Tuesday, December 10, 2013

New Essay on Thought Catalog


Being Waldo Made Me Thankful I'm Not a Celebrity


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Friday, October 25, 2013

New Column Published and Other News

As you can probably tell based on the dates of my blog entries, I am no longer Gorilla Teacher living in South Korea; I am now a third-year law student in Tennessee. Recently, I had a new essay, What I Learned from my Mom's Zumba Class, published in The Good Men Project. I am also in the revision stages of a novel; who knows what will happen with that project, but please let me know if you'd be interested in hearing about it or others in the future.

Do I miss Korea?

God, yes.



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Saturday, October 20, 2012

I hope you're still reading, because I'm still writing.

Five years ago,  I was getting ready to move to Bundang, South Korea. I was nervous-excited and excited-nervous. What would I think of the food? What would I think of the people? How much would I miss my family and my friends? I was twenty-two years old, fresh out of college. I thought by traveling so far away from home, I was showing that I was a man, but looking back, I see a boy in the entries I wrote on this blog in October 2007-October 2008. I was growing up, sure, but I was also living in a fantasy world where my biggest concern was whether to eat jayookdopbop or dakgalbi for dinner.

Oh, Lord, how I miss dakgalbi. And the friends I'd made. And dakgalbi.




Today, I live seven thousand and twenty-nine miles away from Bundang, South Korea.

However, don't cry for me, Argentina. Knoxville, TN has two Korean restaurants, one of which is stellar.

Anyway, if you've enjoyed reading my blog entries, I hope you'll follow me as I continue writing for various places on the web. Here are my two most recent publications.

Jewish Law Student Seeks Blonde, Southern Belle at Jewcy.com

The Chase at Goodmenproject.com

Thanks for stopping by,
Alex

PS I know some of the pictures and links are broken on my old entries. Please forgive me. One day I will try to repair those sad red Xs and make them happy again.
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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Teaching English and Living in Bundang (and Seoul), South Korea- Your FAQ Answered!


This FAQ is based on my experiences teaching at a language institute in Bundang (Leadersville English Institute, formerly Seoul Language Institute) from October 2007-October 2008, on my experiences teaching at Elite Academy in Yeonheedong in Summer 2010, and on my research and conversations with people living and working in Korea today.
I. Job Questions
II. Bundang Questions
III. General Lifestyle Questions
IV. Final Thoughts
IV. Questions from Stephanie Yoder of twenty-somethingtravel.com
I. Job Questions
Would you recommend a recruiter? If so, which?
I actually came through a friend. (This link provides his 10 helpful going-to-Korea tips.) If you have any friends in Korea, I'd suggest contacting them and trying to go through the referral route. The reason why I enjoyed this route was because I knew EXACTLY what I was getting into. Plus, I already had a friend in Korea, which gave me a jumpstart in my social life.
That being said, beware of recruiters who
1) Are hesitant/unwilling to give you current contact information of teachers who work at school to which you may be employed.
2) Are evasive/unresponsive when you ask them difficult questions.
3) Tend to assuage your worries with no specific details but a general "don't worry, it's fine."
Would you recommend public or private?
From what I understand, public school positions are more difficult to get. I think (and I stress I think) that you will make less money at a public school, but you will absolutely get more vacation time. Take that for what it's worth. For an in-depth look at life at public schools, check out this post at kimchi-icecream.
The pay at my hagwon (language academy. Some people use the pejorative "cram school") was about 2,300,000 won a month (about 2 grand American, but with the exchange rate these days, it fluctuates.) Our vacation time was minimal; mainly the big Korean holidays. I still managed to use the days wisely and took trips to Beijing, Fukuoka, Bangkok, and Phuket over the course of the year.
For a more detailed listing of differences between public and private schools, check out Chris Snyder's very comprehensive FAQ here.
E2 Visas? HUH? What the hell am I supposed to do?
Is it possible to get a summer job in Korea? Because every job posting I see is for a full year.

Is my contract okay? How do I know if it's okay?
That's tricky business. Too often, Korean schools renege on contract stipulations. In Korea, spoken word easily overrides the written contract. Since they're usually better relegated, I believe that public schools and universities will generally keep to their contract more than hagwons (English academies). Still, at the risk of being a downer, that's not always the case. I've had friends who've taught at universities who were screwed on their pensions. I worked at a hagwon, and my friends and I were screwed on room deposits which we were supposed to get back and never did.
So, research all you can, but there is a certain leap of faith involved with signing. To ease your worries, the best way is to somehow, some way find teachers who teach or who have taught at the school you're considering. If that means trolling Facebook and running into some unproductive corners, so be it. Talk to somebody at the school. Ask that somebody if his work experience is what he expected given his contract, and ask to speak to somebody who's recently completed his or her contract. It's good to talk to a foreign teacher who's worked at your school, finished the job, and lived to see the day. Sometimes recruiters will give you the runaround, so you may have to find those avenues yourself.
Okay, I'm talking to a school that's interested in me. What questions should I ask the school?
1) Is airfare and apartment provided immediately upon signing of contract or is it later reimbursed? (Note: Give preference to schools that'll pay for your roundtrip ticket immediately.)
2) How far is the apartment from the school? Is it walking distance? (This is also important- subways and buses are great in Korea..if you're going out to party on a Saturday night. If you want to get to work on a Tuesday morning, it's much better to work in a place where you can walk to work.)
3) How many foreign teachers? (You don't want to be the only American teacher. It's lonely. You want a bunker of Americans/Canadians/whomever to commisserate with over cultural differences and work curiosities.)
4) Do I work Saturdays? (Some schools make you work Saturdays; others don't.)
5) May I have contact information of a couple current teachers? (If the school is hesitant to give such contact info to you, might be a bad sign.)
6) Will the school pay for my visa? (If you're going for the year, you at the very least ought to be reimbursed for the visa.)
Is the curriculum very flexible or does your school give you exactly what you have to teach and tell you how to teach it?
At Leadersville English Institute in Sunae, I had a certain roster of classes; sometimes they changed depending on the month. My smallest class was like five; my largest was maybe eighteen. There were certain guidelines on how to teach, but once you got in the classroom, you were on your own to develop your style and personality as a teacher. As long as you stayed pretty faithful to the book assigned for each class, you had some leeway to experiment and find outside material to complement your classes. At LEI, since it's a hagwon, the parents ruled the roost. That means if the kids liked you and thought you were doing a good job, well, that meant you were doing a good job for all intensive purposes. (I can't stress this enough. At hagwons, PARENTS RULE!) At most hagwons, the kids expect homework. No matter what they tell you, they expect homework. You can afford to be generous and not give homework on a random holiday here and there, but generally, you're expected and specifically ordered to give homework every day. But aside from CCTV cameras on the ceiling, nobody is in your classroom watching you. For me that's a big relief. I felt very relaxed in my classrooms.
Do teachers tend to work split shifts?
At LEI (Leadersville English Institute in Bundang), teachers work about 4pm-11pm every month (NOTE: This has changed. LEI now closes at 10pm. In 2009, a new law was passed that forbid hagwons in Seoul from staying open past 10.) In January and in late June-mid August, hagwons enter "busy season," when students don't have regular school and instead go to hagwon all day. Busy season is rough, but makes you appreciate your regular schedule more. In terms of the 4-11 schedule, teachers typically have breaks in between, typically long enough to get either a quick or leisurely dinner and prep for classes. In short, the regular schedule allows a nice deal of freedom. You get to sleep in, go to the gym, and sometimes even take a bus into Seoul all before work.
At other jobs, you may work split shifts. At Elite Academy in Yeonheedong, where I worked in Summer 2010, I had some days where I worked 9am-1pm and nights from 630-9pm. That was a bummer, particularly because you may very well end up working in between your split shifts to prepare.
How large are your classes?
I kind of got into this in an earlier answer, but the numbers ranged from as small as three to as large as twenty-two for the TOEFL classes at Leadersville.
At my job in Yeonheedong, my classes were uniformly small. My largest numbered ten students.
Are the kids pretty well behaved?
Generally yes. If you're comfortable and confident with kids, you'll do great. (I wrote that during my third month teaching. Later, I discovered that you don't want to be too comfortable, or else the kids will walk over you. Call yourself Mr. Alex or Ms. Britney Spears. Show some degree of authority. You're not their buddy!)
That's what it's all about: veing comfortable and confident to the point where you can have fun but still be stern when you need to be, and also, where you can adjust to the personalities of different classes. I figure it's a thing you can improve on, but I also feel, in my opinion, it's something some people just have and others just...don't. But versus the horror stories I hear from Teach for Americaers, this job is a dream. Most kids are very sweet and eager to learn, and the ones that aren't...the worst they do is talk alot and be a tad disrespectful. (This is not uniform. I cannot guarantee that one of your students will not be a little devil.) But with those kids, in my experience, a reproachful look will silence them quickly. (Maybe, maybe not. I was kind of idealistic when I wrote this.)
One tip that good teachers have given me: be strict in the beginning with your classes, then, gradually, ease up. This is a much more prudent strategy than the reverse: being a "buddy" to the students, and then trying to toughen your stance. Trust me on this.
II. BUNDANG QUESTIONS
You taught in Bundang, right? What's Bundang like?
I've always liked its status as a place near the raw busy energy of Seoul but far enough away so as not to make its inhabitants feel overwhelmed or overstimulated by it. Then again, some other teachers prefer being closer to the pulse of Seoul, but if you're content in being in a city-like suburb and only thirty minutes to an hour from most of the Seoul hotspots, then you'll be satisfied.
With my experience in Yeonheedong in 2010, which is mere minutes away from the bustling Hongdae and Sinchon, I appreciate Bundang retrospectively even more. Bundang's wide boulevards, trees, and parks provide plenty of places to lounge and study or chat or just chill. Bundang delivers this more than busier areas.
Anything else about Bundang? Nightlife?
Some teachers online say Bundang is boring..to be honest..that kind of talk pisses me off! I think the only people who could be bored are those that want a party-drink-bar-hopping lifestyle. I mean, you can drink in Bundang if you want, but most foreigners who are into that congregate at this bar in Seohyeon called Dublins Irish Bar. There's also WaBar, which is a Westernized-style bar with a popular dart board. My friend and I agree that the people who kvetch are probably the type of people who want more American style partying. If that's what those people want, they'd be better off in Itaewon, a foreigner-heavy nightlife district.
I want even more information on BUNDANG. I'm talking nitty-gritty stuff that you don't see much on the internet. What can you tell me?
I lived near Sunae Station in Bundang, and I was very satisfied with the Bundang lifestyle. Yes, it was slower-paced than Hongdae or Sinchon; those two spots do have a more happening nightlife. Still, at least for me, I prefer Hongdae and Sinchon as places to visit/frequent over the weekends rather than places to live. Those neighborhoods are always VERY VERY CROWDED and also you'll probably drop alot of money there if you like to go out. Plus, it's not difficult to get from Bundang into Hongdae, Sinchon, Gangnam, or Itaewon (aka foreigner central). For Hongdae, from my neighborhood Sunae in Bundang, it's about a thirty minute bus ride followed by a ten minute cab to Hongdae on a typical Saturday night. If you take the subway to Hongdae, yeah, it is a very long time, but the bus-taxi combo works fine.
Anyways, about Bundang itself, popular neighborhoods include Jeongja, Sunae, Seohyeon, Ori, Moran, Taepyong, and Imae. If you're after good Korean food, you can find alot of it in Bundang. If you're looking for good Western food, you won't find too much of it there. (At this Mexican restaurant called Le Merce in Seohyeon, you have to FIGHT for chips and salsa. I'm not kidding. You have to argue for chips and salsa, only to get a thimble of salsa and a cup of chips. It's a travesty. And as for Italian, the choices are very mediocre.) That being said, if you're open-minded to Korean food and like to try spicy dishes, you'll be in good shape.
PROS OF BUNDANG: busy but not too crowded, many food choices, strong access to any subway or bus you'll need, and you can walk very easily to find things you want. Oh, and Bundang is VERY SAFE. It's an awesome feeling: there were many times I've walked home alone at 5am in the morning and I felt very, very comfortable. I would never do that in Memphis or Atlanta.
CONS OF BUNDANG: Yes, comparing to some other neighborhoods, it is kind of far from the heart/s of Seoul. Is it "soulless"? Hm, I think that characterization is a little harsh, but I suppose I can see where it comes from: many of the neighborhoods in Bundang do look fairly identical: same gimbop shops, same Paris Baguette bakeries, same Outback Steakhouses. Bundang is very "clean," which some people might consider whitewashed and/or boring. Still, they'll have the sexual massage two-barber polled shops two stories above a family restaurant bustling with kids. There you go. It has to have some kind of character.
The social scene is solid. I guess it depends on what you're looking for. As I mentioned, Dublins in Seohyeon is the center of the expat community. You can grab a beer there and chat with Canadians or Americans, and sometimes listen to live music. Monkey Beach is a club with a more varied clientele and buckets of liquor. (I'm not a big fan of either bar, but I'm trying to cover the bases here. Also, note that I wrote this information in 2008. The hotspots may have shifted.)
How about the daylife in Bundang?
You have options: you can bike along the Tancheon River, or better yet, play outdoor basketball on full-length courts bridging the river. Pick-up games are an interesting mix of Korean teenagers, American and Canadian teachers, and the occasional Korean professional who'll invite you to go to his church on a Sunday.
Central Park is the perfect spot for an impromptu round of frisbee in the fall, or a snowball fight in December. An ice rink opens up for public use in mid to late January. Kites fly high in the spring. In the summer, I watched four simultaneous games of youth soccer on one day, and remote-controlled toy cars zipping off ramps with X-Games-like gusto on another. It was madness, I tell you, madness!
Do people in Bundang road bike/speedskate/cross country ski?
Hm. Well, like an hour and a half from Bundang is Chuncheon, which is a place perfect for all the outdoors activities you mention. I went there by train and bus with teachers before last winter hit and it's a outdoorsman's paradise. You can road bike. You can speed skate. You can ski. Pretty close by. Not in Bundang itself, but close enough where you can make it part of your life.
Bundang-wise, Central Park and the Tancheon River provide nearby greenery and all its trappings.
III. General Lifestyle Questions
Is South Korea safe?
Here's a story: I'm in an empty laundromat near Yonsei University. It's 9pm on a Friday night. It's dark and sweaty and summertime. I'm loading a towel into a washer when I hear a door swish open behind me. I turn around. There is one man; there is one man wearing a white t-shirt embroidered with a big teddy bear and valentine hearts. Korean-style. Scientifically speaking, I do not think it is possible for a man in a teddy bear shirt to be violent. My hypothesis is proven correct on this particular night.
Welcome to South Korea, where children joke about Kim Jong Il and his nuclear arsenal and where men are more likely to wear matching Mickey Mouse t-shirts with their girlfriends than they are to pick your pockets. Compare this with my experience in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where within one month, I knew six people who'd been burgled.
South Korea is very safe. Very rarely you'll hear stories about English teachers getting into trouble. There's some crime in Itaewon, but if you like a regular life with an occasional sprinkling of beer and soju, you shouldn't have any issues.
Even at 3am, you can walk the streets in peace.
Do a lot of Koreans know English?
It depends on where you teach. If you go into the countryside, or up in the mountains, you're less likely to find English-speaking Koreans. However, if you teach in the busy foreigner-heavy neighborhoods of Seoul (i.e. Gangnam, Hongdae, Itaewon) you'll probably hear the swirl of spoken English around you. Where I taught, Bundang ( a bustling city/suburb kinda in Seoul, kinda out), most of the Koreans in restaurants/department stories did not speak much English, but this didn't pose much of a problem, for learning the names of Korean food is easy (and fun!), as are the common pleasantries (i.e. "Cho-gee-yo!", which means "Come to my table!" in English. If it sounds kind of impolite to say "Come to my table!", don't worry. That's how they do it in Korea!)
By the way, did you learn a fair amount of Korean quickly? I would like to be able to read/speak the language...at least with enough accuracy to get by.
Hangul is fairly easy to learn how to read (alot of "ahs" and "ngs" and "ughs") but difficult to speak and understand with the Western tongue. To pick up the names of the foods is tricky at first but a cinch with immersion. Once you got the food names down, it makes ordering a breeze. (A couple popular names you may already know: "kim-bop", Korea's seaweed-wrapped variation of sushi and "sahm-gyep-sahl," the gloriously tasty three layers of pork belly meat.)
Anyway, I didn't learn how to speak Korean much beyond the names of the foods, a few pleasantries, saying "I am an American" ("me-gook sah-rahm") and knowing how to say "left" and "right" to tell the cabbie where to go. (Though cab rides don't require much conversation anyway, because typically you'll just be asking him to take you to a popular subway stop rather than a complicated-sounding street.)
I had a friend who studied Korean independently through websites and textbooks. He learned alot and seemed to be able to hold elementary conservations. Another friend went a more structured route, taking morning classes at a school in Gangnam. It wasn't easy for either of them, and I don't think they're fluent. I'm learning Spanish now, and to have a familiar alphabet, damn, it's an easier road!
Still, if you're keen on picking up Korean beyond the basics, it shouldn't be too difficult to find Koreans wanting to learn English to do a kind of an language exchange. If you're lucky, one of your co-workers might fit this bill. Ideally, their English will already be at a strong level so they can explain conceptual, linguistic ideas to you. If their English is already good, chances are, the more Western-minded among them will be aching for a chance to practice it with you. That'd be a win-win.
Can't find anybody for language exchange in your school? Check out conversationexchange.com! Great resource that I've used with success in Argentina. I imagine it'll work just as well in South Korea.
Is it easy to make friends in South Korea?
If you teach in a school with a fair amount of foreigners (When I say foreigners, I mean American and Canadians. Once in a while you'll find Brits or Aussies or New Zealanders as well), it is easy to make friends, for you guys are almost like a military unit (in terms of togetherness in a foreign land, not in terms of the threat of gunfire.) Being friends with teachers in your school often extends to other relationships outside the school, with other foreigners.
I'd recommend teaching at a school with at least eight foreign teachers. My school, Leadersville English Institute in Bundang, had about a dozen. This provided a great launching pad for social interaction- after all, all of you guys are in the same shoes, strangers in a strange land, so this leads to quick friendships, some of which may very well last long after your contract. (I'm happy to say I keep in consistent touch with five or so of my former colleagues.)
The Americans/Canadians I met who had more difficulties were the ones who were the only English teachers at their school. One teacher taught in the Korean countryside; he was kind of depressed about his solitude, but even he found friendships in groups like Seoul Writing Workshop.
If you're talking about making friendships with Koreans, that can be more difficult, but it is by no means impossible. In both my real-life experience and from what I've heard from friends and read in books, Koreans are often friendly to foreign teachers, but are not always "friends" with foreign teachers. What I mean is that there seems to be a certain cautiousness many Koreans apply to friendships with foreigners; they might go out with you and to a bar or for a pick-up basketball game, but often they'll want some Korean company in the mix as well. (Obviously, there are exceptions: Koreans extremely eager to make foreign friends, either because they really want to practice their English, or because they're just excited to meet new people, or both.)
My Japanese friend said that my extrovert personality would scare people away in Japan! What do you think about in South Korea?
In my experience, I've found Koreans to have an interesting sense of volume control. What I mean is that in the pubs and the bars, they can be drinking and eating and playing darts loudly, earning their tag as, "The Italians of the East." On the other hand, they have a strong sense of decorum; even on a Saturday night, the subway cars can be strangely silent, with teenagers with earphones watching TV on their cell phones, or businessmen reading conversational English books, or red-eyed ajummas (older women) staring into window panes. At one point, my friends and I were given looks on a bus on Korea, not because we were intoxicated and belligerent, but just because we were having a lively conversation.
Reading the stories on your blog, it seems like you've enjoyed your time as a foreigner living in Korea. How about the downsides?
Downsides can be what you expect- cultural alienation, particularly once the honeymoon newness of Korea wears off. Some people don't dig the Korean food (I loved it) and Western chains/products are on the expensive side. Koreans tend to shush Americans (or Canadians, for that matter) in buses, even if those Americans aren't being particularly loud. When it comes to work, language can sometimes be misconstrued between Korean and expats. Not in a malicious way, but just in a not-understanding way. Your Korean supervisor's English may be not-so-great, thus meaning once in a while he may tell you to go to one classroom and you'll go to different one. That's part of the game.
One thing I would suggest: do not go work at a school where you'll be the only foreign teacher. Even if you think such an experience would be a unique chance at complete cultural immersion, you'll get enough doses of Korean culture outside your job. You do not want to be the lone ranger in a foreign workplace, particularly one with a mixed reputation for its communication with foreign teachers. In such a situation, you will be lonely. I've had multiple conversations with Westerners who were the only native English speakers at their school, and without exception, they all envied those who worked with at least a few expats.
As an American teaching English in Korea, I was treated with a generous amount of respect by the locals. When I'd come across parents of students outside of my workplace, the parents were polite and thankful for me teaching their kids. So where's the downside? The downside comes in the other facets of a foreign English teacher's reputation in Korea, particularly the male foreign English teacher. Koreans think we're horndogs. Yep, I said horndogs. They think we're out to bed their innocent Korean women and run away once our contracts expire, leaving the women shamed and left behind. Dateline NBC -esque programs on Korean television portray foreign English teachers in a less than flattering light. So do some newspapers. Is there any truth to these stereotypes? Of course, but as you can probably surmise, it takes two to tango. These Westerners aren't colonialist beasts forcing themselves onto Korean women; these relationships are mutual. Still, I've had friends who've dated Korean women, and those women (in their twenties, mind you) refused to divulge the nature of their relationships to their friends or families for fear of loss of reputation. So, there you go. Forbidden love, Romeos and Juliets. Proceed with caution.
In terms of where to live, would you recommend Seoul over Busan? Or would you recommend Seoul period?
I only spent one night in Busan, but from the little I've seen, it's an attractive city. I think it's actually bidding for an upcoming Olympics. So, an up-and-coming city on the world stage. The climate is a bit better than Seoul's: milder winters and milder summers. Busan has alot going on. Seoul is Seoul. It's huge, it's crowded, and you're guaranteed to find some area that tickles your fancy. In other words, it'll have all the trappings of a big ole major world city. In short, if I were you, I would look at my own needs, but don't count out Busan, especially if you find an appealing school.
How's your housing?
Varies depending on the school. In Bundang, I lived in Royal Palace Houseville, an ultra-modern apartment tower with heated floors. Internet was speedy and comparable to what you'd find on a college campus. The cost, at least in my case and I figure most people's, was taken out of my paycheck. In fairness though, some teachers didn't have as posh spots, and as for Royal Palace, you didn't get a huge space...just a cozy nook of a studio. Expectations are key. Generally though, it really depends on who hires you and where you're living.
In my summer job in Yeonheedong, I was placed in a tiny crib of a studio that lacked a full-sized fridge. The place had a hot plate but no sink, which prevented any real cooking. Luckily, the air conditioner worked well. I didn't mind living here for two months, but I would not dig it for a full year.
The bottom line is this: Talk to current teachers about housing before you commit to a year-long stay anywhere.
Do you find the ex pat community pretty tight with each other?
I must confess: I came into a fortunate situation. My college buddy recruited me to work so I already had a good friend coming in. I spent much of my year with my co-workers, but I did expand my network by joining a foreigner writing group that met bi-weekly. (Seoul Writers, if you're interested. Click the aforementioned link or search for them on Facebook and tell them I sent you!) There's also a Bundang Social Club that you can find via Facebook search. The group schedules frequent events at area bars, in which you are guaranteed to meet fellow expat teachers. Itaweon has many ex-pats; you can find many in Hongdae as well.
Can I bring my XBox/Wii/Playstation?
Go ahead and bring it. I have a buddy who has a Wii and uses it in Korea. You may need one or two things to use your system: one is one of those universal adapter plugs, the kind you can get at any Target or Wal-Mart. The other is a voltage converter, a big box that typically runs $40-$80 and ensures that the voltage counts will prevent you from being electrocuted when you plug in your xBox. (Alternatively, if your XBox comes with one of those computer-like laptop plug-in adaptors, you may not need a voltage converter at all.)
How about soju? I keep hearing about soju...
You're looking for more traditional Korean-style of nightlife? Then, soju, soju, soju, soju! They'll drink it everywhere in every neighborhood in every corner of the city. Sometimes they'll drink it on tables in front of 24/7 convenience stores, but more often they quaff it in these places called "Hofs," dimly-lit 24-hour spots that serve hot Korean food and cold drinks. You can find these anywhere, and they represent a cornerstone of the late-late-late-nightlife. Koreans don't like to just drink; they prefer to drink and eat. My main point here though is that you'll find this in any area you find yourself in.
*new August 2011* How do Koreans look at foreigners with tattoos?
In terms of Seoul, I think it depends on what part of town you're frequenting. More artsy, foreigner-friendly areas like Itaewon and Hongdae will welcome your tattooed self, but in more out-of-the-way areas of the city/the outskirts, you might get a few double-takes.
At the same time, it may be hard to determine whether you're getting the double-takes because of your tattoos or because you're a foreigner period :)
*new August 2011* Will Koreans look down at me for being from the southern USA?
Most Koreans you'll meet don't distinguish much between regions of America. Basically, to them, you're an American. Jonesboro, Arkansas means the same thing as St. Paul, Minnesota means the same thing as Santa Fe, New Mexico. Perhaps I'm overstating it a bit, but I don't think I am. You're an American first over there.
That being said, life can different for black Americans living in Korea. If you're curious about perspectives from black Americans in Korea, check out this or this.
IV. Final Thoughts
Would you do it again? Would you have rather gone else where?
I'm glad I went to South Korea. Having visited Japan (another popular teach-English-in-Asia choice), I have to say, I think Korean food is far more dynamic: spicy, tasty, and varied. (If you like pork and kimchi and spices that singe your tongue, you'll be in heaven!) Teaching English in South Korea also offers the best pay; it's to your advantage that South Korea isn't an internationally "sexy" spot, because as a result, the schools have to raise the stakes and convince you to go. This is good for an English teacher wanting to make money and do some traveling, for you can visit those other Asian hotspots during your vacation, and still have enough money leftover to support an upper-middle-class lifestyle and/or pay off student loans from back home. If you're still in doubt, read this account of my New Year's Eve in Korea. It can be a magical place.
So it's worth the jump?
It's worth it- as long as you are careful to select the right school, one that pays for your apartment and your two-way airfare. Don't accept an offer with a stipend for housing or a clause in a contract that tells you to pay your own airfare, so then the school will pay you back later. This is risky; I've read/heard of many instances where the school reneges on a payback deal. There are so many schools out there, so many that it is not worth to risk to accept a less than everything-included offer.
V. Questions from Stephanie Yoder of twenty-somethingtravel.com
My friend Stephanie Yoder runs a website for people in their twenties eager to travel, but unsure of how to go about it. She interviewed me about my experiences in South Korea, and I talked about some subjects I didn't get into in this FAQ. Check it out here.
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This is not intended to be a comprehensive FAQ, but I am expanding it, so feel free to check back once in a while. Before I went to Korea, I wanted as much information as possible, so I hope I can help you in a way that I wished to be helped!
Good luck!
Related:
My Favorite Korean Memories:



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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Welcome to Gorilla Teacher: Diaries of a Young American in South Korea!




From October 2007 to October 2008 and June 2010 to August 2010, I taught English in and around Seoul, South Korea. During that time, I wrote more than fifty travelogue essays. If you've stumbled upon this site because you're interested in teaching English in Korea and want a come-with-me account of one young American's experience, then you've come to the right place. Alternatively, if you're a hungry reader looking for some unpretentious first-person travel writing, I hope you find in these travelogues something you care to read. (Start here or here.)



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