Alex and Chickpea Do Korea

5 tips to save you money/ time when arriving in South Korea

1. Get your Alien Card early. You should ask your co-teacher to bring you to immigration on your first or second day in your city. The earlier you get this card, the easier life will be. You can’t open a bank account or get a cell phone without this card.

2. Ask if any of your teachers has a spare cell phone. These days, people change cell phones like they do socks. Chances are someone in your school has an extra phone lying around. If they let you borrow it, you can then take it to a cell phone store to get a pre-paid plan, which is the most economical (unless you want a smart phone or use your phone incessantly). I got my plan through a place called NRC in Daegu. They have an office near Banwaldong. Super cheap.

3. Set up a KEB (NOT KB!) bank account. This is the best bank account for a waygookin: cheap fees for sending money back home; online banking that also allows you to transfer money overseas, which no other bank has; mostly English-speaking staff; and a check card that you can use overseas when you have your vacation in Thailand or China.

4. Check your ondol. When your teacher first shows your apartment, make sure you ask about the ondol (heater). Find out what buttons control the water heater and what buttons control the floor heater. Find out how to turn it off correctly and set the temperature correctly. Too many friends of mine didn’t figure these things out early and had very large gas bills.

5. Treat your teachers to pizza or chicken on your first payday. Not only is this polite, but trust me, if you do this one kindness, it will be repaid 10-fold throughout the year and you will always have food on your desk.

Alex and Chickpea Do Korea

Welcome to Korea, again: SHINee, ddukbokki and diary decoration in this edition of Letters from Korean Students

We’re back from our travels — and what travels they were. Southeast Asia was good to us (especially Thailand), but it was oddly comforting to be back in the land of anyeong haseyo, norae bang and Big Bang. That’s why I thought I’d share these sentiments from my students before launching into the tale of our myriad misadventures.

One of my winter camp lessons was on e-mail and letter writing. My kids were thrilled about the prospect of writing to my best friend Kalynn, once I convinced them that yes, she would really be reading their letters all the way in Florida.

So, without further ado, here are the burning questions my middle schoolers had for the world’s best biffle (entirely unedited, except for names):

Alex and Chickpea Do Korea

Welcome to Korea: Should I give my principal a gift?

In the few months before Chickpea and I arrived in South Korea for our new teaching gig, one of the things we stressed over was what kind of gift to give to our co-teachers, principal and vice principal. According to blogs and advice of former native English teachers, gift-giving is a large part of Korean culture and new teachers often give several gifts to the important people at their school. And when you consider how much your Korean co-teacher(s) help you acclimate to a new country, a token of thanks seems reasonable, no matter where you’re from.

But Chickpea and I didn’t want to just bring some oranges or beach sand in a glass bottle. We wanted to make an impact! We wanted to bring something so unique, that when our principal went out for drinks with the other principals around Daegu, he could brag with pride and make all the other principals lower their heads in shame.

Alex and Chickpea Do Korea

Alex and Chickpea Do . . . Southeast Asia?

It’s true. Right now, Chickpea is on her way to Thailand — I’ll join her at the end the week — for a whirlwind tour of Southeast Asia. And I do mean whirlwind. Between January 19 and February 6, we’ll visit the traffic-clogged, neon-lit, pagoda-stuffed skyline of Bangkok, Thailand; the ancient and mysterious temples of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia; enjoy a few days of R&R on the beaches of Vung Tau, Vietnam; battle motorbikes and stuff ourselves silly with pho in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; and wrap up in Vietnam’s burgeoning capital of Hanoi before flying back to Seoul.

Visiting other Asian locales is a large part of an EFL teacher’s overseas stay. If you ask 10 English teachers why they came to Korea, nine will list “travel” as one of the reasons.

We’re no different. So we’re using our 2-week winter vacation to see three countries we’ve watched countless travel shows about: Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Consequently, there will not be any new posts until the second week of February. But check back here for a series of posts about our travels, including how to find the cheapest plane tickets and navigating visas to what fried tarantula tastes like.

Alex and Chickpea Do Korea

One piece of advice: “Go with a very open mind” [video]

Shot in a dim bar over a couple of Maker’s Marks on ice, this is an interview with a friend of mine who has taught English in Japan for two years.

“Go with an very open mind, because you are going to meet people that will confuse you, will baffle you, will try to perplex you,” he begins. Hilarity ensues.

This is part of an ongoing series of short interviews asking for “one piece of advice” for English teachers going abroad to teach.

Alex and Chickpea Do Korea

Welcome to Korea: Chickpea vs. Daegu

Anyeong haseo from Daegu!

I am officially in my new apartment.  So much is going on, but I’ll try to keep it as short as possible. First of all, you can thank someone in my building for this post, as I’m using their unsecured wireless network. I probably won’t be able to get Internet at my house for about a month, since I need my Alien Registration Card to set it up, and that won’t come for a month or so. I’ll just have to hope Mister or Mrs.  Unsecured Wireless doesn’t notice that I’m using his connection, or use a PC bang (Internet cafe) until then.

My big lesson plan presentation yesterday went well — my group took second place overall, which was nice. I wasn’t too nervous, and I feel a lot better about writing lesson plans now. Thanks, EPIK!

Last night was fun — we had the farewell dinner and a talent show by our fellow teachers. It sort of felt like the grown-up version of the last night at camp. Of course, lots of people went out afterwards, but Alex was feeling sick and we had a big day today so we just packed out stuff and hit the hay early. Yeah, yeah, we’re old.

Today was, of course, the big day. We had a four-hour bus ride from the orientation site to Daegu, where we finally met our co-teachers. Turns out I am the first native teacher my new school has ever had. I think this is a good thing, since they have no preconceptions about Native English Teachers — some previous NETs give us a bad reputation. Also, that means they’re as new at this as I am, so that helps.

So, it turns out I’m teaching middle school — hoorah! In Korea, middle school is  the equivalent of grades 7, 8 and 9 in the U.S. (13 to 15 year olds). I’ll only be teaching grades 1 and 3 (7th and 9th grades). This is great news because it means fewer co-teachers and fewer lesson plans.

I also found out that I’ll have my own …