Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Namyangju, South Korea: Nature Lovers Paradise

Here's the question (or request in this case):

I'm interested in finding out where things [in Namyangju] are (cool must see sites..artifacts...historic locations...traditional South Korean
outfits.....western foods....other than junk food....Mcdonalds....maybe even a
supermarket). I'm trying find my way around.....and figure out who the potential
good friends are.

Namyangju is located just northeast of Seoul in Gyeonggi province. It's also conveniently nestled right next to Guri which is pleasant city full of great things to do, but let me focus on Namyangju.

Namyangju is pretty large and since I don't know where in the city you live , I'm going to have to use the marker that Google Earth provided. As you can see you're pretty far outside Seoul, but close enough that traveling to the city on a weekend wouldn't be a big deal at all. It's only 30 minutes to Dogok station. That being said, there's plenty to do and see in your area that traveling to Seoul isn't even necessary outside of the occasional urge for non-Western international food.

As I often do, let's start with nature in your area and I'd like to point out that you picked a wonderful area for such escapes. The most famous recreation area in Namyangju is the Natural Recreation Forest at Mountain Chungryeong. It's full of great landscape, dense forests and beautiful valleys. The park also has forestry fields, sports facilities, pools, camping grounds, nature observation areas, and is a great place for both relaxing family vacations or a mountain hike. If you're into that sort of thing and want to book a cabin or reserve a camping ground, call 031-592-0681. I called them and found an English speaker there as well.

Gwangneung Forest is also located in the area. This place is the best natural forest in Korea because of its "treasury of mountains and forests, as well as a fascinating mix of animals and plant species. The Gwangneung forest, has a total of 841 different sorts of plants settling in the forest with 75 families and 244 species of vertebrates which include 19 kinds designated as the precious natural treasure and 22 kinds designated as the rare animal. Among all of the birds living in the forest, the most famous is the Korean redheaded woodpecker."

I called them at (031)540-1114, but did not find any English speakers there. Also, they appear to be closed on Sundays. Still, it looks nice.

You can also check out Mt. Chuknyeongsan Recreation Forest.

Besides those spots there's also a ton of other neat places are sure to keep you busy for many, many weekends. You've got Mt. Cheonmasan, Mt.Ungilsan [Sujongsa Temple] and Mt. Suraksan for some hiking. There's Bukhangang River where you can hike, pincic and do some water skiing. There's also an annual festival that features crafts, music and other cultural festivities.

While on the topic of skiing, you can hit the slopes in the winter months at Mt.Cheonmasan Ski Resort and Seoul Resort. For rental fees, check this out.

The major tourist attractions are Gwangreung Royal Tomb, Hongreung Royal Tomb, Yureung Royal Tomb, Sareung Royal Tomb, Paldang Resort Complex, Studio Complex, Bamseomdo Island, and Moran Art Gallery. You can also check out the Mongolian Cultural Village.

For all other tourism related info check out Gyeonggi's tourist site, Namyangju's site and even Guri's site. I'd spend some serious time on the Namjangju site though. It's loaded with solid info. In case I forgot anything, take a peek at this site as well.

Now, on to the other stuff...western niceties. One of the only challenges you'll face living outside of Seoul might be the inconvenience of getting food that you want when you want it. As you get used to Korean food, you'll slowly assimilate and your taste buds will change, but when you're really hungry, sometimes Korean food just doesn't cut it.

So, what are your options? Let's start with Costco. Depending on your location in Namyangju, there is a Costco relatively close to you. Here's a bigger picture.

You'll have to pay 35,000 won for a one year membership and then you'll be fine on at least some aspects of western cuisine at home. For restaurants, I would take a look here. There seems to be a pretty good amount of eateries for you. There appears to be one western bar called Oddysee Bar. I don't know anything about it though.

As far as making good friends, I would suggest you get out there and start traveling. Check into Adventure Korea. They're always up to something.

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

Monday, April 27, 2009

Tap Water in Korea and Masan: Is it drinkable?

Here's the question:


I live in Masan, and have been here for three months. I was told many times not to drink the tap water, that I had to buy bottled water for that, but I could boil tap water for coffee, or when cooking, etc. Now I have met someone who has been here for over a year, and he drinks the tap water. He also pointed out to me that everyone, myself included, brushes their teeth and showers with it. What's the story on tap water, is it really not that bad? Does it depend on where you live?


Just like the toilet paper issue I wrote about in the Korea Times (and my other now-sleepy blog), this is one of my favorite subjects. I also touched on the subject here, but that was a more Seoul-centric approach to the issue.

Before delving back into the psychology of drinking tap water, let's take a few looks at Masan and what's going on with their water. First of all, Gyeongsangnam-do province where Masan is located has consistently tested poorly for water quality standards. In fact, the area has the highest exceeded limitation rate of sewage and pollutants in the country with 13.7% of its facilities over the legal limit for contaminants.

There are reasons for this though. The entire Gyeongsangnam province produces the majority of the fisheries for the nation. Judging by the pictures, it looks pretty clean, however, the fisheries industry has had a severely detrimental affect on Masan Bay making it the most polluted bay in Korea. The quick non-scientific explanation goes like this. Masan Bay has been extensively used over the past three decades causing a huge increase in pollutants which have depleted a lot of oxygen in the water and made the surface almost acidic. That polluted water is contaminating the sediments and water columns which has a direct affect on the quality of drinkable water in the area. Even though they have built water treatment plants to combat the pollution, there seems to be little improvement in overall water quality.

Nonetheless, people like your friend insist on drinking it. I have a friend whose wife is from Masan and while she doesn't dare drink it, he has no problem sucking it back. Your friend is also right about washing and brushing as well. We all brush our teeth and wash our hair with the tap water, so why not drink it?

This issue boils down to a few things. From a Korean's point of view, they will not drink it for several reasons. Of course the smell is strong and taste is pretty bad compared to bottled or purified water, but their overall distrust stems from generations of contempt for the government. Koreans, for the most part, simply don't trust the government and if the government claims that the water is clean, they will not believe it. I actually conducted a taste/smell test with about 50 of my adult students and some of them thought that the tap water wasn't that bad. When I asked them if they would drink tap water if it tasted and smelled the same as bottled water, they all said 'no'. Why? They don't trust the results.

Expats here assimilate in many ways, but adapting to food and drink culture is one of the most common. So, even though many of us come from nations where it is the norm to consume tap water, we adopt the Korean mindset and avoid it.

If I were you, however, I would advise you to avoid drinking the tap water. Looking at the facts, it just doesn't seem that clean. That said, if you live in a new apartment building with new pipes, then I would perhaps be more apt to dabbling in the stuff, but if you're in an old villa, I'd stick to the bottle. You know the facts and it's just not worth it in my opinion.

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

Teaching Chinese (or piano) in Korea

Here's the question:


My name is Meiqin. I am from Singapore and this 22 years-old. I am very interested in going Korea to work, probably teaching English, Chinese or piano. However, I am not sure what are the essential qualifications that I need to achieve and survive in korea. I want and determined to go Korea. Just that, I have limited knowledge about Koreans. Can you help me? I will be grateful to receive advice from you.

Thanks and hope to hearing from you soon.


Thanks for the question. First things first, before you start worrying about surviving in Korea, you need to focus on getting here and that takes getting a job. You would think that a quick visit to the Korean Immigration website would help, but it has got to be the most difficult site to navigate. So, we'll go it alone.

You mentioned teaching either English or Chinese and I should go ahead and suggest that you focus on Chinese. The requirements for teaching English and gaining the E-2 visa in Korea are simple, but it includes owning a passport from either Canada, US, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, or South Africa. Assuming you have a passport from Singapore, that would eliminate you from teaching English.

Take a look at all the visa types here.

As you can see, the E-2 visa is not only for teaching English though, but rather teaching all languages in a non-university setting (E-1). If you want an overview of how to start the process, you can start here to get some simple background info.

The best way to come to Korea is with a job, but unlike teaching English, jobs for Chinese teachers are much more difficult to find. I know of four teaching sites, but unfortunately, they're all in Korean. Just in case you have a Korean friend who can help, try here, here, here and here. You could also try your hand at an international school.

As far as teaching piano goes, I'd say that might prove fruitless as well. There are thousands of Korean piano teachers here, so getting visa sponsorship for that might be difficult. I will say, however, that you might have some luck teaching piano IN ENGLISH. I have had little luck locating any resources yet, but I do know that there is a demand for that combination.

If I were you, I would start looking at websites and forums in Singapore and by that I mean at your home and in Chinese or English. That's what you should be working on right now. The jobs are out there, but you'll have to do a little more work and since I can't speak or read Chinese, I'm at a loss on this one.

The next part of your question is a very far-reaching one.

"I have limited knowledge about Koreans. Can you help me?"

I think even those of us who have been in Korea for 10 years would have a hard time organizing our thoughts in order to form an accurate and coherent answer to this one. If I were you, besides reading the papers, I would take a look at a couple books and read a few blogs.

If you want a nice read, then go for Michael Breen's book titled, "The Koreans". He also writes a column in the Korea Times. For a more exhaustive and historical look, I'd recommend "The Two Koreas" by Don Oberdorfer.

As for blogs, I'd have to go with a personal favorite, Ask A Korean. Other than that, if you want a good look at Korean society, then Gusts Of Popular Feeling and The Grand Narrative offer excellent snips of the culture. For more biting commentary, I would suggest Brian in Jeollanam-do or The Marmot. There are a few other good ones out there, but for the most part, the ones I gave you should suffice.

I'm sorry I couldn't paint a rosier picture for you, but that doesn't mean there are great jobs and experiences awaiting you. I will continue and try to locate some more information for you, but until then, I wish you the best of luck.

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

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Weekend Expat Roundup


* Roboseyo thinks you should go to Buddha's Birthday Lantern Festival in Jonggak.

* The Marmot has an interesting discussion going on about an anti-Canadian editorial in the Korea Times.

* The Korean briefly talks about surfing in Korea. Don't get too excited, though. It looks grim.

* Gusts of Popular Feeling has a nice write-up on Korean Internet censorship

* The Grand Narrative takes a look at who is wearing deodorant in Korea.

* Korea Beat reports on the increase in school violence.

Korean Media

* Korea Times has an interesting piece on why so many Korean kids where classes.

* KBS says that Korea is seeing a rise in Vietnamese tourists.

* Yonhap has a little story on the Anti-Beauty Pageant being held in Seoul.

* OhmyNews has a nice one about Koreans and their issues with mobile Internet phones.

* Joongang Daily looks at Korea's battle with suicide.

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

Concerts, Shows and Live Music in Korea

Click here for a complete list of resources for music on the Korean peninsula.

Here's the question:

Hey, ive been in korea for 2 months now and havent been able to find a website that lists concerts in the country. Do you know any good links?

Excellent question and one that I was very frustrated with when I first arrived. Most of your favorite bands who happen to be doing an Asian tour will likely skip over Korea or will play at odd times. I remember when Prodigy came here a couple years ago and their set time was supposed to begin at 3pm on Thursday. It's unfortunate, but the market is just not big enough to attract most musicians. The music scene in Korea is awashed with very carefully manufactured pop music, so easy access to online resources and concert posters for everything else is something that is a little harder to come across. However, there are a few solid resources.

Depending on your musical preferences, there should be something out there for you. For instance 02 Pro lists big names of DJs coming to Seoul. The artists will more than likely be playing at popular clubs in the area, so you can always visit their websites as well. However, if you're looking to see some live tunes or are in search of a more diverse array of music, you'll probably need to head to Hongdae. There, you can find the occasional concert poster or some sort of flier detailing venue, time and artist info.

You can also check out Broke In Korea for "punk, ska, oi and other underground music".

I like to use Korea Gig Guide for the most part though. It's easily the best Korean gig site because it not only lists international acts, but it also lists good expat bands and non-K-pop Korean bands. There's also of forum (although a little weak) and map of venue locations in Hongdae for your convenience.

Most of the shows listed on the site are in Hongdae and quite a few genres are represented. You'll find punk, rock, metal, hip-hop, trance and house. For the most part, however, you will not find many jambands making the trip to Korea. I mention that because it happens to be my preference, but every time I check Jambase, it yields nothing for Korea. As frustrating as it might be, Japan seems to attract loads of bands, so for the really dedicated followers, a trip to Japan might be worth it. And honestly, Asia just isn't a big destination for Western acts, so if you're a dedicated music fan, be prepared to try some new sounds or get ready for a big break from live music.

I should mention that Korea does have a couple annual events that always attract Western acts. The World DJ Festival in Nanji-do, Seoul takes place every year in early May. This is a great show because it's an all-weekend thing and there is camping at Nanji campgrounds. Click here, here, here, here and here for some videos.

The other major Western music festival is The Pentaport Rock Festival (Wiki here) in Incheon. The original aim of the festival was to attract major names that had just finished playing at the extremely popular Fuji Rock Festival to Korea, but have had limited success.(My favorite band, Umphrey's Mcgee, played in 2006 and Disco Biscuits are playing this year.) In fact, each year produces less and less quality international artists. 2009's lineup has not be released yet, but I'm not expecting much. Still, it's a big festival, a lot of fun and some people really love it.

While Korea might seem like a black hole for international acts, it's not. There have been some major acts perform here (Eric Clapton, Oasis, Beyonce, Jay Z, etc...), but in the end, it's a country where there are very little counter-culture elements and yet they still manage to have a full line-up of relatively unknown bands and musicians headlining every night. It might take a little while to get adjusted, but there's never a shortage of tunes to be heard.

And plus, Korea has Jung Sungha. He's amazing and has over 53,000,000 views on youtube. That's pretty good for an 11 year old.

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

Adopting a Pet in Korea

Here's the question:
I'm just curious,
What sort of pets are available in Korea? I tried to look online, but can't really find much, other that the typical mad person over people eating dog.
I want to start this question with a minor rant. Bringing an animal into your house or family is a wonderful thing and I would always encourage it if you have enough time to properly care for the animal. Many people come to Korea and decide that they want to adopt a pet. The rub is that after their contract or time in Korea has come to an end, they often post messages like this one.

Does anybody want my cute cat?. She loves to cuddle and she needs a new home.
Why? I'm too busy to give her the attention she deserves... Every time I come home she begs for love, and it breaks my heart! Lucy's a sweet, fluffy, white cat who deserves a better home than the one I'm giving her. She loves to cuddle, and will sleep with you every night (if you let her!). She will sometimes join you while you watch tv or use the computer. She's very low-maintenance; just keep her fed and her potty clean and shes good!

If you're interested, please call or text me at 010-****-****. She and all of her her toys, litterbox, and food are all free to a good home!
I'm giving away my lovely cat: Mr. Mew. He's loveable and an amazing friend.
Why? I'm leaving to go home for June, so Mr. Mew needs a new friend in Korea for end of May. He's really great.

Maybe they found their pet on the streets, adopted it from a shelter or purchased it from a pet store, but one thing is clear: They had no intention of keeping their pets forever. Chances are that they were lonely and wanted something to keep them company, but now that it's time to leave, they need to pawn it off. That is not fair to the animal or to anyone else. So, if you're going to get a pet, please think it through and make sure you're ready for the full commitment.

Now, if you are interested in adding an animal to your life, there are several options for you in Korea. I usually like to point people to Animal Rescue Korea. They do not actually have a shelter, but rather they collect adoption-related information from all over the country and compile it on their website. Instead of listing each resource, I'll just link the ARK page here and the forum page here.

Your other option is buying an animal from a pet store. There is a street in Chungmuro simply called Pet Street. They mostly have dogs, but there are a few cats spread throughout the area. To get there, just go out either exit 3 or 4 at Chungmuro Station. This recommendation comes with a heavy warning though. The animals are from puppy mills which of course attract the ire of many advocacy groups because of the horrible conditions in which the animals are kept. I purchased a puppy from Chungmuro before. It did not turn out well. Here's my story.

The final option is adopting one from the streets. The best way to do this is just as you would at home. Take the dog in; bring it to one of the dozens of local vets and put up "Found" signs.

The bottom line is that if you're going to get an animal in Korea, please make sure you take it with you when you leave. The pounds in Korea only keep the animals for 10 days before euthanizing them. So, be smart and follow the steps if you are serious about adopting.

*** Update 4/28/09 ***

Brian wrote a nice piece in the Joongang Ilbo and on his blog. There's also a facebook group called "I adopted a homeless animal in Korea and lived to tell the tale."

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

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bundang, South Korea: Living and Thriving

Here's the question:

I am arriving in Bundang a week from tomorrow and would like a little more information on the city before I get there. From the research I have conducted myself, it looks like the perfect place for me, but I would love to hear more about it, so I can share the info with my friends and family.

Thank you,

When moving to a suburb of Seoul, I always think it's smart to take a look at where you might be living in relation to the city, so let's start there.

Here's a google map. (Click here for an interactive road map)

As you can see, it's southeast of Seoul. It's also connected to Gangnam-gu via the Bundang Line. Aside from the newer and constantly-expanding subway line, there are buses that conveniently service the area as well. Expect both to take around 20-30 min to get into Seoul.

Also, the Airport Limousine can be found near Seohyeon and Ori Stations. From there you can get a ride to Incheon Airport for about 12,000 won.

The subway closest to your school appears to be Seohyeon Station.

For Seoul nightlife (restaurants, bars/clubs, shopping) you can get from Seohyeon to Gangnam Station in 40 min; Itaewon in 66 min; Apgujeong in 51 min; and Hongdae in 74 min. If you want to check out transportation all over Korea, then take a look at this Korea Sparkling page or if you want to play with Seoul subway travel times then click here. For a quick list of restaurants, shopping and night spots you can visit Seoul Style.

Of course, you'll be living in Bundang, so let's take a look at what it has to offer. Like Ilsan, it's a well-planned city. Parks, schools, malls, restaurants, golf courses and modern buildings have been woven together to make a clean, safe and attractive city.

I always like to point out parks in the area and Bundang has plenty of small and big ones. Most would say that Bundang Central Park is the nicest and I would probably agree. It's got the basics like most Korean parks: a pond, some sports fields or courts, a place to exercise and some trees. It also has a bungee jumping site. It's a great place to go on a Saturday afternoon with friends. If you're into a biking or walking, try taking a little cruise next to the Tancheon tributary. There are also five water parks along the Tancheon if you're into that. If you're the really adventurous type, you can follow it all the way to Yongin and check out their folk village. If you're into nature or hiking, then take a look at this site to get some ideas. I would seriously recommend several weekend day-hikes. The other parks are smaller, but all of them offer some sort of break from the concrete jungles that envelop the city.

As I mentioned in the post about Ilsan, it's always nice to know where you can get some western food at restaurants, but having a strong base of western flavors and groceries at home is always crucial. Here's a map with the closest Costco from your school. It would take about 25 - 30 min on a bus.

Most of the dining action and a wide variety of drinking establishments can be found around every subway station. Seohyeon and Jeongja stations are good places to start, with the majority of "Western Bars" being at Seohyeon station in the shopping corridors directly outside of Samsung Plaza's two main entrances. You can check out Monkey Beach, Dublin Bar, and Lose Control for starters, but there are plenty more dives in the area. You're also pretty close to a major Korean theme park, Everland, which in located in Yongin.

Overall, you can expect to find a nice, cozy city full of moderately wealthy Koreans and a tight-knit expat community. Like most people, you'll be totally happy in Bundang. I have been to Bundang several times and have never had a bad time. My wife's family lives down there as well and am always up for a quick cruise south. Enjoy!

If you want to see more pictures of Bundang click here and here or for a ton of Bundang-related blogs, click here.

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

Canadian Criminal Background Check in Korea: It's a pain...sorry.

Here's the question:


I am a Canadian in Seoul on an E2 visa.

I want to renew my E2 visa but my local police station in Ontario, Canada will not accept photocopies of my government issued ID to perform the criminal background check.

I found a service called https://www.truecheck.ca who will perform the check and mail it to me but they warned me that they are unsure if Korean Immigration Services will accept it because it was authorized by a third party.

I am totally confused as to what to do because my E2 visa will expire in July. Do I really have to fly home to get a new background check and do the whole visa process over again from Canada?

Any advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks for your time,

First of all, Canadian citizens usually are required to get both the criminal background checks and vulnerable sector screenings. However, that has been changed. Now, you only need to background check.

The new immigration rules are absurdly confusing. I have worked as a manager and have personally assisted many people with this process and, unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be clear cut regulations or enforcement.

I'm sure you have visited to the useless Immigration website that sends information-seekers through a web of confusing options and definitions. Don't use the site.

The website that you mentioned above is a privately-run company. They stress the fact that..

"With the TrueCheck Online Criminal Records Check, we make it easy, fast, and secure to order your Criminal Record clearance certificate from police."

But the catch is that...

"A certificate will be issued to you if police determine there are no outstanding criminal charges or convictions indicated in the Canadian Police Information Center (CPIC) databanks."

The problem is that the police are telling truecheck.ca rather than issuing the certificate themselves. This is a problem. It "must be official". I use quotes because there are scores of people who have used private companies and have had no problems. If immigration has seen to company enough, they tend to look over its third-party status. For Brits, all they have to do is visit Disclosure Scotland which is a Scottish Government agency and accepted by Immigration.

Since Canada does not have such a service, you must use the old-fashioned method: get the copies of your government issued Canadian ID and documents notarized by a licensed notary republic here in Seoul. Luckily, the Canadian Embassy provides that service to you, but the hours they are open are totally inconvenient (9am-11am). Nonetheless, I recommend that you call their immigration service section at 822-3783-6198 and ask them the best way for you to get your ID notarized. If for some reason they don't offer that service anymore, then ask them where the Canadian-approved notaries are. If you can't get through, then email them at seoul-im-enquiry@international.gc.ca.

Besides that, your only other option is to talk to your current school or prospective school and put the burden on them. They will find a way to make it work. That's what they do.

In conclusion:

Option 1:

Contact the embassy and confirm they have a notary service. If not, make sure to ask where the licenced and approved notaries are. Then follow-up, get it notarized and the Ontario police will have to accept the photocopies. Remember, you only need the criminal background check.

Option 2:

If you have trouble with the notaries, then approach your boss or potential boss with your concerns. If you are planning on leaving your current school and joining another, then be honest with them. Tell them what's going on and they will find a loophole or solution for you. If you are staying at your current school, then they should do the footwork for you.

Option 3:

Use the private company because in my experience (with Canadians as well), Seoul Immigration will accept it if it is a very commonly used service.

You will not have to go home to get your check.

*** Update 4/29/09 ***

I found this website which seems to offer some pretty solid info.

*** Update 5/10/09 ***

For American citizens, click here for notarial services.

If anyone has any further questions or comments, please email me at asktheexpat@yahoo.com

Monday, April 20, 2009

Ilsan, South Korea: Living and Teaching

Here's the question:

Hi, I was wondering if you could give me some information about the city of Ilsan. I can't seem to find a lot of pictures, or detailed info about the city. I will be teaching at Modang Elementary School, and I have no clue where in Ilsan that is located. Could you help me with a little info about the school and city?


Yeah, sometimes it's hard to find info about smaller cities and even harder to get some solid details about a specific school, especially a public school.

Ilsan is a nice city. It's located just northwest of Seoul in Goyang city which is in Gyeonggi-do.

Chances are that you will be living relatively close to your school and since I'm not sure where your apartment will be, I'll use your school as my metric. Here's a quick map of where your school is in relation to Seoul.

While it might appear to be far away from Seoul, it is actually pretty close. If you take a cab or a bus then your travel time might go up (depending on the time of day or night), but luckily you are close to Line Number 3 or the "Orange Line". To get to the center of Seoul from Daewha station (the closest station from your school) takes around an hour. Again, that sounds like a lot, but an hour on the clean subways in Seoul flies by. (Night spots: Hongdae- 66 min; Gangnam- 78 min; Itaewon- 67 min; Apgujeong 62 min) Click here if you want to play with the travel times. Late night cabs will be faster and probably set you back 15,000 - 25,000 won. Split that with a few friends and you'll be fine.

Still, your school is walkable to Daehwa Station.

As an additional bonus, Daehwa is relatively close to Jichuk Station which also serves as a platform for Korail in case you want to leave Seoul and visit the countryside.

Now, let's take a look at Ilsan itself. If you look online, you'll mostly read about how new it is, that it has KINTEX (a convention hall) and of course, it'll mention the Lake Park or how it's name is "The Garden City".

The lake is nice, clean and from what I hear, it's a good place to take dates. You can also do some biking, skating or jogging there, but beware of sunny days because it will be swamped with bikes, strollers and young people on first dates. One of the benefits of Ilsan is that it was a planned city. Unlike Seoul, Ilsan knew where it was sprawling and planned for it. The bus stations are spaced out well, the subway stations are new and the overall allure of the city is much more modern than other satellite cities.

Ilsan has a nice mall called Western Dome or La Festa which boasts tons and tons of restaurants, western shops and even an IMax movie theater. There's also an E-Mart (Korean Wal-mart) for your basics and a Costco for some of your Western food cravings. Here's a map.

Ultimately, Ilsan has everything that most major cities in Korea have and you should have no problem adjusting.

Now, on to your school. You already know the location in relation to Seoul and Ilsan in general, so let me try to give you some details.

You can visit the website, but if you don't know Korean then it will be of little help and to tell the truth, the website doesn't give much useful info anyways.

I did find what I would call the school's alma mater roughly titled, "Brighter, Clearer" although that is totally useless as well. Your class size is probably going to be in the 25-35 range. Each grade has 3 different classes who move from class to class together.

Total Class Size:

1st grade: 99
2nd grade: 111
3rd grade: 113
4th grade: 90
5th grade: 106
6th grade: 99

Total: 618

There is a preschool, but luckily, you won't have to deal with them.

There is a teacher there named Mark. You can also contact him on his personal web page. I would recommend this BIG TIME. It's always nice and very smart to discuss the inner-workings of your prospective school. He'll be able to give you more info as well.

You can also connect with some other people in Ilsan here, here, here or here.

In closing, the area where you'll be living is nice, quiet and close enough to the action of Seoul, but far enough from its stress.

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

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Seoul or Suburb?

One of the first challenges that prospective teachers and expats have is choosing their location. Should they head to Seoul or maybe just one of its suburbs? What about Busan or Daegu? Are the smaller towns worth it or even manageable? All of these concerns are very valid and let me offer some advice.

Seoul is the center of modern Korea. For the new expat, it's one of the easiest places to assimilate as it is full of Western niceties and conveniences. That said, it should be noted that the other cities are full of wonderful quirks and charm. While all of the cities are Korean, each offers a unique Korean experience.

Still, you need to know what you want and what awaits you when you arrive on the peninsula.

Seoul or Suburb?

This is one of the threads that has been going on over at the ESL Teachers group site.

Are the suburbs of Seoul cheaper than Seoul itself? I'm just looking for a city that is close enough to Seoul where I can be there in 30 min or under...

First of all, let's identify the major suburbs of Seoul, most of which are in Gyeonggi province.


All of these places are connected to Seoul by either a train or bus and usually takes anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour to get to the city, but that doesn't mean you will always be traveling to the city. Most of the suburbs of Seoul have been affected by the megalopolis and have experienced mini-booms that brought many of the big-city conveniences to each town.

Suwon seems to be the most popular suburb within the expat community. It's close to Seoul (45 min), has great public transportation and is noticeably cleaner than the capitol.

The other suburb cities are all very nice and I can research them for you if you'd like.

Is Seoul more expensive than the suburbs?

Some people are under the impression that Seoul, like most big cities, is very expensive. That's partly true. Seoul can be more expensive (housing, shopping, etc...), but isn't necessarily that way. It all depends on what you spend your money on. If you like to drink at bars and clubs, then it most certainly will cost you more. However, if you like to drink at a restaurant or hof, then your bill will be identical. The same goes for groceries. If you like organics then you're going to spend more. Your lifestyle will dictate your expenses.

The only difference is that in a suburb, there are less things to be tempted by. For example, I used to live by a Subway (the sandwich shop) and would eat there a couple times a week. I really appreciated its convenience when I first arrived here, but it was pricey. I was dropping over 20 bucks a week at Subway just because it was there. If it wasn't, I'm sure I would have been eating some Korean food which, of course, is much cheaper.

One more example: I used to live in Daechi-dong which is a predominately residential area in Gangnam-gu. It was a great area to live in. It was quiet, comfortable and close to Coex. Even though it was a residential area with only one bar, I managed to spend loads of money on booze. Now, I live on the main street in Gangnam and am totally surrounded by bars and restaurants, yet I only spend a fraction of what I used to. The bottom line is that the cost is not that different and if you are concerned about money then altering your behavior is more efficient than trying to flee to the suburbs.

What about food?

While it might not seem like it's that big of a deal at first, after awhile you will miss Western food and you will seek it out. This is easy in Seoul, but can be a little tricky in the suburbs. It's there, but chances are that a fast-food chain or chicken hof might be all you come up with.

Is Seoul too crowded?

Yes. Seoul is way too crowded, but than again, all of Gyeonggi is crowded. Over 10,000,000 people live in the province and if you add Seoul in there, you've got over 24,000,000 million people living essentially shoulder to shoulder. If you don't like crowds, I would suggest you stay about from Seoul.

In the end, it's all about preference. Seoul has a lot of cultural icons and events to offer, but that doesn't mean the other cities don't have anything unique or worthwhile. If you prefer a slightly slower lifestyle, then take a look at the suburbs. They are close to mountains, trains and boast cleaner air and streets. You might encounter a few issues assimilating, but you're so close to the city that most problems can be rectified without much stress.

Would I recommend a suburb?


Ask The Expat Introduction

Over the past three years, I have been the administrator of a facebook group called "ESL Teachers in Korea" which is also the largest ESL group on facebook. I have tried my best to field as many questions as I can about expat life in Korea and beyond, but the forum is a little messy and difficult to navigate. So, I have decided to start this blog, on top of The Morning Clam, to further help expats and teachers with their transition to expat life.

I am based in Korea, but have reaches beyond the peninsula. Just like one of my favorite K-blogs, Ask a Korean, all you have to do is send me an email at asktheexpat@yahoo.com and I will publically answer it (unless instructed otherwise).

So if you have any questions at all, shoot me an email and I'll get on top of it.

And go...