Wednesday, August 18, 2010

First Post From Korea: Shower Time

Hello all! I'm in Korea, at orientation for my teaching job with EPIK. Orientation is at Jeonju University, in the southern part of the country. After this week I'll head out to my job in Gyeongsangbuk-do, but until then, the dorms here are my home.

The dorm itself isn't all that special (even though it is nice) but what is worth mentioning is the shower. Korean showers do not have doors or curtains; there's nothing separating the water from the rest of the bathroom. You get wet, the toilet gets wet and the floor gets really wet. There's a drain in the floor to let the water out but not all of the water goes at once, so you have to use the supplied bathroom slippers other times so your feet don't get soaked.

You may be able to see in the picture that the roll of toilet paper is covered with a metal plate. The wall sockets are also similarly covered. There's even a lid for the garbage can. Of course, all of this could be alleviated by just partitioning off the shower space.

But hey, who am I to tell the Koreans how to bathe themselves?

Lastly, here's a bonus photo of our shampoo.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

How I Almost Landed A Job Teaching English In Japan

Although I'll soon be teaching English in Korea my original goal was to teach in Japan. After all, Japanese was my major in college and I've spent quite a bit of time there. However, like the Rolling Stones said, "You can't always get what you want." Although I actually had a job offer on the table at one point (from Nova), I wasn't able to find a job that fulfilled all of my requirements (namely, a decent salary) and so I set my sites elsewhere.

It's pretty hard to get a good job in Japan right now. From what I've seen online, the market there is rough for prospective English teachers with no previous experience. More and more people are falling in love with Japan and going there hoping to teach, while fewer and fewer positions are being made available as schools scale back or even close. Schools that are hiring want people who are already in Japan and don't require visa support. Those that are willing to sponsor you for a visa want teaching experience. It's an employer's market so schools can afford to be picky. That being said, if you're willing to work for low pay for a year or so to gain experience there are still jobs out there. (This option wasn't available to me as I have student loans to pay off.)

As with Korea, there are two main types of English teaching jobs in Japan: public and private schools. At a public school, you're what is called an ALT, an Assistant Language Teacher. You co-teach English with a Japanese teacher at a public school. ALTs are provided by private companies, like Interac and Altia Central, or the government, which is what JET is. There are also private schools, known as eikaiwa, conversation schools. Unlike Korean private schools, which largely use recruiters to find employees, private Japanese schools hire directly.

So what do you need to be able to teach in Japan? A college degree is absolutely necessary. You don't have to speak Japanese, although it doesn't hurt. A TEFL certificate is not necessary but could give you an edge over non-certified applicants. And, as I said before, if you already have a visa eg you're married to a Japanese person then you're good to go.

Get your resume together and rewrite it with an ESL focus. Bagged groceries at Safeway? Great, but even better if you tried to teach your Spanish-speaking co-workers some English on your break. Prepare a nice cover letter too. Have a passport photo taken (and wear a collared shirt and tie). You'll need that for your application. Get two former bosses to write generic letters of recommendation for you. Then scan everything, including your diploma and any TEFL certificates. It also wouldn't hurt to write a short essay on why you want to teach in Japan. You can always add in specifics like location when applying.

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?
You don't have to be in Japan to get hired. There are lots of job sites (below) to help you do that. However, being in the country could give you an advantage. That being said, Japan is a very expensive place to be and it could take 3-4 months to land a job so you'll need to being a lot of money with you, something like $5000.

Here's a list of some of the larger eikaiwa chains, some of which have offices outside of Japan where you can interview in person. Others will want to interview via Skype or phone. Eikaiwa often pay better than public schools but your hours will vary and be when people are not working or in school, so evenings and weekends.

Aeon Nova (Geos)
James English School

ALT Providers
If you'd rather work in a public school with normal 9-5 hours, try one of these.

Altia Central

Job Sites
There are many other, smaller schools also hiring. Look on the following job sites for job postings. Gaijinpot is the biggest and best known, but not every school will post there. Also, everyone looking for a job goes there so there are literally hundreds of applicants for any one job. Check the sites everyday and if you can, check at the end of the day, as that's when new ads tend to go up (it's morning in Japan then).

TEFL Jobs Now
Japan English Teacher
Total ESL
You Can Teach English
ESL Job Feed
Dave's ESL Cafe International Job List
All About Teaching English In Japan
Jobs In Japan
Kansai Scene Classifieds
Kansai Flea Market Classifieds
Kansai Free Ads

Information Boards
Check these boards for additional information. As with any expat boards take what people say with a grain of salt.

Gaijinpot Forums
Dave's ESL Cafe International Forums
I Think I'm Lost
JET Forums

Good luck!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

How I Secured A Job Teaching English In Korea

The contracts are signed, the visa is being processed, the plane tickets are bought, and all that's left to do is pack my bags. Yes, I'm finally leaving for Asia to teach English.

I've decided to go with EPIK, a South Korean government program that recruits English-speaking people from all over the world to teach in elementary, middle and high schools around Korea. The pay and benefits are both excellent. As with most English-teaching jobs in Korea, your airfare and rent are paid, leaving you free to take home the lion's share of your paycheck. Add to this a lower standard of living than home, extremely affordable health care, and an agreement between the US and Korea so I don't have to pay income tax for two years. Financially, it's the best deal in Asia.

Long-time readers of this site will be wondering why I chose Korea over my beloved Japan. Truthfully, it's more that Japan didn't choose me. I applied to the JET program and ended up on the waiting list and then applied to a number of cram schools as well. But as I found out, it's a difficult time to get an English-teaching job in Japan, especially with no experience. Fewer jobs and more applicants (curse you, manga and anime) means employers can afford to be picky. Korea, however, has made English language a priority. Now is the time to break into Korea, as more and more people are taking the same route.

So how did I do it? In this piece I'll take you though my job application steps. This is not meant to be a definitive how-to, it's just the way I did it. Hopefully it will give you some pointers for your own job search. (I also plan to write similar articles on Japan and Taiwan, both of which I received job offers from before settling on EPIK.)

Public or Private?
There are for the most part two kinds of schools to apply to in Korea, public schools and private schools. The latter could include private day schools but for the most part this means hagwons, or cram schools, places where kids go after regular school to supplement their education. Both public and private schools offer similar salaries and bonuses but the main difference between them is when they hire. Hagwons hire all year round while public schools generally hire twice a year, for spring and fall intakes.

A note about hagwons: there seems to be a lot of disreputable places out there, so much so that there is a warning about them on the US State Department site. Do your research before accepting a position. Ask to speak with a few teachers currently working there and look around online for warnings. I interviewed with a hagwon but am happy I got the public school job, if just for the fact that public-school hours suit me better. Hagwons operate in afternoons and evenings and on weekends and holidays, basically whenever the kids aren't in normal school. I'm a morning person and I prefer a 9-5 schedule.

For public schools, the two main programs are EPIK and GEPIK. EPIK is a nationwide program that includes most of South Korea's provinces and major metropolitan areas. Seoul's hiring is now handled by EPIK but it's known by a different name, SMOE. GEPIK is just for Gyeonggi-do, the province surrounding Seoul. Additionally, other provinces may hire on their own. Sometimes schools or areas hire directly as well.

You don't have to use a recruiter when getting a job in Korea but I think it helps. That being said, there are lots of horror stories about lying recruiters on the web as well, so again, do your research. The recruiter I used to secure my EPIK job was Korea Connections. They're a little smaller than some, like Footprints or Korvia, but they offer a more personalized approach. I went with them after the recommendation of a blogger I like to read (Seoul Patch) so now I'm passing the recommendation on.

Of course, the recruiter you choose will largely depend on the kind of job you want, as each one has access to different positions. At one point I was working with three different recruiters, Korea Connections for EPIK and hagwons, Korvia for GEPIK and Footprints for other hagwons. Don't apply to the same job twice through different recruiters but feel free to sign up with as many recruiters as you need to to maximize your chances. It doesn't cost you anything to sign with a recruiter; they get paid by the school that hires you.

Some people applied directly to EPIK and haven't had any problems. I like having a recruiter though. It's like having an advocate on your side. Also, Korean immigration is complex and confusing and it helps to have someone work through it with you.

Getting Prepared
You know the kind of job you want and you're ready to work with a recruiter (or not, as the case may be). What now?

You're going to need a resume and cover letter. Make sure these are ESL-focused. Even if you have no prior teaching experience, spin your job experience into something that would be attractive to schools.

You're also going to need a scan of a passport-type photo to send them. It's standard practice in Asia. Also, scan your passport, diploma (required), any TEFL certificates you may have (more on this later) and two or three letters of recommendation. Ask former employers to write generic letters of recommendation and have them address them to: To whom it may concern. You can then use them for any situation.

Interviews will take place either via Skype or cell phone. I always wore a suit, if just to get in the right mindset. And if it's a Skype video conference definitely look presentable. Interviews could be as short as 20 minutes or as long as 90, it depends on the interviewer. My policy was to take every interview. Even if I wasn't super interested in the job it was still good practice. Unless you're a seasoned teacher you're going to be answering questions about teaching and classroom management without having done any of this stuff. The more you talk about it the more confident you'll become.

Better than talking is doing, so why not try to get some experience before you start applying? Volunteer in a classroom, set up a language exchange or even do some private tutoring. It'll give you something to put on your resume as well as confidence in an interview.

TEFL Certification
TEFL (or TESL) Certification isn't a requirement for most schools in Korea but having one sure doesn't hurt. In fact, it can often help. SMOE requires it (or at least one year's experience in a classroom). Because I have one, I qualified for a higher salary bracket with EPIK.

There are lots of different places that will give you a certificate. Make sure the school, whether online or brick and mortar, is accredited. You're going to need at least a 100-hour course. Anything less will not be acceptable to a school and thus a waste of money. I went with I To I, a UK-based online school. I really enjoyed the course and was able to apply things I learned directly to the interview. When asked about class management I had concrete things I could suggest, rather than just vague ideas about keeping kids quiet. It also gave me some much-needed confidence—I may not have any teaching experience but at least I've spent 100 hours reading about it.

Korean Language Ability
It's not a requirement. You'll be working with Korean co-teachers for the most part so you're not expected to speak the language.

The main resource for all things Korea ESL is Dave's ESL Cafe. It's a good place to do some research and get the lay of the land but take what people say here with a grain of salt. This is a very cranky bunch. The recruiter Footprints also has a board, which has some useful information on it.

Good luck!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

ROK It: The Definitive Puntime List

In keeping with my recent Seoul list, I thought I'd bang out a list of Republic of Korea puns that should be similarly off limits to anyone blogging about life in Korea. So, without further ado, let's ROK!

ROK and roll
ROK around the clock
I want to ROK with you
Keep on ROKin' in the free world
Is that freedom ROK? Well, turn it up!
ROK of ages
Old time ROK and roll
Rodney on the ROK
ROK of Gibraltar
Honey in the ROK
ROKing down the house
Surfing on a ROKet
ROK steady
King Tubby meets ROKers uptown
This is just a modern ROK song
For those about to ROK, we salute you
So you want to be a ROK 'n' roll star
Are you ready to ROK?
Block ROKin' beats
Combat ROK
Jailhouse ROK
ROK me gently
ROK me Amadeus
Don't stop the ROK
ROK and roll part 2
Bongo ROK
ROK music
I love ROK 'n' roll
ROK box
King of ROK
ROK radio
Soft ROK
Love and ROKets
Duck ROK
ROK paper scissors
ROKy road
ROK steady crew
Lover's ROK
ROK on

Thought of some more? Light up the comments.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Definitive(?) Seoul-Sucking Pun List

Every Korea-associated blogger has to pun Seoul and soul at some time. I think it's a visa requirement. To avoid having to do it later I figure I'll just get it out of the way now and come up with as many as I can.

(If you're pun-sensitive or otherwise employ a "no pun" life philosophy, please avert your eyes now.)

Heart and Seoul
Seoul mate
Seoul man
Seoul time
Old Seoul
Bless my Seoul
Swallow your Seoul
Seoul fire!
I know you got Seoul
Seoul power
Seoul patch
Come down softly to my Seoul
Free your Seoul
Rubber Seoul
Body and Seoul
Seoul train
Dark Seoul
What does your Seoul look like?
Hot buttered Seoul
Seoul on fire
Poor old Seoul
River of Seoul
Sell your Seoul
Seoul Sonic Force
Seoul glow
Seoul pride
Dead Seoul
Seoul makossa
Seoul survivor
Seoul flower
Hug my Seoul
Stone my Seoul
Omar Seouleyman
Seoul to Seoul

I'm sure there are some I've forgotten. Can you come up with any?