2016 Korean Culture “Workshop”

Yearly Culture Trip 2016 – Tongyeong/ Geoje
One of the best things about working in Miryang for the GOE is that the Miryang Education Office organizes a yearly culture “workshop” for the Guest English Teachers (GET). “Workshop” is a code word for an excuse to get together, drink, and have a good time. This takes place during the week and lasts for 2 days and 1 night. Tourist attractions, meals, transportation, and accommodation is paid for by the MOE. You are also paid your regular work pay. Pretty sweet deal, right? This year we went to Tonyeong and Geoje.

Day 1


Dara Park

We took a large charter bus to Tongyeong where we were to take the Hallyeo Waterway Observation Cable Car. Unfortunately, the wind was too strong and we had to postpone that part of our trip. Next, we went to Dara Park to watch the sunset… only the sky was hazy and the sun was nowhere to be seen. It didn’t stop us from taking in the scenery and snapping a million selfies. We ate dinner at a Korean BBQ restaurant where we were served pork ribs (galbi) and beer. On our way to the hotel, we stopped at a convenience store to buy more beer and snacks.

Night 1
Our accommodation was a nice hotel. It was traditional Korean style so there were mats and pillows. Not the most comfortable bedding by Western standards. :/ There was a little kitchenette and an amazing view. We all decided to gather in one room so we could play games, drink, and chat before going to bed.

Day 2
We started the day with a buffet breakfast at the hotel. Breakfast was Western style with scrambled eggs, sausage, cereal, toast, etc. After stuffing our faces, we loaded on to a “Pleasure Boat” that took us to Hallyeohaesang National Park on Jangsado Island. It was rainy, but once again, didn’t ruin our party. The island was beautiful and led to many goofy photos and some inappropriate conversations.


Hallyeohaesang National Park

Since our coordinator felt bad about us missing out on the cable car experience, we were rushed to see it. Up we went where we saw… nothing. It was so foggy that you couldn’t see anything but fog. At the top, the wind broke our umbrellas and our pictures showed nothing but blurry faces.

Lunch was a traditional Korean lunch that’s famous in the Tongyeong region. It’s basically a broth soup, seaweed wrapped rice, and seafood in red sauce. As tasty as it was, we were all dying for something hearty to eat and rice wasn’t cutting it.

We ended the trip at the Geoje POW Camp Historical Park. To me, this was a little odd for an attraction. It featured a lot of history, but it was also a bit insensitive if you ask me. There was an area where you could zip line to experience the terror and bravery of the prisoners who escaped and a trick eye mural where you would pretend to throw a bucket of water on to POWs that were bathing in a river. Top that off with a healthy dose of Korean propaganda (POWs were treated within the rights as set forth in the Geneva Convention. POWs had better meals than the active Korean soldiers.) and you have a tourist attraction.

The weather might not have cooperated with us for this trip, but because our group of GETs are awesome people, we still managed to have a great time. We are all really grateful to our coordinator for putting on this “workshop” for us.


Busan Fireworks Festival

Every year in October, Gwangalli Beach is filled with people to watch the Busan Fireworks Festival. This year, over 1.5 million people watched from locations all over Busan. The fireworks show follows a theme and storyline and uses the lights on the bridge, music, and narrative. Last year’s theme was a love story. It was beautifully portrayed and could be followed without knowing Korean. This year’s theme was seasons of love. The seasons theme was clear, but I’m not entirely sure how love came into play.

End of October. The actual fireworks start at 8:00 and lasts for an hour. This year, there were periodic pre-shows that lead up to the main event.

I’ve only been to the Gwangalli Beach location. Take the train to Busan Station. Then get on the subway Busan Station to Gwangan Station. There should be signs posted to point you in the direction of the beach. It’s about a 20 minute walk (maybe?).

Free if you sit in one of the free zones. Tickets for VIP seating and VIP table seating is 70,000-100,000 won respectively.

Tips if you want to go to the Busan Fireworks Festival

  • Go early
    I arrived at Gwangalli Beach last year at 4:30 and it was already packed. This year, I got there around 5:15 and people were already resigned to sitting in the street. Luckily a friend was prepared and saved us a spot. The police will set up a blockade when there’s too many people in the area. It’s better to be early than blocked out.
  • Bring a mat or blanket
    You know those mats that look like what you would use to reflect the light from your car windshield? Those are the perfect way to mark your territory. You can buy them from a street vendor for about 5,000 won or from the camping section at the store.
  • Pack snacks, drinks, and games
    There are lots of convenience stores, coffee shops, restaurants, and street vendors close by, but there are also a ton of people. The lines are quite long. There are also guys selling chicken on the beach. Just be aware that the chicken might not be hot.
  • If you feel like you need to go to the bathroom, go. Don’t hold it in.
    The bathroom lines are quite long. If you try to hold it so as not to unseal the deal, you might be sitting in a pool of your own making later.
  • Check final train times
    Last train out of Busan is around midnight. It takes about 35 minutes by subway from Gwangan Station to Busan Station. Since the subways are packed, you might have to wait for the next train or two. Do yourself a favor and schedule plenty of time for travel.

Why You Should Apply for GOE

EPIK, GEPIK, SMOE, GOE: These are the most common programs you can apply for to get a public school job in Korea. What’s the difference? So which one should you apply for ?

EPIK: Education Program in Korea
EPIK is a program sponsored by the Korean government to place native English speakers into their public schools. If you apply to EPIK, you can list your preference where you want to go. Keep in mind, just because you want to go there, doesn’t mean you’ll be placed there. Because EPIK covers all of South Korea, you may be placed in  GOE or SMOE areas.

SMOE: Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education

Map of South Korea with Seoul highlighted

Seoul image from: Wikipedia

For those who can’t risk living and working outside the big city, SMOE might be your best option. SMOE places native English teachers only in districts around Seoul. However, this does not include Gangnam. Sorry, no high-life for you. Since many candidates prefer Seoul, it is a highly competitive market.






GEPIK: Gyeonggi Education Program in Korea

Location of Gyeonggi Province

Gyeonggi-do image from: Wikipedia

Gyeonggi-do is the suburbs of Seoul. It is a little more difficult to get a job in Gyeonggi-do since they prefer to have teachers who already have teaching experience in Korea. The locations from Seoul can be as far as a 1-2 hour commute.







GOE: Gyeongsangnam Office of Education
I have worked for GOE for over a year, so I have a lot more experience and information on this area. Because of that, I’m a little biased. I think Gyeongsangnam-do is a great place to work and live. It’s a nice balance between experiencing modern-Korean city life and traditional life.

Location of South Gyeongsang Province

Gyeongsangnam-do image from: Wikipedia

Gyeongsangnam-do is a southern province in Korea. It includes cities such as Changwon and Jinju and islands Geoje and Namhae. When you apply with GOE, you have a better idea where you are going to be placed than if you were to apply with EPIK. Openings are also available year-round so you don’t have to wait for spring or fall to get placed.

Because it is in the southern part of Korea, the weather is warmer in the summer and has very little snow in the winter. When I say “very little snow,” I mean zero accumulation. My students freaked out when they saw the first snowfall last year. I had to squint my eyes to see the tiny flakes glimmer in the sunlight before they melted away. The winter is bitter cold; with wind that cuts through your clothes. I’ve never felt the need to wear leggings under my pants until I moved to Korea. And when I say “warmer,” I mean get ready to sweat your (proverbial) balls off. The humidity is no joke. I rarely stepped out during the summer at the risk of instantly turning into a pool of sweat the moment I did.

I think what deters a lot of people from applying for GOE is the fear of getting placed in a rural location. There’s nothing wrong with being a city mouse, but the “country” life isn’t so bad, either. Gyeongsangnam-do may not have everything a large metropolitan city has, but it’s not the deep-woods, either. My city, Miryang, is kinda the sweet spot of Gyeongsangnam-do, if I do say so myself. It’s close to three major cities (Busan, Daegu, and Changwon), has the KTX train, and has a small town feel with a decent sized downtown. Keep in mind that I’m a small town girl, but even so, I think there is plenty of things to keep busy in this area.

When you apply to GOE, it is almost certain that you will have more than one school. This is a good thing and a bad thing. It’s bad because there is a possibility that you will have to make entirely different lessons for each school and/or you may even have to work with a range of grade levels. It’s good because you get to add on 100,000 won a month to your paycheck. Couple that with the likely addition of 100,000 won for working  in a rural location and BAM! you’re 2,400,000 won richer than the chump that took the city job. On top of the pay upgrade, I find the rural students to be more polite and the class sizes to be smaller. It’s so much fun to teach at my rural school that I sometimes wish I taught at all rural schools.

Miryang has a fantastic Education Office. The MOE puts on a yearly cultural field trip for the Guest English Teachers (GET) in Miryang. They take us to another city in the Gyeongsangna-do province for two days and one night… during the weekday. ARE YOU HEARING THIS? I’m getting paid to travel, eat, and sleep in Korea. Last year, we went to some tourist sights, ate at a traditional restaurant, made pottery, stayed at a nice hotel; all 100% paid for by MOE. MOE has also been super supportive and helpful when we have questions that can’t be answered by our co-teachers.

Moving beyond the city education office, the GOE is rather supportive as well. Back when I first started, I didn’t feel like I had much connection with GOE. Now, there is a new coordinator who genuinely seems to want to help the GETs. He has set up a website (www.dowajo.org) to help GETs transition into Korean life and arranges some mildly entertaining/helpful workshops. He tries very hard to get the feedback of current GETs in order to improve the experience for the newbies.

Sending Money Home

One thing I worried about was how to send money back home. I had been banking with PNC for years and wanted to continue banking with them. When I found out they were going to charge me $50 every time I deposited money from a foreign account, I quickly looked for alternatives.

Option #1: CitiBank
CitiBank has banks all over the world which makes it one of the most convenient ways to transfer money. Since they are from the same bank, there are no fees to receive money. The problem with a CitiBank account is that they are only located in the larger cities in Korea. Before arriving in Korea, I had no idea what city I would be placed in and if it would have a CitiBank or not. I couldn’t risk opening a bank only to be hit with fees for not being able to maintain it.

Option #2: Ally Bank
Ally Bank is ultimately the option I chose. It’s an online bank that has no physical banking locations. It has free checking, free checks, and no maintenance fees. It also has free bank transfers for money deposited into  your Ally Bank account. I thought it would be a pain when I was in the States. How will I deposit money? (use Ally Bank app) How will I get out cash? (Use an ATM like a normal person. Ally reimburses up to $10/mo. for ATM fees) What if I need to talk to a banker? (Call the 24-7 customer service line) I’ve been using Ally for a year in Korea. It’s a fantastic little bank, and I love that it has 24-hour customer service and the longest wait time I’ve seen is 2 minutes. The only pain is setting up the bank path from your Korean bank to Ally. So you don’t have to go through the stress that I did; here’s all you need to know:

Ordering Customer: You
Sender’s Correspondent: CHASUS33 – JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A.
Address: 1 Chase Manhattan Plz.
New York, NY 10005
Intermediary Institution: CHASUS33 – JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A.
Account with Institution: ALLYUS31 – Ally Bank
Beneficiary Customer: You – Your Bank Account Number
ABA/Routing Number: 021000021 (Please double check with Ally to make sure this is your routing number)

While we’re on the topic of banks, look into a NongHyup One bank account when you get to Korea. A NongHyup One account is like a middleman account. Any money you put into this account will be automatically remitted to the bank of your choosing. The perks of this being that you pay less in fees from your Korean bank. You don’t have to have a NongHyup (NH) account to apply for NongHyup One.

There are several ways to send money home.

1. Go to the Bank
I used to leave work a little early so I could go to the bank and transfer money home. I made sure to bring my previous receipt of transfer to show the teller in case I got someone new. It’s also easier for them to transfer cash to your overseas account than directly from your account. I’m not sure why. This method is time-consuming and annoying.

2. Online Banking
When you apply for a bank account, be sure to take your cell phone and request online banking. The teller will have to set up the app for you. The NH bank app makes it super easy to transfer funds and everything is in English. This is the most convenient method.

3. ATM
Using your NongHyup One account requires you to use the ATM to transfer funds. ATMs are rather plentiful in the downtown areas so it’s only a slight inconvenience. This is the cheapest method.

Guest Post: Josh – Changseon

The turn over of a new month means saying good-bye to the new friends you’ve made. Working as a teacher in Korea is like a revolving door. People come and go and when it’s your time to go, you tend to reflect on your life for the past year. Life in Korea is different for everyone, and if you are thinking about coming to Korea, then it’s good to hear from many different people’s experiences.

This is a Guest Post by a friend who recently left Korea after his 1 year was up. *Names have been changed.


1 year in Korea, was it enough? I’m not sure. When I first got to Korea I didn’t know what to expect and by the third week I was ready to go home. Culture shock, anxiety, depression, and loneliness hit me like a massive storm. This probably isn’t the best way to start telling the story about my time in Korea is it? But that’s what happened to me. There is hope though so please read on!

Continue reading

Korea: Love-Hate-Weird

10 Things I Love about Korea
1) Korean BBQ
2) Accessible and cheap public transportation
3) Service (Free stuff)
4) Deskwarming (I get paid to sit around and do whatever I want. I never understood why this is a common thing that foreigners complain about.)
5) Drinking culture (Pouring for other people is fun.)
6) Fast internet, widely available
7) Instant person-to-person bank transfers
8) Legally drinking in public parks
9) K-Pop/ Noraebangs (private karaoke rooms)
10) Street food

10 Things I Hate about Korea
1) Feeling obligated to eat mystery meats.
2) Personal space culture differences.
3) Drinking culture (I saw a girl in tears because she felt like she was being forced to drink.)
4) The weather
5) The smell of beondegi
6) Lack of diversity and lingering racial stereotyping
7) Constant fear of getting hit by a car, bus, motorbike, etc.
8) Lack of accessibility to foreign foods, ingredients, spices
9) Lack of laundry drying machines
10) Abundance of stray cats (this is more of a regional thing, but it’s the thing I hate the most)

10 Weird Things about Korea
1) Eggs come in a carton of 10 (and brown eggs are more common than white eggs)
2) Apartment ceilings are wallpapered
3) Most Korean milk is ultra-pasteurized and therefore will refuse to die months after the “expiration date”
4) The 4th floor is rarely found in buildings because the word for four also means “death”
5) Shaking your leg, especially while eating, is bad luck
6) Wearing plunging necklines or showing your shoulders is considered inappropriate for ladies, and yet wearing mini skirts that barely cover the bum is fine
7) Students have each subject 2-3 times a week; unlike the US where they study the core subjects 5 days a week
8) Koreans wear large, puffy coats inside the building during winter while keeping the doors and windows wide open
9) There is no Rice Krispies cereal here.
10) Korean fusion cuisine – corn on pizza, french fries on pizza, ice cream on salad

What do you think of my list? Would you add anything?

A Year in Review

It has been a year since I started working for Gyeongsangnam-do Office of Education (GOE) and what a year it has been. I have made friends from all over the world, met some amazing people and had some of the most memorable experiences of my life. It is because of this that I decided to renew my contract with GOE for another year.

When I first started this blog, I thought it would be a way to share my experiences. Little did I know that I was going to have so much fun that I wouldn’t have time to write those experiences down! With a year of experience under my belt and my lesson plans ready for the next year, I am hopeful that I will do a better job at keeping up with the blog.

If anyone out there is wondering whether or not putting your life on hold is worth is: it is. For some, Korea is not what they expected it to be. But I can’t think of a single person I’ve come in contact with that would say coming to Korea was worthless. For me, coming to Korea has been one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experience of my life.