Living in Korea: How I Got Here

When I first applied to teach English in South Korea I had no idea how lengthy or intense the process would be. While the first few steps went rather quickly, there were many weeks spent in waiting for one thing or another before I could move further along in the process.

If you have considered teaching English abroad, don’t become discouraged–while the process was lengthy and some steps were incredibly overwhelming, the peace that comes over you when you finally land in South Korea is incredible, and makes the entire process worth it. There’s something incredibly calming about feeling the wheels of the plane touch down and the little voice in your head whispering, You did it. You’re finally here.

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So, why Korea?

For the purposes of transparency, one of the biggest factors that led to me seeking employment abroad was a quarter-life crisis. I had spent the majority of 2017 and 2018 doing research on graduate PhD programs in English and studying for the GRE. When I took the GRE again for the second time and came out with identical scores to the first time I took it, I panicked. My scores only qualified me for two programs, programs that had acceptance rates below 10 percent. It definitely didn’t help that I really disliked the town I was living in and felt that I didn’t have the means to get out. So, in fear of getting stuck somewhere I was incredibly unhappy, I applied to some recruiters with the encouragement of one of my friends.

How I Got Here

When I began looking into teaching Korea I chose to go the route of using a recruiter rather than searching and applying directly to jobs. I applied to a few recruiting agencies, but heard back from Korvia within 24 hours about an intake interview. The next recruiter I heard back from after I already had an interview set up with a school. Since I didn’t know much about the process and didn’t really know anyone else who had taught abroad, my recruiter at Korvia helped me to navigate the entire process, from an initial intake interview where they got to know a little bit more about me to aiding me in filling out and submitting my appliation to the school where I sought (and gained!) employment. While I can’t speak to what it’s like to just apply for jobs on your own, I can say that using a recruiter made the process a lot less stressful for me.

The applications to teach in Korea are pretty lengthy and they can seem overwhelming, especially when they ask questions about your weight and how many tattoos you have. When I read that question I wondered if I should even both applying considering I have a few visible tattoos, some easier to cover than others. But after reading some blog posts and other websites, I decided to keep moving forward.

Another part of the process was putting together a video introducing myself. I watched so many videos from past and current teachers on YouTube so I would have a better idea of just what should be included in the video and how to make the best impression.

After Hiring

I still remember where I was when I got the job offer from my school. I was sitting in my office at my current job, and the first thing I did was call the two people who wrote my letters of recommendation. Then I went to my director’s office and told her about the job offer, and that I would be accepting the job offer the following day after reading over my 18 page contract. She was one of few people at Misericordia who knew I was considering taking a position overseas, and her support never wavered. I am still incredibly grateful for her support.

So after I accepted the job, I had a long list of things to do before I could leave for Korea less than three months later. First, I had to get an FBI background check, apostilles for my background check and for my college degree, copies of transcripts, and more passport photos than I could keep track of. Along with working full time and getting all the documents I needed, I also needed to finish my Teaching English as a Foreign Language Certification. To teach overseas, you need to complete a 120 hour online course, and some schools require a classroom component as well. I did not have to complete the classroom component, but spent countless hours completing my online course and taking many notes. I received my certification from myTEFL.com.

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Once all my documents made their way back to me, I completed my certification, and got all my passport photos taken, I sent everything off to my recruiter in Korea. Not long after, I received my Visa Confirmation Number and made my way to New York City. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to live close enough to the consulate in New York, so I took a bus in to apply for my visa. The following week, I returned by train and picked up my passport. I would leave for Korea in just under three weeks, so having my passport back was a huge relief. My flights were booked, my bags were packed, I said goodbye to my friends and coworkers at Misericordia, and I had moved out of my first apartment and spent a few weeks visiting family and friends back home. It was finally time to go to Korea.

If you are considering teaching English abroad, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have and point you in the direction of resources I used regularly before coming to Korea.

 

Life in Jinju: My First Month

It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that I’ve been in Korea for an entire month. I waited months that felt like an eternity for the day I would board my flight to get here, and now an entire month has passed since my plane touched down in Incheon.

Reflecting on this past month, I’ve noticed that for the first time in quite a while, I feel truly happy and at peace with where I am. After years of unrest and discontent, this change in demeaner is a welcome change. When I think about my future, the door is wide open with possibility, and I no longer feel trapped in a place I have no business being (looking at you, Wilkes Barre). Perhaps this happiness is simply me living through the honeymoon phase that comes with moving somewhere new, or perhaps it is the overwhelming relief that comes with finally leaving somewhere I was desparate to escape. Either way, I hope this peace has come to stay.

And while I could say that every day has been a constant high, that would be a lie. There are moments where I feel overwhelmed and moments that are mundane, but such is life. But as I sit in a coffee shop, sipping an iced vanilla latte, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of life, I know that I am in the right place. I’ve met so many incredible people who come from all walks of life, but we all have one thing in common: we left the comfort of our home countries to come to Korea in search of something more. Not all of us are searching for the same thing, and I don’t know that all of us will find what we are looking for, but I know that this journey has brought us together.

As I continue through this period of my life, I’m sure I will be met with surprises, obstacles, hardships, and overwhelming joy. I can’t wait to see what my second month in Korea brings.

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Life in Jinju will be a series of posts about living in Jinju, South Korea. Posts from my travels within South Korea and other Asian countries will not be apart of the Life in Jinju collection. 

A Day in Jinju

Although I arrived in Korea about three days ago, today was the first day I really had a chance to get out and explore–not for lack of time, but lack of energy. My travel was mostly sleepless, and my first night here was the same. I spent the first night unpacking my bags in the wee hours of the morning because I was poorly adjusted to the time change. Yesterday, I fell asleep at 4:00 p.m. and slept soundly until 3:30 a.m. after waking up only once. I guess you could say adjusting to a 13 hour time difference is pretty difficult.

Since today was the day my contract officially started, today was busy, busy, busy. The morning started with an early morning visit to the doctor for a physical with my supervisor, Sam, and Mikaela, my two new coworkers who also just arrived in Korea. Mind you, this was no American-style physical. It involved the normal things like height, weight, and blood pressure, but also included a chest x-ray, echo-cardiogram, dental check, vision test, drug test, and blood work. The most surprising part of the whole experience was how quickly it went. Never before had I had such a speedy doctors appointment.

After the doctor, my supervisor took myself, Sam, and Mikaela for some breakfast and coffee, which we enjoyed at a park in Jinju. Next came our trip to Daiso, probably one of the greatest stores I have ever been to. Imagine a dollar store but with really cute, quality products. I could have spent all day wandering through Daiso, spending too much money. While I was able to pick up some things I forgot to get at emart the previous day, I did make some impulse buys.

I arrived back to my apartment early in the afternoon and cooked myself some lunch, discovering that even “sweet” sauces are quite spicy. So following another spicy meal, I decided to would be fun to go explore Jinju a little bit. Walking through the streets of Jinju felt so natural. For years, I have wanted to live in a city–a city where I could walk to everything I needed and use public transportation for those things just a bit further away, and I was finally doing just that.

While wandering around, I came across so many cool places in Jinju. The downtown area was bustling with shoppers zipping in and out of shops. I stopped into a few myself, looking for some make-up products and just browsing around. All the shop employees were so friendly and patient, even though we couldn’t speak the same language. I also found myself in the middle of a traditional market, full of fresh produce, fish, and baked goods. The market was just as hectic and chaotic as those you experience in America or see in the movies. Just walking through was exhilarating. After exploring the market, I decided that it was time to venture back to my apartment. I had been walking for quite some time, and I took in a lot of downtown Jinju. I was even able to find the youth center where I would be working come Monday!

Moving to a new city can be both scary and exciting. Fortunately for me, I came to Jinju with a pre-existing support system. The two teachers who were already here have been so kind and helpful, and my two new fellow teachers have been open to explore, spend time together, and take it all in. I am so excited to see where this year takes me.

39,020 feet above the ground

There are few things I love to do on a plane more than watch the flight map. Something about seeing the little animated plane follow a destined path across the globe is incredibly satisfying to me, especially because I know that like the little plane on the map, I am also following a destined path across the globe.

I’ve never been on a flight so long. I didn’t even realize planes could stay in the air for almost sixteen hours. I also didn’t even think I’d fly up and over the North Pole, but it looks like I’m learning something new every day.

At this point, I am over halfway to Hong Kong, the first leg of my journey to South Korea. I made my way to the airport in evening of August 28, fully prepared to spend what would seem like a lifetime going through TSA and waiting in my terminal, drinking coffee so I wouldn’t immediately fall asleep when I got on the plane. To my surprise, going through TSA was quick, but passing time in the terminal was slow. Once 12:00 rolled around, everything was closed, and it was just me and a big group of strangers, all going somewhere together.

I passed the first 7.5 hours of my flight watching movies. The in-flight selection was surprisingly good. When I could no longer keep my eyes open through another movie I settled for music and games. When 6:30am EST rolled around, I decided that I could finally rest. By some miracle, no one took the seats next to me, and I was able to lay outstretched and sleep. Well, at least for an hour at a time before some sound or urge to roll over woke me up.

Now here I am, 10:30am EST and wide awake. I’ve caved and purchased in-flight WiFi. After all, I do have 6.5 hours to go until Hong Kong, and sleep seems like it may be a thing of the past, at least until mid-afternoon.

So here I am, 39,020 feet above the ground, just waiting to arrive at my destination and watching as the little animated plane makes its way across the world.

8/26 Two Days Out

I am now two days out from leaving the US and traveling to South Korea to begin my journey as an English teacher. Time feels as though it has been moving slowly, yet it is hard to believe that nearly three months have passed. When I first found out I would be moving to Korea, it felt so far off, an entire lifetime away, and yet the time has finally come. My bags are packed, my flight is booked, and I am constantly thinking about how on earth I am going to stay awake until 2 a.m. to board my plane.

People often ask me if I am nervous, and the answer has always been no. Two days out, that is still the case. While the path I have chosen to walk is not traditional, not typical, and not fully understood by others, I know it is where I am meant to be. I have always felt a strong pull out and away. In other words, I have never felt rooted, but always restless, ready for the next big adventure, perhaps because each adventure steers me closer and closer to the road I am meant to walk.

These next few weeks with be difficult, I understand that fact. I don’t speak Korean and I don’t know anyone, which I’m sure will feel incredibly isolating at times. I know that I will face these challenges, and I don’t know if being aware they will come, and come soon, will make my response to them any better than if I were going in blind. But somewhere along the way I learned that to let fear stop you from living will result in an unfulfilled life, one full of regret and what ifs, and that is not the life I want for myself. So two days out, I am still excited about the path I have chosen, and not once have I asked myself if maybe this was all a mistake. And I think that will be enough to see me through.

 

Feature image from: http://trip-suggest.com/south-korea/south-gyeongsang/jinju/

Why Korea? And Other Questions

Since making the decision to move to Korea I have gotten a lot of questions. Some of these questions come from friends and family, while others are from complete strangers who overhear a conversation I am having. I decided that answering these questions all in one place would be helpful for those who may be curious, but nervous to ask about why I chose to move to Korea and what I will be doing there. So here we go!

Question 1: Why South Korea?

I decided to move to South Korea for a few reasons. One of the biggest reasons was that I felt like I was in a rut. While I loved my job, it wasn’t enough to cover the expenses of living on my own with student debt. Not to mention I felt trapped living in NEPA and needed a way out. After taking my GRE again, my hopes of grad school were slashed. While I was a great student and had a laundry list of extracurriculars and conferences I had attended, I knew that test scores and the school you went to for undergrad played a huge role in an admissions decision into a good program. Even the schools where I qualified only had acceptance rates between 8-9% each year, and I didn’t feel comfortable wagering everything on such a slim chance.

So after talking with a close friend, I decided to look more into teaching English in Korea. One thing led to another, and now I am leaving in exactly two weeks!

Question 2: What will you be doing there and how did you learn about it?

I will be teaching English as a foreign language at a language learning academy. The school works with different age groups, like pre-school, elementary school, and middle schoolers. I found this position by applying to recruiting agencies in Korea. The agency I worked with, Korvia, is one I found after reading an extensive blog post by Drew Binsky, who has since become one of my travel idols. My recruiter at Korvia is amazing, and she has helped make this process smooth and stress-free.

When I applied to Korvia, I didn’t really know what to expect, but within 24 hours I received an email requesting an interview with the company. I passed the first interview, and a week later I had an interview with my school. Three days after that, I was offered the job.

One thing to note about working with a recruiter–Korvia is free. People often ask if I had to pay the recruiter to find me a job. I did not. I did, however, incur other expenses, such as getting an FBI criminal background check done, and getting certain documents apostiled, which is just a fancy way of saying I got an official stamp from the US government that allows the Korean government to accept my documents as authentic.

Question 3: Do you speak Korean?

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I do not speak Korean, other than a few phrases. As I get closer to my departure, I have gotten a lot more serious about learning Korean. I have been teaching myself Hangul, the Korean alphabet, as well as learning important phrases, like hello, my name is Christine, nice to meet you, thank you, you’re welcome, yes, no, and excuse me. I really enjoy learning languages, and Korean has certainly been a challenge. Some of the resources I have been using to learn Korean are: Duolingo, Drops, Talk To Me in Korean, Korean Class 101, and learn-hangul.com. I also low-key love k-pop, which is a great way to just expose myself to the language as I’m driving or cleaning out my apartment.

Question 4: Have you been to Korea before? Have you traveled outside of the US?

No, I have not been to Korea, or any Asian country for that matter. But I have traveled abroad. When I was 17, I was an exchange student in Germany, and I went to Ireland after my junior year of college, just for fun. On those trips, I also got to visit Austria and Northern Ireland. Both of these experiences abroad were formative for me, and I do not feel apprehensive about moving to Korea.

Question 5: Are you going with anyone?

If I waited for my friends to travel with me, I’d never go anywhere.

But in all seriousness, no. My friends and I are all on different paths in life. Some are getting married, some are starting graduate school, and some are still finishing undergrad. A lot of my friends are in medical or STEM professions, which means teaching English isn’t really on their radar.

I would never expect anyone in my life to abandon their dreams or career to uproot their life and move to another country with me. That is both selfish and unrealistic. While I am not going with anyone I know, I have started getting to know the other girls who will be arriving with me who have also never taught English abroad before. This experience is new to all of us, and I think that’ll allow us to bond, and of course we will be there to look out for each other.

Question 6: Are you nervous? Scared? Excited?

I honestly don’t know the last time I was so excited for something happening in my life. I don’t feel nervous or scared, primarily thanks to the world of youtube. I have spent hours watching youtube videos from other Americans who have moved to Korea to teach English. So while I can’t predict exactly what my experiences will be, I feel prepared to head to Korea and educated on what to expect when I get there. And once again, my recruiter, Jina, has been amazing and helpful every step of the way.

Question 7: Do you have a teaching certificate?

Yes, I am certified to teach English as a foreign language, which means I am certified to teach English abroad, but not here in the US. I did not major in education or receive an education certificate from MU. I completed my TEFL certification online back in June. Again, I used Drew Binsky’s recommendation (and coupon code) regarding where to get certified.

Question 8: Where will you live?

My school is providing me with a furnished apartment. I’ll be able to walk to work each day or take a bus on those rainy and chilly days. Oh, and I’ll finally have my own washer!

Question 9: What are you doing with all your stuff?

I sold it, donated it, and only kept what I needed.

Question 10: Will MU hold your job for when you come back?

If and when I move back to the US, I will not be coming back to NEPA, at least not for anything more than a visit. So no, they are not holding my job, and I wouldn’t let them even if they offered. My time has come to leave NEPA and not look back. My job was a great starter position and it allowed me time to figure out my next move, but I think my time working in admissions has come to an end.

Question 11: What is the weather like there?

Well, Korea, like NEPA, has four seasons. The caveat here is that I will be further south, so winters won’t be nearly as cold as these mountain winters, but the summers will be hotter. And humid. So when I packed my bags, I had to pack for four seasons: shorts, sweaters, coats, tank tops, jeans, hats, gloves, scarves, flannels, etc. Packing a year’s worth of stuff has been somewhat stressful, but now that I have packed everything I need into two checked bags and one carry-on, I don’t know what I’ll ever own anything more than that.

Feature image from: http://freeassembly.net/news/kiai-to-visit-republic-of-korea/korean-flags-2-500/

 

Why We Should All Live With Less

tumblr_static_tumblr_static__640Getting ready to move has been hard. Not because of saying my goodbyes, not because of leaving a job I love, but because of getting rid of all of my possessions. And I don’t mean the ones I have sentimental attachments to. No, I mean the ones that I put little thought toward, the ones that clutter up the back of my closet, linger under my bathroom sink, and crowd the drawers I don’t go into.

Now that the time has really come for me to part with my possessions, I’m losing my mind. When did I get all of this stuff? And how did I not realize I had so much when I moved out of my college dorm room or into my first apartment? When I was unpacking it all? It’s really been blowing my mind just how much I own, and how little of it I actually used.

simplifyPerhaps one of the most jarring realizations I had was that I accumulated so much of the same stuff. Why did I need fifteen coffee mugs? In reality, I only need one. I can only use one at a time. Maybe two, in case I have a friend over and they also want a cup of coffee or tea, but anything more than that just seems excessive, especially after determining what to do with them all.

Another area that I was guilty of hoarding was old clothing. And I mean the clothing I will never wear again, like dresses from the various proms I attended and weddings I was in. Not only will I never fit into those dresses again, but I’ll also never have a reason to wear them again, so why was I hanging onto them? There are so many young girls out there who hope and pray for a beautiful prom dress, but cannot afford it, so why not donate them? They aren’t doing anyone any good by hanging in the back of my closet.

Hopefully, these experiences have made you consider what areas of your life are cluttered by possessions you feel the need to hang onto or have just pushed from your mind. Living with less seems like a huge commitment, and to some, it sounds downright crazy. But in reality, our lives should be a collection of our experiences, not our things.

So start small. Tackle cleaning out under the bathroom sink. Downsize from twenty coffee mugs to two. Donate those old dresses, coats, scarves, hats, and blankets you no longer use. Get rid of the old memorabilia from high school, because let’s face it, no one cares if you have a varsity letter for whatever sport it is you played. Go through your old t-shirts. If you can’t part with them, give them new life and have them turned into a t-shirt blanket, and make that blanket one of the only ones you own. In time, you’ll notice you feel lighter. Your space will no longer feel chaotic and cluttered. When your physical environment is in order, it’s amazing how much emotional order you’ll feel, too.

Goodbye to you, MU

Perhaps one of the hardest parts of leaving my job as an admissions counselor at my alma mater was the realization that I was not just leaving a job, but a place I cared about and felt deeply attached to. Now, don’t get me wrong, I definitely felt out of place living in Northeast Pennsylvania, but MU was my home for nearly five years. Those five years were filled with laughter, love, tears, friendship, heartbreak, stress, and accomplishments that formed me into the young woman that I am. So when it came time to finally say goodbye in order to move on to a new job in South Korea, I was full of conflicting emotions– excitement for the future, and sadness for what I would be leaving behind.IMG_6052

I spent days writing goodbye cards to everyone at the university who had a positive impact on me. Some were easier to write than others. Some resulted in me sobbing in my office. But I knew that the hardest goodbyes were not really goodbye, but see you later. Cliche, I know, but cliches serve their purpose, and in this case their purpose is to make a transition easier.

Working as an admissions counselor, representing a place I loved so much, was a wonderful experience. The people I worked with helped me to grow as a professional and as a person. I am so grateful that I had to opportunity to give back to a place I love, and I put my heart into every interaction I had with a prospective student. I hope that the students I helped bring into the university love it as much as I do, and I hope that they are able to build the same impactful relationships I have.

It feels strange to be moving on to my second career at the age of 23, but it also feels incredibly right. My life in NEPA felt too small, too restrictive, like a pair of jeans that no longer fit. When you no longer fit in a place, trust your gut, and take a leap. Saying goodbye is never easy, but if you wait until you are ready, you’ll never go.