Upon arriving in a foreign country, there are obvious hurdles that need to be overcome: 1) the language barrier; 2) finding your way around with the language barrier; 3) ordering food at restaurants… with the language barrier. But not to worry, when placed in a situation where you have no choice but to speak the native tongue, you’ll be surprised at how fast you pick up the essential words and phrases. Also, be sure to purchase a Korean dictionary/phrasebook. At first you’ll likely be pulling it out in every restaurant, coffee shop, and taxi cab, but after a short while, you’ll have no need for it.
Your first stop upon arriving is the apartment. You’ll take either a cab or bus, or if your employer is willing, you’ll be driven by a school manager or fellow employee. The apartment: spacious? No. Practical? Yes. There’s a bedroom doubles as a living space, a kitchenette with a burner, fridge, and sink, and if you luck out, like myself, a tiny spare room great for storage or as a workout room. But don’t expect this arrangement as standard. I’ve been told by co-workers that the average apartment is one room, sleeping quarters, and kitchenette all-in-one space.
Once you’re settled in, you’ll begin teaching. The work hours vary amongst Hogwon (private schools) or a public schools. In my case, I’m at school from 10 A.M. to anywhere from 6:40 to 7:30 P.M. with multiple breaks in between. The students also range in age. I teach kids ages 5 (which is when they first begin school in Korea) to 14 years of age and are all very sweet. The best advice I can give would be to have a lot of patience. Not only are you teaching the English language to a groups of youngsters (some of whom do not want to be there), but some of them may not even have a firm grasp of their first language, being so young, yet here they are learning a second language. My point is, be patient, and you will see very rewarding results in time.
Another step in settling into your new job is completing the mandatory health check. Again, your employer will provide assistance throughout the series of tests at a local hospital. You’ll undergo a basic physical exam that includes, checking your blood pressure, weight, etc. You’ll also have your blood and urine screened. There are also vision, dental, and hearing, and mental checks. This process will take 1-2 hours, nothing more. Overall, the doctors are looking to see that you are in relatively good shape, don’t need any serious health care, and do not have any traces of illegal substances in your system.
You will be working for at least 2-3 weeks before receiving an alien card—your identification card within the country. Anytime you leave and reenter the country, you must to present it and when you leave permanently, you must surrender the card. The process of obtaining this card is simple. Take passport-sized photos, fill out a form, and bring both to the immigration office. Then just wait. In most cases, your employer will help you with this process.
Once all is said and done, you’ll be ready for your teaching adventure. Enjoy the job, explore the country, and eat as much delicious Korean food as you possibly can.