she could find a job here, but I'd say her options are limited on that front.

      So, I would suggest you take a look at some of the other visa options. Perhaps she would be able to get a job in one of those fields. Take a look at this site and this site. Here's a forum discussion which also has a few links. They're mostly related to English, but might give you a couple ideas at least.

      You mentioned getting married and if you do, then you'll have the option of obtaining an F-3 visa which is for accompanying spouses of visa holders. That gets her into the country, but it doesn't get her a job. If you decide not to get married and she does not have a job that provides a visa, then she will have to apply for a tourist visa at a Korean consulate in Hungary. The consulate is in Budapest, but even then her visa is only good for 90 days. If you're heart is really set on coming to Korea with your girlfriend (or soon-to-be wife), then marriage is the easiest way to do it since it gives her an automatic visa.

      There are other things to consider though. If she does come here and isn't working (which is a real possibility), she could get bored and feel isolated. (However, a few people over at Ask a Korean think that Hungary and Korea are strikingly similar.) Furthermore, the apartment provided to you will most likely be small and pretty cramped for two people. There is also a stigma that some Eastern European women must endure as well.

      I'm not trying to dissuade you from coming as I'm sure you and your girlfriend/wife will enjoy your time, but I think it would be better if you knew what you might be getting yourself into. Good luck!

      If anybody has any questions, just send me an email at or leave a comment

      Tuesday, May 12, 2009

      Western Food and Costco in Daegu, South Korea

      Here's the question:

      Some days I live off of cereal and soup. Can you please tell me I will be able to buy such things as Captain Crunch Berries, Honey Bunches of Oats, Ramen Noodles and Hot Chocolate mix with the little marshmallows. I am very open to eating others foods I just wanted to know if they had this stuff or should I try to cram it somewhere in my suitcase. And also can you tell me what foods I just won't be able to get so I can be mentally I will be living in SangIn, Daegu.

      Food always seems to be a big concern and well, I'm sorry to say, but I think I can go ahead a cross Captain Crunch Berries and Honey Bunches of Oats right off that list. You will not find them in any Korean supermarket. Luckily however, you won't be totally out of options. First of all, take a look at EZShop Korea. It does a pretty good job at detailing what's available in the stores. On top of that, you're going to Daegu (which is a lovely city), you will have the luxury of a Costco is your city. Yet, you will be living in Sangin, which is southern Daegu and the Costco is north of the city in Buk-Gu. Here's a little map.

      For a quick read on the Costco in Daegu, check out the Galbijim site. It looks like it's a bit difficult to get to for anyone without a car, but they offer some info about it's location.

      You can take Line 1 or Red line from Sangin Station to Keungogae Station and "then from exit 4, cross the street to the other side of the intersection and take a cab the rest of the way, which will only be a 3-4 minutes drive." You could also check out some other modes of transportation here.

      I have not been to the one in Daegu, but I do know that I have seen the "hot Chocolate mix with the little marshmallows" here in a Seoul Costco. The cereal that I've seen tends to be limited to General Mills cereal and as I'm writing, for some reason I get the feeling that I've actually seen Honey Bunches of Oats, but I'm just not sure. You can look at a broad overview of some of the Costco products here. As for ramen noodles (라면), you're heading to the mecca of all things ramen. The flavor might be a little different from what you're used to, but there is never, ever a shortage of ramen here. Click here for an overview of what Korea has to offer in the world of ramen. Same goes for soup. The average Korean eats soup more than twice a day and the variety is really quite fantastic. Click here and here for a quick look at some Korean soups.

      As I mentioned, a lot of people are concerned about adjusting their eating habits to an entirely new taste and it's a totally valid concern. There's nothing easy about it, but after a few months of open-minded dabbling, you'll discover what western treats you can live with and without and which Korean flavors you like. Here's a list of some restaurants in and around Daegu. I also have heard of some people who had friends in the US military that would bring them on the base for some all-western grocery shopping. I know Daegu has four camps around the area, but I don't know what the grocery situation on base is.

      But remember, a package from home is always an option.

      If anybody has any questions, just send me an email at or leave a comment.

      Volleyball and Other Sports Facilities in Seoul

      Here's the question:

      Where's a good place to play volleyball in Seoul?


      Sports, huh? Not my strong point, but I can help.

      While it certainly appears to be a concrete jungle, there are a lot of sports facilities dispersed all around Seoul. You can find a basketball goal or a soccer field at just about every school in town and there are also dozens of non-Hangang parks that offer such facilities. However, it seems that the greatest concentration of sports facilities are located around the Han River in designated riverside green areas called Hangang Riverside Park.

      The Hangang parks are hit or miss. Sometimes you can go there and no one will be on the field or court, but other times they might be booked for weeks ahead of time. For volleyball you can head to Gwangnaru, Jamsil, Jamwon, Banpo, Ichon, Yeouido, Yanghwa, Mangwon, Nanji. They all have some sort of facilities that should be okay for what you're looking for. I can't say which one is the best though. Korea hosted the third leg of the Women’s Beach Volleyball World Tour in 2008, so I can only assume that some of the courts are decent. They've invested a lot of dough in it as well.

      If you're looking for indoor volleyball, then it might be a little harder. Like many baseball fields and basketball courts, it will require reserving a court for several months and paying a pretty hefty fee. Of course, that fee would be reduced if you got a big group together and split it, but then you have to deal with the issue of getting a big enough group together.

      As I said, I'm not the biggest exercises guy, but I don't mind getting out there every once in awhile if there's the promise of a little barbecue and beer afterwards. I've never seen a shortage of places to enjoy the day and get in a little something for your health, so I good luck and happy hunting.

      If your in the mood for some other sports and recreation facilities, check out this site.

      Contributer and expat extrondinare, OpenMicah says...

      For any public school or university teachers out there, one thing I would say is to check with the faculty at your school. Usually public schools have inter-school volleyball leagues some time in the fall, and teachers from one school usually play teachers from another school. I bet the teachers who play on your school volleyball team (especially the men) play occasionally with their buddies somewhere else out side of school and wouldn't mind you coming along.

      I also would check with any foreigner or Korean friends you know working for a Korean company. They might actually have a company volleyball team that rents out a court once a week for a few hours. I had a friend working at a company, and all the guys in the office played basketball once a week on a rented court. He invited me and I split the cost with them. With 20 guys, it was only 20,000W a month. It wasn't competitive play or anything, but it was probably the only cheap way to play sports indoors. In the winter, especially.

      If anybody has any questions, just send me an email at or leave a comment.

      Sunday, May 10, 2009

      Gifts For Your Korean Director

      Here's the question:

      I am leaving on Monday for Korea and I am still trying to figure out what to get my director and also what other little trinkets I should bring for other gift giving situations. I had read somewhere that honey was a good gift, but not sure if there were some other ideas. I would prefer to bring something that is not liquid, as my luggage is already pretty full/heavy. Any ideas?

      This is one that everyone loves to guess about. It is a great idea to get your director a gift, but it is not mandatory. I didn't get my first director a gift since I didn't know that it was done at the time. Most directors never really care about the actual gift, but appreciate the gesture. If you're working for a big hagwon, then your director has probably gotten the basics like chocolates and "unique" Western trinkets, so be more creative.

      I have not heard anyone suggest honey before and would probably veto that idea. Many people try to think of things that Koreans might not have easy access to, but in this case, honey does not fall under that category. It is a little pricey, but money is not an issue for your director. I always like to suggest wine. Koreans love wine as witnessed by the endless amount of wine bars blanketing the streets. If you live in a country or state that is known for wine, then buy a bottle or two. Maybe you don't live in Napa Valley though, so pick up any interesting flavor that represents your home. It'll be a hit. I bought my second director a bottle of whiskey that was unique to my home state of Tennessee. It was single barrel Jack Daniels. He liked it a lot, but then again, who wouldn't?

      If you don't want to be too creative or don't care, I'd suggest shot glasses. Koreans are big drinkers, so a shot glass will actually be used and it can be somewhat representative of your home nation.

      *** Update 5/12/09 ***

      The honey that was being referenced was Manuka honey from NZ. So, all you Kiwis out there should try to pick up some of that as I'm told that it's like gold here. Especially since Koreans love any food product that might prove benefial to their health.

      From former expat in Korea and soon to be expat in China, OpenMicah...

      "The shot glasses are a good idea, but you should be careful about the quality of them. If you get your director a set of cheesy local, "Welcome to Anytown USA" souvenir shot glasses, they might think them in poor taste. This is a big might, of course, because your director might actually have a sense of humor, but still, Koreans do place a lot of importance on looks and expense. They want to show everyone that the stuff they have is top-notch. Maybe you could get them a nicer set when you first meet them (maybe one that has some printing from your home area, though nice sets usually don't have that kind of stuff on them), or wait until you have been working for a little while and develop a rapport with your director. Then you can give the shot glasses, and your director would get the joke.This is just a thought. I, for one, would have gotten my director something nicer at the start of my employment, but something cheesy and funny only after I knew him for a while. Maybe after I got back from a vacation back home."

      If anybody has any questions, just send me an email at or leave a comment.