Josh Lokken, America; Placed in Jinju

South Korea, like so many things in life, follows the standard cliche.  It is what you make of it.

If you want a hermit life running between school and your apartment with nothing but Netflix and Youtube in-between, sure, you could do that.  Perhaps you’re more of the party boy looking for a multi-day bender.  Sure, you could probably do that too.  Of course, it’s best to avoid both.  Especially the latter, because, c’mon, you’re more professional than that.  Instead, shoot for something tucked nicely between the two.  Take spontaneous bus trips.  Explore the country.  Share some soju and make new friends.  With an outgoing personality and an penchant for new experiences, South Korea will happily deliver that sweet spot.

On a more personal level, I feel blessed to have met so many great people in the four very short months I’ve been in “comparatively small but hardly insipid” Jinju.  Between a friendly director, friendlier young Koreans, and a diverse set of like-minded expat English teachers, I found it pleasantly easy to adapt to this new country.  There are those certain things I miss and just as many things I don’t, but they’re all rectified with those memorable instances that leave me thinking “wow…that’s just so…um…Korean!”  Exploring local temples, adjumas, and couples in matching outfits (yes, that’s a thing) are just the beginning of jovial list that keeps on growing.

And then there is teaching which is a big part of my life.  The students, for the most part, are fun and lively who can laugh with a slightly goofy teacher trying his best to make English less complex.  I’m thankful for a position where it’s common to walk into work with a smile on my face.

In full disclosure, teaching in a hagwon does bring “business like” qualities I wish didn’t exist, but those small frustrations are far from overwhelming.  Sure, the system is not perfect and there are those brief moments of frustration “I just wanna rip my hair out piece by piece because it would probably be less painful,” but brushing off the minority of negatives is just part of the process.

And finally, I owe a nod to SayKimchi Recruiting.   From the beginning they were very helpful, direct, and responsive.  My recruiter, Anne, always gave complete and timely responses to any of my questions.  In short, thank you.

So take the plunge and discover Korea.  I’m glad I did.

Getting to Korea; What Happens Once You Land?

what to expect on arrival in korea

So, you’ve accepted the job and you’re ready for your new adventure in Korea! Congratulations! Your mind is likely swirling with questions about what is going to happen once you arrive and it can feel almost as if you are taking a giant leap of faith into the unknown. Feel safe in the knowledge that thousands upon thousands of people have traveled the road you are about to travel and in this post I’ll explain what’s going to happen and some things you should know about before arriving in Korea.

Note; you should probably read our “What To Pack” section for a list of must pack items before you set off!

1. Arriving at Incheon Airport – What Happens?

You’ll arrive in Korea at Incheon International Airport which is around 20 minutes outside of Seoul. If you have accepted a job through Say Kimchi Recruiting you will be met in the arrivals hall by our pick up agent who will have a sign with your name on it. He’ll take you to your new school where you’ll meet your new co workers and get settled into your apartment. We will give you your school’s contact details and contact details for your Say Kimchi representative should you run into any problems on arrival.

Fun fact; Incheon International Airport has been voted the world’s BEST AIRPORT for 9 years in a row!

2. Getting Settled; Things You Should Take Care of First

Once you are in your apartment and have slept off any jet lag, you’ll need to take care of a few things that will make your life much easier! The first thing is getting your health check completed which your school will help you arrange. The health check is so important because once you have it the school will apply for your Alien Resident Card (ARC) which is important because it allows you to…

- Get a cell phone
- Hook up internet

A cell phone and internet are really important to your life as an expat in Korea. The internet will allow you not only to talk to friends or family back home but to get involved in your cities Facebook groups for expats where you will keep abreast of what’s going on and be able to ask any questions which the local foreign community will be delighted to help you with.

A cell phone is a must have. Once you start to expand your social circle, you’ll need to keep in contact with your new friends and a cell phone is the best way to arrange meetings! Many foreigners who move to Korea say their lives never really got going in the country until they had a cell phone!

Top Tip: Search Facebook for “City Name + Expats” or “City Name + Teachers” to find what’s going on in your city.

3. The Long Haul; Take It Easy!

Many foreigners arrive in Korea with a sort of “bucket list” of places and sights they want to take in across the country. They start exploring the peninsula the very first weekend they arrive and wear themselves out very quickly. Korea is awesome and has great temples, beaches, mountains and other tourist attractions but a year is more than enough time to take them all in; you don’t need to rush to them all right away.

It’s better, in my experience, to get settled in your new city for the first few weeks and find your feet. Take a trip once every other weekend instead of every weekend. Focus on forming friendships and laying down roots in your new location because if you are out of town every weekend chances are the foreign community won’t have a clue who you are!

Veteran Tip: Visit some of the islands on the south coast for some breathtaking scenery and if you fancy a longer trip take in the “Hawaii of Korea” – Jeju Island!

All in all, just enjoy the adventure and try not to plan too much of it out. Once you are settled into your new apartment, have a cell phone and internet you are all set for life in Korea and ready to start making new friendships and exploring what the country has to offer.

Laura & Ciaran, Ireland: Placed in Gwangju

I’m so sorry this message is so overdue, Ciaran and I have been meaning to write to you since we got here–the time is absolutely flying!

We hope you are very well!

We both wanted to say thank you so much for helping us so much and for finding the jobs for us! We are absolutely loving the jobs and the city :) Gwangju is so beautiful and everyone is so friendly!! It’s going to be a really great year! So thanks a million for all your work–we really appreciate it!

Very best wishes
From Laura and Ciaran

Seollal Traditions; How The Koreans Celebrate Lunar New Year

seollal traditions

Happy Seollal! Seollal (Lunar New Year) is the biggest national holiday of the year in Korea and is one of two large holidays rivaling Chuseok in the traffic jam stakes! Koreans typically celebrate two New Years – “Solar New Year” on January 1st and their more traditional “Lunar New Year” which falls on a different date each year in accordance with the Lunar calendar.

This year Seollal is on Friday January 31st with the day before and after also being a national holiday to allow for travel to and from the family home. For those who are celebrating their first Lunar New Year I thought it would be helpful to share the most common Seollal traditions that you may experience if you get the chance to spend it with a Korean family.

1. FOOD!

tteokguk is a large seollal tradition

Food is taken very seriously on Seollal and for good reason too. It all centers around the notion of family. Family is a big thing in Korea and on Seollal the biggest part of the day is the ancestral rights or remembering and paying respects to deceased family members. Koreans believe that the spirits of dead family members come back to share and enjoy the food offerings prepared for the Lunar New Years celebrations. For this reason, families spend a great deal of time, money and effort ensuring that the the food is not only delicious but meticulously presented.

The most popular food is TteokGuk or rice cake soup which is said to add an extra year to your age! TteokGuk is on every table in every family home on Seollal… you could say that without TteokGuk there would be no Seollal! It is, however, not the only food on offer with tables being laid out with more dishes than you can count – all in the name of pleasing the ancestor’s spirit.

2. GIFT GIVING!

giving gifts is a large part of seollal

Department stores and supermarkets are CRAZY on the run up to Seollal. What was once a peaceful Tuesday afternoon shopping turns into wall to wall mayhem as people scarper around for gifts to offer to their family members. Koreans lack the Christmas spirit of gift giving but more than make up for it at Seollal!

The type of gifts given at this time of year seem weird to us foreigners. Whilst we prefer to give things like perfume, DVD’s and clothes, Koreans like to give useful things as a gift. You’ll see them buying gift packs of cooking oil, SPAM box sets (yeah, I know), multipacks of toothpaste and mega boxes of toilet roll!

If you are invited to a co worker or friend’s house for Seollal be sure to purchase a gift which you should do any time you are invited to a Korean’s home. 

3. CHILDREN RECEIVE CASH!

money gifting to children is a large seollal tradtion

Children are extremely fond of Seollal. A typical conversation with a student goes like this:

“What will you do for Seollal?”
“Money!” (rubs fingers)

Grandparents give monetary gifts to their grandchildren as a one of Seollal’s great traditions. Typically, the amount of money varies by school level: Elementary students get 100,000 won, Middle School students get 150,000 won and High School students get even more. Sadly, children don’t get to keep all this money and the conversation above advances to:

“What will you buy with the money?”
“Nothing. My mom steals it!”

Which is not typically true. Parents will usually take half the money and put it into a savings account for their child whilst leaving them with the other half. This varies per family with some families taking it all and others taking none.

 4. IT’S EVERYONE’S BIRTHDAY!

Happy_Birthday_Korean_Variety_2010_4212_event

No kidding… Seollal is every Korean’s birthday. How does that work? Well, traditionally speaking, Koreans count their age by how many Lunar New Year’s they have experienced. Nowadays most have an “international age” and a “Korean age” to help us foreigners understand a bit better. I remember being gobsmacked when I asked my students “When is your birthday?” and most of them not being able to tell me when it was!

To make matters even worse, Korean’s can be 2 years old before they have turned 1! Yes, it gets even more confusing. All Koreans are born 1 years old. So if they are born before Seollal they are 1 years old and then turn 2 on Seollal. Most foreigners quite rightly refuse to partake in this ritual and would prefer it if you aged backwards instead!

__________________________________________

If you are in Korea I hope you enjoy the extended break from work and fingers crossed you get the chance to experience some Seollal traditions in a Korean home!

Jade Pickenheim, America: Placed in Iksan

My experience with SKR was flawless. I was attracted to them by good reviews on various TEFL forums, and went with them due to their easily navigated, straightforward website. I can’t even believe how simple they made everything. Anne was my recruiter, and she was a phenomenal help in all aspects – clearly informing me how to go about all the steps, answering all of my questions, even giving me support and advice.  I could go on and on, but bottom line, they are awesome and I have only positive things to say.  If you’re thinking about giving the teaching in Korea thing a shot, use SKR and it will all be such a breeze.

Good luck!

The First Rap Video Made in North Korea (Without Their Permission!)

two use rappers shoot first rap video in north korea

Living in a foreign country you are subjected to some weird things that make you think twice and question your motives for moving abroad in the first place. Living in Korea is no exception and with the “noisy neighbors” to the North those of us living in Korea witness some really weird snippets of news coming from the Hermit Kingdom.

But this has to be THE strangest thing I’ve ever come across. Two rappers from the USA decided to head to North Korea to shoot a rap music video… the first rap music video ever produced inside the country. Better yet, despite their well publicized fundraising efforts in the States and their arrival at Pyongyang airport being met with dozens of Associated Press journalists, no one batted an eyelid to the pair of rappers who were free to shoot their video with no interference.

Apparently Pacman and Peso (the rappers) filmed somewhat secretly with a small Canon DSLR camera and you have to think they would have some questions to answer if the North Korean authorities cottoned on to what they were up to. Without further ado, here is the video which I think is actually pretty damn good considering the secretive nature of it all!

Pacman’s first thoughts on the video once back on US soil was “The first thing I thought was ‘we made it out’; we beat the odds” which leads me to wonder why on earth they thought it was a good idea in the first place!

What do you think? Leave your thoughts below…

Typical Korean Job Interview Questions; What To Expect!

nash-teaching-english-korea In case you didn’t know, job interviews for teaching ESL in Korea are a bit different from the standard interview you would expect at home. Usually a quick five or ten minute Skype/Telephone interview will be preferred over a grueling 30 minute grilling from a panel of potential employers. Schools are generally interested in two things; that you are enthusiastic and outgoing and that your accent is easy to understand.

It’s important to know what to expect so in this article I want to share some of the more typical Korean job interview questions that come up in most interviews so you are prepared and ready to rock!

1. Why did you choose Korea?

Refrain from explaining your desire to travel the world and experience a year full of parties and meeting amazing people from all over the world. Although it is one of the top reasons many people teach ESL across the world, it’s not what schools want to hear. Speak of your admiration for Korean education and culture and make reference to their rich history, amazing food and Confucian background. Explain that you feel you will benefit both personally and professionally from testing your skills in an environment focused on success.

You are going to Korea to work a real job first and foremost. It just so happens that the job you will be doing affords you the luxury to travel to some amazing places and meet some amazing people. 

2. How would you handle a troublesome student?

You don’t want to ramble on about giving extra homework, yelling at them, making them write lines, stay after school….

They want to see that you can handle testing situations with a positive outlook. Describe how you would try and find out why the student is misbehaving and work on the cause of the problem. Explain that you would use “positive reinforcement” methods to improve behavior. That you care deeply for your students and know that sometimes kids are kids and they step out of line occasionally.

3. Are you healthy?

Yes, this is a common question and is designed to see if you will be the type of person who will miss a lot of work through illness! You want to answer along the lines of “Yes, I am very healthy and live a very active lifestyle outside of work. Hiking, badminton and running are just some of my hobbies that allow me to keep my energy levels high.”

4. Do you smoke?

Just answer no, even if you do. Children hate the smell of smoke and will complain if you come to class with even the merest whiff of it on your clothes. If you do smoke, try to be subtle about it during work or best yet, refrain completely until you are home.

5. How would you deal with homesickness?

Everyone gets homesick. However, there are some teachers who can’t handle it and must break their contracts to return home which is a massive drain of time and money for schools. Try to first ask yourself this question before you decide to move across the world and then have a good answer prepared for your interview.

A great way to deal with homesickness is to call home via Skype or get involved with activities you enjoy from home with like minded people in Korea!

For more information on what to expect in your interview for Korea, we have a great article on Interview Tips and Preparing for a Skype Interview which are must reads to prepare you for the typical Korean interview questions and etiquette.

Merry Seong-Tan Jul; Christmas in Korea!

Christmas in Korea Firstly, a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from all here at Say Kimchi Recruiting! It’s been a great year and I sincerely hope that all our teachers in Korea and those we have helped over the past 12 months have a great day whilst not getting too homesick. It’s a tough time to be an expat for sure but hopefully you have some wonderful friends to share this holiday with.

Secondly, I thought it would be cool to highlight some of the major differences in the way Koreans celebrate Christmas as opposed to how it’s done in the “West” When I first came to Korea I was expecting it to be the same; gifts, Santa Claus coming down the chimney, children getting excited… that Christmas MAGIC in the air. It doesn’t quite go down like that in Korea though…

1. Christmas Day = Valentine’s Day 

Koreans don’t have the family gatherings, turkey meal, pulling the crackers, singing carols and exchanging of gifts like we do in the West. Many children won’t receive a gift on Christmas day and think nothing of it. Instead, it’s very much a day for couples to go on a date to a nice restaurant or the movies. For singles, it’s partayyyy night and for children it’s “play the computa game” or “sleep all day” (to quote some of my past students) time.

These days most foreigners living in Korea have their own Christmas Day parties and get together to celebrate a traditional Western Christmas.

2. The Christmas Spirit Is Severely Lacking!

I remember talking to my mom on Skype during the lead up to my first Christmas in Korea and remember telling her “Mom, it just doesn’t feel like Christmas. There are hardly any decorations, no rush to go Christmas shopping… the magic isn’t here!”

Don’t get me wrong, there are some places that decorate for Christmas and some places play Christmas music too. The problem is, they don’t bother to take down their decorations (yes, some places leave them up all year) and the Christmas music you hear (100 variations of “All I want for Christmas is you!”) is also played year round. As a result, it doesn’t feel special at all when it is actually Christmas!

3. Christmas Food…

Over the past few years things have gotten MUCH easier. You can find turkeys but expect to pay a hefty price for them. High Street Market has turkeys, gravy and I’m sure cranberry sauce that they ship across Korea. In past years, finding any of the traditional Christmas food we eat back home was pretty much impossible – so please try to use places like High Street Market when you can – use it or lose it as the saying goes.

To end, I’d again like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and I hope you can experience some much needed Christmas spirit in spite of where you are in the world!

D10 Visa Requirements; Forget Collecting Your Documents All Over Again!

d10 visa requirements

For those coming up to the end of their contracts and wishing to take a break before starting a new one, the new D10 visa is an absolute god send! It used to be the case that if you wanted to go home in between contracts you would need to gather all your documents AGAIN and go through the entire E-2 visa process AGAIN too. Not anymore.

The D10 visa (also known as the “looking for work” visa) allows the following without the need for teachers to collect their documents from scratch:

  • Up to a maximum of 6 months to find a new job.
  • Up to a maximum of 90 days outside of Korea.

D10 Visa Requirements

It should be noted that you can only apply for a D10 visa AFTER your contract has ended. It can take a few weeks to process so make sure you book your flights home a few weeks after your contract ends or better yet hold off until you have the D10 visa in hand if possible.

Here are the D10 visa requirements you must follow when you go to your local immigration office:

  • Passport
  • 2 Passport Pictures
  • ₩60,000 -> 130,000
  • Your Alien Registration Card
  • Current bank statement (they want to see you can support yourself in this period)
  • Letter of Release
  • Proof of Residency Form (they may ask to see a residency contract agreement but usually a friends address will suffice.)
  • Plans for Seeking Employment Form (get this at immigration office)

And that’s it! Once you submit your application it may take up to 2 weeks before you can pick up your new ARC card then you are free to leave for up to 90 days and look for work for up to 6 months.

You can leave multiple times too so if you want a month in Thailand, then back to sign a new contract, then a few weeks in Vietnam before starting the new contract you can do that with no problems!

Note: Please call the 1345 immigration hotline well in advance of your contract end date. The D10 visa process is relatively new and somewhat shrouded in mystery and can change depending on which immigration office you go to. 

Popular Korean Winter Food to Beat the Chill

cold days and freezing nights call for some korean winter food to get you through!

Fall didn’t last long and has now been replaced by that bone chilling cold that we call Korean winter. And things are only going to get colder until the air starts warming up again in April. There are several tricks those not used to such cold weather use to beat the Korean winter – such as wearing 10 layers or only leaving their apartment when necessary – but the best way is to indulge in some delicious Korean winter food to help ward off the frostbite!

So fear not! Here are a few of my favorite foods to eat during the winter in Korea to help you stay warm:

1. Hotteok

hotteok is great to help beat the korean winters!

Hotteok is without doubt the most popular Korean winter food which is due to the fact that it’s available on every street corner during the cold months. Street food vendors serve queues of freezing passers by this delicious treat and you’ll always hear a hearty “Maschisa” (delicious) as you walk past.

Hotteok is a thick rice cake filled with melted red bean paste, sugar and sometimes nuts. It is lip smackingly delicious and at only 1,000 won you certainly can’t pass it up when you are out and about.

2. Bungeo-ppang

food to beat the korean winters

Bungeo -ppang is another snack that you can buy from the street vendors around town and is equally as delicious as Hotteok. 5 of these fish shaped snacks will cost only 2,000 won and will leave you satisfied and ready to battle the extreme cold.

Tip: If you are with friends ensure they buy their own as everyone will be asking for a bite!

3. Roasted Chestnuts

chestnuts for korean winter food

Another street snack here in the form of roasted chestnuts. As you may have guessed, Korea makes it extremely easy to get a heat in the winter by selling a large range of warm snacks on the sidewalk. Eating these reminds me of Christmas and “chestnuts roasting on the fire” always makes me a little home sick.

Tip: Roasted chestnuts are absolutely delicious but make sure the vendor cooks them thoroughly for the best taste!

4. Tteokbokki

toppoki-food for korean winters

One of the most famous Korean dishes is called Tteokbokki. This sells like hot cakes all year round but it makes an especially great Korean winter food due it it’s spicyness and ability to heat you up on the chilliest days!

Tteokbokki is rice cake mixed with fish cake and other fried ingredients before being marinated in spicy red pepper paste. You’ll find this snack again on the street but it’s also sold in restaurants everywhere across the country such is it’s popularity.

Tip: Ask for “Rabokki” and you’ll get Ramen (Ra) mixed in with the Tteokbokki (bokki) which is even better!

There are dozens more Korean winter foods that I haven’t listed here but they are also super easy to find on the street corners and in busy restaurants. Korean’s have the same idea as foreigners in the winter time – stay warm through food so head to where the locals are eating!

I urge you to explore the options when you are out and about this winter. - even some of the more unique ones like warm “bundegi”. Google it.