Tag Archives: tips

The season of ‘homesickness’.

After you leave home, you might find yourself feeling homesick, even if you have a new home that has nicer wallpaper and a better dishwasher than the home in which you grew up.

Those are some wise, wise words from Mr. Lemony Snicket himself. And if there is ever a time to long for drab wallpaper and bad dishwashers* I’d say that the time is nigh. The festive season. The time of endless family gatherings, delicious foods, tasty beverages and, being from the southern part of this fair world, summer.

[*Korean abodes most certainly have nicer wallpaper than any I’ve ever seen in South Africa, but I’m not so sure about the dishwashers, my Dad is ever so good at that and as back up there was always the electric-powered dishwasher, not yet widely available in Korea.]

Last week was Thanksgiving, which wasn’t a big deal for me, (although I did say ‘thanks’ and teach my students all about it) but it was a big deal for all of my American friends. They were dreaming of roast turkeys, pumpkin pies and football. It also, pretty much, marks the ‘one month to Christmas’ point. And then there’s New Year. So, basically a whole bunch of family fun and merriment. Except you aren’t at home, and you might be feeling a little sorry for yourself. Maybe just a little? This is my second festive season away from home, and here’s how I plan to deal with it, being an expert and all.

1. The Care Package. If you are very well-loved and cared for you can ask one of the people back home who love and care for you, to send you a package fill of love and tasty treats. It always feels wonderful to receive mail when you live abroad, especially if you have to go to the post office to pick it up. Ask someone to send you your favourite chocolates, festive treats or something that you can’t buy in your new home country.

2. Make festive plans. If you are one of those types of people who are super organised and love to rally people together, organise a Christmas party. All of your less organised and ‘leave everything to the last minute’ friends will love you. But seriously, when you are away from your biological family your friends are your new family, so make use of them,or be used (depending on your level of organisational skills).

The Christmas feast that was lovingly prepared by 2 wonderful friends. PS. Check out the AWESOME wallpaper!

3. Friends! Like I mentioned in the previous bit of expert advise, your friends are your family when you are far from home, so spend time with them. Hopefully some of them will love the BoneyM Christmas carol collection as much as your mother. And hopefully you can also tell him/ her: ‘Turn that wretched music off! It’s only allowed on Christmas day!”

4. Skype. From time to time, although you love your new-found family of friends, you will need ‘the real thing’, so just call them. Technology is a wonderful thing, so use it.

5. Embrace your new home. Do things that the natives do. In Korea Christmas is seen more as a couples holiday as opposed to a family one, so if you have a better half, hold hands, give each other giant teddy bears, or if you’ve been together for 100 days buy a ‘couples look’. If you don’t have a better half, well, see points 2 and 3.  Natives of Korea also love to go around wearing ridiculously festive jumpers and leggings with reindeer frolicking across them. I must admit, it is very festive.

Festive jumpers, festive socks, festive hats, festive mood.

Follow these 5 simple steps to endless, if somewhat different, festive fun. And remember, the wallpaper is always brighter on the other side. Or something to that effect. And here’s to a fantastically, friend filled festive season!


How to: Survive winter in Korea

Winter has arrived. The morning frosts, the icy winds, the short days and long nights, the treacherous icy sludgy, the frozen  fingers and face, the sight of your breath . The COLD!

This is my plan on how I’m going to survive the next, and last, 3 months in sub-zero, snowy Korea.

1. Make full use of my ondal. This is the fantastic under-floor heating system that is installed in every Korean house. Traditionally this used to be a fire pit underneath the house that heated up stone blocks, but these days it is much more sophisticated its gone electric! Simply turn on a switch and wonderful heat will start rising up from the floor. You can even (if you can figure it out!) put it on a timer so that your floor is lovely and warm when you get home from work.

Keep warm with an animal on your head!

2. Rug up in wooly scarves, hats and gloves. They are all over the place now, and you can buy these essentials cheaply. In every colours and style your heart could desire. Heck, you can even get an animal to keep your head warm if you like.

3. Take full advantage of Korean winter snacks. Delights such as hodak, ingah bang only come out when the weather turns nasty. Hodak can be compared to a pancake, except it is thicker and better with cinnamon sugar and nuts melted in the middle. Ingah bang  is a treat backed in the shape of a fish, filled with either sweet red beans or a custardy delight. Both of these are delicious, warm treats that smell so good you simply can’t say no. Honestly, it is worth taking your glove off to eat these!

The sweet, warm ingah bang.

4.  Do things I can only do in winter. Things like skiing, ice fishing, outdoor skating, snowman making and the like. Thinking about these things gets me feeling excited about the snow that will surely be upon us soon.

5. Do things that I can only do inside, sitting on my heated floor with my fluffy socks on. Things like updating my blog more often, get around to catching up on my travel writing course, plan my travels for next year, finish reading A Song of Ice and Fire. Doesn’t sound too bad!

6. Flee the country for my winter holiday. Come January I’m out of here and headed to the tropics for a little bit of sun and island hopping in the Philippines. Then I will ease my way back into the Korean winter with a 6 day stop over in Hong Kong to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

And somehow, winter isn’t sounding too bad to me anymore. I think I might just survive!

Working in Korea: EPIK verse Hagwon

When you decide to come to teach in Korea you will be faced with the choice of working for a private language school, called a hagwon, or working in the public school system for EPIK, English Program in Korea.

I work for EPIK and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in coming to Korea. Although I have never worked for a hagwon I have friends who do, so even though this information isn’t first hand, it comes from those ‘in the know’.

So, without further ado, here are some comparison points.

1. Pay

The starting salary is pretty similar when you first come to Korea. Expect to get paid in the region of 2.1million.

2. Class sizes

With EPIK you are working at a public school, which means public school sized classes. The average class size in elementary school is 30 students. But it can fluctuate drastically depending on where you teach. Last year I taught part-time at a school that had 22 students. That’s 22 students, total!

At a hangwon you will probably be teaching between 5 and 10 students.

3. Co- teachers and co- workers

In the public school system it is technically not allowed for the Native English Teacher (NET) to be in the classroom alone. Of course this rule is rather loosely regulated at certain schools. But the point is that you can expect to have a co-teacher in the class with you. And if you have a good co-teacher who shares the work load, the teaching and the discipline, your job will be infinitely more enjoyable.  Bear in mind that you will more likely than not have a few co- teachers.

All of your co-workers will be Korean and may or may not be able to say ‘hello’ to you. You will be the one and only waygookin sansengnim (foreigner teacher). So you will stick out like a sore thumb and be the last to hear anything.

At a hagwon you will most likely be in charge of your own classes. But your  co-workers will all be able to speak English and some will also be other foreigners.

4. Working hours

Schools are open from 830- 430 and these will be your working hours at a public school. All EPIKers are required to teach 22 hours a week, and all overtime should be paid 20 000won/ hour. All free time is used for desk-warming, uhm, I mean ‘lesson planning’.

Hagwon teachers usually go into work sometime around 10am if you work with kindergarten kids, and around 12pm if you teach elementary or middle schoolers. The day usually ends sometime between 7 and 9pm. There are no set times and it will be at the discretion of your boss as to your specific hours.

5. Holidays

EPIK is hands-down the winner in this category. All EPIK teachers get 18 days of holiday, 8 to be taken in the summer holiday and 10 in the winter (although this can be negotiated with your school). You can also request unpaid leave during the holidays, but it is entirely up to your school’s principal if you get this.

Hagwon workers get no more than 10 days of holiday, and I have heard of people with as little as 5 days. And a lot of this time you are told when you can take these days. Enough said I think!

6. Benefits

EPIK: 11 days paid sick leave, renewal bonus (money + extra holiday), severance pay, automatic pay increase when you renew, paid accomodation with basic furnishings, travel allowance if you work at more than one school, the opportunity to earn overtime pay if you exceed your 22 stimpulated hours.

Hagwon: Every hagwon is different as they are all owned and run seperately, so this is a bit tricky and I am not well versed in the finer details of hagwon contracts. Paid accomodation is standard, although many hagwons especially in the cities will choose cheaper places to save on costs. It is a business afterall.

Whatever you chose just be clear what you are getting yourself into: a contract to work in a foreign country. A country where English is not the first language. A country which opearetes from a completely different perspective than you will most likely be used to and expect. A country with a different culture, a different way of approaching situations, a different way of dealing with issues and a different way of seeing the world.

So either way be prepared!

How to: pack for a year in Korea.

So your papers are in, you’ve got a one way ticket in hand and all that’s left to do is pack your bag and you’ll be off to South Korea. But what will you pack? You might have heard that Koreans don’t wear deodorant, their bedding is different to ‘ours’, you can’t buy spices and you might not fit into Korean sized shoes. How can you take all this stuff? There are, after all, weight limitations on flights with often hefty prices to pay if you are over the limit.

Here are some dos and don’ts for packing up that suitcase :


DO: Bring a stock pile of deodorant, especially if you are of the sweatier variety.                                                                                                                                                  DON’T: bring bottle upon bottle of lotions and ointments, it’ll just take up valuable space in your suitcase.

You may have read that ‘Koreans don’t wear deodorant’ and that is correct, well partly. SOME Koreans don’t. But some do. And if you need to buy deodorant you’ll be able to find it but it will be more expensive that you are used to, and the brands will be limited.

As for other toiletries, don’t worry at all. You’ll be able to find anything that you could possibly need and more. It might be a bit daunting buying you first bottle of shampoo and conditioner if you can’t read hangul. Or you may worry that the moisturizer that you got is going to turn your face white over night, but the point is that it is that these things are available and they are good. And the chances are high that you’ll spot brands that you recognize and you’ll rejoice.


What you may have read is true- Korean bedding is not like Western style bedding.  The main reason for this is that a lot of Koreans don’t sleep on beds. They floor it. So there is no need for a fitted sheet. But you can still get sheets- they are flat and padded! Also the bedding is not made out of lovely, soft fabric that you are probably used to. Is this sounding really bad and uncomfortable?

So as a compromise you could bring some pillow case so your face doesn’t rest on fake, rough fibers all night long.

So, in conclusion:                                                                                                                                   DON’T bring your own bedding.                                                                    DO: Ok, maybe bring a pillow case!


DO:  Bring pants, shorts, skirts and underwear. Basically anything you’d wear on the bottom half of your body. And bras.                                                                            DON’T: Bring lots of shoes or T-shirts.

Koreans are both very fashion forward and very tiny, bird like creatures. Clothes are available everywhere, and for relatively cheap, but sizes are a whole other issue. Pants are a struggle to find if you live anywhere outside of Seoul or Busan, even if you are not big because Koreans have next to no curves, so neither do their clothes.

T-shirts, jumpers and the like, on the other hand, are everywhere and you will be able to find something suitable. And it’ll be fun because they are so pretty and plentiful!

Speaking about clothing,  if you are Korea bound you better get used to not being able to try things on. I’m still not sure if they are afraid the clothes will stretch or you’ll dirty them or rip them. But in most boutique type shops you won’t be allowed to try them on! Apparently they are ‘free size’, ‘one size’ things.


DO: Bring delicious chocolate, some of your favourite spices and, if you are South African, rusks and biltong.                                                                                          DON’T: Bring teas, coffee, peanut butter or anything else vaguely American!

Korea is becoming more and more Westernised, pretty much by the minute and you’ll be surprised by some of the things they have developed a taste for! What they are lacking is spices, especially meat spices and mixed spices. They mostly just use chili and/ or garlic to spice things up. It can get tedious.

Make up

DO: Bring foundation and bronzer.                                                                                   DON’T: Bring anything else!

The Korean complexion is different to all others so you’ll struggle to find a foundation to match your skin tone, even from the international brands like Mac or The Body Shop. But other than that you’ll be in make up heaven. Nail polishes, eye shadows, pencils and anything you can imagine will be yours and for relatively cheap.


DO: Bring the things you always turn to when you have a cold. Think Vicks, cold and flu remedies, allergy medicine.                                                                                               DON’T: Bring an entire first aid kit.

It’s comforting to have the things that you always turn to when you’re feeling sick. So bring things that will help you ‘feel at home’. But don’t go overboard because you will be able to find medicine here, it’s Korea not the Wild West. Also remember that you’ll have medical aid once you arrive and that health care is, generally speaking, very cheap.


DO: Bring some books, a pocket phrase book, a power adapter (if you are coming from South Africa make sure all your plugs are the two-pronged variety and you won’t have to worry about this), a few photos from home (your co-workers and students will love to look at them) and a few small trinkets from home to give to your co teachers on their birthdays, they’ll really appreciate it.

DON’T: Bring your cellphone (chances are it won’t work here and it’s easy to get a contract phone once you arrive), stationary (it is literally everywhere and dirt cheap).

That is all I can think of for now. Is there anything that I’ve left out? Let me know if there is!