Korean Hospitality

It’s already been two weeks since I started working as a full-time english teacher.  Since starting, other teaching and/or admin staff have been so kind as to ask and even actually giving me a ride around.

An admin staff member helped me move into my apartment, and assisted with the initial shopping needs per my contract.  He also graciously gave me a ride the following Monday to go to work.  He’s been so helpful with everything although his english is lacking, he gave it his best shot and even at times we were communicating via a translator such as Google or Naver; Naver is better for Korean-English or vice-versa translations than Google in my opinion.

I’ve probably mentioned this before but I teach at 4 separate middle schools.  Two are quite out-of-the-way further into the countryside, and on Tuesdays I hitch a ride from a fellow colleague at that school.  She’s always worrying about me although I’m the one concerned because I’m freeloading off of her essentially.  The first time we met to go to school she was maybe 15 minutes late due to traffic or whatnot and she felt so guilty and was worried about what I may have thought but I was completely fine with it.  This week she was only 2 minutes late and that bothered her a lot too!  I can’t stress enough how ok it was, but she’s a worrywart.

At my furthest countryside school, 1.5 hours or more by express bus (including a transfer), I was waiting for the bus to go home at the bus terminal after my first day there when someone popped into the terminal and asked if I was the english teacher from the middle school I was just at and offered me a ride.  Mind you, I might’ve met her at the office but I honestly couldn’t tell – but she knew me well.  And to this day, not that it’s been that long, I don’t remember her face…

This past Monday morning I was waiting at the bus stop when a car pulled up and rolled down its windows – it was the admin I mentioned at first.  He gave me a lift since he saw me – so nice of him!  I thanked him of course and as we walked towards the office, I realized that it was Monday morning again and that I was due at another school so I walked to that school from there; he probably felt bad, but it was ok!  The school is only maybe a 15 minute walk from that one, and he saved me a dollar on the bus fare.

Just a few examples of some korean hospitality in the past couple of weeks!  Looking forward to my paycheck next week so I can return the favors back in full!

On a side note, sounds like cats are having the time of their lives outside my apartment building; I guess this can really happen anywhere in the world!  NYC, Japan, and now Korea – I can’t recall if I heard any during my stay in Singapore…

Getting a Cell Phone in Korea

There are a shitload of sources out there and I wanted to briefly summarize what you’ll need to know.

Quick Tips:

  1. Shit happens all the time – Korea is a fast-paced economy and has the same kind of lifestyle so changes happen very frequently so the specifics may vary when you’re reading this
  2. You need your ARC (Alien Registration Card), or at least the print-out receipt from the office when you applied, and a bank account
  3. There are about 3 major providers – KT (Olleh), SKT (TWorld), and LG
  4. The whole process takes at least 20 minutes
  5. You’ll need to pay 25,000 KRW (may vary) since you’re a foreigner and they need some assurance

Cell Phones

You’ve got a lot to choose from if you’re thinking of purchasing a new phone.  Used phones depends on the store’s inventory.  You can purchase used phones from some stores and/or online in Korea, but I took a look and they’re not quite up-to-date; I was looking for a used iPhone 6 but there were none out – however I’m sure you can find some in America’s used market.  One thing you should know is that just like in Japan, the camera’s shutter is designed to display the shutter sound and there’s no option to turn it off, not even in silent mode is it off, but you can download an application to get rid of the annoying sound once and for all so I’ve heard.

Phone Plans

From the stores that I’ve checked-out, the posters displaying their options of phone plans are just a piece of what is available.  I spent maybe an hour or more at one store looking at plans and more than half-way through he realized that there were more options that better suit my interests; see I was interested in a low-minute and high-data plan for cheap.  In the end I settled for 100 minutes and 6GB of data per month.  It’s running me about $80/month, including the phone’s price.  Now, this is on a two-year contract.  I heard and saw something briefly on one-year contracts, but they’re rare and limited to my belief.  I think they’re only available for certain phones.  You may be able to get a one-year contract if you already have an unlocked phone.  Also, I was hoping to only get an unlimited 3G plan but they told me that it was unavailable – I don’t know if it’s because it’s paired up with an iPhone 6 or if they got rid of their 3G plans when LTE started to become prominent.  I read a couple of articles on it but they were a bit confusing to be honest; yeah, they were in English too – maybe it’s me… Best bet is to find someone who can speak English to review all your options, if you’re trying to be smart that is.  One other thing I should mention is that since it is a two-year contract, if you cancel after only one year you will have to pay the rest of your phone off.  And based on your phone plan, the price of the phone varies; the more expensive your plan, the more expensive your phone is.  This is because they give you some sort of discount based on how much your plan is and every month you’re paying off your phone for a total of 24 months – so if you cancel after 12, you have half left.

Bank Account

I confirmed that they will automatically withdraw the monthly bill from your bank account on the 21st starting from the following month.  Remember the “foreigner assurance” fee I mentioned before?  That’s all you have to pay for a brand new phone and contract, for the moment that is.  As for opening a bank account, you’ll also need the ARC or the number at least, and your passport.  I went with a co-teacher and they did all the talking while the teller kept marking signature locations on a bunch of documents all in Korean.  I must’ve signed at least 15 times in 20 minutes – awfully a lot in my opinion.  The pattern I see is that they like confirmation for each significant section of a contract, and not just the full contract where you sign at the bottom.

Providers

KT seems to be #1 in Korea and you’ll see the Olleh wifi spots everywhere.  I asked around to see which was the best in my area and they told me SKT so I just went with them.

Have fun navigating Korea’s wonders!

Newcomers Party

Since last week my peers from the EPIK program have been talking about their staff parties with their schools but I didn’t hear even a peep as to if we were even going to have one.  I soon came to the conclusion and assumed that since my (main) school is Catholic and they may not condone a social drinking event.  I gradually got over the expectation of a party after coming to that conclusion, and then today I was requested by my, what I like to call, “Supervising Co-Teacher,” to go to my main school after finishing my last class at another middle school to teach a class.

However as it turns out, my co-teacher for that “spontaneous” class was not prepared, or in other words, they weren’t finished recruiting students for an after-school supplemental class yet, and I wasn’t required to teach today.  After discussing some schedule details with my Supervising Co-Teacher, he nonchalantly mentioned that we had the staff party in 5 minutes!  SURPRISE!

So I hop into the car with my Supervising Co-Teacher and get a lift to the restaurant.  A quarter way through the meal, he remembers another significant detail that I will have to give another introduction and probably have to sing a song; let me tell you – this is not karaoke style, it’s with no music at all.  And for those of you whom already know me, you know that I’m tone-deaf so it’s an impossible task for me.  So it gets to my turn later and I’m about to sing Barbie Girl by Aqua when I realized that I didn’t remember all the lyrics for the chorus; of course I would remember it a bit afterwards though…. Sang it at the karaoke after party though.

About karaoking with Koreans though – they all stand and sorta cheer you on and enjoy it so it’s quite nice; as I’m used to everyone chilling in their seats (and of course cheering, if they were paying attention lol).  I think they realized that you don’t need to know the language being sung to know that someone is tone-deaf LOL… And my heart skipped a beat when they started inviting people to continue!  But luckily we just went to a cafe and chatted for a couple of hours – that’s what I’m talking about.

But boy I gotta tell ya, I’m grateful for the party as I was able to make some friends, and it’s difficult at work when everyone is so busy; especially at the beginning of the semester since everyone is still organizing schedules, materials, lesson plans and such.  Looking forward to plans to play tennis and try some other Korean foods with them next month! 🙂

Bowing

いらっしゃいませ〜

I need to stop bowing to my students… In Korea they are technically “lower” in status and you only bow to those above you of a higher status.  I just have the habit from when I was in Japan as a student because you can’t go wrong with showing some respect.  But now it’s just a bit weird.

As you may or may not know, in Japan there are levels of bowing to show respect to certain people of a certain status.  There’s a good satire on it here.  In Korea, it’s similar I think but not quite too sure.  What I do know is that it is common for students to give a full 90 degree bow to teachers in the hallways.

So you can only imagine them bowing 90 and me bowing like a 10?  Either way, I think it’s weird for them to see a teacher of higher status bowing to them at all.  It’s just automatic!  It’s like when we thank people over the phone, we even bow then!  And I know others can definitely attest to doing the same thing, or even seen a Japanese person do it before!

Anyone want to take bets to see if I can get rid of the habit?  It’s not looking good…

Korean Surprise #1

At EPIK’s orientation, there was one lecturer who referred to Korea’s unorganized scheduling and information flow simply as, “Korean Surprises.”  All lecturers were sure to mention how dynamic and shocking how schools vary in their management style.  They all made it clear that something completely different from what they’ve and what other former EPIK teachers experienced could occur.  But, setting that aside, here’s mine:

I hitch a ride with a school admin as he was gracious enough to offer yesterday after helping me move and settle into my new apartment at 8:10.  I arrive and was sent straight to the Principal’s office only to wait for a staff meeting.  Naturally I was introduced to all the humble Korean teachers and told to give a self-introduction!  I said with my best Korean, “안녕하세요. 마나서 반갑숩니다. 잘 부탁드립니다.”  They kindly applauded and of course, impressed by my limited Korean.  But that’s not the best part!  Three new teachers were introduced to all 300+ all-girl middle school students and staff and made to introduce ourselves at the opening ceremony for the new school year!  Was I informed that this would happen by the school?  By EPIK?  By anyone?  No!  But it was alright!  “Hello. [cheers and applause] I’m Paul Ly from NYC. [cheers and applause] Nice to meet you all.[cheers and applause] I look forward to teaching and having fun with you all.” [cheers and applause] 🙂 I have a good feeling about teaching at this school!

Although I am not looking forward to explaining what kind of asian I am, and how someone with an asian face could still be called an American… Especially to 11 year old girls with limited working knowledge of English… I mean we Americans can’t even define what an, “American,” really is.

I wonder what other surprises are in store… so not curious.