Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What makes Korean Christmas unique?

Here's the question:
I'm putting together a funny email for my family and was wondering if you knew any unique Christmas traditions that Koreans celebrate. 
That's a pretty general question and I'm sure that whatever I list has been listed millions of times by others. So, I'm going to avoid most of the commercially-imported stuff along with the mandatory Christmas accessory (boyfriend/girlfriend) , Christmas cakes and the gigantic Coca-Cola advertisement that is Gangnam.

I think the most unique part of Korean Christmas is that instead of putting gifts under the tree, many Koreans put gifts next to the heads and/or on the pillows of their sleeping loved ones.  

Anyone care to add something unique to that list?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Buses with Bathrooms?

Here's the question:
Planning on teaching in Korea (of course English) and hoping to travel all over the country. What I am concerned about is the long trips (3 hours or over) that you have to take on bus rides. Do these buses have bathrooms? I heard that during these trips people like to eat and specifically drink? During a bus ride and let's say for lack of a better word have to pee or even worse go #2, what do people do during these types of situations?
I'm a big fan of bathroom-related questions. You can tell a lot about people, cultures and history based on their bathroom habits, jokes and facilities.

I personally stay away from a lot of bus travel for this very reason. First of all, no buses available to the general public have bathrooms on them. Instead, the driver will pull into a very busy rest-stop at the halfway point on most trips over 2.5 or 3 hours. Of course, not everyone has the exact same bladder functions and this presents a problem. 

In all honesty, you have one option: begging the driver to pull over

In most cases, they will. It's not totally uncommon to see a bus in the shoulder and a lone passenger ducking behind the bushes. It's embarrassing for sure, but much better than, say, pooping in your pants.

Koreans have largely gotten used to this arrangement and since they're also the world's greatest transit sleepers, they generally doze through the entire process. 

In other words, make sure that you're empty before the trip and don't booze too heavily the night before.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Buying Real Christmas Trees in Korea: It's not worth the effort

Here's the question:
Do you have any clue where I can buy a real Christmas tree? I've asked all my co-workers and they have no idea. I live in Suwon. Where can I go???
Man, this question never seems to go away.  Before I even begin, let me start with a quote from one of my old pals who lived in Korea for nearly six years. I was chatting with him about this online.
Me: I'm looking for real trees in the Gyeonggi area. It's a brutal search.
Him: Real Korea? Army base?
Me: That's about all I can think of, too.
Him: If you find a place and its owned by a Korean make sure to congratulate him for me on having the most useless business imaginable.
As cynical as it sounds, it's true. Koreans aren't into real Christmas trees at this point and opening a business for it just wouldn't be that lucrative. In other words, there aren't many tree lots opening in the parking lot of Kim's Club or Home Plus. And even if there were, the fire codes in most Korean apartments and villas would prohibit such decorations. Besides, why would Korea need real stuff when they're a leading manufacturer of the fake ones? 

Option one is finding a Korean tree farm. They do exist. A thread on Dave's mentioned a site called, but unless you've got some Korean language skills or a friend willing to do a lot of leg work then I'd suggest you try another route. Chances are that you won't want to invest the time.

Your next bet is to look online and find a company that delivers to Korea. I found this one, but you'll have to contact them for a quote.  There are plenty more out there. Snoop.

You could also try finding a connection within the US military. Yongsan, Humphreys and Osan all have trees for sale on site, but getting on the base and getting the tree out is a challenge in and of itself. Remember, military personal all have ration control cards that prevents them from doing an awful lot with the products they purchase. If you have a friend with a car on one of those bases, then that's your ticket. Don't count on it, though.

Your last bet is a little risky and pretty damn stupid, but if you're really desperate then I'd suggest heading to a sleepy piece of forest and pulling a Clark Griswold. 

Don't do that. 

Chances are that after an hour or two of searching and calling your Korean buddies or friend who has a friend on Yongsan, you'll get tired and start looking for a fake one. Gone Seoul Searching tried the same thing and ended up at Daiso instead, but since there are endless places to find fake trees, there's no need to discuss that.

I know it's frustrating, but luckily after you return home to your respective nation you can rest easy knowing that the Frasier fir you're admiring probably was a native species of Korea. If you think the widely criticized Korea Times article was obnoxious, just type in "아비에스 코리아나" into Naver or Daum for pages of endless nationalism on full display.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Shipping on the Slow Boat to America

Here's the question:

Hey do you know how much the slow boat costs roughly. Lets say I wanted to ship a box from Korea to NYC, filled with clothes and what not.  Lets say it weighs 50 pounds. How does one go about doing this? 

This is a pretty simple one. Since you don't want to deal with FedEx, you can simply visit your local post office. Before going, I'd spend a few minutes looking over the English site of the Korean post office. United States (as well as Canada and the UK) are in Zone 2. Australia, New Zealand and South Africa are in Zone 3. 

Shipping a box around 50lbs (22kg) looks like it'll cost around 40,000 KRW if you go the surface route. By air, it'll run you 120,000 KRW and SAL will cost about 150,000 KRW. If time is not an issue, sending it by boat is easily the cheapest method. There are a few other fees you might want to consider as well before shipping it, but it's pretty simple.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Hiring Trends in Adult Language Institutes in Korea

Brian made a few comments about the rumors of a possible reduction of NSET's and contract renewals in public schools over the next couple of years. I don't think the situation is as dire as he predicts, but the timing of this news is telling and it's worth making mention of another trend I've been noticing.

For the past couple years, many adult languages institutes have been slowly moving away from basic E2's in favor of F2's. Without going into detail, F2's are quick and easy hires. I've been an F2 for nearly three years and while I personally haven't had any problems, I know plenty of F2's who are having an unusually hard time getting the exact position they want. It sounds entitled, but F2's usually get the position and salary they ask for because schools don't want to deal with immigration, documents and processing times. It's a win-win. 

Now, however, being an F2 isn't as rare as it once was since many are staying in Korea a little longer trying to ride out the economic downturn. The competition is high for these good gigs and the F2 isn't the golden ticket it once was. 

That's old news though. The trend that I'm seeing both from recruiters and other managers of adult institutes (including mine) is that NSET's are being replaced by gyopo. Adult students tend to be a little more tolerant than mothers and that allows these institutes to save cash.


Simply put, a basic pay scale at an adult institute follows a pretty common pattern. The F2's generally make the most cash, followed by the E2's, then the gyopo and then the Korean teachers. Schools might prefer F2's to E2's for a variety of reasons, but the demands that F2's make makes it harder to keep them around. E2's, on the other hand, are cheaper but require plane fare and housing. They are both expensive.

Gyopo usually don't get much of anything, though. Many times, they must pay their own way over here and then, once here, they usually don't get any housing or allowance. Unlike E2's and F2's, gyopo are generally getting paid per class which is still better than many Korean teachers who get paid per student, but the total earnings usually fall short of their NSET counterparts. 

Money aside, these trends are suggesting that the English industry is quickly warming to non-Big 7-ers and non-traditional methods of education. More and more parents are turning to video/phone English, some provinces are paving the way for Indian teachers to enter the classroom, and the Filipina nannies are increasing in number.

I don't think that this means the end is near for the NSET's, but I wouldn't be surprised if this is the beginning of a cycle for Korea and the English industry to improve itself and shake some of the loose-ends free. There's no denying the need for reform on all levels and this might be a catalyst. 

Let's just call it growing pains.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Why Are Asians So Smart?

Aside from the over-emphasis on test-taking skills, I think it's a decent start. Are Asians actually smarter?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Simple Lessons from Buddhism

There is much to learn from Buddhism and even during short temple stays, solid messages can be taken away. I could could go into detail again, but it don't think I need to. For a look at what Korean Buddhism can teach Christians, click here.

From a recent conversation on the Korean temple stay program:

The problem, however, with temple stays in Korea is that they are often just that: a short term stay where little philosophical or theoretical instruction is given so that the Westerners visiting can take home with them something to alter their worldview and free their minds from the torment of stress, confusion, and negativity, and ideally recognize their true nature as human beings.

He continued:

After years of practicing Zen in Korea and abroad, I remember vividly a conversation I had with a Buddhist nun from Europe who was practicing and living in a temple in Northern Seoul. She confirmed what I feared the most regarding the state of Buddhism in Korea….”if you really want to study Buddhism temple stays are not the place, this is merely tourism Buddhism.” I couldn’t have agreed more, sure the temple stay was a break from the fast pace of modern Korean society where time seems short and everyone wants life to revolve around them, but I was truly searching for a place to dig deep and grow roots under the guidance of a proper teacher where the full import of Zen practice could take hold.

A temple stay is clearly designed for both domestic and international tourists and I fail to see just how that is a problem. To me, the intention of the stay is NOT something meant to "alter...worldview[s] and free... minds from the torment of stress, confusion, and negativity, and ideally recognize true nature as human beings." If you were to ask a monk or even a layperson in Korea whether or not a stay is meant to be anything more than an interesting tourist activity, you'd get a resounding, "NO!"

Anyone who practices any form of Buddhism knows that not only is breaking free from foolishness in search of right-mindfulness a difficult and long-term goal, but those who seek Enlightenment by name usually fail. The goal of these retreats is not conversion and most people have no expectation (or desire) for such a thing. The goal is the same as what most people want when they sign up -a relaxing and semi-spiritual taste of something that is different from what they're used to.

In some cases, a casual tourist really connects with the retreat and chooses to stay on longer in a different capacity and study the religion in greater detail. That is always available to "tourists". From where I'm standing, temple stays don't represent Korea's departure from its already checkered past with Buddhism, but appears more as a stab at combating the rabid globalization that is consuming much of the spiritual and philosophical world. Most religions and places of worship open their houses to the curious knowing that the full experience is impossible to gain in a short time.

My own experiences with religion in Korea have easily proven this. They happily welcome me into their fold, yet put the burden on me to seek a deeper connection and understanding. In fact, some of them have even openly challenged me to engage directly with them and their text.

Why does Buddhism have to be any different? Their burden only goes so far and, until recently, most Orders haven't pursued any form of aggressive proselytism. This, to me, is a good start in the right direction.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Reporting Domestic Abuse in South Korea

Here's the question:
I have a problem, and I was hoping you might have some advice. In the apartment above me there is frequently domestic violence going on--I hear lots of noise and a girl screaming like she is very hurt. I have called the police multiple times. They come, knock on the door, but of course the people inside won't open the door, and the police won't open it either.
My school asked me if I want to move to a different apartment, but that does not solve the problem. I want to know, what can I do to help this girl? Every time I hear her scream, I feel so guilty. And when she stops screaming, I wonder, is it because the beating stopped or because now she is too hurt to scream?
I have Korean colleagues and friends, but all of them seem unwilling or unable to help me. Please help me help her!
What a terrible situation to be put in. I'm truly sorry that you have to endure being around such violence. I'm pretty sure I heard a little bit of domestic abuse when I first moved to Korea, but wasn't ever certain. As I've learned since, Koreans are sometimes a tad emotional and overly passionate, so screaming and crying might be provoked without violence. Also, Koreans have gotten used to noisy neighbors and tend to block the disturbance--whatever it might be--out. 

I'm not sure if you mean 'girl' as in a child or an adult, so I'll answer for both.  

If it is a child then the situation is a little trickier. Koreans very deeply use and approve of corporal punishment. While the trend might be slowing in the public school system, it is still very much a part of discipline in the home. It all boils down to respect and adherence to the hierarchal norms that Korean society is obsessed with. To some Koreans, if a child misbehaves it's not because they are a child or foolish, but rather that they intentionally chose to disregard the structure of Korean relationships and must be disciplined. The method doesn't matter to them as long as the child understands and follows the pecking order. 

In this sense, a call to the police over what a Westerner might call "child abuse" could prove to be useless. The parents would justify it and unless the child has severe or easily noticeable injuries (not just bruises), the police will probably overlook it. Remember, "culture" is always the excuse offered up when defending questionable behavior. I know that isn't comforting in the least for you, but that's how it goes. However, if you can spot the child out and about around your apartment, maybe say 'Hello' and take a causal look at her neck, arms and legs. If you see something questionable, contact one of the links below.

Now, if the 'girl' is a woman and, therefore, a battered wife or girlfriend, you can take more direct action. You could call the landlord or maintenance person and let them know of the "disturbance". You could try spotting the woman outside her place and having a face-to-face conversation with her (although she probably won't open up to you and language could be an issue as well). You could even try banging on the ceiling or their door while the abuse is taking place. The bottom line is that you need to make sure the abuser knows that other people know what's happening. 

I think calling the police over and over again isn't a bad thing to do at all. Eventually, the locked door excuse won't work (as they often do) and the police will demand entry. The problem is that the victim might not be interested in talking to the police. Koreans don't like legal solutions, nor do they like losing face. This situation offers both. Luckily, you're not Korean and you don't have to deal with the culture barriers.

If the police won't do anything and you're sure that your neighbor is being beaten and/or is in a helpless situation, then you could always go to Korean Women's Hot Line ( or visit the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family ( Both of them have English websites and I'm sure will be able to communicate with you considering the amount of abuse that takes place among foreign-born brides on the peninsula. It also wouldn't hurt to drop by Korea4Expats' post on Help Centers for Abused Foreign Women. Your neighbor might not be a foreigner, but they could at least give you some solid advice or point you in the right direction.

You have a few options for now and hopefully they will work out because this kind of thing needs to stop. Does anyone else have any advice?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Will the North Korean soccer team go to a prison camp?

Here's the question:
I read somewhere that the 1966 North Korean footballers were put in jail for blowing their World Cup match. Do you reckon it'll happen again? Also, will do you know if SBS will be showing the English game live or will they be giving the Yanks that slot?
The '66 North Korean World Cup team did in fact end up in a prison camp -Yodok to be exact. The reasoning for the imprisonment is not only due to their loss to Portugal. That was certainly embarrassing as they blew a 3-0 lead. However, most would say it's because they were seen in public doing very "bad things".

Kang Chol-Hwan, survivor of Yodok and author of The Aquariums of Pyongyang, wrote this:
To celebrate their victory [over Italy], the players went on a wild drinking binge and, by the end of the night, were seen carrying on in public with some girls.
That doesn't seem too extreme considering the odds that were against them to beat the Italians. Pyongyang, however, didn't have the same enthusiasm.
...the national teams barroom antics were judged bourgeois, reactionary, corrupted by imperialism and bad ideas. Upon arriving back in [North] Korea, the whole team - save for Park Dou-ik, who, suffering from stomach pains on the night of the party, had been forced to stay in his hotel room - was sent to the camps.
It's hard to tell whether or not such behavior would have been excused had the North defeated the Portuguese. I assume that the punishment wouldn't have been as severe, but I really have no idea. In fact, one of the North Korean soccer players Kang discusses in his book denies that he was ever sent to a prison camp as a result of such behavior.
Pak Sung Jin, also 59, coaches one of Pyongyang's First Division sides. In 1966, his spectacular volley earned Korea a last-gasp equaliser against Chile, and the crucial point that set them up for Italy. South Korean newspapers claim Pak spent years incarcerated at Yodok internment camp, living off the insects he could catch, but he denies suffering any direct fall-out from his English sojourn.
So do you believe Park or Kang? Park says nothing happened to him while Kang says this:
Among the prisoners I met in the camp was a celebrated former athlete who made a name for himself in Yodok by making it through very long stints in the sweatbox. According to rumor, his survival secret was to eat every insect he could get his hands on. Whether or not true, it won him the nickname Cockroach. Park Seun-jin, as he was really named, had lived his earlier moment of glory back in the 1966 World Cup in England.
Kang also claims that Park had been in the camp for almost twelve years by the time he entered in 1978 and that Park was still there when Kang was released ten years later. It's safe to assume that Park doesn't have any plans on going back to Yodok, or any other camp for that matter, and denying his imprisonment is a good start.

So, do I think it'll happen again to these guys? Well, it's hard to say. I would like to say 'no way', but there are a few factors working against them. First of all, North Korea decided that this game would be the first one aired live in North Korea. They clearly didn't think that a 7-0 walloping was on the horizon. The North Korean national soccer heroes have been humiliated and since Kim Jung-un himself instructed the team to be "unbeatable" it might reflect poorly on him in the bizarro reality that is North Korea. He's not turning out to the a lightning rod for success.

The second issue is one that North Korean defectors raised.

It's hard to know how much credence to give to the claims from the North Korean Football Association that the country's leader has been giving the team personal guidance and help with tactics. But true or not, North Korea wouldn't be alone, of course, in wanting to exploit sporting success for political ends.
Mr Kim shakes his head when he thinks of the fate that might await his former countrymen.
"The result will be blamed on their weak minds," he tells me. "I'm sure the players will have to go though extreme re-education and self-criticism."
They know better than I do and if they fear it then perhaps this current national team should as well. Still, it doesn't appear that the North Koreans did anything outwardly embarrassing(aside from their loss), so hopefully these guys will escape with a slap on the wrist and not a stint in a camp.

As for the games, SBS will be showing the England match and SBS Sports will be showing the "Yanks" game. Go Yanks! Boo England!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Why do Koreans smoke so much?

Here's the question:
Why do Koreans smoke so much? I'm from Delaware and am very used to a non-smoking environment. This is a disgusting shock.
For those who don't know, Delaware banned smoking in public workplaces almost a decade ago, so I imagine coming to Korea would be quite the shock. Some foreigners love it and others hate it, but Koreans are all used to it.

Korean men do smoke an awful lot (a trend increasing among women as well). It's hard to walk into a building or a bathroom without catching a whiff of it and while the government is trying to broaden their ban, it doesn't seem to have much of an effect on the prevalence. There are a lot of reasons why smoking among men is so common in Korea.


Aside from the youthful temptations, curiosity and peer pressure, young Korean men must face the most difficult smoking challenge: military service. Up until the mid-nineties, cigarettes were provided to young soldiers along with their coffee and tea. The brands changed (Hwarang, 88, This) but they were free and presumably included in their Type 3 rations. Now, cigarettes are no longer provided, but they are offered at a discounted price. Of course, you don't have to smoke and while no one is forcing you to indulge, those who opted for healthy lungs often got stuck doing more work than their smoking counterparts simply because when you're smoking you're not working. As a result, many young men pick up the habit in the military and when they rejoin civilian life they have trouble shaking the addiction.


If you were to ask a Korean why so many people smoke, they'll say that stress causes them to do it. Some will offer fun excuses like "I'd be much more unhealthy if I couldn't relieve my stress through smoking", but we know that doesn't make sense. Smoking might dilute the physical response to stress yet it does nothing for releasing stress or curing it. Everyone all over the world is stressed. Korea has not cornered that market. What's really at issue here is that Koreans typically don't use proper avenues for releasing stress. Instead of expressing themselves and sorting through the problems, many of them hold onto it (or jump off a building). 

Koreans might seem emotional when it comes to their national pride, but when it comes to themselves or their loved ones, silence is the answer. The reasons for this is a whole different topic in and of itself. In short, the curse of respect shines through. Burdening others with your problems is viewed as disrespectful and selfish. Throw that in with the fact that the Korean language is anything but loving and tender and you have a cocktail ripe for stress. And without a release for their stress, they look for ways to dampen it. Enter tobacco. 

Leisure Time

Yeah, Koreans don't have any. Sure they might go to Jeju for the weekend or a day trip on the slopes, but in general, Koreans do not have a leisurely culture. Because of this, they seek very quick and gratifying solutions. Smoking, drinking, room salons, sexy bars, kissing rooms, screen golf, PC rooms, game rooms and singing rooms are all quick ways to get your jollies. They can move from one to the other in a relatively short amount of time. It's a 빨빨 culture that prides itself on its pace. When generation after generation seeks this type of gratification, smoking will always find its way into the fold. In my building, there's an office where the men take smoke breaks every thirty minutes for ten minutes each time. If you do the math, you soon start to realize why they have to work such long hours.

Work Life vs. Family Life

This is a simple one. Work life is very important to the Korean man. If he's under fifty then you can assume that he'll be working everyday and most nights. It's not that he wants to spend time away from his family, but he has to if he wants to climb the ladder. When family is not the center of your world, then priorities change. At home, you typically want a nice, clean, quiet, peaceful and pure atmosphere that you have some sort of control over. At work, however, it's a fast-paced late-night drinking, smoking orgy of opposition to the atmosphere desired at home. By the time one reaches his fifties and is still smoking, they might say something like one of my older Korean friends did just the other day.
"Look at Korean life expectancy compared with nations who smoke less. Korea is higher than many of them."

And finally, my biggest obstacle: cheap smokes. One of the first thing foreign smokers realize when they get to Korea is that cigarettes are cheap. I remember being pleasantly surprised by this when I first arrived. Except for a few places in SE Asia, it's hard to find Marlboro's for less than three bucks a pack. I'm sure there's some data somewhere to back me up or disprove me, but I'm willing to bet that the smoking rate would drop pretty quickly if the cost of smokes jumped to UK or Canada-level. Personally, I'm still wondering when the health care system will start to take a hit from all the smoking-related illnesses that are sure to continue increasing. (Smokes haven't increased in price since the year 2000. Someone's going to have to pay for the poor health of smokers.) Either way, the low cost is certainly keeping some potential quitters off the fence.

You certainly noticed that I only focused on men. Women and smoking in Korea is an interesting topic and while I'd love to tackle it in my own way at some point, we'll allow James from The Grand Narrative do what he does best and continue on with this topic.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Korean Criers

Here's the question:
I'm new to the Korean teaching scene, but I'm not a new teacher. I taught fourth grade in the US for a few years and did my training in a third grade class. I've been teaching in a public school for couple months now and am shocked by how much these children cry. I don't think I'm tough on them. Is it me or them?
It's them.

Korean school children have been ruined by the repressive culture and by their over-zealous parents. I'm quite confident that Korea is about to face an entire generation of whiners, quitters and criers. 

Always remember, Koreans typically react to embarrassment in three ways: anger, laughter or tears.

The question is related to tears, so let's discuss that. Korean culture is obsessed with academic competition, appearances and maintenance of structural social relationships. We all know that already, but these traits are directly related to the thin-skinned behavior witnessed by children (and adults).

Classroom competition is not always bad. People all over the world strive to excel in the classroom. However, that classroom competition is usually coupled with athletic competition or some sort of extra-curricular competition. When competition is limited to the classroom it tends to be diminished to numbers and bragging rights. The success is not shared with others and it's not celebrated publicly. Furthermore, it's commonly viewed (among students) that students who participate a lot in class are not doing so because they know the answer, but rather because they're showing off their talent. Being outwardly expressive or arrogant is a clear social faux-pas, so even the best students might choose to remain silent.

An English class is different from normal classes, though. Students are forced encouraged to speak and express themselves. They don't like this. Students are not used to being called on and they don't like being singled out. When an English teacher singles out a student and makes them answer a question, it puts pressure on that student. Sounds normal to Western students, but this situation can only end two ways in Korea: you get the answer correctly and sit back down quietly or you get it wrong and suffer the loss of face. 

Some students are so used to getting the answer wrong that they don't care anymore, but others are so accustomed to being the best, that something as simple as using the wrong tense can bring them to tears. This is pathetic, but the result of an overemphasis on educational competition and an extension of Korea's crippling obsession with face.

As a teacher you have a few options. 

1) You could ignore the criers and hope that they mature past this stage. 

2) You can accept this reality and protect students from failing.

3) You can try to be the revolutionary teacher who taught students that failure is a part of life and that it's okay to fail every once and awhile.

None of them are great options. I think accepting it would be the best, but protecting them from failure is what led us to this problem.  Parents want to coddle their only-child so much that any discomfort results in a tantrum.

So, I must give the advice that I have given many times before: You know the rules, now play the game.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Basics of Adult Language Institutes in Korea

Here's the question:
good friend of mine is interested in teaching English to adults. She has been working at the same hogwan with me for about 7 months now and is really miserable there. Let's just say shes not  'kid person'. So she has made some kind of negotiation with our boss and is going to be able to get out of her contract like 5 months early (that was luck). She loves Seoul and does not want to go home, so she is now considering a job working with adults. It is my understanding that most places looking for teachers to teach adults do not use recruiters and that they just hire directly. Is this true? If so, where is a good place to look at job postings for these positions? And also, do these institutions that teach adults provide the visa like the hogwans do? How exactly does it work? 
Your "friend", huh?

I think that after a few months of teaching kids in a hagwon, even the most well-intentioned and good-natured teacher has, at some point, breathed, "I'm not a kid person." Those gigs tend to have that effect on people, especially new teachers. Luckily, she's gotten permission to move on and soon that'll be behind her. Settled on that front.

Finding adult teaching jobs is pretty easy. First of all, take a look at what I wrote here and here. There are some simple tips and things to think about before applying. (Also, take a look at what Chris wrote about contracts.)  Second, you should think about whether you want to teach classes or 1:1. Both of them have their benefits and drawbacks. If your "friend" still feels inclined to make the move, then I would consider applying directly first. This way you can get around the fluff and recruiter sweetening. If the direct links don't yield any immediate responses, you can always go to the big job sites.

The adult language institutes are hagwons as well. And just like with the kiddos, they sponsor your E2 visa; provide housing or allowance (careful though --DE and Pagoda only give one-hundred bucks a month);  provide insurance and pay a pension. Flight tickets differ from place to place, so you'll have to ask about that. In your "friends" case, she's already in Korea, so they'll most likely pay for a visa-run at least.

 I usually recommend teaching adults to second-year teachers because there are a couple thing to consider if you're on your first go-around. Adult hagwons typically have split-shifts. You'll be teaching early in the morning (7:00-ish) and working late into the night (10:00-ish). With that in mind, traveling and weekday partying become more difficult. In fact, if you can't adjust to the split shift, then most of your afternoons will be spent snoozing and that's fine for some, but I encourage first-year teachers to experience more than just working and sleeping. I know that my first year was great because I worked from 10am-4pm. It allowed me to get to know the nation; culture and people quite well with all that free time. Plus, I got to travel out of the country with relative ease.

Luckily, not all adult hagwons offer only split-shift shifts. You might have to wait your turn for block, but DE, English Channel and Pagoda offer both split and block. YBM and BCM typically (but not always) only offer split. Even those gigs, however, come with some other perks. Many times, teachers will only have a certain amount of classes they have to teach. After that, it's up to them. This system allows many teachers to teach the morning block on some days and the evening on the others. That, and those two places only teach twenty days a month. That leaves for a lot of three/four-day weekends and longer breaks on "red days".

From what you told me, it appears that your "friend" is all set. As long as she has her docs in place, some nice interview clothes

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Koreans and Exercise

Here's the question:
I'm planning to live in Korea soon. And I was talking to some friends who studied abroad there recently. They tell me that unlike America, Koreans don't jog or run in the streets. I'm from Madison which is a very heavy biking and running city. I love to run outdoors and lift weights. I was wondering how Koreans exercise? Do they even exercise? One of my friends told me that they don't really exercise, but instead just eat less and diet. From the international students I see here, majority of the korean students are very fit. I was wondering if you had any knowledge on exercise in Korea.
Your friends are right. Koreans don't run, jog, speed-walk or bike on city streets.  It would be nearly impossible to do so anyways. I typically am out running or biking with my dog at 5:00am and even at dawn, I find it difficult to get in a solid workout without being interrupted by traffic, drunk twenty-somethings, trash or, my personal favorite, the puddles of vomit --or "pizza" as  Koreans call it-- which are flung all over the sidewalks.

They do, however, do a lot of exercising in other areas. There are countless gyms blanketing most cities that are usually pretty active from open to close. In most towns and cities, there are small parks that have body-resistance exercise machines. Those seem to be the most popular with the older crowd and especially with the ajummas. And if that wasn't enough, scores of ajumma can be spotted grouping together near any major waterway for some only-in-Korea-would-this-pass-for-exercise aerobics slash white-gloved hand movements. 

On the weekend, you'll find that most of the city parks are swamped with people of all ages exercising. They're riding bikes, running, jogging and walking dogs. Sports fields are full of people playing soccer, basketball and baseball. I like to play tennis and usually have to make a reservation nearly a month in advance is I want to play. In the summer, the rivers and lakes are bustling with skiers, windsurfers and jet-skiers. In the winter, you'll find it pretty packed on the slopes as well. Koreans certainly exercise, just in acceptable venues and the street, for the most part, is not acceptable.

I can't find it now, but I read a couple years ago that the average Korean child gets twelve minutes of exercise a day compared with the forty-eight minutes the American child was getting. In fact, it's getting so bad that child obesity in Korea is nearly double what it is in Japan and rapidly approaching America's rate. The adult rate obesity rate is getting pretty bad as well, but that's what happens when you work late and eat dinner even later. 

I guess dieting or eating less would be one way of staying slim and Koreans are just as apt to fall for diet trends as the rest of the world is (see the Japanese banana diet), but I think most people here (outside of Gangwon) see the value of an honest workout and a healthy diet -even if they are snobby about their foods' health benefits and/or superiority. 

Oh, and in case you're wondering where I've been, you can visit The Pious One...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Korean (Shoe) Fashion

Here's the question:
I live about twenty minutes east of Wonju and am having a few issues with shoes. It's not the size, but the style. Out here we only have shoes that my grandfather stopped wearing thirty years ago. I know a trip in Seoul would do the trick, but what can I expect to find?
A trip into Seoul (Myeong-dong, Gangnam, Itaewon, Apgujeong, COEX) would certainly give you some more styles and since your feet aren't freakishly large, it'd just be a matter of finding the pair(s) you like. I've had two (male) friends in Korea that spent most of their money on shoes. I'm not talking about formal shoes either. They spent thousands on sneakers. One of them actually posted his pictures on Facebook. That's weird as hell, but it's a least testament to the variety you can find.*

That variety can be a blessing and a curse. I recently saw a pair of Wallabees being sold in COEX which certainly gave me a flashback took me back to my high school days of attempting to re-live Dazed and Confused. It was honestly a little surprising since the hippie meme is a relatively uncommon sight in Korea. While I don't sport the look anymore, that would have been quite a blessing over a decade ago. The curse, however,  is the resurgence of high-tops. Christ, they're ugly. I blame 2NE1...and Zach Morris.

Over the past couple years, I've seen Korean shoe fashion get progressively worse. To understand the shoes, you've gotta look at the rest of the threads.

Korean men pretty much have three looks aside from school uniforms.

1.The College Student (19-26 yrs old)

The college student is the most aesthetically diverse of the group. Just like their female classmates, male college students are dying to express themselves through fashion or hair. Some dye their locks while others attempt a shaved G-Dragon-esque doo. Some get in touch with their hip-hop roots and go for the urban look. There's nothing that says "I'm hard" like showing your colors on the mean streets of Gangnam. The most recent trend are the skinny jeans. Man, I hate skinny jeans. Since when was looking like a sissy a good look for men? Luckily, most college students dress pretty down-to-earth.

2. The Businessman (26-55)

The businessmen range from clip-on ties to really classy shit. For the most part, they like the dark, slightly-feminine leather shoes which, of course, compliment the shiny suits. 

3. The Ahjussi (55+)
    Depending on retirement age, the ahjussi look is a mixture of 70's upholstery and over-priced outdoor gear.

    All of them are unique from the other, yet every man must experience each style before moving on to the next. Women, on the other hand, are much more complex than men, so I'll just mention a few complaints.

    Boots are huge for Korean women. Some of them are nice and others are pretty hideous. The UGG's that I hated seeing in the early aughts in college have been taking over Korea for the past couple years. I've gotten used to those at this point. There's also been a swing away from the skort to the skirt, but that changes so often that I'm not sure. 

    You see,  I'm a Gangnam guy. I've always lived in Gangnam. I work on the main drag and live one street off of that drag. I'm bombarded with Gangnam fashion. It has its ups and downs. I get to see see mostly classy fashion all the time and that's okay, but I never get to see the "hipster" college scene that takes place in Hongdae. I also don't stay out late, so the late-night party scene is lost on me at this point. I'm usually pretty surprised when I see a woman dressed even slightly different than the other thousands on the streets.

    If you want fashion, head over to Hurt's got his shit together.

    Bottom line is that once in Seoul, you'll have more than enough options for shoes.
    *I've heard some expats complain about shoe sizes on here and I'm sure there are places you can find big shoes, but that's not the question.

    Saturday, March 6, 2010

    A Fellow Expat in Distress

    Here's the situation:
    I know the odds are pretty low, but I wanted to ask for your help. I just had my laptop stolen, and it has most of my entire life on it – I’m more than devastated. I wanted to know if you could ask around or maybe even post this information on your site, in the hopes of recovering it. I know how difficult it is to run through the police, and I’m really kind of panicking. Thanks for your help, and I understand if you can’t.
    Yeah, I'm not sure the police would be able to do much. It'd probably wind up frustrating you more than anything else. Luckily, I haven't had anything stolen in my time here, but it certainly happens. The questioner is clearly stressed and I hate seeing fellow expats suffer.

    Can you help?


    White Macbook, 13.3 inch plastic
    There are two dents on the right hand corners of the keyboard when you open it up

    It was lost at Mike’s Cabin in Shinchon between the hours of 12 am and 3:15 am on Friday night-Saturday morning (March 5-6).

    It was taken out of a bag against the wall next to the DJ booth. Anyone who was any information, please contact me. (
     Or if anyone has been through this before, perhaps you could offer some advice...

    Thursday, March 4, 2010

    Do you want to help North Koreans?

    TIE is a new organization aimed at doing just that.
    TIE (Teachers for Integration through English) is a non-profit organization founded by teachers whose principle goal is to reach out to North Korean refugees residing in the Seoul area. Our all-volunteer team of professionals has come together in hopes of further integrating North Koreans into South Korean society by providing free English instruction.
    If you have some free time and want to help out, take a look.

    Friday, February 26, 2010

    Vote for me and YOU WIN!

    I want to be even more special than my mom/wife/dog makes me feel. Vote for Ask the Expat in 10 Magazine's online poll and I'll buy you your very own Crossfire. I promise.


    Thursday, February 25, 2010

    Korean Bathrooms: A Photo Diary

    Here's the question:
    My name is Bernal and I am 28 years old. I developed IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) a few years back. Thanks to that I feel uncomfortable at places without bathrooms. So every time I go to a place the first thing I do is try to find the nearest bathroom, and when I located it, I feel better.  I will go to Korea in June for a while. I was wondering if you can tell me how often you can find a bathroom in Seoul, and if is true that since the world cup, is some type of law in which allows any foreigner to use any public bathroom, even buildings and stuff.

    I'm from Guatemala and here you dont find public washrooms.. only restaurants and stuff like that.
    That sounds pretty awful, Bernal. There's nothing better than a spastic colon on a hot June day here in Seoul. 

    Determining bathroom locations is also a pastime of mine, but not because I have to poop a lot. My concern --while drinking usually-- is that I'll only have to go to the bathroom if I don't have the luxury of a bathroom. I think I developed this problem in college on backpacking trips. Before we started packing, I would try to force myself to poop so I wouldn't have to poop on the trail. I was fine dropping one at the campsite, but the hike-poop was always rushed and uncomfortable. 

    Bathrooms in Seoul are actually quite common. Depending on where you are in the city, you should be able to find some sort of public restroom within a minutes' walk. Some will be clearly marked with directions and others will be more allusive. The trickiest ones to spot are the ones that hide in the three or four-story "villas". There's usually a sign on or in the building somewhere that says "화장실". If not, just ask someone and they'll point in the right direction. Honestly, I've never had a problem. Even at the park, there are toilets all around.

    Some Photo Warnings...

     They don't care if you're there or not.


    They're not all like this one, but...

     ...they're not like this, either.

    This is pretty common... 

     ...but this is the norm. 

    Confused? Don't be.

    Just drop it in that trashcan.

    Get used to it... 
    ...but there probably won't be any soap, anyways.

    Don't kid yourself. There will be plenty of smoking.

    Just not much toilet paper. 

     Accept it.

    Purchasing Korean Basketball Tickets in Korea

    Here's the question:
    I want to take my girlfriend to a Korean Basketball League game on Valentine's day.  I have a Korean teacher at my hagwon helping me with tickets.  He called and got some info.  You can't purchase tickets until 1 week before, and they are only available online.  The only tickets that will be available the day of at the box office are the left overs, from what hasn't sold online throughout the week.  He helped me with a profile on ticketlink.  But I've heard that even with this profile, foreigners can have difficulty purchasing tickets online, something about the citizen ID # being required.  So I'm assuming that my ID # from my Alien Card won't work.
    I didn't actually get around to answering the question. Luckily, the questioner told me that he had solved the problem. Check out his answer and his blog over at Rip City to Seoul.