Friday, 28 October 2011

The 10 Worst Things About Teaching in Korea

This isn't meant to be a big rant or complaint, just my honest feelings about teaching English in Korea. I have been here for 8 months and I think I have a pretty decent understanding of what life is like for teachers on a one year contract. This list is specific to my lifestyle, which maybe differs from yours. Oh, and these are listed in no particular order.

1. Korean parents: Korean parents who have the money to send their kids to a private school spend a lot of money for their kids to be there. It can cost $1000/month, give or take. Also, signing up is done on a month by month basis. This means two things: the parents can be very, very demanding; and they will need to have their asses kissed constantly by the Korean staff (and sometimes us) so they don't quit the school. Also the parents are so incredibly worried about their kids getting hurt. And by getting hurt I mean getting a scratch or bump from playing. If the kids have even a tiny scratch on their face, the parents will freak out! Kids gets hurt!! They are kids!! Why is it such a huge deal if it's on their faces? AAAH.

2. Being a vegetarian: This is huge for me because at home I am a strict vegetarian and I don't eat fish or seafood. Here, I still don't eat fish or seafood but I make many exceptions for other things. I eat kimchi even though it has fish oil, I pick meat out of things, etc. There are many vegetarian restaurants, mainly in Seoul, but they are generally much more expensive than Korean restaurants. Also, to get things like beans, chickpeas, tahini (I make my own hummus, can't buy it in stores), you have to go to an international food store in Itaewon. Maybe this is close to where you live but I live an hour and a half away.

3. Working with kids: Alright so this might come as a surprise because I chose to work with kids so therefore I must really like them, right? Well I was never sure before, but now I am, and I don't! Haha, at least not working with them. They are super cute and sometimes really funny and entertaining. But a lot of the time I am really frustrated and annoyed and I rarely enjoy the interaction between me and them. Especially not the kindergarten kids. I feel like I am always faking it. I don't like reading story books and singing songs and doing all of that. But I guess I had to experience it to know. And my class is really small now and the kids are really good and easy to teach. So it's not all bad, I just wouldn't do it again.

4. Not living in Seoul: If there was only one thing I could change about living in Korea it would be my location. I really, really dislike living in Suji. It doesn't matter that I am 40 minutes (to an hour and a half) away from Seoul, I am not in Seoul. I never go there during the week because it's not worth the trip and it's really inconvenient on weekends. I can take the bus or subway when I go out and my options for coming home are waiting until 5:30am until the buses/subway start running again or taking a $25-$40 taxi home, depending where I am coming from. And there is nothing to do in Suji except for drink, which I don't do during the week...or on the weekends in this city.

5. The landscape: I really don't mean to offend any Koreans reading this but the Korean landscape - natural and architectural - is not aesthetically pleasing. All of the cities are made up of cookie-cutter high rise apartments, Family Marts, Paris Baguettes, E-marts and Lotte Marts. The beaches are okay (to be fair, I haven't been to Busan), and the mountains (that I've seen) are okay also. I will sound condescending saying it, but if you've never traveled anywhere else then maybe you will be impressed with the Korean landscape, but I find it pretty dull. 

6. Lack of good cheese: On a lighter, but still serious note, I have been living without cheese for the past 8 months. You cannot get good cheese here. Not at your local grocery store at least. You can get blocks of cheddar and those standards at the international food store but its just from Costco and really expensive. I miss cheese!!!! 

7. Price of fruit: I love fruit. A lot. And I honestly think a fair portion of my paycheck goes to buying fruit. It can be really expensive. Watermelon is $15! Okay that is an extreme example but I am not exaggerating. Grapes, kiwis, grapefruit, peaches, all can be really expensive. Even apples. I definitely frequent the fruit sale section at the grocery stores I shop at. And there are fruit stands around too, but they are usually overpriced. Sometimes I find pretty good deals, especially when things are in season.

8. Rainy summers: It must've rained for 75% of the summer. Grey skies and rain that went on for weeks. Not constantly throughout the entire day, but yeah, it was not an ideal summer. And this is typical Korean climate.

9. Plastic surgery: So this obviously has nothing with teaching English...but this country's obsession with plastic surgery is disgusting, terrifying and pretty sad. It is the least taboo subject imaginable. Subway stations, bus stops, university hallways, magazines, and many other places are covered in ads for plastic surgery. It is very common for women (and some men) to get surgery to change the shape of their eyes, to have a nose with a bridge, a small chin, smaller cheekbones and just a smaller face in general! The end goal is to resemble a Korean as little as possible. I know that people get plastic surgery all over the world but I haven't heard of any other country where the obsession is so big.

10. Homogeneity:  At first, it seems like there is so much going on here. So many bright lights, so many shops, so many bars, sooo many restaurants, so much street food, so many clothes and accessories being sold everywhere! But then you sort of realize that it's kind of all the same stuff.

The 10 Best Things About Teaching in Korea

There are many things that I really like about living and working here. It's definitely an easy life.

1. Free rent and flight: This has to be the best thing about teaching in least for's what brought me here. That and the fact that you can teach here without any kind of certification (you just need a Bachelors degree in anything). Every school will pay for your return flight, give you a furnished apartment and pay for half of your health insurance (which is mandatory).

2. Finishing bonus: All schools (I believe) give you a month's worth of pay upon completing your one year contract. Also, all schools are meant to take out close to $100 of every paycheck and then double it at the end and give it back to you...something to do with a pension plan.

3. Minimal work: The job itself isn't hard. Yes, it is often very exhausting because you are working with children and they require a lot of energy...but if you work in a private school the curriculum is laid out for you and you don't need to create lesson plans. This means you don't have to come into work early, stay late, or take your work home with you. 

4. Living in Asia: I went to China over my summer vacation and I am going to the Philippines for a week over Christmas. There are so many interesting places within reach that I would love to travel to. Unfortunately, I was pretty stupid with my money within the first few months of living in Korea so I don't get to travel as much as others. However, I hope to teach in Shanghai next year and travel around South East Asia during that time.

5. Alcohol availability: I am referring to the convenience. Being from Canada - a country where you can only purchase alcohol between the hours of 10AM and 10PM from a government owned establishment - I have really enjoyed being able to buy alcohol at 7 elevens anywhere and at any time. You can't buy hard liquor there. But they've got all the Soju, beer, rice wine and coolers you want. I guess nothing is perfect.

6. Seoul: I have to admit it is a good city! There are some really cool areas to explore that I wish I could have gotten to know better by living there. And because its population is so big there are always people out doing things, which I really like. From what I've seen, the city doesn't really sleep. And it's a great place for people watching. Oh, and you can drink in public.

7. Bibimbap: It's by far my favourite Korean dish. It's vegetarian, really cheap and available everywhere! It's made up of rice topped with some seasoned veggies, an egg and a chilli pepper paste. It costs between $3-$5.  Oh and like most other Korean meals, it comes with unlimited sides!

8. Super Color Super: An amazing production company that puts on a lot of live shows here. They get a fair amount of indie bands from North America and other parts of the world. I went to see Toro y Moi a few months ago and it has been my favourite show in Korea!

9. Staying fit:
This is really easy to do in Korea because people are quite health conscious. There is an abundance of gyms and memberships are decently priced. I go to the gym and yoga everyday and love both. A lot of teachers get into taekwondo while they are here. Also, there are a few hiking groups, and plenty of places to go hiking.

10. Transit:
Although it's super inconvenient that the public transit stops running so early, Seoul still has a great transit system. It extends out really far and connects the city really well. It's quite cheap, very reliable and clean.

If you stumbled upon this blog because you are considering teaching in Korea or have already signed a contract and have any questions for whatever reason, feel free to send me a message.