Rapeseed Flower Field

Every year mid-April, the rapeseed flowers bloom. There is a field on the south side of Sammundong where a field of them makes the perfect photo opportunity.

Be prepared, though. Bees love these little yellow flowers and so does everyone else in Miryang. The best time to go is during the week around 5:00. These pictures were shot over the weekend, but it was a miracle that they weren’t photobombed.


Happy Anniversary to Me!

I was adopted by my parents on December 22, 1984. (I know it’s the 23rd in Korea right now, but it’s the 22nd in the States, and that’s what I’m basing this post on. So there.) While the adoption paperwork was not legally finalized, December 22 was the date when a Korean lady handed me off to the people I now call Mom and Dad. We call this day my “anniversary.” It’s the day that I gained a family, and it has a significant meaning to me.

When I was little, my parents usually gave me a small gift, and we went out to eat. This usually meant going to Pizza Hut – the only restaurant where my mom would tolerate my sister, Dad, and I shooting small spit balls at each other with our straws. I remember announcing to random strangers that it was my anniversary and getting strange looks back. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that the word “anniversary” was usually thought of as a wedding anniversary. It was also a shock to learn that this custom wasn’t one limited to my family. When I went to college, I became friends with another adopted girl who also celebrated her adoption anniversary. Living in a small town with little exposure to other families with adopted children made me to believe that everything that my family did was restricted to my family alone.

So it makes me curious. What traditions regarding adoption did other families have? Is it similar to my experiences?

Koreans Hate Christmas

Okay, I’m being dramatic with the “Koreans Hate Christmas” title. But I was a little surprised when I shouted, “Next week is Christmas!” to my students and was showered in a storm of booing. Turns out that Korean Christmas is quite different from western Christmas.

In Korea, Christmas is for couples. One Korean friend said couples like to hike up a mountain and watch the sunset. It sounds romantic until you realize that Korean winters are brutal. The wind cuts through your jacket and clothes and you can forget about your small appendages. They’ll freeze off.

Christmas in Korea is more like our Valentine’s Day. Couples might exchange gifts, have a romantic night out, and declare their everlasting love for each other. On the other hand, those who aren’t so lucky to have found their soulmate will be spending it “with Kevin” meaning they will be “Home Alone” and possibly watching the movie without a mate.

There’s a legend that Myeong-dong in Seoul turns off all their lights at midnight to allow couples to steal a kiss amidst the crowds. There’s very little evidence of this being real but the sentiment is nice.

There are some similarities, though. Christians attend a Christmas service. Christmas music blares from the downtown shops. You’ll hear Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” more than you will ever want to hear it. Stores decorate and sell Christmas themed items. Some Korean families decorate their homes and put up Christmas trees. Children are told that Santa brings presents to all the good girls and boys. Parents buy presents for their children but not nearly the amount that western parents do. My co-teacher said she gives each of her children one gift. My Korean friend said that her parents left her a gift under her pillow. After the children are grown, Christmas is rarely celebrated.

When living in a different country, it’s nice to have familiar things around the holidays, but it’s also nice to experience it with a different twist.



Guest Post: Mike – GOE

Happy December! The school year is almost over. One more month plus that weird week for graduation and then we’re done!

The following is a guest post by my friend Mike.* (Names have been changed.) Mike’s perspective is especially interesting in that he is a vegetarian and did not particularly enjoy his time in Korea. Since writing this post, Mike has completed his 1 year contract and moved on. If you’re looking to teach in Korea, it’s always nice to read as many different perspectives as you can.

This is Mike’s story:

Anyong Haseyo,

I’m Mike and I’ve lived in Korea for 10 and a half months now. No, this isn’t my opening statement for Korea Anonymous, but I do have some confessions before I get into this. Confession 1: I’ve never written a blog piece before so apologies for this. Confession 2: I am a (strict) vegetarian, and as such I am on the periphery of Korean social culture which invariably centres around food and restaurants. This has no doubt had some considerable effect on my ability to integrate into Korean society, and certainly affects my views of life in Korea. Confession 3: Before this, I wrote a 3 page rant about Korea… I was trying to write this blog post and it just developed into a looooong, rambly rant.

I consider myself somewhat well traveled. I’ve visited around 30 countries across 4 different continents so far, and I’ve liked all but two of the countries I’ve visited; Bulgaria and Korea.
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KIIP Korean Immigrant Immersion Program Pre-Test

I decided to step up my Korean studies by applying for the Korean Immigrant Immersion Program (KIIP) Korean class. It’s a free program provided by the government for foreigners. Before taking the class, you have to register with the website and take a placement test. I used a lot of this guy’s information on registering for the site and the test. His posts are a few years old, but they are still valid.

The day of the test, I had to go to Busan Foreign Language University. Staff and signs were plentiful, pointing you in the direction you needed to go. There was a printout hanging on the wall that listed your name and room assignment. In the room, you are seated alphabetically with a name sticker on your desk so you know exactly where to go.

My room was set up to seat 70 people but only about 40 people showed up. The demographic was a mix of about half men, half women. There was a handful of westerners with the majority demographic being Vietnamese.

Before the test started, we had to put our phones and bags at the front of the room. We were allowed to keep water, our ID, and test registration ticket at our desk. There was a short PowerPoint presentation showing you how to fill out your scantron answer card. They explain everything in Korean. There were 3 staff members in the room circulating to make sure no one had questions and filled everything out right.

The tests were handed out at 1:00 on the dot. There were a couple people who arrived just as the tests were being handed out and were allowed to sit for the test. However, they wasted a lot of precious test time filling out the mundane information for the card before they could even start the test.

The Written Test
The written test consisted of 40+ multiple choice questions. The questions started easy with vocabulary then increased in difficulty with grammar. The last few questions were culture related. One questions asked, “Which ingredient is not used in samgyetang?” (The answer was “duck.”) The last 2 questions were short answer write-ins. It gave you a short dialog and asked you to write in the missing words. If you want to practice for this test, these TOPIK mock tests are a good way to start.

One annoyance other than the fact that my room smelled like a huffing addict’s wet dream, was when the test administrators checked my ID in the middle of the test. They went around the room and took your ID card and your scantron answer paper and checked it thoroughly. I lost a good 60 seconds waiting for him to return my card. You also cannot mark on the question paper. This is a problem for me. I’m a very tactile and visual test-taker so I like to be able to cross off answers I’m unsure of and make notes.

When the test is over, they swoop in and collect your papers. You always get the few who pretend like they don’t understand what’s going on and try to write in a few extra answers. It’s a pre-test. If you don’t know the answer, randomly picking answers isn’t going to help you. Don’t be that person.

Then we were all herded into an auditorium. A lady stood at the front with a projected spreadsheet that listed everyone by when they registered for the test. And there she called us number by number, and we shuffled into rows of 5. I truly pity the people who registered close to test day. Listening to “80번? 80번? 80번? 없어요? 81번? 81번? 81번?” for an hour without a phone or music must be a mild form of torture. I registered 3 months early and was still in the 40s.

The Speaking Test
Our group of 5 was seated in a line according to our number. We each had a piece of paper with the same Korean passage. It was a beginner-level paragraph about Korean traditional markets. (Beginner level as in completed Level 2 in Talk to Me in Korean curriculum.) The first person read the passage out loud and was asked a few comprehension questions about the passage. Then they asked a few miscellaneous questions about vacations, how your country’s vacations are different from Korea’s, what you like better, etc. The questions were all based on your level of comprehension and how well you answered the previous questions, but overall, we were all asked the same questions.

How to Apply for an F-4 Visa

This is information on how to apply for an F-4 visa for Korea as an adopted American citizen. This is information from my own experience.

To be eligible for an F-4 visa, you must meet the following requirements:
1. Born in Korea –or– a parent born in Korea
2. Be at least 22 years old
3. Not a Korean citizen*

*If you currently have Korean citizenship or dual citizenship, you will need to renounce your Korean citizenship before you are able to apply for an F-4 visa.

Step 1:
Contact your Korean adoption agency. Keep in mind that Holt International and Holt Children’s Services are two different agencies. If you do not know which agency you were adopted through, it would be better to send an email to both. Explain that you would like 2 copies of your adoption certificate (입양사실확인서). This is a different document than your adoption records. One will be used to apply for your visa, the other will be needed later when you apply for your Alien Registration Card (ARC). Give as much identifying information as possible.

Step 2:
Contact your local Korean Consulate. Explain you would like to apply for an F-4 visa and ask what documents are needed. Here are all the documents I had to turn in:

  • Passport
  • Visa application form
  • Korean registry application form
  • Adoption certificate
  • Original Certificate of Naturalization
  • Payment ($45.00 for visa plus $1.50 for family registration fee)
  • Self-addressed stamped envelope (since I couldn’t pick up in person)

It’s highly recommended to send with tracking to and from the Embassy. About 2-3 weeks later, you should get your Passport back with a shiny F-4 visa pasted in it. Oh and you’ll get your Certificate of Naturalization back, too.

Benefits of an F-4 Visa

  1. Unlimited entry
    This doesn’t really mean much if you have an ARC. If you don’t have a job in Korea but want to come and go as you please, an unlimited entry comes in handy.
  2. Valid for 2 Years
    Standard teaching work visas are E-2s and are only valid for a year. You will have to go to the immigration office if you want to renew your contract. Tourist visas are good for 30 days.
  3. More Employability
    Having an F-4 means your employer does not have to sponsor your visa, which makes them more willing to hire you. This is especially useful for some hagwons. Don’t want to work as a teacher? No problem! An F-4 also gives you the freedom to work anywhere as a Korean citizen would. 
  4. Notoriety
    Don’t like the new girl in school? Just hang a red card in her locker and let Goo Joon-Pyo do the rest. Don’t get the reference? Please watch more classic Korean dramas.


Pepero Day

November 11 is Pepero Day in Korea. Pepero is a Korean snack. It’s a thin breadstick covered in chocolate and other flavors. If you’ve ever had a Japanese Pocky, it’s basically the same thing. The date being 11-11 is to the likeness of Peperos being long and thin, just like the number one.

According to the most reliable source on the internet, Wikipedia, Pepero was originally given to friends on Pepero Day in hopes of being taller and thinner. From my experience, the current trend of Pepero Day has changed since then. It’s more like the Valentines Day for friends. You go, Glen Coco! In my main middle school, giving Peperos are banned. I think it has something to do with money, status, bribes, and the makings of a Korean Millennial Generation. That doesn’t stop them from sneaking them in and swapping anyway.

At any rate, if you would like to participate in Korean culture, make sure you buy some Peperos and give them to people you pretend to like.