Teach English in Korea: Things to Know Before You Go
So you've decided to go to Korea...
Congratulations on your decision to step out of the everyday and spend a year on the other side of the world! I hope that you have an open mind and are ready to overcome the eventual bumps in the road that would prevent you from enjoying your trip to the fullest! Living and working in Asia for a year can really be an amazing experience that you'll remember happily for the rest of your life, or it can be a terrible one that you'll regret for a long time to come. Which outcome describes your experience is really up to you. Here is a list of six things you should know before you get on the plane that will help your experience be a great one.
#1 : Choose a good recruiter
OK... This one is well before you get on the plane, but its crucial and you should really pay attention to the recruiter that you're using to go oversees. Do a little research online before you go and see what kind of information is available about the recruiter that you are thinking about using. Not all recruiters are created equal and while some can make your experience as easy as taking candy from a baby, others can make it a difficult and drawn out process that could make you wish you had decided to stay home in the first place, before you've even left!
A great resource to start your search about recruiters and schools is this hub about Korean recruiters. You can also try Dave's ESL Cafe. There's a lot of information to be had there, although many are negative reviews due to the fact that people are more likely to complain than praise any system.
#2 : Research your school before signing a contract.
Just as all recruiters are not created equal, neither are all schools that you will come in contact with either. Reasonable expectations to have from a school are to be paid on time every month, to have health care and insurance, and to have a severance package equal to one months salary if you complete your whole contract. Your employer will also provide you with living accommodations or a living allowance so that you can rent your own place. Although almost every school will tell you upfront that these are the things that you are going to receive as part of your contract, not every school will hold up its end of the bargain. Don't come to Korea thinking that everyone is out to swindle you, but do request the email addresses of a few current foreign staff members who can let you know what the school you'll be looking for is really like. Keep yourself informed and you should get along with your school just fine.
# 3 : Aww... what a cute little foreigner..
The majority of Koreans are friendly and will go out of their way to help you, but when you come to Korea you have to keep in mind that Korea has a very homogeneous culture which is not yet quite accustomed to cultural differences. Curiosity is rampant and Koreans are eager to tell you all about Korea. They want to share their culture and to hear about yours. It has been my personal experience that Koreans will either attempt to put you on a pedestal and try to copy your ways, or will treat you like a child or a beloved pet. Foreigners are definitely valued by Koreans, but not always the way that we would like to be. Personally, this doesn't bother me. I would prefer to be respected rather than coddled, but its not something that gets me really fired up. If your personality is such that this would bother you however, you should be very selective with the school you choose, or even consider to spend your year abroad in a different country.
# 4: Would you like that spicy... or spicy?
Koreans love spicy food, and they also love fish.
If you are a picky eater you should learn to eat at least one or both of these before you come to Korea, as it will make your initial introduction to Korea all the more pleasant. No one likes to spend their first week adjusting to a new life on an empty stomach. There is of course a lot of western style foods available if you are in a large city such as Seoul, but they are expensive and can be difficult to find depending on where you live. If on the other hand you are adventurous when it comes to food, Korea is the place for you! There are so many delicious foods here, it might take you the whole year just to try them all.
# 5 : 안녕하세요 !
One way to make your adjustment to lving in Korea exponentially easier is to learn a little of the language before you arrive. Some sources will say that you can speak English anywhere in Korea, especially in Seoul and people will understand. If you want to say, "Hello, how are you? I'm fine and you?" then this may actually be true. Beyond those simple phrases, watch out.
A place where you will especially notice this is if you ever have to buy anything, which foreigners routinely do, be it food, clothing, items for your new apartment... People in the service industry are not usually as educated as others, and that's just where you'd need it the most.
Learning Korean can be quite a large undertaking however, and most people don't have time to do so before heading to the 'Land of the Morning Calm' but if you do nothing else, I do suggest you do this. Learn the Korean alphabet. Nothing will help you more than knowing how to sound out Korean writing, even if you don't usually understand what the sounds mean. Do it. It will help you. You'll thank me for this advice.
# 6 : Koreans Don't Sweat
Or so they say, because deodorant is something that you cannot buy in Korea, unless you are very lucky and are willing to shell out a lot of money for the stuff. Bring it with you. There are a few more things such as bed sheets and among others that you should make room for in your suitcase from home. Look them up before you go, and try to squeeze them all into your suitcase. A list of things to bring can be found here.
Wrapping it up.
Korea is a great place, and a wonderful experience for a year or longer. Many people extend their contracts beyond the initial year, and other still never leave. Knowing a little about what to expect before you arrive can be very helpful in making your initial experience as positive as possible. First impressions have such a lasting impression, its worth while to make sure that yours is the best that it can be! Good luck and happy travelling!
For more information about Laura's time in Korea you can click here to check out her personal blog.