I remember the day I left for Korea like it was yesterday. My stomach was flying with nerves as I began unpacking my bags at the airport. I recall my luggage weighing too much and I was frantically throwing things in and out of my suitcase. At that time, I hadn't traveled much and I knew nothing about teaching and had very little knowledge about Korea and Korean people. Even though I tried to do as much research as possible, no travel book could have prepared me for the journey ahead. Below I offer three tips about things you should do prior to departing to teach in Korea.
1. Pack Light
Pack only two seasons worth of clothes. There is no need to bring your whole wardrobe. It is more often than likely that teachers will thoroughly enjoy Korea's shopping. In no time, you will have a mountain of clothes and l guarantee you, you will not wear many of your clothes from home.
Korea is a popular shopping destination for clothing, make-up and face products. Over the years, the amount of foreign products in stores has increased that it is almost impossible not to find what you're looking for. The only items you might want from home would be roll-on deodorant and toothpaste. To get a quick list of the items you should do your best bring with you when you come to Korea for the first time, make sure to check out the Aclipse website.
Korea is also an online shopping haven. Whatever you want, it can be found online. It might be more expensive than back home, but you are living in a new country so you need to accept that the prices will vary. Try to shop around and find Korean brands that are similar. You might in fact find something that is just as good or even better than the product back home.
Also, postage from the US to Korea is efficient and affordable and your family can ship all your favorite products within a week. There are very few shipping restrictions between the US and Korea, so it is a possibility to order food products online from popular foreign websites like i-Herb and have it shipped to your Korean city. The same goes for clothing. If you miss your favorite winter coat, your family can ship it over quickly.
2. Read Online Blogs
There are a heap of resources on the internet about living and teaching in Korea. Over the years, some fantastic English blogs have been developed by foreigners and Koreans who want to share their knowledge about life in Korea. You can find everything from travel recommendations to politics to facing deep cultural issues.
So why read blogs instead of travel books? Most bloggers will experience Korea in the same way that you will. It is useful to know more about Korean culture so that you can avoid feeling isolated by the huge cultural differences. The East is on an opposite pole to the West and to fully enjoy and immerse yourself into the culture, you need to prepare yourself mentally.
Also, majority of the top blogging websites were started by English teachers. Teaching ESL is a challenging task and it is helpful to read other teachers journeys in the classroom. Their struggles and gains will help prepare you for dealing with Korean students in the classroom. One of the best places to find blogs about living in Korea and teaching in Korea is right at your fingertips on the Aclipse website. All these blogs are written by current and former ChungDahm teachers, who live in all parts of Korea. This is a great resource to learn about things such as training week, what a typical apartment looks like and how to operate it, weekend trip ideas, transportation tips and how to manage a classroom.
3. Learn the Korean Alphabet
The minute you step off the plane you are surrounded by a new language. Next step is you need to get to your destination. Of course you can get by on English, but there are going to be plenty of moments where you wish you could read Hangul (the Korean alphabet). Buses, trains and subway all use these characters to label their routes.
Hangul is one of the easiest alphabets to learn in the world. It is phonetically genius, as it is pronounced exactly as it is read, and most foreigners can learn to read Hangul within a week.
Once you can read it, you will realize that majority of the stores and places of importance are in Konglish (English words written in Korean). So for example trying to find a computer store would be exactly written as kom-pyu-toh, 컴퓨터. This is really useful when trying to navigate using Naver Maps, as you can find pretty much any place of interest if you know the Korean spelling.
It will also help decipher important text messages, complete online shopping, and be able to navigate addresses when travelling n the countryside. You will also understand your students pronunciation problems such as saying r and l correctly since Korea has one symbol for both: ㄹ. This is why Koreans pronounce rice as lice and lorry as lolly.
Learning to read and write Korean will make the start of your journey in Korea run a great deal more smoothly. Not only will Koreans treat you differently, as you are taking a liking to their language, but it will also lead you on an exciting journey to learn a language completely different from your own.
I hope these tips are helpful as you prepare to begin your teach abroad adventure in Korea.
It is no surprise that Tijana Huysamen, a South African born Capetownian, avid traveler and travel journalist, fell in love with South Korea and its people. After Tijana arrived in South Korea in 2010, she had the opportunity to live in the heart of the Korean countryside. During her time spent in Chungnam province she learned to speak Korean, prepare Korean food and experience the humble nature of the countryside people. After a year break in New York, Tijana jumped at the opportunity to return to Korea again, and is currently working at the CDI Jamsil Branch, in Jamsil, Seoul. Read Tijana’s Aclipse blog to gain a unique perspective on Korea and her shared experiences and adventures both in a major city and in the countryside. Follow Tijana on Twitter @TeeAnni or email [email protected] to request more information on teaching in Korea!