Monday, September 30, 2013

Studio Ghibli & Mucha at Seoul Arts Center

As a kid, I was fortunate to live in a city with impressive art museums, theater, and ballet. Coming to Korea, I remember hoping I would be able to continue to see great art exhibits and ballet performances. Luckily, living near Seoul has kept these diversions available to me, which has been, for lack of more descriptive word, awesome. A few weekends ago, some friends and I decided to head to Seoul Arts Center to check out two art exhibits currently on display: Studio Ghibli and Alphonse Mucha.

studio ghibli alphonse mucha seoul arts center exhibit
Both of these exhibits boasted impressive artwork, and being a fan of Studio Ghibli's films as well as being borderline obsessed with Mucha's Art Nouveau lithographs, I'd been deadset on seeing these exhibits for months. With the end of September rapidly approaching and my weekends filling up, catching these exhibits before they ended on the 22nd was a priority. 

studio ghibli alphonse mucha seoul arts center exhibit
studio ghibli alphonse mucha seoul arts center exhibit
First, we wandered over to the Studio Ghibli exhibit. It's common for big exhibits like this to only let in a certain number of people at a time. So, after being handed our tickets, we were also given numbers. When we got to the entrance of the exhibit, we saw that we were about 200 back in line, but that they were letting people in 50 at a time. Luckily, we only had to wait about 30 minutes before being let inside. While we waited, we wandered around Seoul Arts Center, eating some crepes and sausages and enjoying the people watching. 

studio ghibli alphonse mucha seoul arts center exhibit
The exhibit itself was massive -- illustrated layout after layout showing scenes from every Studio Ghibli production imaginable. In total, there were nearly 1,300 selections from the animation layouts of their films. Another bonus: this is the first time these pieces had been exhibited outside of Japan. 

studio ghibli alphonse mucha seoul arts center exhibit
studio ghibli alphonse mucha seoul arts center exhibit
The skill and detail in the sketches was really remarkable. All so carefully laid out and planned, with amazing coloring and shading. It was really neat to see how Ghibli's richly colorful films started. Some of the layouts were even drawn by Ghibli's famous founders: Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. I've found that as wonderful as these exhibits are, the masses of people are actually maddening. For me, museums are a quiet, zen experience. So anytime I'm in a museum that's packed full, I find myself getting frustrated. In Korea, it seems everyone is content to form a line and slowly trudge their way through the entire exhibit... Let me emphasize the slowly part. Towards the end of the exhibit, I found myself picking up the pace significantly. Adding to the slow pace of the crowd was the fact that this exhibit simply had too much packed in. Normally, this isn't a bad thing, obviously, but the slow pace of the crowd's circulation through the galleries made me feel like trying to see every piece was actually impossible. 

studio ghibli alphonse mucha seoul arts center exhibit
I found the final room to be especially cool. Its originally empty walls had been plastered with round, white stickers, all of which had been drawn on by fans. Little versions of the famous Ghibli characters completely covered the walls and it was a lot of fun to walk around and just look at what people have drawn. I even added my own. 

studio ghibli alphonse mucha seoul arts center exhibit
studio ghibli alphonse mucha seoul arts center exhibit
Upon exiting the Ghibli exhibit, I booked it to the other side of the Hangaram Museum of Art so I could make it to the Alphonse Mucha exhibit before it closed at 8pm. 

studio ghibli alphonse mucha seoul arts center exhibit
studio ghibli alphonse mucha seoul arts center exhibit
The Mucha exhibit, while much smaller, felt like it deserved much more than the hour that I had left. Upon entering the exhibit, I noticed a completely different mood. Gone was the frenzied pace of the huge crowd in the Ghibli exhibit... Instead, Mucha's exhibit felt peaceful, which is exactly what I like when I'm looking at art I've admired for years. The nearly empty gallery rooms left my friend and I to stroll through at our leisure -- a huge difference from the masses in the Ghibli exhibit.

studio ghibli alphonse mucha seoul arts center exhibit
The exhibit featured some of his most famous lithographs as well as some sketches, oil paintings, and photographs. In all, the show had around 200 pieces, highlighting six different periods in his career. His works were displayed in beautifully ornate frames that complemented their Art Nouveau style. While walking through, I was talking about a mile a minute to the friend that was with me, just gushing about his art and the various things I loved in each piece. 

studio ghibli alphonse mucha seoul arts center exhibit

studio ghibli alphonse mucha seoul arts center exhibit

Seeing Mucha's work in person was awe-inspiring for me -- the colors and precision in his portraits as well as the wonderfully romantic style from the Art Nouveau movement in Belle Epoque Paris... It just wows me. The exhibit showcased the progression of his career and style really well, making it my favorite of the two. 

Seoul Arts Center, by the way, is really amazing. This was the second time I'd been -- the first being last Christmas when my boyfriend and I went to see Korea National Ballet's "The Nutcracker," which was just beautiful and wonderful. A big jazz festival was going on when we were there to see these exhibits, and it seems like they have events and exhibits there pretty regularly. I seem to constantly forget that Seoul Arts Center even exists, and this trip served as a serious reminder.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Tastes Like Home: A Trip to Costco in Korea

This blog entry was originally published on the Aclipse Blog, which is produced by current Chungdahm Learning teachers in Korea. The blog features entries on current events around Korea, advice for incoming teachers, and the best spots sightseeing, shopping, and eating. The original entry can be viewed here. It has been edited slightly for content. For more information about Aclipse and Chungdahm Learning, click here

As much as I adore Korean food, sometimes I just need a break from all the rice and kimchi. The availability of western brands and products in the regular supermarkets is definitely respectable, but there are just some things the likes of Lotte Mart, Home Plus, and E-Mart don't carry. Luckily, Costco does exist in Korea, and it's basically a mecca for Westerners who need to stock up on some favorites from home. 

costco seoul
Cue choirs of angels singing.

Costco has quite a few locations around Korea. Even though the store closest to me, living in Incheon, is over an hour away in Seoul, getting there and back is pretty painless if you're willing to put in the time and energy. 

Speaking of the time and energy, you're probably wondering what would draw my friends and I all the way to Seoul just for Costco. One word: sandwiches. Deli meats, quality cheese, pesto, real bagels, kettle-style chips... Unfortunately, these are all things that are difficult to track down in Korea, save for areas like Itaewon or the military bases. Like I said above, my local grocery stores are amazing, but they still just don't have the things I need for a good sandwich. (Korean ham is... odd. More on the bagels later...) And for me, a good sandwich is simply a priority in my life. 

costco seoul
So cheap! 

Two awesome things about Costco: 1. Memberships from home will work! They're international. 2. But, if you don't have one from home and you're getting a membership in Korea, good news! It's cheaper than back home! I know in the States, for example, a membership is around $55, whereas in Korea, you're looking at ₩30,000, or roughly $27 USD. And that's for a whole year. Not bad, eh? 
Getting signed up is easy -- just look for the membership desk that'll be near the entrance. 

costco seoul
We immediately detoured through the food court for some hotdogs, wisely deciding that hungry Costco shopping was dangerous.

Korean Costco itself looks pretty standard -- just like the ones back home, it's a huge warehouse with its shelves piled high, full of family-sized boxes and bottles. The one we went to was two floors, with the food being a level below the appliances and housewares. 

costco seoul
Where the magic happens: the food section.

You'll find the typical range of items: cereal, snacks, candy, various sauces, frozen dinners, tubs of ice cream. This being Asia, you'll also find huge bags of rice, an assortment of frozen dumplings, and giant jugs of soy sauce. They have everything. To entice you a little more, and allay any fears of disappointment over Costco's selection of deli meats and such, I offer the following pictures as proof:

costco seoul
Wonderful, delicious ham, turkey, salami... They also have pastrami and prosciutto, among others that I'm forgetting now.

costco seoul
Just a small section of the cheese area. Fills my heart with joy. They also have a great selection of Tilamook cheese. 

costco seoul
Real bagels! 

Some of you may not be as picky about bagels as I am, but I've been really underwhelmed with the bagels produced by various Korean bakeries and coffee shops -- not enough flavor, not very dense, generally plain... But Einstein Bros? Oh, man, I love that place back home. So, I bought four packages. Of six. No exaggeration. (Most of them went into the freezer though, to save for later.) 

costco seoul
Considering we were there on a Saturday afternoon, it was surprisingly calm.

In addition to this past weekend's Costco haul, we've picked up quite a variety of things over the past almost-two years in Korea. They've got good salsa, huge packages of tortillas, spices, good coffee, sour cream, granola bars -- you name it. Last Thanksgiving, we even got a turkey, which definitely made our expat gathering even better. 

Directions to the Yeongdeungpo-Gu Office area Costco:
  • From Yeongdeungpo-Gu Office Station Exit 3, head in the direction of the KB, making a right into the alley. (So, if you're coming out of the exit from the subway, do an immediate u-turn.)
  • Walk straight down the alley for five minutes or so until you come to a light -- at this point you should see Costco dead in front of you. 

costco seoul
Exit 3 of the station -- walk straight from here, towards those pointy shrubs, and make a right into the alley!

costco seoul
The Costco haul! Full disclosure: This was for three people. I may have bought 24 bagels, but I'm not this intense. 

Taking a trip to Costco may require some strategic planning -- it'll likely be a bit of a trek for you to ge there and whatever you buy, you've gotta get it home somehow. But, I highly recommend checking it out whenever you're feeling homesick while teaching in Korea. My advice: bring a backpack, some large tote bags, and don't let yourself get too overwhelmed by all the wonderful things that you want to eat. 

Have you been to Costco in Korea? What foods do you miss from home that you have a hard time finding? Leave a comment below! 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Teaching Tips for a New Term at Chungdahm

This blog entry was originally published on the Aclipse Blog, which is produced by current Chungdahm Learning teachers in Korea. The blog features entries on current events around Korea, advice for incoming teachers, and the best spots sightseeing, shopping, and eating. The original entry can be viewed here. It has been edited slightly for content. For more information about Aclipse and Chungdahm Learning, click here

A new term has started here at CDI, and with that comes new classes with new students. Even though this term will round out two years in Korea for me, the first days of new classes still fill me with a little excitement and anxiety. I just want them to like me, you know? In my time teaching at CDI, I have learned a thing or two about how to start your new term off on the right foot. So whether you're fresh outta training or you're a fellow seasoned teacher, here are some tips to implement in the first few weeks of a new term.

teaching in korea

Be clear with your expectations.

CDI's set curriculum gives us teachers a solid structure to lean on -- you have set components of each class with clear methodology as well as a timeframe for each class that's (usually) accurate and helpful. As you become more experienced as a teacher, you'll find ways to improve or modify some of those components, which is a great way to keep the class more dynamic.

Since every teacher will be a little different, your students need to understand what you want from them -- this is one of the biggest questions in their minds during your first classes together. You need to outline your expectations for your classroom clearly. Make sure they know your goals, your rules, and your consequences for breaking said rules. If you do this well, you'll set up your classroom for a great term. 

student classroom rules in koreaIf students could make the class rules, this is what they would look like.

Don't be afraid to be strict.

Every CDI branch will vary when it comes to discipline, and one thing my particular branch chose to implement was a "yellow card" system. It's essentially a referral, given out for rule infractions. Usually, these are given to kids who speak Korean in the classroom, which at Chungdahm, is a huge no-no since we are trying our best to create an English immersion environment. As a student receives a second, third, or fourth yellow card, their punishment escalates accordingly, from a phone call to their mother to detention.

No matter what you or your school's method of discipline may be, the most important part is following through. When a student breaks a rule, you can't give them another chance, followed by another chance, and then another. When you get a new class, the students are typically spending those first classes getting a read on you. They want to see what the parameters will be for your classroom, so they can then gauge reactions to their bad behavior accordingly. As soon as they realize you mean business, they'll fall into line and class will be more enjoyable for everyone.

Always remember this advice: as a teacher, it's easy to move from strict to fun over the course of a term, but it's really difficult to make the switch from fun to strict. 

happy korean class korea

But, also remember to have some fun.

At my branch, the first class means no homework check or vocabulary test, so we've got some extra time at the beginning to get to know each other. I love this part of the new term because I feel like it's a chance to show my new class that they don't need to be afraid of me, and that I do have a sense of humor.

My go-to icebreaker game lately has been Two Truths and One Lie. After explaining the rules carefully, stressing that they need to be creative and trick all of us, I give the class time to jot down their three things. The fun part of this is getting the rest of the class to guess the lie. Each student reads their three things and then I lead the class in trying to figure out the lie. It's a great way to get everyone laughing and lighten the first-day-of-class nerves for the students. 

For some of my more advanced classes, I've been having a lot of fun with Would You Rather. We all take turns coming up with ridiculous questions and then each student thinks of their answer. Since these students have higher English skills, I typically also ask them to explain why, stipulating that silly questions can definitely have silly answers, so long as they are well-developed. This went over well with my students, and everyone seemed to enjoy the ridiculousness. 

student drawing classroom korea

Get to know your students.

In the first few weeks with a new group of students, I ask them questions constantly. Before class, during group work, during break time, during CTP... I just strike up conversations so I can get to know a little bit more about each student. The one-on-one conversations also make them feel more at ease with you as a teacher, meaning they'll feel more comfortable about expressing opinions or asking a question when they don't understand something. These kids are going to have a billion questions for you, and while you patiently field each and every one of them, feel free to fire questions back at them, too. 

Obviously, this shouldn't stop after the first couple of weeks. So many of CDI's lessons have built-in discussion questions that can lead to some really fun conversations with your classes. I learned a lot about my new Bridge class today because our lesson was about fears and phobias. As soon as I shared some of my own, hands were flying into the air to share stories, most of which were quite funny. 


What advice would you give to a new teacher? Any sage wisdom to pass along from your time in the classroom? Leave it in the comments below! 

Friday, September 6, 2013

How-To: Teach English in Korea

Quite a while back, I wrote an article for Go! Girl Guides all about getting started with teaching in Korea. And then I totally forgot I wrote it for a few months. Recently, I've had a lot of people asking me questions about how to get a job over here, which made me remember that I wrote about it, and also that I'd totally forgotten to repost the info onto my own blog!

You can read the original entry here, and while you're at it, check out their website! Full of really great information for solo lady travelers all over the world. Definitely a great resource. :)


Making the decision to move abroad is huge, especially when you also have to make decisions about where you want to work. When looking into teaching in Korea, the number of choices is absolutely overwhelming.

Here’s some basic information to help guide you through this intimidating decision-making process:

First, why should I teach in Korea? Is it really that great? 

Excellent question. “Why Korea?” I still get asked that regularly. For most people, when they hear “Korea,” they think of a) M*A*S*H, b) Kim Jong-Un and the bizarre hermit North Korea, or c) absolutely nothing at all. Korea is often dismissed or overlooked, which is a shame, since it’s an amazingly modern, interesting country with a wonderful culture and incredibly kind people. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that Korea is well on its way to surpassing Japan in fancy technology. Plus, it’s super inexpensive to live there, especially when you compare the cost of living to the salary you’ll make as a teacher. I’m in debt from my student loans, a car loan, credit card payments… etc. Each month, I can send over $1000 home to put towards payments and still have the money to eat out for dinner most nights, go shopping, pay my iPhone bill, and take trips around the country.

So, yes, Korea really is that great.

What do I need to get a job teaching English in Korea?

First, you need to speak English fluently. If it’s your first language, you’re golden. Actually, even if it isn’t your first language but you speak it fluently and with little to no accent, you’ve still got a chance at getting hired.

The second thing you need is that fancy piece of paper that says you graduated from a 4-year university/college with a Bachelor’s degree. Some jobs prefer an English-related degree, but for the most part, it doesn’t matter which degree you earned, simply that you did.

Also: have strong verbal skills. Speaking to a group is an important part of this job, so make sure you can see yourself in that role.

What kinds of teaching jobs are out there?

While you’ll find a variety of English teaching jobs out there, I’m going to cover the two most common types: public school and private English academy. (If you’ve got an MA and/or substantial teaching experience, look into university jobs. I don’t know much about those, so I’m not going to cover it, but I hear it’s a pretty sweet gig.)

What to expect from a public school:
  • “Normal” school hours, being something like 8am to 4pm, Monday through Friday.
  • Larger classes, usually at least 20 kids, many of whom you only see once or twice a week, for about an hour at a time.
  • Vacation time generally reflects when the students are in school, meaning public school teachers often have more time off than private academy teachers.
  • The big hiring times are geared around the start of the school year in February and then the mid-way point in August.
  • It’s likely you will be one of a small number of foreign teachers at your school, if not the only one.
  • Check out the following links for information about the big government programs that hire for public schools: EPIK, GEPIK, and SMOE.

What to expect from a private academy, or hagwon:
  • After school hours, typically starting around 3pm and ending around 10pm, Monday through Friday. Some academies have Saturday classes, so keep an eye out for that too.
  • Smaller classes, usually no more than 15 kids.
  • Depending on the academy, you might have a different class each hour, or you might have one group of kids for two or three hours.
  • Vacation time really varies between academies. Mine only offers 5 unpaid vacation days per year, plus two of the biggest holidays, whereas others cancel classes for every national holiday and offer excellent vacation time.
  • Academies don’t have specific hiring periods — it’s pretty much a continuous/monthly thing.
  • When looking into academy jobs, recruiting agencies are the popular route. Browse the following recruiting company sites for more information: Aclipse Recruiting, Footprints Recruiting, and Pegasus Recruiting. (All three of these are legit — I got my job through Aclipse and I know people who used Footprings and Pegasus — good experiences all around.)

Okay, you keep mentioning recruiters… Should I use a recruiting agency?

Ah, the big debate. Personally, I liked having a recruiter to guide me through the entire process, making sure my paperwork was in order and that I didn’t miss any deadlines. Other people just branch out on their own, contacting schools directly about a job. It’s really up to you. Overall, nearly everyone I know used a recruiter to find their job and they were happy with the process. Using a recruiter won’t cost you anything — the schools hire and pay them to find teachers, so don’t worry about that part.

Do I need to do a TEFL/CELTA certification course?

It depends on where you want to teach. For public school jobs, it is sometimes a requirement, such as with EPIK. SMOE seems to prefer you have it, whereas GEPIK doesn’t seem to care. When it comes to working for an academy, it could be helpful, and might get you a nice little pay bump, but it’s unlikely it will be required.

How exhaustively should I research a potential job?

Research until your brain can’t handle any more information. I cannot emphasize the importance of this enough. I’ve been lucky with my experience in Korea because my academy has been honest and (so far) hasn’t taken advantage. But it does happen. Doing thorough research won’t necessarily give you an immunity to shady behavior, but it should decrease the chances of having a miserable experience with a stingy school director.

The wonderful Internet is a great resource for you, so use it. Type something like “expat Korea blog” into your search engine of choice and see what pops up. Message bloggers — most of them are super nice and happy to answer questions. As you’re looking into specific schools or areas, look it up! Try to get in contact with a current teacher and ask a million questions.

One resource that I was pointed to by a friend, which is very popular, is Dave’s ESL Cafe. Lots of great information, including a page of job postings and a forum. Though be warned, there are a lot of bitter, grumpy people out there, and an internet forum is just the sounding board they need… Find all the information you can, but use your judgment and take some of it with a grain of salt. When in doubt, keep researching and asking questions.

Above all, remember that if one job doesn’t work out, there are tons of others. These schools need you, and with the right amount of digging, you’re sure to find a school that’s a perfect fit. For more information about this process, leave a comment or check out this GGG post from a couple years ago — it covers some of what I wrote and also goes into depth about what happens once you’ve been offered a job!

Do you have any sage advice to add? An experience worth sharing? Leave a comment below! 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Monthly Photo Recap: August 2013.

I really enjoyed putting together July in photos last month, so I think this is definitely going to be a monthly deal. There's just something fun about sorting through my photos, only choosing a handful (I take a lot of pictures...), and then putting them up with explanations/captions. I already have a lot planned for the months of September and October -- just thinking about sorting through those photos for their respective future entries is exciting. (I am, of course, really looking forward to the actual things the photos will be of -- weekend trip to Muuido, Chuseok trip to Ulleungdo, as well as several visitors! Hi, Mom! And Dinah and Marley!)

So, here's August, in photos. And! One video. :)

August kicked off with my cousin's birthday. Tony was in this part of the world for six weeks, two and a half of which were spent in Japan. His bday fell on the day he was headed to Japan, so the night before, we all did dinner at the delicious apple samgyeopsal spot in the neighborhood and got him a Paris Baguette cake! 

Fact: Some of the best Mexican food is probably made in my apartment. 

Not the best quality (something seems to get lost between Instagram and uploading to Blogger?), but still a great video showing the terrible listening tracks for my iBT TOEFL class. My students can't even handle them, usually because of terrible "accents" and "natural speech," so we spend a lot of time in listening class just laughing. This was during an actual important exam, and we all just cracked up.

It seems like June, July, and August = birthdays for everyone in Korea, so here's another bowling birthday party. This was the night that it dawned on me that I really hate bowling. Like, a lot. 

As I mentioned in last month's photo recap, Corey and I upgraded our kitchen by like 200% by picking up a crockpot AND a convection oven from Costco. I was able to successfully make a delicious apple tart! Can't wait for the weather to cool down so I feel like cooking and baking more. 

"Sailer" Moon, given to me because we "look the same!" 

My cute new fan, which is oh-so necessary to survive the summer heat -- especially my walks to work. Except this Summer Panda character isn't very comforting. "Tomorrow will be like today" isn't what I want to hear when I'm dripping sweat in 1000% humidity. I think Summer Panda might be a bit of a condescending ass.

This is what happens when you show little girls a funny photo app on your phone and let them play. I'm actually pretty impressed. And also a little alarmed at how much this kind of resembles Corey... (Who they've never seen a picture of.)

End of term notes from one of my elementary classes (the same group responsible for the above photo). Sweet girls. I'm bummed I don't have any of them in my classes for the fall term.

Korea celebrated its independence day! I always like it when they put the flags up along the streets. It just looks cool.

When I came back from my vacation in the States, I was bummed to see that I wasn't teaching my school's literature class during the summer term. But! I have it back again! I was pretty excited to get the books for the fall term. I really missed teaching lit! 

Sooo many evenings were spend outside of (one of) our neighborhood's 7/11. There aren't any open container laws in Korea, so convenience stores often have folding tables and plastic chairs set up on the sidewalk outside. It's common to see groups just hanging out at these tables, drinking beer and soju. Since the heat during the day was awful, we took advantage of spending time outside late at night. 

I don't understand a lot of things that happen in Korea. Like this group of yodeling Korean children performing in one of the nearby subway stations. They looked pretty adorable though.

Apparently, some of the packages of my markers for class proclaim that the marker won't dry out for 50 days if left uncapped? One of my students decided that she was going to dry out a marker during class (which is three hours). Imagine a tiny little girl, paying attention to class and doing all her work, but simultaneously blowing on a marker that she's holding in front of her face. Needless to say, she didn't succeed, but she did put in serious effort. At first I thought she was just being silly, but as soon as I saw how determined she was, I let her carry on. The rule being that she still needed to get her classwork done, of course. This was how she handed the marker back to me at the end of class. 

Left on my desk after the first day of class with a new group. This isn't actually from Terry, but from a girl who I'm absolutely certain has a major crush on him. They're insane. Clearly, we're off to an awesome start. -_- It's going to be an... interesting term with that bunch.

That victorious moment when you find Dr Pepper in a random convenience store and you get the very last one.

The subway stations amaze me sometimes -- they're all surprisingly pretty. This is part of the ceiling in Bupyeong Station and even though I've walked through that part of the station a billion times, I'd never noticed this before.

Costco shopping success! Got the essentials: turkey, ham, salami, cheeses, pesto, sour cream, and bagels! When we saw that the bagels were Einstein Bros bagels, we went crazy. Corey and I bought 24. No lie. (Most went into the freezer to save for later, though.) I'm going to be in sandwich heaven for the next week. And bagel heaven for a few weeks.
That's all for August! Lots of posts coming soon... I have Wednesdays off this term, so I'm going to use my free time to marathon tv shows actually be productive, and blogging is on the to-do list.