02Apr

Coming Full Circle: My Journey Back to Teaching English in Korea

This article is part of a series. To see the other articles in this series, click the links below:

Facing the Decision: Saying Goodbye to Korea

When the end of my second year was approaching and the hagwon I was working at asked me if I would be staying for a third year, I had to take some time to think about it. I loved Daegu, I loved my coworkers, and I had had a couple of years with great students. However, I hadn’t seen my family in three years (we lived in different provinces and couldn’t visit each other during the Covid-19 pandemic), and most of the close friends I’d made were leaving Korea that same year, too. Going home just seemed to make sense as the next step for me, so I booked my plane ticket and left at the end of my second year.

friends wearing facemasks at some korean festival

(Leaving my friends was one of the hardest parts…)

Navigating Reverse Culture Shock

I find that no one really discusses the intense reverse culture shock that can come with moving home after living abroad. I’ve lived in multiple places in Europe before, but never felt as out of place when coming home as I did when I returned from Korea. Though I had missed Canadian comfort food, the snow and the ease of my native language while I was away, I felt strangely out of place. I missed the friends that I had met (who became some of my closest friends for life), I missed my students, I missed my apartment. I missed the food, the Dancheong-colored traditional buildings, the hustle and bustle. I missed Korea.

two friends looking over cherry blossom trees

(Cherry Blossom Season – aka the best season)

Missing Korea: The Place That Had Started to Feel Like Home

While living in Korea, I progressed quite well in learning the language. I began by self-teaching, but in my second year, I started to take one-on-one lessons. By the end of my second year, I was able to hold longer conversations, read signs and know where to go without asking, and even joke around with the ajummas at the grocery store. When I returned back to Canada, I continued my lessons, and found that I really missed hearing the beautiful Korean language around me all the time. I missed the traditional Korean roofs or “giwa” that could be found on both modern and older buildings, the green spaces that were spread throughout the city, the ease of calling a taxi or renting a Kakao bike.

(Traditional Korean giwa roofs)

Charting a Course: Exploring Career Options

I struggled for the first half of the year, telling myself that it was natural to miss the place I’d spent the last two years in. I pushed through it, trying to figure out a plan for the next few years in Canada. I looked into everything: getting my Early Childhood Education degree, going back to school and getting a Masters in Education, and some other options completely unrelated to teaching. For about six months, I worked at a seasonal cafe that opens for tourists in the summertime as a way to make some money. I didn’t mind being a barista there; my coworkers were great and the job wasn’t hard. My favourite part about it all, though, was meeting people who were visiting from all across the world. 

 

Through these interactions and practicing my French language skills (since French is abundant in Canada, I studied it in school and love to speak it), I came to realize that what I love the most, what makes me the happiest, is being able to understand other people and cultures through language. And I love that through teaching English as a Second Language (ESL), I can help students grow their abilities to thrive in what’s swiftly becoming a multilingual world. Being able to communicate opens so many windows of possibility, and I love being able to teach that to young, curious minds. With this new revelation, I began to look at other countries I could possibly teach in across both Asia and Europe, but none of them seemed as appealing as Korea.

Embracing Change: Making the Bold Decision to Return

After my birthday in August, I knew I had decided where I wanted to be. I knew what job I enjoyed, and I knew that, simply, I missed being in Korea. Why did it have to be any more complicated than that? My whole life, I had always been told that I should be settled down by 30, but I never understood that mindset. There’s so much world out there, so why not go where you want to go and do what you want to do, regardless of age? It’s just a number! 

In light of this revelation, I booked a couple of interviews, found a school that works for me, and signed a contract – all within a matter of weeks. Off I go! I’m so excited for this next chapter, and can’t wait to meet my new students, make new friends… and eat Korean BBQ straight from the source.

02Mar

My Journey From Canada to South Korea

This article is part 1 of a series. To read part 2, Teaching Tales from Daegu: Embracing Life as an English Teacher, click here

In December of 2019, after graduating from university, I moved out of my family home and settled in Ottawa (the capital city of Canada) – six hours from where I had grown up. I was working at a bilingual French cafe as a manager while I prepared to start a Masters Program at the University of Ottawa, when Covid-19 hit in March of 2020. 

When my workplace (and most other businesses) inevitably closed for a month, I began to take socially-distanced walks with my Korean friend, Changa, who I had met at work. Through chatting, I learned more about where she came from, what her life was like back home, and became super intrigued with Korean culture and history. These walks and her friendship became a lifeline for me during the pandemic, and when she had to cut her work visa short and return home, I missed her dearly. 

Another lifeline for me during these times was, yes, K-Pop. BTS’ Life Goes On was one of my most-played songs of 2020. K-Pop was simple fun, and made me so incredibly happy. When work opened back up, BTS’ Dynamite was the first song I played every Saturday morning before our busiest shift to hype up my workers. I began to study the history of K-Pop alongside the history of Korea itself. As an undergraduate history major, the history of South Korea was new and incredibly fascinating

woman wearing traditional dress, next to a gate in korea

I became more and more curious. I had previously taught in France and Italy, so the concept of teaching overseas wasn’t new to me, but I had never so much as visited anywhere in Asia. I had heard of people teaching in places like South Korea, Japan, and China, but had never looked into it before. I messaged Changa, who was now living back home in Korea, and asked her tons of questions. What was life like in Korea? What was it like to teach there? What was different for her in Canada when she was here? I discovered soon after that an old classmate of mine from university was living and teaching in Korea too, and I didn’t hesitate to reach out and ask him about it. He raved, on and on, about how much he enjoyed it there, and I was getting more and more convinced. 

woman next to royal guard at Gyeongbokgung Palace in Korea

First visit to Gyeongbukgung Palace with Changa! (During the pandemic)

The pandemic had changed a lot for me in terms of realizing what I wanted, the direction I wanted my life to go in, and the things I cared about. I had decided to rescind my Masters Program acceptance to study History, and while trying to figure out what my next steps were, I couldn’t stop thinking about Korea. My roommates at the time were so supportive; I distinctly remember one of them simply saying, “Why wouldn’t you go?” and I realized that they were right. What was stopping me? Why not try? I decided to start looking, browsing through countless online forums, applying to multiple recruitment agencies, and setting up some interviews. When I got offered a job at a school in Daegu that fit all of my requirements, I snatched up the opportunity and didn’t look back. 

Don’t get me wrong – I was terrified. I didn’t speak the language, I didn’t know much about actually living in Korea, and I only had a couple of friends there. I would also be leaving my family and friends in Canada, many of whom I hadn’t seen in over a year because of the pandemic. That was another big factor: the pandemic was still ongoing at the time, and travel was only just beginning to be normalized again. But I knew what I really wanted to do despite all of that, and had everyone’s support to go for it. 

I began to take Korean lessons a few months before I went to learn the basics, joined all the expat communities I could find on Facebook, and did as much research as I could. It appeared that the coronavirus situation was being handled well in Korea, and I felt reassured by all of the country’s immigration protocols. However, I also knew that the only way to truly understand what Korea was like was to just do it: to pack up and go. So I did. 

On my way!

In conclusion, there wasn’t one single reason why I decided to move to Korea. It all kind of happened randomly for me, and I’m so grateful that it did. I left Ottawa after preparing for months, packing and repacking my suitcases about 20 times, until the day of my flight came. I said goodbye to my brother at the airport, and off I went. 17 hours of travel later, I landed at Incheon Airport with no idea what waited for me in the next two years.

18Feb

Essential Apps for Your Move to Korea

Are you gearing up for an adventure teaching English in South Korea? Moving to a new country can be exhilarating yet daunting, especially if it’s your first time. But fear not! With the right tools at your fingertips, navigating your new life abroad can be a breeze. Here’s a curated list of must-have apps to download before you hop on that plane:


Papago: Bid farewell to language barriers with this handy translating app. While Google Translate might be your go-to back home, Papago is your new best friend in Korea. Its accuracy will make communicating with locals a breeze.


KakaoTalk: Think of KakaoTalk as your lifeline to the Korean world. This texting and calling app is a staple in Korean communication culture. Get connected with colleagues, friends effortlessly.


Kakao Maps and Naver Maps: Say goodbye to Google Maps – in Korea, it’s all about Kakao and Naver Maps. Whether you’re exploring Seoul’s bustling streets or navigating the subway system, these mapping apps have got you covered with accurate, up-to-date information.


Kakao Taxi: Need a ride? Skip the hassle of hailing a cab and opt for Kakao Taxi, Korea’s equivalent of Uber or Lyft. With just a few taps on your phone, you can summon a ride to your doorstep and zip around the city with ease.


Kakao Metro: Navigating Seoul’s extensive subway network can be intimidating at first, but fear not – Kakao Metro is here to help. This user-friendly app provides detailed maps, real-time train schedules, and essential travel information to make your commute a breeze.


Coupang Eats: When hunger strikes, satisfy your cravings with Coupang Eats. With a plethora of food delivery options at your fingertips, you can indulge in delicious Korean cuisine without stepping foot outside your door. It’s a game-changer for busy days or lazy nights in.


BucaCheck: Avoid the dreaded “insufficient funds” scenario with BucaCheck. This handy app allows you to check the balance on your T-money card – essential for seamless travel on public transportation. Simply tap your card on your phone, and you’ll know exactly how much credit you have left.


With these essential apps in your arsenal, you’ll be well-equipped to navigate the ins and outs of life in South Korea. So go ahead, embrace the adventure, and get ready for an unforgettable experience teaching English abroad!

10Jan

What to Pack

Hey there, fellow adventurer! So, you’ve made the bold decision to pack up and jet off to South Korea for a year-long adventure. Before you start envisioning all the bibimbap and K-pop concerts awaiting you, let’s talk about the essentials you’ll need to bring along for the ride.

When I embarked on my own South Korean escapade, I thought I had it all figured out. Two checked bags, a carry-on bursting with vacuum-sealed clothes – I was ready to conquer Seoul with my entire wardrobe in tow. But little did I know, South Korea had a shopping scene that would make any fashionista weak at the knees.

So, here’s the lowdown on what you really need to pack:

  1. Starter Outfits and Lounge Wear: Bring along a few outfits to kickstart your South Korean journey, especially if you’re headed straight to work. Don’t forget some comfy lounge clothes for those lazy weekends. But trust me, save your money for the shopping extravaganza awaiting you in your new city.
  2. Universal Converters: Your electronic devices and hair styling tools will need some love too. Pack more than one universal converter to keep your gadgets juiced up and ready to capture every moment of your adventure.
  3. Travel-sized Toiletries: Leave those bulky shampoo bottles behind. South Korea’s got you covered with an array of skincare and beauty products that’ll make your head spin. Embrace the local brands and indulge in some K-beauty magic.
  4. Face Makeup- I had no idea how limited the shade range would be in Korea. Every time I went to Olive Young, I came out looking a little bit like a mime:/ I found myself going into Chicor (western makeup store) way too often. I recommend bringing a few foundations in your shade from home! 
  5. Self Tan- If you are a self tan enthusiast, definitely bring a few bottles from home because you will not be able to find it in Korea.
  6. Heat Protectant- If you are someone who frequently uses heat styling on your hair, I would recommend bringing a couple bottles of heat protectant from home. I was not able to find any the entire time I lived in Korea. 
  7. Deodorant Stockpile: Now, here’s a pro tip – bring along a stash of your favorite deodorant. While Koreans seem to possess a magical anti-body odor gene, us mere mortals might need a little extra help staying fresh. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.
  8. Towels: Don’t underestimate the power of a good bath towel. In a land where bath towels resemble hand towels, having a couple of full-sized towels from home will feel like a luxurious embrace after a refreshing shower.
  9. Consider Your Size: If you’re taller than 5’9″ or larger than a medium US size, you might find it challenging to shop for clothes in South Korea. The “free size” trend, which typically fits S/M, dominates the fashion scene. Consider investing in vacuum seal packs from Amazon for your larger-sized clothing items to ensure you have options that fit comfortably. Also if you have a foot larger than a US womens 8 or US mens 9 you might want to bring a few extra shoes with you! Luckily, I decided to bring a carry-on roller full of my favorite shoes.

And here’s what you can leave behind:

  1. Tampons: Contrary to popular belief, South Korea does have tampons. I am not sure if this is a new development, but I never had an issue finding any.  Save yourself the suitcase space and rest assured that you’ll find all your feminine hygiene needs catered to.
  2. Tons of Cosmetics: When I went to Korea I brought a ton of eyeshadow, mascara and blush. I ended up throwing it all away and buying new products from Olive Young. The products are so cheap and of great quality in Korea. Save the space in your luggage. 
  3. Birth Control- Birth Control: If you’re on hormonal birth control, consider leaving your stockpile at home. Surprisingly, the contraceptive pill is available over the counter in South Korea, offering a convenient solution for those in need. You’ll find a variety of brands to choose from, and the best part? It’s often much cheaper than what you’d pay back home. Simply visit any pharmacy and ask the pharmacist for the contraceptive pill. Don’t worry if you’re nervous about the language barrier – a quick Google Images search for the product can help you communicate your needs effectively. So, save space in your luggage and rest assured knowing that reproductive health care is readily accessible during your South Korean adventure.

So, there you have it – the ultimate packing guide for your South Korean adventure. Embrace the unknown, dive headfirst into the vibrant culture, and get ready to make memories that’ll last a lifetime. Who knows, maybe you’ll return home with a whole new fashion sense and a suitcase filled with treasures from the streets of Seoul. Safe travels, fellow explorer!

03Jan

What I wish I knew Before Moving to Korea

So, you’re thinking about making the big move to South Korea, huh? Buckle up, because I’m about to spill the tea on all the things I wish I knew before jetting off to the Land of the Morning Calm. Trust me, hindsight is 20/20, and I’ve got some juicy insights to share with you.

  1. The Cost of the Process:

Alright, let’s talk money. While using a recruiter to smooth out the moving process won’t cost you a dime, there are other expenses to consider. You’ll need to cough up some cash for things like background checks, document apostilles, health waiver appointments, visa applications, and postage. The prices of these things vary based on what location you call home.  Oh, and don’t forget about covering your flight upfront (but hey, you’ll get reimbursed later).

  1. Say Bye-Bye to Your Old Style:

Listen up, fashionistas! Your wardrobe is about to undergo a serious glow-up. I wish someone had warned me about this before I stuffed my suitcase with clothes I never ended up wearing. Between all the walking and healthy eats, I shed pounds and my fashion sense did a complete 180. Pack light and get ready to embrace a whole new look.

  1. Welcome to Your Empty Apartment:

Picture this: you land in Korea, excited to start your new chapter, only to find yourself mattress-less on a Saturday night. Not cool, right? Don’t make the same mistake I did. Use websites like Gmarket to order essentials before you arrive. Pro tip: splurge on a comfy mattress—it’s worth every penny for those precious ZZZs.

  1. Navigating Daily Life:

Let me save you some major headaches. Ordering delivery food or online goodies without your ARC card number? Total nightmare and basically impossible. Get familiar with Gmarket because they will let you order things without an ARC number. Get ahead of the game and download essential apps like KakaoTalk, Papago and Naver Maps before you touch down. And don’t forget to snag a T-money card for hassle-free public transportation. You can buy a T-Money card at the subway station or in the nearest convenience store.

  1. Trash Talk:

Okay, so here’s the lowdown on trash etiquette in Korea. Familiarize yourself with the rules ASAP to avoid any drama. Trust me, getting fined for tossing recyclables in the wrong bin is not a vibe. Snap pics of those trash signs in your apartment complex and use translation apps like Papago to decode them. Oh, and keep those food scraps in the freezer to keep things from smelling. You can buy bags to throw out your trash at any mart or convenience store. You will have to ask the clerk for them (scary, I know) just use Papago if your not familiar with Korean just yet.

 

Alright there you have it—my ultimate guide to navigating life in South Korea. Moving abroad is an adventure packed with twists and turns, but armed with these insider tips, you’ll be ready to tackle anything that comes your way. So go ahead, seize the moment, and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime!

08Dec

Learning the Language

Moving to a new country can be both exciting and overwhelming, especially when it comes to setting up your new home. After living in South Korea for two years, I’ve learned firsthand the importance of certain essentials to make your transition smoother. Here are the first things you should consider purchasing upon arrival:

  1. Quality Mattress: One of the first things you’ll notice upon moving into your apartment is the empty space waiting to be filled. Investing in a good mattress is crucial for your well-being, as quality sleep is invaluable. I recommend browsing Gmarket for a comfortable mattress that suits your preferences. If budget constraints are a concern, start with a bed mat temporarily and upgrade once you receive your first paycheck. Trust me, a good night’s sleep is worth it.I recommend ordering this as soon as you receive your address. 
  2. T-money Card: Upon landing in Korea, one of the first tasks on your list should be acquiring a T-money card. Available at convenience stores or vending machines at subway stations, this card is essential for navigating public transportation seamlessly. It’s a convenient way to pay for buses, subways, taxis, and even some convenience store purchases.
  3. Shower Filter: Hard water is a common issue in Korea, which can lead to hair fall out and skin irritation. Save yourself the hassle by purchasing a shower filter from Daiso or a local store. For a super low cost of around 5,000 won, you’ll protect your hair and skin from the harsh effects of hard water.
  4. Trash Bags and Recycling Bin: Korea has a strict recycling system, and proper disposal of waste is essential. Head to the convenience store to purchase specific bags for disposing of non-recyclable items. These bags are necessary for using communal trash bins, and you’ll need to ensure you have the correct type for your city. Additionally, consider investing in a small bin for carrying recyclables to make the process more manageable.
  5. Drying Rack: Korean apartments typically don’t come equipped with dryers, so a drying rack is a must-have item. You’ll be hanging your laundry to dry, so pick up a drying rack from Daiso to make this task more efficient. It’s a small investment that will save you time and energy in the long run.

By prioritizing these essential items, you’ll be better prepared to settle into your new life in South Korea comfortably. From ensuring a good night’s sleep to navigating the intricacies of the local trash system, these purchases will streamline your transition and help you feel at home in your new environment.

Learning Hangul:

Hangul, the Korean alphabet, was a game-changer for me. I took the time to learn it before moving, and am I glad I did. Being able to read things like subway stations and signs when I arrived made life so much easier. I even found that sometimes English words were spelled out in Hangul, so knowing how to read really came in handy.

I learned Hangul by watching a YouTube video that broke down the characters and their sounds. It’s been years since I watched it, but the lessons are still burned into my brain. If you have the time, I highly recommend giving it a go. Here the video Learn Hangul 한글 (Korean Alphabet) in 30 minutes – YouTube

Moving Beyond Hangul:

Once I got the hang of Hangul, I started using apps like Duolingo to expand my Korean skills. But until you’ve mastered the basics of Hangul, I wouldn’t recommend diving into language apps just yet.

Language Exchange:

One of the best decisions I made was jumping into a language exchange program once I arrived in Korea. Not only did I get a tutor to help me improve my Korean, but I also made some incredible connections. Making Korean friends can be tough if they’re not your coworkers, but language exchange opened up a whole new world for me.

Survival Phrases:

To help you get started on your Korean journey, here are some survival phrases to get you through those first few weeks:

  • Hello: 안녕하세요 (annyeonghaseyo)
  • Thank you: 감사합니다 (gamsahamnida)
  • I’m sorry: 미안합니다 (mianhamnida)
  • Yes: 네 (ne)
  • No: 아니요 (aniyo)
  • Where is the bathroom?: 화장실이 어디에 있어요? (hwajangsil-i eodie isseoyo?)
  • Do you speak English?: 영어 할 줄 아세요? (yeongeo hal jul aseyo?)
  • Help: 도와주세요 (dowajuseyo)
  • I’m okay: 괜찮아요 (gwaenchanayo)

Remember, learning a new language takes time and patience. Don’t be too hard on yourself, and enjoy the journey!

12Nov

What You Should Buy ASAP for Life in Korea

Moving to a new country can be both exciting and overwhelming, especially when it comes to setting up your new home. After living in South Korea for two years, I’ve learned firsthand the importance of certain essentials to make your transition smoother. Here are the first things you should consider purchasing upon arrival:

  1. Quality Mattress: One of the first things you’ll notice upon moving into your apartment is the empty space waiting to be filled. Investing in a good mattress is crucial for your well-being, as quality sleep is invaluable. I recommend browsing Gmarket for a comfortable mattress that suits your preferences. If budget constraints are a concern, start with a bed mat temporarily and upgrade once you receive your first paycheck. Trust me, a good night’s sleep is worth it.I recommend ordering this as soon as you receive your address. 
  2. T-money Card: Upon landing in Korea, one of the first tasks on your list should be acquiring a T-money card. Available at convenience stores or vending machines at subway stations, this card is essential for navigating public transportation seamlessly. It’s a convenient way to pay for buses, subways, taxis, and even some convenience store purchases.
  3. Shower Filter: Hard water is a common issue in Korea, which can lead to hair fall out and skin irritation. Save yourself the hassle by purchasing a shower filter from Daiso or a local store. For a super low cost of around 5,000 won, you’ll protect your hair and skin from the harsh effects of hard water.
  4. Trash Bags and Recycling Bin: Korea has a strict recycling system, and proper disposal of waste is essential. Head to the convenience store to purchase specific bags for disposing of non-recyclable items. These bags are necessary for using communal trash bins, and you’ll need to ensure you have the correct type for your city. Additionally, consider investing in a small bin for carrying recyclables to make the process more manageable.
  5. Drying Rack: Korean apartments typically don’t come equipped with dryers, so a drying rack is a must-have item. You’ll be hanging your laundry to dry, so pick up a drying rack from Daiso to make this task more efficient. It’s a small investment that will save you time and energy in the long run.

By prioritizing these essential items, you’ll be better prepared to settle into your new life in South Korea comfortably. From ensuring a good night’s sleep to navigating the intricacies of the local trash system, these purchases will streamline your transition and help you feel at home in your new environment.