Category Archives: South Korea

Gyeongbukgung Adventures

My adventure to Gyeongbukgung Palace was well over a month ago and with the helter-skelter that has been my work life as of late, I have seriously neglected to put anything up. For those of you who have followed me thus far, sorry, I swear I haven’t dropped off the face of the planet! Anyway, back to the important stuff!

On one of my many adventures to Seoul I decided that I need to go back to Gyeongbukgung Palace and take in all that I saw when I first arrived to Korea in February, though this time I was going to do it in STYLE! Enter the Hanbok, Korea’s traditional clothing, and its insane affordability (renting of course). With my two close friends and a camera, we decided to end our time in Seoul by stopping at one of the many rental shops and renting hanbok to walk around the palace. For 2 hours it will only set you back 10,000~20,000 won ($10-20) or for a day only 25,000~30,000 ($25-30)! I don’t have a specific shop recommendation as there are over 20 all in a small area offering the same type of deals.

Travel Tip: If you wear hanbok to a palace  in Korea (in most cases), you DO NOT need to pay an entry fee. It is more than the entry fee, yes, but it 100% worth it! (If you dont believe me check out these pictures!)

History Time: Gyeongbukgung, built in 1395, is also know as the Northern Palace because its location is furthest north when compared to the neighboring palaces of Changdeokgung (Eastern Palace) and Gyeonghuigung (Western Palace) Palace. Gyeongbokgung Palace the largest of all five palaces and considered by many to an example of the building found during the Joseon Dynasty and as such the Gyeonghoeru Pavilion and Hyangwonjeong Pond have remained mostly intact since all of the palace buildings were restored under the leadership of Heungseondaewongun during the reign of King Gojong (1852-1919) following the  Imjin War (Japanese Invasions, 1592-1598).

Living in Korea means that I can explore these places of cultural heritage and learn more about the country I am falling in love with more every day!

Learning a Language

Language is a fun thing that constantly evolves and just when you think you have learned it another things changes. That applies not only to a person’s native language but to any language they are trying to learn. I believe that learning a language means opening your brain up to new knowledge and having everything that you knew before recategorized. Most of the time its the best thing that happens to you but there are some days when your brain goes, “Can I not today?”.

Today I want to talk about how I go about learning a language and the ups and downs that come with it. For starters, I am a person that relies more on auditory and visual learning and have a slight anxiety about actually speaking, in fear of making a massive slip. What has worked for me here in Korea is language exchanges, meeting with Korean people who wish to learn English and then me who wants to learn Korean. On Tuesdays I meet with a teacher who already speaks English but helps me with my conversational Korean and Thursdays I meet with a girl close to my age who speaks about as much English as I do Korean. Both are different and equally as beneficial due to the fact that I learn different things with each person. One is about the grammar, proper sentence structure and pronunciation while the other is casual banter which ends up centering around vocabulary.

I want to be at a certain level of proficiency and I find that sometimes I get frustrated when I am not progressing as quickly or as accurately as I initially pictured. That being said this language exchange set up has great things in store for me and I plan to give updates on my progress at the 3 month, 6 month and 1 year mark. Mainly to see how far I have come in the course of a year and share the ways that have worked for me in terms of learning Korean. So to all you language learners out there…

Get to it!

New Year, New School

Having neglected to post an update in the past 3 weeks (wow, its been that long already), I have decided that I have learned a lot in the previous weeks and that it is time to share some of what I have learned! First, moving to another country is hard, partially due to a new environment and partially (maybe) due to language. Second, culture is something that takes time to learn and you will make mistakes again and again until you get it right. That’s just life though.

I liked Korean culture, food, language and the like before coming to Korea but I don’t think you can be prepared or really understand the aforementioned until you live there. My first two weeks consisted of being amused by the pace of life, confused at certain impracticalities, and utterly embarrassed when I accidentally cussed in front of a parent (thankful her child was not present and she thought it was hilarious).

When I first arrived in Daejeon, South Korea, my school took me for a health exam as all teachers have to complete one and it only set me back roughly $100. It included 2 different types of drug tests, an EKG, a chest x-ray, labs, dental inspection and a mental health evaluation (which was a joke, btw) and it was all done in under 2 hours. Talk about efficient! Health care is so much more affordable than people expect and I am so thankful for that.

However, there are things I have some to take for granted back in the US. Such as access to food of any type… I really am craving guacamole at the moment and decent salsa. Thanks mom for sending some my way! Also, I miss online banking. For a foreigner in Korea, banking, especially online banking, is an ugly dinosaur who has yet to catch up to modern times. Think that I’m being too harsh? Even my Korean co-teacher said that she only uses it for taxes at the end of the year since its too complicated to mess with all the time and she doesn’t understand it. There are several different enrollment processes and its all in Korean.

Another thing I am appreciating about the US is that I can understand almost everyone and be understood and that may seem like a funny thing to mention but I don’t speak Korean and I struggle. I did come here being able to read words (meaning is a different story) and speak survival sentences but that is my limit as of right now. Sometimes it takes an embarrassing moment and a kind-hearted person to understand your good intentions and correct you. For example, yesterday a mom came to drop of her child’s indoor shoes and I went to get them from her. She doesn’t speak English and I thought to myself “Oh, I know the word for shoes in Korean. I’ll just say ‘shoes’ and she’ll understand enough.”

Korean lesson time: the word for shoes  is 신발 (shin-bal) and the F word is very close, just change Shin to Shi…

And that is what I said to a parent as I pointed to the shoes. Her eyes got very big and she realized that I had meant to say something else and corrected me very kindly before bending over to laugh hysterically. Only then did I realize that I had just cussed at her instead of saying ‘shoes’. Yay for language learning and messing up hah. I am really excited to see where this language journey will take me and how much I will improve by the end of the year!

The school that I am at now has a great workplace environment and they really take into consideration all that non-Korean teachers have to go through and for that I will be eternally grateful!

Until next time!

Pyeongchang 2018- Getting There!

One of my dreams growing up was to go to the Olympics and see the USA win a gold medal, and while I didn’t get to see a gold medal match I did get the opportunity to watch the US Men’s Hockey team take on Slovakia (and win I might add). There is something surreal about being in another country and watching your homeland team compete, especially when you know that you won’t be going back to your country for a while longer. It becomes a sort of home away from home when your countrymen and women are by you cheering your team on to victory and there is nothing sweeter.

For those of you who may be coming to the Olympics later on, here are some tips on how to make the most of your time! I can only speak from the commute from Seoul to Pyeongchang, so keep that in mind. There are several ways to get to the Olympics from Seoul and they all vary in price and time. The fastest and most expensive option is Korea’s special Olympic KTX train (bullet train) and it will take you roughly an hour to get there and set you back anywhere from 180-145USD as it appears you can only buy a 5 day or 7 day pass. It is a good option if you plan on going more than one day AND you plan on commuting. Another train option is the Mugunghwa (the regular train) which takes about 6 hours and only costs about 20USD. The next option is renting a car and driving the 2.5 hours there yourself and is not something I highly recommend. Why is that? Parking is limited at the event and if you are from the US you might find it hard as street names are in Korean. On to the bus options, you can take a bus to the event from many different companies and the best option is to google it and pick what fits your needs. I, however, took a free shuttle that took about 3 hours to get to Pyeongchang and didn’t cost me a thing! The service is called E-Bus and was pretty easy to use; there is a 2$ reservation fee per ticket that is refunded upon boarding the bus. Plus, they give you a free gift bag upon boarding the bus that had snacks and other little knick-knacks in it! Note to consider: the E-Bus drivers do not speak English so its best to learn some survival phrases if it concerns you or just follow the other passengers on the bus.

Another thing to consider is investing in a transportation card as you can pay for your rides on the subway, bus and even a taxi. Additionally, some cards can be used to buy things in the convenience stores! The cost to buy one can range between 2500-3000 Won and how much money you choose to put on it. You can reload these cards in the subway station and when you leave you can refund the amount that is on them. Pretty nice, right?

As always, good luck on your travels and enjoy the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics!

Getting to the GO!

With the Christmas season in swing and my last semester of university coming to an end, I have neglected to post updates on the visa status and what the next 6 weeks will hold. To cut to the chase, I did receive my visa and I was all sorts of happy and wistful as I looked at it but I can say with certainty that I haven’t had a doubt about going on this journey. I’ve found inspiration at every corner and even in the most random of moments to light my way. However, there are the few questions that I think many soon to be ex-pats hear or will hear and I want to address some of those now.

For starters, I often hear, “Korea? Like North Korea?” which to no end makes me scratch my head in wonder and to which I usually reply sardonically, “Yes, that exact one except a bit more to the south.” Another thing is that in the US when you tell people you’re going to teach English abroad their first thought is that you are going to Spain, France or Italy (basically somewhere European) because even though it is foreign, you won’t necessarily feel out of place. So once I tell them, “No, I decided to teach in South Korea”, I inevitably get the follow up “Why?”.

If you have read my previous blog then you know why and I won’t bore you by repeating myself. However, I think the “why” is an important topic to mull over in making a decision to live outside your home country. That “why” needs to be something, a feeling or goal (etc), that can pull you up when you hit low points or when you need affirmation that you made the right choice to up and move.

With that in mind, I’ve begun to start to thinking about what I need to wrap up in the States and what I need to get ready to go. I, like many other people, am a notorious over-packer so before I leave I will make sure I make a list of all that I am taking. Once, I’ve been in Korea for a couple of months I can update everyone on what actually was a necessity and what was just my anxiety about being unprepared talking.

Until next time!

Back to Basics

Back to chronicling getting ready to go to Korea and I only have a couple of updates this time around. At the beginning of November I booked my flight to Korea and it was roughly $800 for a one way ticket. I went through Korvia’s partner, Orange Travel, and had them book the flight for me as it would save me about $80 when all is said and done. I have to say that once I got the booking confirmation I went through a range of emotions, ranging from happy to sad to ecstatic to worry. Overwhelmingly though, I have only happy thoughts about going on this journey and getting out there into the world.

Additionally, when I got back from London this past weekend I submitted my passport, travel documents, and the fee for the visa in the final step. If all is approved I will have my visa/passport in hand in about a week and a half. I think that once that arrives everything will feel more finalized and permanent and I’ll go through a similar range of emotions about getting read to go.

It is normal to have this type of range of emotion because no matter how ready you are to travel, explore the world, or live abroad you are still leaving something behind, whether it be friends or family. As long as you have people who can be your emotional support through it all you can conquer anything!

The Big Day (One of Many)

Today was a big day in my journey to get to Korea! I received my form from the immigration office to take to the Korean Consulate here in the U.S. and that is the final step in the visa application process. But that is not the biggest news of the day at all.

The news of the day is that the manager of my school has set my entry date as February 13th and that my ticket has been booked! The cost of a one way ticket was a little under $800 and while that is a bit more expensive than normal it is still a good price. I will be arriving in the middle of the Winter Olympics so that is partially way it could have been more expensive but I know nothing of ticket prices and my school covers up to $900 of a plane ticket so mine was well under that.

Through the ups and downs I have been waiting for a moment like this that is like a chorus ringing through my head singing “Alleluia! Alleluia! Al-le-luia!” and I couldn’t help but chuckle happily to myself!

Next week’s post will be about my week long trip split between Paris, London, and Bristol! See you then!

Explained: the E2 visa

I realized that while I said what type of visa I was trying to get, I never explained what type of visa it was. There are many different visa type in Korea and the particular one I will be applying for is an E category visa. There are A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, M, and T visa types and each group has sub categories that fit with a specific description of what the applicant can do while on a particular visa. As I am going to Korea as a native English Teacher I will be applying for an E2 visa or a visa for a “Foreign language instructor who plan on teaching conversational language” (Wikipedia). Now under this visa I am not allowed to teach grammar or literature, only conversation.

This is an important distinction as doing more than you are authorized to do can cause you to be deported or issued a 30 days notice to leave the country. This is a current “problem” for some English Teachers in Korea right now as these teachers are finding out that they have been doing things not allowed in the visa description and their school cut corners (sometimes knowingly). While, it is in no way the fault of the teacher as they english contract doesn’t always have the exact translation and therefore all these teachers are seeing is “foreign language instructor”, it still is still illegal.

Now if you are going through a government program such as EPIK, GEPIK, or SMOE this is not something you will have a problem with (after all the government also issues visas). If you are going to work for a private institution you need to ask questions such as “What will my jobs be?” “What type of visa did you plan on giving me?” and then do your own research so you know what you can and cannot do. If you have time you can also search youtube to learn more about these types of things.

Hopefully, this will help all of you as you start along the visa process!