Monday, June 30, 2014

Monthly Photo Recap: May 2014, aka Emma's Visit

SO LATE with this recap. However, I was computerless for a couple weeks, so that seriously bungled my blogging aspirations. Also I'm lazy.

But! My computer is back and good as new, so it's time to play catch up.

May was a fun month, largely because Emma was visiting for two weeks of it. Having a visitor is always a nice distraction from everything else. And while it was bittersweet (because saying goodbye was basically a knife to the heart), it was really, really awesome to get to show her Korea and have some busy weekends of running around and sightseeing.

So, without apology, here's photos from May that are absolutely 90% related to Emma's visit.

Beginning with a picture of the cat! Not Emma.

We took an airport arrival picture, but we both look rough -- her because she'd just stepped off a plane and me because I was an emotional wreck that had been crying in anticipation of her arrival. So here was our first good seester picture of her trip. 

Rainy day on Wolmido, with cool clouds.

Lotteria, kind of like Korea's McDonald's, even tried to copy McD's little characters by making these creepy-ass ones. Emma wasn't into it.  

Exploring Bukchon Hanok Village! 

I just love Bukchon so much. 

We were getting pretty loopy by the end of the night, wandering around Insadong buying as many ice creams as we wanted. 

The beginning of lots and lots of purikura pictures. I could do an entire recap just of these pictures. 

This is known as our Disney Channel Original Movie movie poster. 

Nami Island! We had a good time wandering around.

It was a particularly beautiful day on Nami, too. 

While in the area of Nami, we also stopped by Petite France, unable to resist since Emma had just completed her teaching contract in France. It was... weird. And underwhelming. And full of truly terrifying statues and marionette dolls. Full blog coming soon. 

Teacher's Day passed sometime in the middle of the month, and some really sweet notes and presents were passed my way from some very thoughtful students. 

Sister funday! Playing in a mirror art installation in a subway station. 

Aaaaand more purikura. Can't stop, won't stop.

Emma in Hongdae, looking ~so cool~ in front of this mural. She a day or so after this was taken, which was a tearful goodbye at the airport. I wish she could've stayed longer, and I wish I'd had more time off to explore Korea with her. 

Another cat picture, for good measure.

The month ended with the end of a term at work, which meant saying goodbye to a couple coworkers that have meant so much to me during my entire time in Korea. It isn't the same without them, though I know they're having a wonderful time back home. We took this staff picture to commemorate the momentous farewell. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Korea money questions? Here are some answers.

As a blogger, I've received a substantial number of emails about Korea over the past two years. The common theme among the questions I get asked can easily be guessed: money. Understandably so, of course, as money is an important part of taking a job in a foreign country. So, it is my hope that the information I have gathered from the experiences of a variety of expats in Korea (myself, my friends, and fellow bloggers) will help answer your burning money questions...

korea money won

Before I get started, here's a general disclaimer: the following information does not, of course, account for every situation in Korea. This info should be used to give you a general idea of what to expect, but remember to calculate for some differences depending on area, salary, etc. Living in Gangnam is always going to cost more than living in Suwon, just as living in Pyeongtaek will be different from living in Incheon.

That being said, let's get down to the questions...

1. Did your school help you set up a bank account? 

This is a universal yes from everyone I've asked. You'll likely have to wait until your Alien Registration Card (ARC) has been processed by immigration, but there are ways around that in case immigration is moving at a slower-than-usual pace. My ARC, for example, took a little under two weeks, so when my first payday rolled around, my Assistant Branch Manager took me to the bank and got an account all set up for me!

Don't stress about this one -- someone will be there to help you out.

(Note: This is the case as a teacher with Chungdahm, so I can't speak to the level of assistance you'd receive at a different school. Though, honestly, I'm sure there will be people to help you because if not... that's just damn ridiculous.)

2. On average, how much do rent and utilities cost? 

Rent is the biggest variable since it depends on location and the type of apartment you're given. From the people I've asked -- located in Seoul, Incheon, Pyeongtaek, Daegu, and Busan -- you can expect your rent to be around or under $500. In smaller cities, you might be looking at something closer to $300, whereas in bigger cities, definitely closer to $500 or even higher. In Incheon, I pay 440,000 won per month for my single room, loft apartment. Having the loft definitely makes it more expensive than a tiny studio apartment, but all in all, it's still a good deal.

Utilities depends on the weather of your area (obviously) and also how well you manage it. In months with nice weather, your bills might be miniscule. In the middle of the summer heat, they might be over 200,000 won (roughly $200). 

3. How expensive is it to get around via subway or bus? 

Oh man, you're going to love this. It is so cheap. I can get from Incheon to anywhere in the greater Seoul area for under 2,000 won. The base fare is around a buck, and depending on how far you go, they might tack on a little bit more (but no more than another 1,000 won) when you get off.

Take advantage of the public transportation -- it's cheap and very convenient. 

4. How much do you spend on food in an average week? 

Yesterday, I stopped by the neighborhood supermarket, Lotte, for some basics. Ground pork, spinach, milk, cream cheese, sprouts, bread, and eggs. The total? Around 20,000 won. Some things are pricey here, like cheese and fruit, while others are more in line with our Western standards.

When it comes to food, it depends on how you approach your meals. It's easy to grab something quick from Paris Baguette or another cafe on your way into work. A salad or a sandwich will run around 5,000 won. Or, you can stop by a gimbap house and pick up a gimbap roll (around 3,000 won) or some bibimbap (around 5,000 won).

Before coming to Korea, I heard a lot of people tell me it's cheaper to eat out than in, and honestly, it's a 50-50 split. I manage to make cooking at home inexpensive because I've learned to cater my menus to what I can get a good deal on. Grabbing food in a restaurant is also very inexpensive though, especially if you stick to Korean food. There have been many a night when we've stuffed ourselves with Korean BBQ and the total is under 10,000 won a person!

My advice: brew coffee at home, pack lunches for work, and eat dinner at Korean restaurants. When I was on a money saving mission to afford a lengthy vacation back home, I was comfortably living on $100 a week. I've even made it by on $10 a day before! 

5. What can I expect for a cellphone plan? 

Cellphone plans here vary quite a bit. Some are as cheap as 30,000 won a month -- typically those are little flip or slider phones. Others, like mine, are 80,000 won a month. The way it will work if you want to get a smartphone, which is what I have, is you will be paying off the cost of the phone a little bit each month. That's why my plan is so expensive. I upgraded to an iPhone 5S recently, so I'm paying 80,000 won a month. That covers unlimited calls and texts, a generous data plan, and part of the cost of the iPhone. That's just one example, but since the 5S is a popular phone right now, I think it's a good indicator of what you can expect.

6. How much money are you able to send home each month? 

Saving money and sending it home is probably a priority for most of us. After all, Korea is one of the best paying countries for ESL teachers.

To answer this question, I'll just outline my own financial situation: In Korea, I have to pay rent, utility bills, my cellphone, and my health insurance. Back home, I have around $800+ in bills to pay -- student loans, car payments, credit card payments, etc. All that considered, I am able to send a minimum of $1000 home each month. That leaves me with more than enough money to cover expenses in Korea, eat out in restaurants with my friends most nights, and do more shopping than I need to at the mall down the street. I may not be saving a ton of money due to focusing on paying down debt and enjoying my life in Korea, but I'm still living very, very comfortably.

At a minimum, you should be able to send home $1000 each month, either to pay bills or to put straight into your savings. Not bad, amirite?

When it comes to sending money home, it's really simple and quick. The first time you do the transfer, you'll need the assistance of a teller (bring your passport AND Alien Registration Card!), but after that, you can do it from an ATM! 


Hopefully those answers are helpful! The money situation in Korea, while stressful while you're in the process of moving out here, is really quite simple and convenient.

If you have any other questions or any experiences to add to this entry, leave a comment below! 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

5 Misconceptions About Life 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

So, you're thinking of moving to Korea to teach English. Maybe you already know a lot about the country, maybe you don't. But you hear it's a good place to live and work, and you're absolutely right. However, in your internet research and conversations with family and friends, you've probably come across a lot of sweeping statements about the country and its people that have given you pause. While I'm no expert, let me attempt to mythbust some of the more common misconceptions about living and working in Korea.

1. "You're moving to South Korea? Isn't that kind of... rural?"

This level of ignorance, unfortunately, is really common. There's a surprising lack of information about Korea being taught in schools. Beyond briefly covering the Korean War in history classes, it wasn't until I was looking into moving here that I learned much of anything about the country.

As a result, people will automatically liken your experience to the first thing they can associate with the place, which for South Korea, is frequently the TV show "M*A*S*H." As an Oklahoman, I can relate deeply to the frustration of this comparison, as most people think of my state in terms of The Grapes of Wrath or "Twister."

As you can see from the photo above, Korea has very, very developed cities. Obviously, some areas
are still rural, as with any other country, but it's absurd for people to think of Korea as a country full of huts with thatched rooftops. 

2. "Aren't you worried that North Korea is going to attack?!"

I'm sure you've heard this question approximately a billion times. When I first moved here, I definitely wasn't worried, but I still found myself a little jumpy when my city would run its standard siren tests and the like. After a couple bewildered afternoons of hearing warning sirens and not knowing what was going on, I started asking my Korean friends and coworkers about their feelings on the situation. In short, they aren't worried. It was explained to me that there's basically no chance North Korea would actually try something shady simply because it would mean the end of North Korea, which is the last thing the North Korean government actually wants.

I was actually back in the States last year during North Korea's huffing and puffing and it was very interesting (and alarming) to see how Western media was blowing it all out of proportion. South Korea, on the other hand, shrugged it off. Definitely gives some insight into the true nature of the situation.

My advice for handling this question? Refer your concerned family and friends to this gif.

3. "You're kind of tall -- you're going to stick out / won't be able to find clothes that fit you!"

While I'm only a whopping 5'7" (or roughly 170cm), I had a lot of people give me the impression that I, as a woman, would positively be towering over the Korean population The Asian stereotype is that they, genetically, are all petite -- short, small-framed, thin. This isn't untrue, it just isn't the standard by which you should be comparing yourself or people from this part of the world. 

Statistically, I am above the average height of Korean women, but from what I've seen in my own students, that's definitely starting to change. I have numerous middle school students, both boys and girls, who are my height or taller. 

As far as clothing shopping goes, there are tons of Western stores that carry Western sizes, so I haven't had any issues with finding pants in my size or dresses that aren't way too short. The same goes for guys and anyone else who isn't petite -- no one I know has had a hard time finding clothing.

4. "Good luck learning the language, I've heard it's really hard."

This one is really only half misconception, but I'm listing it because I feel like Korean is built up to be exceptionally difficult, which then scares people away. Korean uses sounds and grammar that will be harder for native English speakers, but don't let that scare you off. In addition, the use of non-Latin script is extremely daunting. So, let me reassure you -- hangul absurdly easy to learn and so, so logical. (Trust me, I have a minor in Japanese -- that is a complicated set of alphabets. Korean is a cakewalk in comparison.)

The first step to functional Korean is to learning the alphabet. This will make your life infinitely easier as you will then be able to read and it is definitely the foundation you'll need for tackling the rest of the language.

5. "You definitely won't be able to find ____ over there, so stock up before you go!"

Be wary of reading this on blogs, especially if the information is even a year old. So much has changed since I came here in 2011. Items that I used to track down in foreign marts in Seoul can now be found in stores like HomePlus, which seems to be constantly expanding its assortment of Tesco products. Even smaller grocers and convenience stores have started selling Dr Pepper and Reese's candy bars -- two things that used to be extremely difficult to find. Deodorant is now widely available not only in the big grocery stores but also in little cosmetic boutiques. Websites like Gmarket and iHerb offer basically everything you would need to supplement what you can find locally.

Essentially, there is very little I have to do without at this point, making the move to Korea an even easier transition than before. 


Moral of the story: Do your research well and beware of outdated information. 

Anything to add to the list? Leave a comment below! 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

A Guide to Grocery Shopping 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

As I was preparing to move to Korea, I kept reading online that it was actually cheaper to eat at restaurants than it was to eat at home. This can definitely be true, but I still wanted to cook at home. It took me a while to fully suss out all of my grocery options without getting discouraged -- veggies and (especially) fruits can be significantly pricier here, as are things like ground beef. But, if you know how and where to shop, it's easy to find good deals and not break the bank while trying to cook at home.

grocery store shopping expat korea

I'm going to break this down into different categories of grocery shopping to give a clear overview of what to expect and what is at your disposal.

1. Big chain supermarkets: Lotte, HomePlus, and E-Mart

grocery store shopping expat korea

You will likely have one of these huge stores near your apartment and/or school. Typically open until midnight, they're great for post-work grocery shopping and carry everything from food to clothes to literally anything else you might need.

I have all three of the big chains within walking distance of my apartment, and I would say that HomePlus is my favorite. They carry a better variety of products, including quite a lot of imported brands, and it just seems to be well-organized overall.

Shopping tip: Going late in the evening means you might be able to pick up produce and meat that's been marked down. Definitely a good way to save some money.

2. Small, neighborhood grocers

grocery store shopping expat korea

I highly recommend frequenting your local grocery stores. Prices can be quite a bit lower on things like fresh produce and you can often get good deals on meat. The butcher who works at the grocery store around the corner from my apartment always gives us way more meat than we actually need, which really helps drive home the bargain and keeps us going back for more. 

In my neighborhood, the large chain supermarkets are actually closed every other Sunday to give these smaller stores a business boost.

3. Traditional markets

grocery store shopping expat korea

Are you a fan of farmers markets? Then definitely keep an eye out for traditional markets. Some of these can be found in large open-air buildings, others are just set up along a particular street. You'll find everything you'd possibly want here, from fish to produce to spices. Don't be afraid to haggle, either -- you might be able to knock the price down a little. 

4. Convenience stores

grocery store shopping expat korea

You may laugh at the idea of shopping in these, but convenience stores are a viable option for those times when you just need to run out and grab milk or eggs. If you're lucky, you might even be near a little mart that carries fruits, veggies, and other simple kitchen ingredients. Convenience stores are ubiquitous in this country, so there will definitely be one near you. 

5. Costco

grocery store shopping expat korea

This is possibly the priciest option for grocery shopping on the list, simply because Costco carries a lot of imported goods and they sell in bulk. I usually go with a group of friends and we figure out how to split it all up to save money. I wrote a much more detailed post about Costco last year, which you can read here

Any other tips for grocery shopping in Korea? Leave a comment below! 

Friday, June 6, 2014

5 MORE Must-See Spots in Incheon, 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 for sightseeing, shopping, and eating. The original entry can be viewed here

Nearly a year ago, I covered the top 5 things to do in Incheon: the world famous Incheon International Airport, Muuido/Wolmido/other surrounding islands, Chinatown/Jayu Park, Bupyeong Underground Shopping Center, and Soraepogu Fish Market. Now, after trying my hardest to do more exploring in the time since that post, I've come up with 5 more things worth checking out when you come visit Incheon. 

incheon central park songdo

1. Songdo

incheon songdo korea

Songdo is Incheon's new up-and-coming area for business. My CDI branch recently relocated to Songdo and I've really been enjoying exploring the area. There's good shopping and tons of great restaurants, so I definitely recommend wandering through this area. Keep an eye out for blog entries about Songdo coming soon!

2. Songdo's Central Park

incheon songdo central park

I recently spend an early evening wandering around Songdo's Central Park and I was so taken with its landscaping and design that it gets a mention of its own. I am intensely jealous of the families living within walking distance of this park because I would probably go there daily if I could. While exploring Songdo, definitely make time to walk along the canal that runs through the park, taking time to rent a little peddle boat or to relax in one of the little gazebos.

More info can be found here via Trazy.

3. Eulwangri Beach

I love living near the ocean, but Incheon is unfortunately mostly shipyards. You can stroll along the shoreline in some areas, but as far as lounging on a beach goes, this isn't the place. However, beaches are still nearby, which I'm quite excited to explore as the temperatures climb in the coming months. On Yeongjong Island, aka the island where Incheon International Airport is located, is a pretty, white sand beach: Eulwangri.

Check this out for more details.

4. Incheon Grand Park

The beautiful spring weather has me somewhat fixated on spending time outdoors right now, hence another mention of a park. Incheon Grand Park is still on my to-do list, but I'm really looking forward to checking it out. The park boasts 727 acres of land that includes a botanical garden, a zoo, hiking, and bike rental -- definitely sounds like a great place to spend a day soaking up the sun.

5. Sinpo Market

incheon market food street food sinpo

I spent an afternoon in Sinpo Market last summer during my great K-pop adventure and really enjoyed it. Largely, the draw is the food, and much like other traditional markets (such as Gwangjang in Seoul), you should enter Sinpo with an appetite. When I visited, I was unaware of the market's specialty food: dakgangjeong, which is fried chicken in a sweet and spicy sauce. Since I'm a sucker for Korean street and market foods, I'm definitely planning to make a trip back just to try that chicken.

More info here!

Honorable Mention: The 17th Asian Games

Since this is a 2014-only event, it's getting placed as an honorable mention. From the 19th of September to the 4th of October, Incheon is hosting the 17th Asian Games and it sounds like it's going to be quite the event. I've always been interested in attending a big sports event like this, so I'm looking forward to checking it out this fall.

Have you been to any of these spots in Incheon? Do you know of anything else to do in Incheon that I've completely failed to mention? Leave a comment below!