Full Disclosure Korea #1: FAQ

Hello, everyone.

This isn’t really so much of a FAQ so much as a “what people might be wondering about” post.


Well, let’s carry on, shall we?

Konata-sensei will teach you everything you need to know...I think.

Konata-sensei will teach you everything you need to know…I think.

1. How did you come to teach in Korea? You don’t have a degree yet!

That’s right. I don’t have a degree yet. I was accepted through the TaLK (Teach and Learn in Korea) Program, which allows 2nd year+ and recent graduates to teach after school classes in rural areas. However, this situation is NOT THE NORM, and if you are currently a university student, you need to be in regular communication with your country’s embassy and your university’s career department (or something). Also, my contract was only six months, and I’ve heard rumors that they’ve phased that out unless the applicant has special circumstances that require a term shorter than one year (completing PDP, etc.)

2. How did you get accepted?

I applied. It’s that simple. You can apply through your embassy, or if your university is a partnered institution, you can apply through them (which is the route I took).
You can apply for TaLK if you are a native English speaker of one of the following countries: USA, Canada, U.K., Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa (I think that’s all of them?)

3. What documents did you need?

You MUST have a passport and an E-2 visa, which you can only apply for once you have your TaLK contract. You also need a criminal record check, a doctor’s examination note, recommendation letters, and other stuff. Again, check the official website for this kind of information.

Please note that I HIGHLY recommend you maintain complete honesty within your required documents. If it comes out that you have a criminal record or that you have a very debilitating medical condition that you failed to disclose prior to your acceptance, there will be bad consequences. Probably.

4. Tell us about your placement.

Sure. I was a 12th gen TaLK Scholar and I was placed in Pohang-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea.
(Telling you all this is a dead giveaway to anyone I met in Pohang. And everyone else in TaLK. There are only so many people in 12th gen TaLK who were in Pohang and knew Japanese. Hi, all.)

I won’t tell you any more than that, since I don’t want you all to stalk my successor.

5. Why did you even apply?

As a linguistics major, I have an interest in language in general – language learning, language teaching, language processes….you get the picture. Also, I wanted to learn Korean and I like Korean food. K-Pop and K-Dramas didn’t have an influence for me personally. After spending a lot of time in Korea, I definitely developed a greater appreciation for Korean culture, language and media.

6. Where have you gone in Korea?

I’ve been to Seoul, Daegu, Busan, Gyeongju…..I’ve explored Pohang a lot as well. Guryeongpo is a fun place 🙂

7. Why didn’t you go to Japan?

Because I didn’t make enough money. Yes, I did have enough money to make the trip, but I wanted to have a significant amount of money saved to send back to Canada, and going to Japan would have put a large dent in my funds. Also, I booked my return ticket in such a way that I didn’t really have time to travel at the end of my contract, and didn’t have the impulse to reschedule it.

8. What were the best things about being in Korea?

The food, FOR SURE. The food is great – super cheap, delicious, really fresh. If you love Korean BBQ and Korean stew, you can get it for really cheap and it’s great. I also really liked the people (of course) – everyone was super nice and patient. If it’s really obvious that you’re putting in an effort to use Korean in your daily life, the people around you will pick up on that and treat you accordingly.

Korean cosmetics are also really great – they’re really cheap, and the quality is pretty good as well, depending on the product and what shop you get it at (not all lipsticks and foundations are created equal). There is a Face Shop here in Vancouver, but I miss Etude House so, so much. As for other Korean shops, Art Box is probably my most favourite place on Earth. The Art Boxes you find in North America really can’t compare to the selection and range of products that the Korean ones have.

Also Korean indie cafes are super fun. Korean cafes tend to have a better ambiance and interior design (note that this statement only applies to non-chain establishments. Personally, I place Holly’s Coffee and Twosome Place on similar levels of quality, which I define as lower than the independent cafes that I like.) Being a regular at any kind of Korean establishment has its perks, and I really miss that dynamic here in Canada. If you’re ever in Pohang, go to Cafe 1944 – it’s a cat cafe and it’s super fun! The owner is super cool and the smoothies are probably the best that I’ve had in Korea (no hyperbole here).

Being able to know about 80% of the songs that were playing on the radio at any given time was also a nice feeling, given the fact that I don’t listen to much English popular music. Although g.o.d. and Fly to the Sky were playing a lot on the radio when I was there (not super fans of either of those groups), but the Eddy Kim and IU songs that were popular were pretty good.

Finally, the night life. The night life in Korea is SO, SO GOOD. 😀 But please enjoy it responsibly once you are 20 years of age or above 😉 Thankfully, I was clubbing in Seoul when Primary’s See Through was really popular. Fun times. Also, domestic alcohol is super cheap, so you can enjoy yourself without breaking the bank. On that note, flavoured makgeolli is GREAT. SO GOOD!

9. What were the worst things about being in Korea?

Missing family and having to figure out a lot of things alone. For the first month, it was really difficult for me to get out of my shell and explore. I also struggled a lot with health issues in the first month – I couldn’t eat properly, I caught a horrible cold….honestly, that first month was really difficult and I was really struggling with whether I had made the right decision to come to Korea or not. But once you get over that hump, it’s mostly fine.

I missed a lot of Western food, to be honest with you. Sometimes, I really want my Italian deli meats and crackers, and Korea just doesn’t have those kind of products. Also, the cheese situation in the area I was living in was really depressing. Most of the supermarkets had processed cheese and “pizza cheese” and that was basically it. (But thank you, e-mart, for importing expensive but awesome cheese.)

Korean chain bakeries are kind of….sad. I mean, I bought a TON of Paris Baguette, but that wasn’t because I enjoyed it so much as there was really nothing else to get. Being able to get delicious bread in Canada is really nice.

While I’ve written a lot about the negative things here, honestly, my experience in Korea was mostly positive, and I would love to go back.

10. Did you ever experience racism in Korea?

NEVER. Honestly, in this regard, my experience was 100% positive – everyone was really nice. I think you would experience more negative sentiment if it was blatantly obvious that you were making no effort to learn the language. In my case, if there was something I needed to ask an employee, I would try as much as possible to find the right words in Korean and ask properly. Bear in mind that I was living in an area that was not super urban. It wasn’t a super isolated hick town or anything like that, and there was a thriving expat community, but English menus and other similar resources were not as plentiful as they were in the major cities.

If you go to an establishment with the expectation that everyone speaks English, obviously people will not be very happy with you.

Despite this, your experience may vary. I was relatively okay because I have pale skin and dark hair, so I am often taken for Korean when people can’t see my face properly. If you are of African/other ethnic descent, your experience may be different from mine.

In short, try your best, and people will acknowledge that effort and generally be positive. Obviously, there are people that don’t like foreigners very much, but I think these people are mostly in the minority.

Final Question: Any advice for people going to Korea?

Research your company before you go. Be polite and make an effort to learn the language of your community. Make friends, be outgoing and join clubs – if you’re isolated, you’ll be more likely to get depressed, be more unhappy, and thus enjoy your life less. That’s not fun!

Also, try to save money by not eating out excessively and don’t go to work hung over (I’ve heard stories about people doing this – just don’t do it, people.)

Hope you all found this helpful!