Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Host

I just finished watching a great movie. It's called The Host (괴물). I'm generally not a fan of monster movies, but this one was pretty decent. I especially like how the Americans are to blame for the whole mess. Particularly the American military. Check out: for more info about the movie!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Korean Language Learning

So... why, of all the places on earth, did I choose to go to Korea? Probably not for the same reason most people do. I've been trying to learn Korean for a few years now. I speak Spanish pretty decently (I may even post in Spanish now and again if there is any interest), and I love learning languages. Japanese or Chinese, or even French probably would have been the next logical choice, but then again, when do I do anything logical? Besides, my friend Jennie is bilingual, so she started teaching me a few words here and there. I was so inspired, I went online and learned the alphabet. Here is the site I used. I HIGHLY recommend anyone learning Korean to start here.

This site probably isn't going to win any site design awards, but it walks you through step by step. I honestly learned the whole alphabet in an afternoon, and haven't forgotten it since.

It's very hard to learn the alphabet with a book, since it's not very interactive, and many language learning software, like Rosetta Stone, don't even bother trying to teach the alphabet. Which is a shame, really, because it is very simple.

Once you get through learning the alphabet, I would suggest investing in some other way of learning the language. The first investment I made was to buy the book: Teach Yourself Korean. Here's the amazon listing, but you can get this book anywhere, I bought it at Borders.

This book is really good, because it walks you through the basics. I think that it does a very good job of explaining the grammar, which can be very complicated at times. It's nothing like English, thats for sure. Granted I've only been able to get myself through the first 4 chapters. The first three are easy, and you learn quickly, but then they start loading on the vocabulary. I keep trying to go back, but I just can't get through that chapter. But the first three chapters are excellent. They teach you how to order in restaurants, call on the telephone, get directions on the bus, plus lots of cultural and grammatical info too.

Once I started getting stuck in the book, I moved on to various lessons online. I have a few sites I've used, but I'm having trouble finding them again. But if you google Korean Lessons or something similar, you'll get hundreds of sites.

For Christmas this year, I got Rosetta Stone software for my computer. Rosetta Stone has it's ups and downs. One down is certainly the price. It's not cheap. Luckily, I got it as a gift, I definitely would not have shelled out so much of my own money... but then again, I am very cheap. But, now that I have it, here are some good and bad things about Rosetta Stone in my opinion

Total Immersion
Sound/Picture/Word Association
Start with the basics
Includes headset to practice intonation and pronunciation

Price (about $200 USD for level 1)
Does not teach Korean alphabet
No translations (have a dictionary handy when you can't figure out what the picture is referring to... but of course, using a Korean/English dictionary is no walk in the park either)
Impractical vocabulary for someone trying to learn everyday, useful phrases

I have yet to decide if Rosetta Stone is worth it, but it is definitely an option for learning Korean, but it's not for everyone.

Once I get to Korea, I plan on taking a formal Korean class. From what I've heard, there are many options available, many free classes or inexpensive classes. University classes are also available to take, if you have the time. I'll see what I have time/money for once I get there.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Why I didn't go to CDI

Before I got accepted to SLP, I was actually accepted to CDI. I originally accepted this job offer, but I for various reasons, I think that SLP will be a better fit for me.

My understanding of CDI is that it is a good, reliable school, Insofar as that their teachers get paid on time and they are mostly upfront about the expectations from their teachers. The school is regarded by Koreans as being one of the best chains of Hagwons. Unfortunately, from what I can tell, there are quite a few downsides to working at CDI as well.
  • There are two options for housing. An unfurnished (or scantily furnished) apartment and make 2,000,000 won/ month. or make about 2,700,00 won and pay for your own apartment. This has its upside and downside. If you want more control over your apartment, this might actually be appealing, but you will certainly be paying a lot more too.
  • Only 7 days paid vacations (and actually unpaid in certain circumstances). Most schools should offer paid vacations, usually at least 10 days a year (5 days in the summer and 5 in the winter during school breaks)
  • National Health Insurance not offered
  • Many branches of CDI require employees to work on national holidays
  • Video recording of classes
  • Very strict curriculum that allows for little creativity
Of course, as with any franchise, circumstances vary from branch to branch. I have heard good things about many of the locations in Busan, but evidently its difficult for newbies to get a position there, since there are a lot of internal transfers to Busan. For more information about working at CDI in Busan, I would recommend checking out Lee's Korea Blog (link on the side). Its a good blog about Korea in general anyway, even if you don't want to teach at CDI.

My School

Here is the letter describing my school that I received from the vice-director of my school:

Downtown Seoul - In the heart of the city, SLP Seongdong

I am glad to briefly introduce your prospective workplace.

Sogang Language Program (SLP) was founded by Sogang University. SLP has an established ESL curriculum developed by Sogang University, one of the most prestigious universities in Seoul, South Korea.
There are 52 SLP branches in Korea. SLP Seongdong is finishing its fifth successful year in education business and is looking forward to a bright future.

SLP Seongdong is located near Wangsimli subway station, located 15 minutes away from the Seoul Metropolitan City Hall. Wangsimli is a prospering area, with 3 subway lines intercepting here.
There are many stores and shops in the area. SLP Seongdong is located within the downtown core of Seoul and is only 5 subway stops from Seoul City Hall. We are also located close to the Cheon-gye-cheon River as well as Seoul Forest, a beautiful park any time of year.

There are no classes on Saturday and Sunday and national holidays.
SLP Seongdong includes one year renewable contract,
workload of 28 teaching hours per week, furnished single studio apartment with airconditioner, E2 visa (work visa) sponsorship and airfare, medical insurance, national pension and upon completion of the contract there is one month salary bonus.

The holidays are set by the SLP headquarters. The paid vacations in 2008 are 26th July to 3rd August in Summer and 25th December to 1st January in Winter. Seongdong SLP also recognizes all Korean National holidays.

SLP Seongdong has all the necessary materials for teaching and maintaining a high standard of education for children. We also have a standardized testing and grading system which makes testing students efficient and easy for the teachers.

We currently have 11 foreign teachers and 14 Korean partners with 7 supporting staffs. The foreign teachers come from all over America and Canada, ranging in age from 23 to 32 years old.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me by email.


Sikyoung Kim
Vice Director of SLP Seongdong, Seoul, Korea

An interesting side note that I learned during my interview was that my school only hires American and Canadian teachers. Evidently our accent is seen as superior to Australian or even British English? I don't really understand why. But that's just what they tell me.

I highlighted the subway station Wangsimli, its at the intersection of the purple, blue and green lines. Incidentally, doesn't the metro system look slightly intimidating? It looks enormous to me.

How to Find a Job in Korea

So my real reason for creating this blog was to chronicle the entire process of going to Korea to teach English. Remember at the point that I'm writing this, I haven't yet left for Korea. Today is May 19th. I've been officially accepted to work at Sogang Language Program (SLP) in Seongdong-gu, Seoul. I will be heading over to Korea mid-July to start training to start teaching for the August term. More about my school later though.

I'd like to explain here about how I found my school and what some other options are that I chose not to do.

I connected to my school through a recruiting agency called Gone2Korea ( There are many recruiting agencies out there, most of them offer similar services. Essentially, a Korean school pays them to find western teachers for their schools. For this reason they should not be charging your for their services. With Gone2Korea, I just filled out a small form on their website, and from there they did all the rest of the work. Within 24 hours I had a phone call from a very nice guy named James, who is based in Toronto. He conducted a quick interview with me, basically asked me why I want to go to Korea and what my expectations were as far as teaching goes, so that he could find a good school to match me with.

Most of the jobs out there are preschool and elementary school age, but there are some jobs teaching middle school, high school and adults. My main experiences have been with adults and university students, so I was hoping to work with older students. The problem with teaching adults is that it usually requires a split shift. Since most adults work all day, adult classes are usually offered early mornings and late in the evenings. That schedule I think would be a little much for me, especially since I'm not good at napping during the day.

Preschoolers range from Korean age 4-7 (international age 2-6), elementary ranges from grade 1-6 (age 8-13 years old, Korean age), Middle school grades 1-3 (ages 14-16 Korean age), High school grades 1-3 (ages 17-19 Korean age). Remember Korean age can be calculated starting from the day of birth as age 1, and adding another year when the new year turns. So, Korean age is one-two years older than international age.

Once we got through the general interview, James explained to me all the nitty gritty details about the immigration process that I would need to know. Some of these important details that I did not know about before were:
  • Make sure your name appears exactly the same on all your documents. For example, if your diploma says (for example) John Doe Smith, but your passport says John Smith, you may have a problem. Luckily, I did not have this problem, so I don't know what to tell you if you do encounter this. But I would definitely make sure that all the documents that you need to procure (transcripts, criminal background check, etc) are written with whatever name is written in your passport.
  • A health examination before leaving your country is not necessary, but might be helpful. It's not necessary, because your school will send you to a doctor once you get there to get probably any test you can think of done. The health form that you need to fill out for immigration is very, very basic. It's mostly just, do you have any disease that could pose a threat to public health (you know, HIV, Cholera, the Plague etc), list all the illicit drugs you've done in the past.. really no questions that you need a doctor to tell you... hopefully.
About two days after the interview, I got an e-mail telling me that they had found a school for me, and we scheduled an interview for the following week. Keep in mind that, because there is a 14 hour time difference between Korea and Eastern Standard Time, Interviews are generally conducted late at night, since that would be morning in Korea. Of course this would vary depending on whatever time zone you are in around the globe. My interview was on a Tuesday night at about 10:00 PM.

The interview I had was very simple, the girl interviewing me was another young American teacher at the school. I think the only question she asked me was why do you want to teach English in Korea. The rest of the hour we spent talking was just talking about the school, teaching curriculum, apartment situation and Seoul in general. She was very helpful, and honest I think for the most part about the school. From what I hear, teachers conducting interviews are pressured into sugar coating the school so that they can get teachers to come. Although, who knows, I haven't started working yet, maybe the school really is a dump, but I won't know that until I get there.

After that, I got in touch with the teacher that I would be replacing at the school. She had similar, mostly positive things to say about the school. I would definitely recommend speaking to at least two people from the school. Why? Because, if you only speak to the person you are replacing, you may get a biased opinion, since they may be trying to get out of their contract early, and can only do that once a replacement has been found. Of course they will tell you only good things about the school since they want to get out of there as soon as possible. I think it's also important to keep in mind, though, that a job is a job. Even in the US there are plenty of bad jobs or contract disputes. I've had plenty of bad jobs in the US to realize that the chances of me finding a dream job in Korea are pretty slim. Every job has its ups and downs.

So, after talking to those two people at the school, I was offered a contract, which I accepted. Keep in mind, for me, all communication was through Gone 2 Korea. I have not had any direct contact with the director of my school. Gone 2 Korea sent me all the necessary paperwork that needed to be filled out/ procured to be sent to my school in Korea to be sent to Korean Immigration.

Paperwork to be sent to Immigration
  • Photocopy of passport (color)
  • Criminal Background Check (CBC)
  • Notarized copy of diploma
  • Three passport sized photos
  • Signed contract
  • At least one copy of official sealed university transcripts
  • Health Statement

Paperwork needed at the consulate interview
  • One passport photo
  • Official Passport
  • Photocopy of Passport (color)
  • Visa application form
  • One set of sealed transcripts
  • Visa processing fee (money order or cash)
  • Copy of diploma
  • Photo copy of health statement
  • Photocopy of Criminal Background Check
  • Have the address and school's director available

I would like to go into detail here about a few of these that were a little confusing for me at the time.

Notarized Copy of Diploma- This (and the CBC) are a two step process. First you must get a photocopy of your diploma. Black and white should be sufficient. You must then have the photocopy notarized. You cannot bring your diploma to any notary public to be notarized. Probably the only place that your diploma can be notarized is at your university. My university has a member of the staff of the registrar's office who is a certified notary public who was able to notarize the diploma. My suggestion would be to contact someone from your university's registrar's office to decide the best way to notarize your diploma. I was lucky, because I live only a 5 minute drive from my school. You may have to have your notarized diploma mailed to you. This may also prove to be a difficult task, because once you obtain your notarized diploma, it must be sent to the secretary of state (of your state, not of the federal government) to get an apostille. An apostille, as far as I can tell, essentially authenticates the notary's signature. This may need to be done in the state where the notary is registered, so if you live in a state other than the one where you obtained your degree, you may have to mail your notarized diploma to the secretary of state of the state where your university is located. (secretary of state of the state sounds redundant, but I don't know of any better way to phrase it) Your university's notary may have more information regarding this, because this is not something I needed to worry about.

Criminal Background Check- This also needs to be notarized and receive an apostille from the secretary of state. A federal background check should not be necessary if you are from the US. I got a State background check from the state of Vermont (I'm a resident there until May 31st). It took about a week to receive. Make sure it has a notary's signature/seal.

University Transcripts- These need to be sealed and probably should have a stamp or signature across the seal. Since you can't see them, you should check with the registrar how the name appears on the transcripts. Make sure it appears the same as it appears on your passport. Most schools require two total, one for immigration and one for the consulate. My school required four, since the school wanted two copies for themselves.

Once you have all these documents ready, you will need to take it to FedEx or UPS (I think). There are only two carriers that have the capability to get your documents safely to Korea in a timely fashion. I had no idea how much it would cost to send one envelope with documents to Korea. It cost me about just over $50.00USD, which was way more than I thought it would be. I sent my documents priority, but for me, the economy option was actually more expensive than the priority (how does that work?). But, my documents got there with no problems. Oh, and also, when you go to FedEx, they will need to look up the neighborhood in Seoul (if you're going to Seoul) to send your package to. Keep in mind that there may be spelling differences between what the school gives you and what their system uses. Just do your best.

It takes up to a few weeks (although probably less time) for the paperwork to go through immigration. Once it goes through, you should receive a code which you will need to bring to the consulate. At this point, I have received my code, and I will be heading to the consulate in the next few weeks. I will update again once I get my visa with any tips for the consulate.

**school ages and Korean age information edited 4/4/2010

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington DC

As I left off in my last post, after leaving Arlington National Cemetery, we headed over to the Basilica for the Baccalaureate Mass for Catholic University. I was so impressed with this building, I had to make a separate post to talk about it. Now, of course I barely consider myself Catholic anymore, although until about 2 years ago I was pretty religious. I have too many disagreements with the Church/ doubts about religion in general to really adhere to the doctrine, but I continue to be fascinated by the ecclesiastical arts. And by that, I mean art, architecture, music, etc. Even just driving by this Basilica I wanted to check it out. Here is a photo of the outside, its just incredible to look at.

Once I went in, there were three things that really made a huge impression on me (these are the things I think about instead of listening to the Mass). First of all, the basilica is absolutely massive. According to the website, the upper church seats about 3,500 people, but can hold 6,000 people (I'm guessing thats the standing room capacity). It's one of the biggest churches in the world, and the largest in the US. The next thing I noticed was that the whole church is made of marble. Every color of marble imaginable. The floors have inlaid marble, the pillars are marble, the walls are marble. I can't even imaging how much just the marble alone must have cost, because this shrine wasn't completed until 1959. Then I started to look at the actual artwork. Everything is in mosaic. The ceilings are completely done in mosaic. Behind the altar there is an incredibly large portrait of a blond Jesus that is completely done in mosaic too. It's really quite awe inspiring.

All along the sides of the Upper Church there are small shrines to Mary (Well, this is the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.. I guess Mary is our national patron saint). Each shrine to Mary is from a different country. I'm guessing they are shrines to various Mary's that have appeared throughout history.. but don't quote me on that one.

There is also a downstairs to the basilica that was built first, I think around 1919 (I'm no historian, don't quote me on anything here), but the upper church wasn't completed until 1959. And even then, that was only just the structure, the artwork was completed at later dates. I guess the construction for the upper church was put on a hold until after the Great Depression and WWII. In the lower church, there is a large open space where the walls and pillars are lined with the names of families and organizations who donated money to the construction of the church. Beth's family was able to find a few family members on the walls there. In the lower church, there is also another "small" chapel where daily mass is held. I say "small" because it is bigger than quite a few churches I know of.

Anyway, I have a few pictures here, but I would check out to see more pictures and get more info about the history, and visiting. They do have tours, although I was not able to take one.

Washington DC

Well, I know this is supposed to be a Korea blog, but I spent the past weekend in DC, and wanted to post about this trip too. (I did call this Jo-Anna's Travel Blog, and not Jo-Anna's Korea blog).

I went down to DC with my friend Beth, and her younger brother and parents to see her brother's graduation from The Catholic University of America. I've never been to DC before so when Beth invited me to tag along I jumped at the chance. I knew that I wouldn't get to see much, since we were only going for the graduation, but I'd be happy just to drive by the White House. Not that I'm patriotic at all (in fact, I'm pretty anti-patriotic as far as I'm concerned) but I like to see everything anyway, just to say I've been there.

We left Boston at about 8:00 AM and drove straight down to DC . I haven't taken such a long road trip since 7th grade when we drove down to Virgina to go skiing. (Don't ask me why we drove 10 hours south to ski when we live in New England, When you're 12 years old you don't get to make decisions like that). Surprisingly, we made it down to our hotel by 5:00 PM, and that was after getting lost for an hour in Maryland trying to find our hotel. I was quite impressed with our quick drive time. After dinner we went downtown to the National Mall to see some sights. Evidently, it's quite popular to visit at night!

We drove into the city down North Capital St, and as you drive down the street, you can see the Capital Building in the distance getting closer and closer. It was all lit up and very impressive looking. When we got downtown we parked and got some nice pictures of the Capital Building first.

After walking around there for a bit, we pilled back into into the car and headed over to the National Mall. I would highly recommend checking it out at night. Everything is lit up, its very dramatic. We walked around looking at some of the smaller monuments, and made our way over to the Lincoln Memorial.

Once we made our way through the hordes of middle schoolers on tours we made our way up to the top of the stairs at the Lincoln Memorial. From the top of the stairs there was also a great view of the Washington Monument.

We then walked back down to the park and walked around to the Korean War Monument which was great. It really looked to me as though they were soldiers wading through a rice patty at night. Very dramatic. Behind the statues of soldiers there is a wall with etchings of soldiers that served in the war. Keep your eye out for the dog on there. We found it. This monument was very special for me, since my grandfather served in this war. Not that he ever told me much about it, though.

We then made our way over to the Vietnam War Memorial. I've always seen pictures of this on TV, but to see it in person is much more dramatic. I knew that the death toll from this war was very high, but to see name after name on panel after panel it really drives the message home. This war in Iraq now really pales in comparison (as far as American casualties). But, then again, we're not out of there yet.

On Friday morning we went to Arlington National Cemetery. We were able to take a bus tour through the cemetery. There were stops at the Kennedy grave site, the Tomb of The Unknown Soldier, and General Robert E. Lee's house. At the Kennedy grave site, you can see the burial place of JFK, Jackie Onassis and their two children who died in childhood. Around the corner is Robert Kennedy's grave, which is just a single white wooden cross. My question is, how come the Kennedy's get such special treatment? JFK gets an eternal flame and Robert Kennedy gets buried directly under Lee's house. I'm not saying that JFK wasn't a great guy, but he didn't even serve a full term before he got assassinated. Maybe he just wasn't in office long enough to screw things up like most of our other presidents have. Well, I guess he did do lots of good things for the country like civil rights, resolve the Cuban missile crisis and get the space race going. At any rate, the grave site is very impressive.

The tour bus then took us up to the Tomb of The Unknown Soldier, where we got to see the changing of the guard. Evidently the soldier walks 21 steps in front of the tomb, stops and faces the tomb for 21 seconds, turns for 21 seconds and then repeats the process. 21 seconds represents the 21 gun salute. I counted the seconds after the guard we were watching took his 21 step walk and faced the tomb. It was more like 45 seconds. At least. But all the heel clicking and gun maneuvering was very impressive. I won't be stealing any bodies from there anytime soon. I wonder if the guns are loaded? What do they think about while they are just standing there? Do they ever forget what they are doing? Do you think that at night they stand there so formally like they do when the tourists are watching? These are the things I think about while I watch the guards stand there.

Then we headed back onto the bus which brought us over to General Robert E. Lee's house. Did you know that Arlington National Cemetery was built on his property? I guess it was just one last way to screw over the south for the war. Anyway, Lee's house is still there, but there isn't any furniture inside. I guess there are tours, but we didn't have time to do one. We had to head over to the Baccalaureate mass at Catholic. I'll put a whole new post for this, because I want to talk about the Basilica, which I think deserves it's own page here.


Hello world! Welcome to my blog. I've decided to create this blog because I want to chronicle my journey to South Korea to teach English. I know that there are many great blogs and web sites out there that give great information, but I want to share my own experience with the world. I hope that this blog will help those people who are considering going to Korea for work or pleasure and make it easy for people to tackle the job market and immigration process. I may also post some of my other travel adventures here as well as a side note for myself and anyone interested as well.