Saturday, August 27, 2011

Check Up on It!

One of the most notable requirements to be an English teacher in South Korea is the successful completion of a medical exam….in South Korea. So even after you’ve done everything it takes to get hired, get your paperwork, get everything approved, get a plane ticket, get an E-2 visa, and get yourself over here, you’re still not in the clear. If you are unable to pass the medical exam, you’re outta here. You become ineligible for an Alien Registration Card, your visa gets revoked, you get dishonorably discharged from your contract, and you have to find your way back to the states on your own dime.

Although it has created some level of anticipation for many English teachers, the exam itself really isn’t that bad. It’s pretty straightforward, and includes the following:

  • Height, Weight, and Blood Pressure
  • Provide a Urine Sample
  • Chest X-ray
  • Blood Sample
  • 5-item questionnaire with the doctor on duty regarding your general health (Do you smoke? Do you drink? Do you take drugs? Do you exercise? Do you take medication?)

So, on Thursday, August 11, I went to the hospital along with another one of the new teachers at EV, driven by the new HR guy. We were in an out in about an hour, including various wait times. Overall, there’s nothing too exciting to share about the experience, but I thought I’d share nonetheless.

I would like to point out a few things about my slideshow:

  • This occurred at a small local hospital in Paju. This is not a major hospital, so it is not equipped as such. However, there are a ton of national and world-renowned hospitals throughout South Korea. Please do not send me any messages talking about how I’m going to die from inadequate care if something happens to me in SoKo. LOL
  • No one can ever find my veins, and that remained true during this visit. The nurse had to take blood from my hand because that is where my veins were most prominent. They were nowhere to be found in the traditional location. Please do not send me any messages talking about how nurses in SoKo don’t know how to take blood. LOL
  • I took a picture of the guy sitting at the desk because he looked like a patient that had escaped his room just to use the computer at the front entrance. But if that were the case, it’s not very rare. Apparently, if you’re a patient in a Korean hospital, you can leave the hospital to do stuff, like go get something to eat, run errands, etc. I guess they just give you a to-go bag for your IV as long as you come back at night for your meds? I don’t know. I’d assume that this system only works for ambulatory patients, but I thought I’d just comment on it anyway.
  • The other pictures are either very explanatory, or pictures of random posters I saw while at the hospital. Please don’t ask me what they say. I don’t know. Google it. :-)

Up Next: The Village People

Friday, August 26, 2011

It Takes a Village

I figured it would be a good idea to dedicate a blog entry to showcasing the grounds of the Gyeonggi English Village (hereinafter referred to as EV). EV is located in Paju, which is a suburb of Seoul, about 40 minutes away via the 2200 bus. There are other ways to get to Seoul, but they’ll take a lot longer.

These pictures are in no way meant to give you an idea of what it looks like in South Korea. EV was built to resemble buildings that you might see somewhere in England. Due to this fact, and considering that there probably around 80+ English-speaking foreigners working here, most days I don’t feel like I even live in a foreign country. It is a gated community sitting atop some of the highest of Paju’s rolling hills, surrounded by lush greenery and small pockets of art galleries and restaurants.

The campus includes several classroom buildings with computer labs, a sports complex, a cafeteria, an English Pub, Italian restaurant, fried chicken joint, bakery, coffee and ice cream shop, City Hall, Concert Hall, Exhibition Hall, dorm-style hotels for visiting students, and apartment-style housing for the teachers. There is also a bank, post office, and convenience store, which serve double-duty as both fully-functional operations and learning experiences for the students and other visitors.

Interestingly enough, EV is also used quite frequently to film commercials, movies, and music videos. There have already been quite a few film crews on site over the past four weeks that I’ve been here. In several pictures in the slideshow below, you’ll see some fake snow/bubbles on the set…they were supposedly shooting a laundry detergent commercial. I was able to take quite a few pictures before one of the people on set yelled, “No photo, no photo!” But, I just went to a different side of the set, or took pictures through a window to get shots of the set. In some other photos, it looked like they were shooting a wedding send-off for a car commercial. The “bride” is supposed to be some famous Korean model, but of course, none of us knew who she was. (I almost never know who any of the famous American people are, let alone the Korean ones! LOL)

Apparently, a lot of companies shoot here because this is one of the few places in Korea that you can shoot something with English or European style backdrops and architecture, without having to build a set from scratch. The funny thing is, there’s almost nowhere in either of these places where you’ll find only Koreans…so, I have made myself available for cameo appearances…you know, for diversity’s sake. No one has approached me to be an extra on their set just yet, but if they do, you’ll be the first to know!

Up Next: Check Up on It

Thursday, August 18, 2011

On-Time Arrival

By the time I get off the plane, it is now Friday, July 29, 2011.

After deplaning, and working my way through the maze of corridors, people movers, escalators, I finally made my way to the Immigration counter.  Everything went through without a hitch, and I approached the area I was dreading: Baggage Claim!

Now, if you’ll remember, there was a nice skycap that took care of my bags as soon as we pulled up.  But now, I was alone, so I had to strategize, because there was no one in sight.   I grabbed a SmartCarte, but then quickly realized that one would not be enough for all I carried, so I snagged another one. (Unlike in the US, luggage carts are FREE in foreign airports!)  My plan was to put 2 of my large suitcases on one cart, then the rolling duffel and the carryon suitcase on the other, and then split my other random bags between the two.  As soon as I started unloading my bags from the conveyor belt, I was kicking myself for having packed so much stuff…I mean, I know I was going to be away for an entire year, but did I really need alllllllll that stuff I packed?

Well, yes.

And then, he appeared: a skycap!  As soon as I saw him, I flagged him down before any of those other folks got to him….and not a minute too soon!  He was so determined to help me on his own, but it looked like my luggage weighed more than he did! LOL Bless his heart, he wouldn’t even let me help him.  But oh well, that was his perogative, so I just followed behind.

After a quick stop to change over some cash from US Dollars to Korean Won, we were on our way.  As soon as we got through the doors, I found my driver, who had a sign waiting for me.  

He exchanged some words with the skycap, and then we went on our way to load up the vehicle that would take me to my home for the next year.

It was a pretty uneventful trip to Paju from the airport, and here are some pictures that I took along the way.

Next Up: It Takes a Village

Friday, August 12, 2011

Up, Up and Away!

It’s Thursday, July 28, 2011.

I didn’t wake up that morning because I never went to bed the night before.  The first of my three-legged journey was to begin promptly at 6:00am, which meant that I needed to be at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport around 4:00am.  Couple that with an insane to-do list, and some last-minute packing, and there was no way I could squeeze in any shut-eye.

At some time around 3:45am, we had packed up the truck and were on our way to the airport.  When we pulled up to the Departures curb, we were immediately greeted by a friendly skycap, who I had to disappoint by informing him that I had to go inside to check in for an international flight.  He called over some other guy, who, upon seeing the massive amount of luggage with which I had arrived, said, “I sho’ hope you flyin’ first class!”

Well, of course I was! LOL

He loaded up my luggage and brought it inside.  There was a bunch of people standing around waiting at the Delta ticket counter.  Why, you ask?  Because Delta wasn’t open yet!  Thankfully, I was the first person to arrive in the Priority line, but I was still annoyed that there was no one to check people in at 4:00am for flights leaving as early as 6:00am.  Don’t they advise you to be at the airport at least 2 hours ahead of time?  What’s the point of that if they’re not even going to be there to check you in?

Well, someone finally showed up, and we began the check-in process….and this is how that went:

Agent: “Where are you headed today?”
Me: “Seoul, South Korea.”
Agent: “Let me have your passport, please.”
     (I hand it to her, and she carries on with some typing and swiping.)
Agent: “Do you have a return flight?”
Me: “No, I do not.”
     (She does some more typing and reading.)
Agent: “Are you in the military?”
Me: “No, I am not.”
     (More typing and reading.)
Agent: “I’m sorry, ma’am. United States citizens cannot travel to South Korea unless you have a return flight.”
     (Insert whatever level of dread and doom you deem sufficient to make your insides feel like you’re going to have a heart attack and die….)

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  How in the world could anyone have forgotten to tell me that I needed to have booked a return flight at SOME point in the future in order to even make it to South Korea?  You wouldn’t believe how many thoughts ran through my mind at that time.  I was like OMG, all this work and effort and time and money and heart and emotions and everything I put into this adventure is about to go down the tubes all because I don’t have a stinkin’ RETURN ticket?!?!?!?!?!...I’m going to have to crawl back to the Apple store and beg and grovel to try to get my job back…I can’t believe this is happening to me….is this some sort of joke….why, why, WHYYYYYYYYYYYY?

And then: the light bulb—I have the magic answer!

Me: “But I have a work visa.”
     (And then I hold my breath…)

And then after some more typing and reading and typing and reading….finally she says, “Ok, you’re good.  Here are your boarding passes, and your bags are checked all the way through to Seoul.”

>>>Insert the largest sigh of relief EVER!<<<

Whew….Thank God!

After hanging out with my parents for a bit and saying our goodbyes, I go through security with no issue.  I was slightly apprehensive that someone would say something about the FOUR bags that I was trying to get through security: My backpack, my purse, the shopping bag with my rainboots, AND my 22” rolling suitcase full of shoes.  Luckily no one saw….or, if they did see, they didn’t say anything.  Either way, I make it through security unscathed.

Truth be told, I remember absolutely NOTHING of the first two legs of my trip…remember how I told you I didn’t go to bed that night?  Yeah, well it caught up with me as soon as I sat down in my seat.  I went to sleep on the ground in New Orleans and woke up on the ground in Memphis.  I went back to sleep on the ground in Memphis and woke up on the ground in Detroit.  (Never under-estimate the power of a great neck pillow!)

Once I got off the plane in Detroit, I had quite a hike to get to the terminal where my flight to Seoul would be departing from.  By the time I found the gate, they had already started boarding!  I was disappointed that I didn’t have enough time to visit the Duty-Free store before I got on the plane, but oh well….buying cheap liquor wasn’t worth risking missing my flight to Seoul, so on the plane I went.

Once I boarded the plane and hooked that left instead of a right, I was in heaven.  Just as I expected the plane I was on had the fancy new lie-flat seats in B-class, so I was a happy camper.  There were only 9 of us out of 28 seats in that first section, so needless to say, the flight was very peaceful.  Upon getting settled in my seat, and after toasting the guy across the aisle with my customary mimosa, I said a prayer and we took off.

All of the meals and drinks were great, and the selection of in-flight entertainment was pretty extensive. I saw a few movies, one of which was The Lincoln Lawyer, which was VERY good.  (You should see it.) I only took a short nap, and I stayed awake for the bulk of the 13-14 hour flight, which went by pretty quickly.  Before I knew it, I was looking out the window and staring down at South Korea!

Next Up: On-Time Arrival

From There to Here

This blog entry will take you from start to finish, in terms of the steps I took to getting my job here in South Korea.

Required Documentation


The resume that you use to get an English teaching job in Korea is not the same kind you would use to find a different type of job in the States. 

Your resume should include the following at the very top:
  • Full name, mailing address, phone number, and email address
  • Skype ID (if you don’t have Skype, get it)
  • Country of Citizenship
  • Native Language
  • Marital/Familial Status (yes, they do ask, and yes, you have to tell them)
  • Visa Document Status – I listed mine as follows, but obviously you would put whatever applies to you:
    • FBI Criminal Background Check with Apostille – yes, in hand
    • Diploma(s) with Apostille – yes, in hand
    • Official Transcript(s) – yes, in hand
  • Any international travel/study abroad experiences
  • Any teaching experience, paid or volunteer
Then, you would follow this with traditional resume information, i.e. Educational Background and Professional Work Experience.

FBI Check & Apostille

This is probably one of the most important things that you need to make sure you order EARLY.  It will take at least four weeks, and sometimes as long as eight, to get your FBI background check back from DC.

You need to order your FBI check not earlier than 6 months before your earliest anticipated start date.  You cannot get a visa with an FBI check that is more than 6 months old.

Here is a link to the site with the information on what you need to do to get it:
If you click the link next to option 1, it will lead you to step-by-step instructions for everything you’ll need, as well as a link to a checklist to make sure you have it all.

Once you get your FBI background check back, you’ll have to get an Apostille placed on it by the U.S. Department of State office.  The information for obtaining the Apostille can be found here:

NOTE: I was able to have my FBI background check apostilled by the Louisiana Secretary of State because I had it notarized by a Louisiana notary first.  Please be advised that most states will NOT Apostille your FBI check, they will require you to send it to the U.S. Department of State office.  You MUST check with your state to find out what they will and will not do….just like laws, the process WILL vary.

TEFL Certificate

TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language.  I earned my TEFL Certificate through a company called Bridge Linguatec.  I chose them because I was living in Denver at the time, and I passed by their headquarters almost every day. In other words, I knew they were LEGIT, which is important to me when shelling out dough.  The course I did was primarily online, but it did include an in-class component, whereby I spent a Saturday and a Sunday at their Denver location, in a class with 3 other people, and a certified instructor.  It was definitely a valuable experience just to network with other aspiring teachers, as well as to interact with the instructor.

There are so many certification options available out there, but I think the TEFL Certificate is going to be your most basic one.  I considered going all in and getting a CELTA or DELTA, but in the end, those are considerably more expensive than a TEFL Certificate.  My advice, for anyone who’s looking to start teaching English abroad, especially in Korea, is to just get a TEFL Certificate.  It’ll cost you a couple hundred bucks, but it’ll help make you more marketable for teaching positions for those times when a certification is listed as “preferred” instead of “required.”  If, after your first year or so of teaching, you decide that teaching English is where you’d like to take your career, then it’s a good idea to head for a CELTA or DELTA, or maybe even a Masters degree, if you’d like to go that route.

Please note: If you choose to do a TEFL Certificate, it MUST be at least a 100-hour course.  Places that require them generally will not recognize a course that is less than 100 hours.

This particular company sent out the certificate in a PDF format, so I was already good to go.  But if you use a different company, and they send you a paper certificate instead, be sure to scan it to a PDF file.


You will want to order at least four sets of transcripts from schools where you earned a degree: 1 unofficial set, and 3 official sets.  Personally, I ordered 1 unofficial set, and 6 official sets.  I know, I know…overkill…but I did that because I planned to cast a wide net, and didn’t want to have to wait on new sets to arrive in the event that I had already distributed the ones I had. (In the end, I ended up not even needing them, but I’m still very glad I have them.)

Scan the unofficial set to submit with any teaching applications that require them, and save them as PDF files.  If you don’t have a scanner, you can go to a FedEx Kinko’s, Office Depot, etc, and they can scan them for you for a small fee.  Hold onto the official sets for when you get hired, in case either the school wants them, or if they are required to obtain your visa.

Diplomas & Apostilles

There are two things you should do with your diplomas….and this includes ALL diplomas you may have earned, not just a Bachelors.  You never know when having an Associates, Masters, or Doctorate degree may benefit you.

First, make a copy of the original diploma(s).  You will take these copies to a notary, who will notarize them, which basically certifies that they are true copies of your actual diplomas.  If you don’t know the notary that you’re using, be sure to bring the originals with you when you go.

Second, scan the original diploma(s).  Again, if you do not have a scanner, or, if your diploma is larger than average, you can go to the places listed above to have them scanned for you.  Be sure to save them as a PDF.  This is the first set of scans you will have for your diplomas.  This will be used for any job that requires you to email scans upon initial application.

Once the copy of your original diploma has been notarized, you will then send it to your STATE’s Secretary of State’s office to get a state-level Apostille placed on it.  The process for every state will vary, but here is the website for the office I used in Louisiana:

My diplomas were from Florida, Arkansas, and Colorado.  However, I was able to have the LA Secretary of State apostille the copies of my diplomas because I had them notarized by a Louisiana notary.  Please be advised that some states will not put an Apostille on diplomas earned at institutions in another state. You MUST check with your state to find out what they will and will not do….just like laws, the process WILL vary.

Timeline: Application to Arrival

Below you will see a timeline that I created to give you an idea of how quickly and slowly things can move.  This is just an account of my timeline….it certainly can vary, depending on what school you’re working with, and what documents you end up needing to submit.

As you will see, I submitted other applications and was rejected a couple of times before I ended up with my current position.  99% of the positions I applied for were found on The others were found on

Please note: The timeline for my position at GEV is short because I was NOT working with a particular program.  I applied with the school itself.  Processing times for EPIK and other public school programs has been known to take much longer from application to the actual arrival date.


How does one proceed to pack for an entire year in a couple of suitcases and carry-ons?  Well, you don’t….at least, I didn’t.  Since Korean stores generally do not cater to people with larger bodies or feet, I already knew that I would have to bring a lot of stuff with me.  (Smaller individuals can probably bring less stuff, because they would be able to buy clothes and shoes quite easily in Korea.)  I packed what I knew I would need for my first couple of months before it starts to get cold, and will have my parents ship my winter stuff sometime in September or October.

Because of my flight arrangements, I was able to check 3 bags, up to 70lbs each, and have the standard carry-on item and personal item.  I made sure to purchase a travel luggage scale, which was absolutely a life-saver as I packed and re-packed my luggage!  Not only should you use a travel scale to help you pack, you should bring it with you—it will help you for any trips that you go on during the year you’re abroad, as well as to help you pack when it’s time to come back home.

Here’s what I brought:

Carryon #1 (Personal Item) – Backpack with laptop and other electronic devices that I didn’t want to put in a checked bag, the corresponding chargers and adapters for those electronic devices, eye shadow palettes (so they don’t get broken by being banged around in the checked bags), and travel documents

Carryon #2 (22” Rolling Suitcase) – SHOES! No, really, that’s all that was in that bag. I wear a size 10 shoe, so I pretty much had to pack a wide variety of shoes. 

**Unofficial Carryons: My purse, and a shopping bag with some rain boots in them; It was monsoon season when I arrived in Korea, and it had been raining quite heavily (and flooding!).  I’m definitely glad I made that last-minute purchase!

Checked Bag 1 – (Large Rolling Drop-Bottom Duffel) – seasonings/spices, cold/flu/allergy medications, toiletries, feminine hygiene items, and hair products; As a black woman, the products that I use on my hair are not available in Korea.  It is possible to have them shipped in a roundabout way, so my advice is to pack at least 6 months worth of hair products.  That way, you have enough to get you through the first half of your stay, and it gives you enough time to figure out ways to get what you’ll need for the remainder of your stay.

Checked Bags 2 and 3 – (both are 29” Rolling Suitcases) – casual and dressy clothes, undergarments, socks; If you’re coming in the spring/summer, I’d advise bringing what you’ll need for warmer weather, and having your winter stuff shipped.  If you’re coming in the fall/winter, it would be the opposite, and you should have your summer stuff shipped.  You should certainly pack some crossover items, which are those that can be worn in any season with or without the appropriate layering to make it work.

Booking the Flight

I booked my flight about a week ahead of time.  Although I had not yet received my visa back from the Korean consulate in Houston, I called them to see when they would be sending it, and booked my flight for 2 days after the latest date that I was supposed to receive it.  I based this on the fact that I sent a self-addressed Express Mail envelope with my application, so that I would get it back quickly.  But I advise to include at least a couple days worth of cushion, just in case.

I was also sure to book ahead of time because I knew I wanted to use some of my accumulated SkyMiles to upgrade my economy ticket to Business class, and the earlier you do it, the better chance you have at there being available seats on the flight you select.  For me, there was no question that I would be booking my flight with Delta Airlines, but for others, it may not matter that much.  I would just be sure to compare their in-flight accommodations and services for international flights, so you can make sure you’re comfortable on your journey.

Next Up: Up, Up, and Away!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Welcome, Welcome, Welcome!

Greetings from South Korea!
I started this blog to not only keep track of the really cool things I plan to do over the next year or so, but also to fill you all in on what goes on in this half of the world.  But, I must warn you, this will not all be butterflies and sunflowers.  Stuff does go wrong, and stuff will go wrong.   I’m not always going to be in a great mood, or extremely pleased with different situations that I’ll find myself in—self-imposed or not.  This will not be a 24/7 narration of how I’m skipping through the lily fields holding hands with all the Asians I come across.  Bottom line: I won’t always be happy, but one thing I can promise, however, is that I’ll be honest.

I was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, and after graduating from the city’s Xavier University Preparatory School, I moved to Tallahassee, Florida to attend Florida A&M University.  I lived there for 6 years, then Little Rock, Arkansas for 2 years, and then Denver, Colorado for almost 4 years.  Now, at the tender age of 29, I’ve decided to pick up and move once again, but this time, it’s halfway around the world!  I am currently at the very beginning of a one-year contract to teach English at the Gyeonngi English Village in Paju.  For those of you who are geographically challenged, I’ve included a couple of maps below.

The most popular question lately has been “So what made you want to teach in Korea?” 
Quite honestly, there were a few things that influenced my decision:  I needed to travel; I was stuck in a dead-end job at a high-end technology retail store; I needed money to actually be able to pay ALL of my bills comfortably; I wanted to explore the teaching option; and I did a TON of research. After researching, reading blog after blog, talking to people who had done and were doing it, and a hefty dose of prayer, I concluded that this was the right time for me to make the move. 

So here I am.

Many of you who come across this blog will do so in pursuit of some morsel of information about teaching English in South Korea, so I’ll be as helpful as I can, but this blog isn’t meant to be a “How-to Guide.”  It’s just going to be an account of my experiences, as I embark upon this Korean adventure.  So, sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride!

Next Up: From There to Here