You asked, and I answered! Thanks so much for asking so many awesome questions. I really had a great time answering them. I’m going to split this into multiple posts as I tend to get a little long-winded.
Hatchhu asked: what is the Korean brand skincare product that you didn’t think would fit into your routine or wouldn’t work, or was just plain weird, but once you tried it, became a must have item? Or were there more than one?
I honestly had very, very, very low expectations for the entire AC Care line. I’m not a fan of acne care lines, as I find them way too drying and every time I’ve tried an acne care line it’s actually made my skin worse. I’d never heard of using bee venom in a skincare product, and wasn’t 100% sure if I was allergic or not. I remember the first time I used the products I thought my skin would burn, and it would be dry and itchy. But nope! The serum and water essence are especially my favorites, and whenever I get those hormonal breakouts every month, they’re the first products I reach for. I can’t be without them!
I’d also heard a lot about how awful Korean brand body lotions are (and for the most part that’s true), but I fell in love with the Skinfood quinoa body cream and the Innisfree honey one too. They’re both rich and hydrating, without being greasy. I have extremely dry skin especially on my legs, so a great moisturizer is a must for me.
All of the hair products I’ve tried, the Skinfood Argan mask pack, the Innisfree Camelia balm, and a conditioner from Aromatica have all also been pleasant surprises. I didn’t think I’d find anything to work on my hair, so that’s been a huge plus!
Ala Makota asked: How did you end up teaching in Korea? I’d love to do the same thing and have done reasearch and am a bit overwhelmed as to the number of various companies offering the program. How did you arrange your position? Did you enroll in a teaching program with any specific company? Were you satisfied with the outcomes? Did you have to do any special courses or licensing?
Well, I decided to teach in Korea because I knew that after Johnny and I finished traveling through Europe that we wouldn’t have jobs. We thought…well, we love kids, we love traveling and we don’t have any reason to stay in the US so let’s do it! We knew we didn’t want to live *in* Seoul, but close to it, so we chose to go through the GEPIK Program. GEPIK stands for the Gyeonngi English Program in Korea. The Gyeonngi province is the area that directly surrounds Seoul. We also knew that we wanted to work at public schools, and not hagwons, so we chose to use Korvia Consulting as our recruiter. As our recruiter, they listened to our requests (living close to each other, public schools, close to Seoul), and arranged interviews with schools. For my first job, I actually didn’t even interview, they hired me from my introduction video alone. For my second job, they arranged interviews at 2 schools, with me getting a job at the second one. Once you get a job, they help you gather your documents for your visa, and act as a liaison between you and the school.
Korvia is highly recommended, and have seriously gone above and beyond with their services. They made sure they found schools close to each other for Johnny and I, and even arranged to have me moved when I switched jobs. Unfortunately, the GEPIK program has cut funding severely, and most teachers are being phased out. If I wasn’t moving to Vietnam, I wouldn’t have a job for next year as my position was cut. The only available jobs are basically in the countryside.
EPIK on the other hand, which is the program that caters to areas outside of the Seoul/Gyeonngi area, has actually announced they are hiring 550 new teachers for the fall. Details can be found here.
When I first started teaching in Korea, a TEFL certificate was not needed. I got one anyway because if you had one, you got paid more. Now, to get a job in Korea you *must* have a TEFL certification, as well as a college degree and a host of other things. For the most up to date information, head over to Korvia’s page.
Research the kind of school you want to work for. I was very adamant about public school because I wanted to have job security, longer vacation time, and shorter working hours. Many people work for hagwons because you tend to make more money, but the hours are awful and the vacation times are shorter. And before you accept any job, make sure to request to speak with previous employees. If they refuse, or act shady about it, they’re most likely hiding something so it’s best to steer clear. And remember, recruiters make money every time they place a teacher, so don’t let them persuade you to take a job that you’re not comfortable with. They should want to find you a job within your specifications, and if the jobs don’t meet that, don’t budge. You’ll be the one stuck working at a shitty job, not them.
Jen asked: I’ve been living here in Korea for about six months and have definitely hit some rough patches (culture shock, homesickness, coming to the realization that teaching in Korea isn’t the epic adventure I thought it would be). I’d love to hear any advice you have for those of us who aren’t at the “zomg I love Korea!!” phase and tips for how we can get past it, make friends and have an awesome time here.
Oh…this is a big one. I remember about 6 months in to my time in Korea I felt the exact same way. Something weird happens at 6 months. It’s just enough time to have a routine and know where everything is and sort of pick up on some Korean, but also about that time where you get annoyed by any and everything. For me, it definitely helped to find a group of like minded women to hang out with. I’m definitely not the type to meet up with strangers, but that’s part of the game here in Korea. Put yourself out there! I found that joining Facebook groups for people in Korea with your interests is really helpful. I’m a member of the Bundang Social Club (a group for people living in the Bundang area), Brothers and Sisters in South Korea (black people living in S. Korea), Natural Beauty in Korea (a group for black women with natural hair), and Bundang Ladies Social. I’ve gone to meetups with people in these groups, and even arranged a few of my own! The thing that I like most about Facebook groups is that you’re more likely to find people that share the same interests as you, so at least you have one thing in common to talk about. Some of my closest friends in Korea have come from going to meetups in these groups. And there are TONS of groups! I’ve seen ones for groups that love to go to the noraebang, people that love checking out new cafes, people that love to game. There’s something for everyone.
Also, I got into a bad habit of thinking all of the “cool” things to do are in Seoul, but explore your own neighborhood! I’ve found out about meat buffet restaurants, multi-bangs (which are my favorite thing ever…Mario Kart, drinking, AND karaoke? Sign me up 12 times), or obscure cafes. I’m also a big fan of splurging on food and nice things for my apartment to make it feel cosy. We all know these apartments that are provided for us are quite small and…feel sort of sterlie, so I buy candles, nice wine, nice cheese, chocolates, lots of fruit and vegetables. I know some people may think I’m crazy for spending a lot on food, but spending money on food that I enjoy and reminds me of home makes me happy. Whenever I’m sad or down, I make myself a giant baked potato (my comfort food) with a large glass of wine. I’ll watch my favorite TV shows and light some candles. It really does make me feel better.
Travel within Korea. I’m not sure where you live, but Busan is amazing. Just going there and getting outside of my little Yongin bubble was immensely helpful. Plus, there’s just something about being by the sea that’s magical.
As far as teaching goes, I found I had a much easier time when I tried to connect with my students. Talk to them in the hallways, spend your break time in their classrooms, watch some K-pop videos and talk to them about it, attempt to learn their names, etc. At both of my schools, my students really opened up to me, and it really made me have a much more enjoyable teaching experience. I feel like when my students realized I was someone that cared about them personally and wasn’t just an English tape recorder, it made a really huge difference, for me and for them. I actually enjoyed going to class, and my students started looking forward to class, instead of dreading it. Wins all around!
Whatever you do, don’t go to any expat forums. Only use Waygook in the most dire of circumstances. NEVER go to DavesESL. Ever. Stay positive, and don’t let the negative energy from other people affect your time here! Trust me, by the time it got to my 9th or 10th month here, I was like…how in the world am I going to leave after one year?
But the biggest thing is to remember that it’s okay to feel like Korea isn’t everything you imagined it would be. I used to feel really guilty when I’d talk to people and they’d go on and on about how much they loved living in Korea, and all the cool things they did, and all the places they’d been to, yadda yadda, and I didn’t feel the same way. Part of you feels like you should be having this awesome and amazing experience just because you live in a different country and sometimes, that’s just not true. Sometimes, it really does suck and sometimes all you want in life is a real fucking burrito with a giant margarita with an actual lime and for people to actually say excuse me instead of shoving you out of the way. And sometimes it’s so amazing that you have to write about it in your journal so you don’t forget to tell your grandkids about it later. It’s okay to feel both ways. Stay focused on the positive experiences!
I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed answering! Be on the lookout for more answers soon. I’m also super excited to tell you I’ve been featured on one of my favorite Korean beauty websites, Soko Glam, so make sure to check it out here!