4 Misconceptions About Teaching In Korea

4 Misconceptions About Teaching In Korea

Judith Villarreal traveling Korea

Just as you’re now doing, I also did my research months before moving to Korea. Wanting to make sure that I was fully prepared to immerse myself in a brand new culture, I scoured countless blogs, websites and forums looking for information pertaining to the big move. The number of articles I stumbled upon was overwhelming to say the least. Thousands of blogs and pages popped up, and all of them had at least one article carrying the self-proclaimed title “Everything You Need To Know About Moving To South Korea!”

Small gifts go over bigGuess what? Most blogs (except, of course, my own lovely little blog) and articles I found on the very first page of Google search were so outdated that most of the information hardly applies to Korea as of this year. What most people forget is that Korea is a country moving forward at an extremely fast rate. For the time being, 2014 that is, I’m going to go ahead and share with you those bits of information that are outdated. If you happen to be researching “what to expect when you move to Korea” right now and the year is currently 2020, skip this article altogether and go for a joy ride in your flying car because I hardly doubt this information is relevant anymore either.

Misconception #1 Cotton Swabs Are Hard To Find

On my checklist of things to pack was Q-tips because I had read that cotton swabs are hard to find because Koreans prefer to use metal or plastic ear picks. The truth is you can find cotton swabs in Korea in the beauty aisles; they just aren’t used for ear cleaning. In Korea, women use cotton swabs to remove or apply eye make-up. They can be found in any beauty store, Homeplus, and even some major convenience stores. No need to worry about bringing your favorite fluffy cleaning tool to get your ears squeaky clean!

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Misconception # 2 You Won’t Find Apple Products In Korea

While Samsung remains Korea’s electronic king, Apple products are still widely coveted. The Apple icon is still as strong of a status symbol as it is in most of the world – perhaps more so in Korea because the products are sold by third party retailers who mark up the prices a bit. Although the prices differ for the worse in Korea, if you’re an absolute Apple junkie (I, myself, harbor this addiction), then there’s no need to worry about where you’ll get your hands on the goods. Most major cities in Korea have large retailers, Gmarket sells Apple products, and you can always find a few deals on craigslist.

Misconception # 3 There Is A Lack Of Comfort Foods

Maybe back in the day, when the EPIK program first started, there was a shortage of good Jiffy peanut butter – the creamy kind, not the gross crunchy variety – and Kraft Mac N Cheese, but all of that has now changed with the opening of imported goods stores like High Street Market and Costco. There’s no need to worry if you are living in a small city in Korea that doesn’t have a Costco because you can always order your western goods online from High Street Market and have them delivered to you! It’s so great! Of course, there is a mark up on everything, but considering you only need one bag of Lay’s Classic Potato chips to get you through an especially difficult week, it’s not too bad. As for fast food, there’s practically a McDonald’s on the street corner of every major city. In fact, Korea’s Mcdonald’s has the US version beat since you can have all the Big Macs and French Fries you want home delivered to you in Korea!

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Misconception # 4 Your Students Will Be Interested In You And Your Life

I had read that the first day of class was so much fun for English teachers because their students were so interested in “the foreigner who moved to Korea to teach” and that answering questions about themselves during the first day of class took up the entire class time. So, guess what I did on my very first day of class in Korea? I had a short “meet the teacher” powerpoint that lasted a whopping 10 minutes then loudly asked the class, “Do you have any questions for me?” I beamed from ear to ear as I stood alert, ready to choose the first hand that shot up in the air. The next awkward, agonizing 35 minutes that ensued are painful to recall. I don’t know which was louder, the sound of crickets or my awkwardly repeating, “Um.. anyone?” to the room full of crickets.

Suffice it to say, no one cared that I have a dog named Ralphie or that I’ve traveled to Mexico more than two dozen times. Do you know why no one cared? Because they’ve seen me all their lives. Not me as in myself, what I mean is they’ve seen foreigners all their lives. Korean students have had a new native teacher every year since they learned the English alphabet. Unless you live in an extremely sheltered, rural area (and maybe not even then), foreigners are no longer a novelty. Don’t expect the single fact that you come from another country to give you some kind of leverage with your kids. You’ll need to put in more work than that to impress them. Be prepared to teach a full lesson on your first day.

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As with any other place of travel, what you see and experience will depend on a number of factors like where you live and the type of personality you have. Do your research, but make sure you’re keeping a watchful eye for the dates of articles written! After all, without all those Q-tips and Lay’s chips in your bag you’ll have more room for important things like tequila and deodorant. If you live in Korea, what experiences did you brace yourself for because of research that proved to be false or outdated? Tell us in a comment below!



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