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Ask Me Anything #2

dmzsheryll_effected

Hey everyone! I’m back with 3 new questions, that again, I really enjoyed answering. I’m gonna keep it a bit shorter this time…I hope.

Terri asks: I love reading about your time in Korea, and I’ve also been considering moving there to teach or work (I’m from Canada), but I haven’t had the guts to yet. What were some of the things you were really curious about before moving to Korea? What kinds of things did you have to do to prepare for the big move?

This may sound crazy to some people, but my number one curiosity about Korea was how people here were going to perceive me. As a black woman, you hear all sorts of crazy stories: about how people try to rub your skin color off of you, how students may call you a dirty monkey, or any of the other dozens of crazy things you read about on the internet. I knew I was going to work at a middle school, so I had really bad anxiety that the kids were going to be supreme assholes. They weren’t. And to this day, no one has tried to rub me, or called me dirty or a monkey (although I’ve had people try to touch my hair and I check them fast as hell). I was also worried about bleaching my skin with Korean skincare products but as you can see…that’s definitely not something to be concerned about.

I was also curious about the food. I wasn’t the most (and I’m not really) the most adventurous eater, and I’d heard stories about how awful the school lunches are. Due to some dietary issues, I actually bring my own lunch everyday, but overall, they aren’t that bad!

To prepare for my move, I made sure to watch a lot of k-pop videos. I knew that I’d be teaching middle school, and I wanted to be able to relate to them. I found out the popular groups, learned the member names, what their new songs and albums were. I also kept up a bit on Korean dramas (although I don’t watch them), and of course, I tried to learn Hangeul before I left.  Also, I’d never been one to use chopsticks, so I actually bought a few to practice. I’m a pro now!

I’ve had a few people ask about how I learned Hangeul, and a really great resource is this comic by Ryan Estrada. I’m a very visual learner, so having the word associations with the Korean symbols really, really helped. It’s a very simple alphabet to learn, and pretty much a necessity from the moment you get off the plane.

Jennifer asks: You told us that you didn’t really care about skin care before you came to Korea. Sooo, how did you get started with it? Did some ads catch your interest? Were the stores too cute to not walk into and buy random things? I want to hear the story behind your skin care obsession!

I was one of the lucky ones to never have acne as a teenager, but then I ended up cursed with adult onset acne. It was AWFUL. I used retin-a for a while, and it really helped, but as soon as I stopped using it, the acne would come back. I just never really thought about skincare…I usually used a lot of makeup to cover up the imperfections. I was so naive.

I remember the exact moment when I knew I was going to be obsessed with Korean cosmetics. It was maybe my first full week in Korea, and I went to Gangnam to meet with a friend I knew from high school. We went to COEX Mall, where, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a pink and white store princess-y looking store, filled with adorable lip glosses and nail polishes. It was Etude House. I gasped and grabbed my friend who was walking in the opposite direction. I remember telling her, “what is this place?! We need to go inside NOW!” And once I went inside, it was all over. That day, I didn’t end up buying any skincare, but I bought a gel liner, mascara, and some lip glosses.

I fell in love with Korean skincare when I went into a local SkinFood. At that time, my skin was still pretty awful, so my first purchases were the Parsley and Mandarin Trouble Skin toner and emulsion and the Black Sugar Scrub. The difference in my skin happened pretty freaking fast…I saw changes within 2 weeks! I remember being pissed because I had just spent a ton of money on the Murad acne line from Sephora, thinking that I wouldn’t find any skincare here. From Skinfood, I moved to Innisfree and Etude, and then it just became a full blown obsession.

Ola asks: this question doesn’t really relate to Korea, but more general in terms of teaching. Could you please talk about Vietnam, and how you found your next gig? I’m at a crossroad also, but I don’t want to commit another year, & 6 months is ideal.

Johnny and I had always planned on going to SE Asia after we finished working in Korea. But what we didn’t expect is that we weren’t going to save as much as we had hoped in Korea, so we decided to teach just a little bit longer in a different country. We threw out all sorts of ideas: Thailand, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Turkey, Mexico…the list goes on. My requirements were somewhere warm, and somewhere cheap with lots of fruits and vegetables. A place where I could focus on the next part of my life and career. Johnny wanted to move somewhere with an MMA scene and an opportunity to maybe do some acting. We finally settled on Vietnam, as the ESL life is booming there. There are hundreds of English academies, kindergartens, private schools, and a huge demand for teachers. Unlike in Korea, in Vietnam you can work multiple jobs, and a lot of them don’t require contracts. It used to be a place where wandering backpackers could crash for a few months and save a bit of cash, but they’ve had a crackdown and are really focusing on hiring experienced teachers. From what I’ve heard, Vietnam is like what Korea used to be, great pay, and an abundance of jobs.

The cost of living is insanely low, so I’m hoping to only work part time, and focus the rest of my energy on the blog and other areas. I found this blog post by 2 Nomands, 1 Experience extremely helpful when it came down to exactly how much one can expect to earn and save in Vietnam.

As of now, I don’t have a job. According to friends who have previously lived there, it’s a million times easier to get a job once you are on the ground in Vietnam. So….wish me luck that I find something relatively fast! I have a TEFL certification and 2 years of experience, so I don’t think it will be too difficult…I hope. But I guess that’s what life is about! I’m living on the edge. I plan on blogging about the whole experience, so definitely stick around!

Thanks again for asking me these really awesome questions. I have so much fun answering them! The last edition will be next week, unless this is something you’d like to see semi-regularly. Let me know!

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Ask Me Anything: Your Questions, Answered!

sheryll

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!

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Ask me anything!

sheryllkoreaI went through my blog archives a few days ago and realized that I blogged so much more about my general life in Korea my first year I was here. I talked about my school life and favorite cafes and all sorts of fun stuff. I have to admit that my second year in Korea is a bit routine, and I haven’t really branched out of my comfort zone. And as adorable as elementary school kids are, I haven’t had a big connection with them and I haven’t had nearly as many funny stories to tell like I did with my middle school kids.

Of course, now that I have like 7 weeks left, I’m frantically trying to put together a list of all the places I want to go and things I want to do before I leave. On the list are the theatre district in Seoul, a visit to the Hello Kitty cafe (again…because, duh), and a visit to Namdaemun market in Seoul. I can’t believe I’ve never been! And, of course, I gotta stock up on my cute stationary, socks, shirts and cosmetics before I go.

So since I’m leaving Korea soon, and I’m finished with classes for the next 2.5 weeks, I thought I’d open the floor to all of you. Are you moving to Korea soon and you’d like to know sort of what to expect? Are you just curious about Korea in general? Want to know my favorite thing about Korea? My skincare must haves? Leave a question in the comment section, or on my Facebook page, and I’ll pick the most interesting ones and answer them.

I’ll keep the comments open on this post through the weekend, so you’ll have plenty of time to ask. Can’t wait for your questions!

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Nervous Energy: One Week Until I Move to South Korea

One week.

Just one more week until I make my move to South Korea.

In GREAT news, I finally finished my online TEFL course!!!!! It’s been a looooong time since I’ve had to do “school” work, and at times I wanted to rip my hair out. But the course taught me a whole lot, and I definitely feel way more prepared to teach English. The grammar course in particular was very helpful. I feel like I have a huge weight off of my shoulders and can finally focus on other things, like packing and learning Hangul.

But I’m definitely starting to freak out just a little bit.

I know Johnny is already there, and he is loving it so far. And I’ve done TONS of research. I know customs and a few key phrases. I have started listening to Kpop and watching Korean dramas. I’ve been in contact with the teacher I’m replacing and he’s given me tons of valuable advice.

But there’s just this crazy nervous energy flowing through me right now. Will the students like me? Will my co teachers like me? How will I deal with middle school teens and hormones? Ahhh!

It doesn’t feel real. Am I really moving to S. Korea? This time a year ago I was getting ready to take my one month break from my job. That eventually lead me to quitting and going to Europe for a few months. And now, I’m getting ready to embark on one of the craziest adventures of my life. CRAZY. I can’t wrap my mind around it. It won’t feel real until I land in Korea without a cell phone and I don’t know how to communicate haha!

I did a preliminary packing session with my mom this weekend and it was a mess. We packed my suitcases…but my shoes don’t fit. And it’s not even the amount of clothes I’m bringing! It’s all the extra shit, namely (and this can be used as a sort of “oh fuck I’m moving to Korea” packing list):

Tampons
Sheets
Towels
6 bottles of Trader Joe’s Nourish Spa conditioner (best conditioner on the planet, and since I don’t use shampoo, it’s completely necessary)
Deodorant for a year
Enough underwear for a year
Lotion
Enough makeup for 6 months (Definitely won’t find anything in my color in S. Korea)
My Murad face wash and moisturizer (my skin is picky, and this seems to be the only stuff that works)
Razors and shaving cream
All of my hair products (leave in conditioner, deep conditioner, gel…enough for 6 months)
Toothpaste/Toothbrushes
Agave nectar (can’t live without it)
Tea and a small container of coffee
Oatmeal
Pictures of my friends and family
Ridiculous amounts of taco seasoning, onion power, garlic power, all purpose seasoning

This list was complied by some of my Twitter friends, my friend Alicia, and Johnny who has scoped out our area for me. You can see how I’m already dealing with a ton of stuff I wouldn’t normally pack. I thought that it would be a little warmer by the time I arrived and I wouldn’t have to bring a ton of winter stuff, but Johnny told me it SNOWED the other day, so….yeah. I have a week to figure it all out.

And I’m definitely planning on writing a post answering all of the questions I get about how I found my job, my online TEFL course, etc. I just gotta get my life together first and stop freaking out. Eeeeeeek!

Have any of you made a big move abroad? Any advice?

Oh, PS! If you follow me on Twitter you may have heard my awesome, exciting news! I’m going to the Lady Gaga concert in Seoul!!!!!!!! I LOVE HER! I saw her in LA, and now S. Korea! AHHHHHHH!!!

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I’m Going To Teach Abroad (and hopefully eat lots of kimchi)

Last week, I signed up for a 100 hour, online TEFL course.

That’s right ladies and gents, I’m going to teach abroad!

Johnny and I have been wondering what to do after we go to Europe. We teased with the idea of going to Thailand, but in the end, the prospect of teaching abroad won out. We’ve actually already started our E-2 visa process for South Korea (more on this in a second). Yes, South Korea!

So, why S. Korea?

Well, 3 of my friends from college and 2 of my friends from high school are all currently teaching in Korea and can’t stop talking to me about it. Every time I sign on to Skype, I’m bombarded with “When are you coming Sheryll? Why haven’t you started your application? I love it here!” The idea of making money from something I actually like doing sounds awesome, Korean fashion = amazing, and my friend showed me a picture of an entire Hello Kitty grocery store, so I’m pretty much sold. Johnny is excited to brush up on his Tae Kwon Do and possibly test for his 2nd degree Black Belt, in addition to learning Korean Judo. He’s in heaven.

I’ve always loved the idea being a teacher. Teaching is one of my most rewarding jobs on the planet, in my opinion. And after a long deliberation with Johnny, we decided it was the best thing to do. We did some research, and the next day we signed up to get our TEFL certifications. The deadline for EPIK (English Program in Korea) is in December, so we had to get the ball rolling on our E-2 visa checklist, which includes:
1. Copy of university degree with apostille
2. 2 letters of reference, notarized
3. FBI Criminal Background Check (CBC) with apostille
4. Heath Statement
5. 3 sealed, official transcripts
6. 6 to 8 passport photos
7. Signed employment contract
8. TEFL/TESL/CELTA certificate (you don’t need a TEFL certification, but you will get paid more if you have one)

I’m trying to get as much done as possible before we leave for Europe, since if we were to get a job we’d have to leave the US again by the end of February. I already have my degree, we started the CBC process, requested transcripts, and we’re getting our passport photos done tomorrow. It’s a lot to do, but Johnny and I have never been so excited about this new chapter in our lives. We both signed up for our 100 hour online TEFL certifications through TEFLonline.com. They came highly recommended by a few of my friends, plus a quick google search shows they are the real deal. According to their site, “TEFLOnline.com was developed by Bridge, an accredited institution and the largest provider of TEFL courses in the United States.” The 100 hour online course is $346.50; not too bad in my opinion.

I’m really pumped about possibly living somewhere new, being an expat, and experiencing a different culture. S. Korea will be unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. I’m not expecting it to be rainbows and roses, but that’s also the most exciting thing about it. And besides, it’s only for a year (or maybe longer. Most of my friends love it so much they plan on renewing their contracts).

So not only will I be blogging about my European adventures, but also about the TEFL course, the Korean E-2 visa process, the process of getting a job, and all the other insane stuff happening in my life….like my little sister’s wedding in a MONTH.

I have so much on my plate. At times, I’m completely overwhelmed. But this is all a million times better than my life last year. It’s scary and exhilarating all at the same time. And trust me, I’m ready for something new. I’m ready to meet new people and get the hell out of Los Angeles.

Have any of you taught English abroad? How was your experience?

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