Tag Archives: expat

Koreans are Busy!

Within two weeks of arriving in Korea, I learned that Koreans are always busy. My students studied all day long – usually more than twelve hours on weekdays. My fellow teachers rush through the halls, frantically playing catch-up. My Korean friends – mostly grad students and young professionals – are perpetually too busy or tired to hang out.

For my first six months here, I operated under the impression that Koreans are the busiest and hardest working people on earth. At some point during my first semester, that illusion fell apart.

In the west, image is important. But we’re taught that being dependable and producing quality work are the way to cultivate a positive image at the office. In Korea, image is everything. Quality of work and efficiency are relatively unimportant here. Convincing others think that you are a hard worker is far more important than actually working hard.

A recent post on an expat teaching forum perfectly articulated what I’ve come to understand about working an studying in Korea.

[Korean kids] “study” a lot. But the way they define studying is very different… Sitting at a desk is “studying” in Korea, no matter what you’re doing. You could be sleeping, playing games, texting, talking, staring off into space – it matters not. If you are sitting at a desk and there are books in the vicinity then you are a master “studyer”. It’s the same with work here…Sleep at your desk all day and occasionally wake up and run around with your arms flailing screaming, “SO BUSY!”.  Koreans are very good at making things look much harder than they really are.  -Source

EPIK coteacher sleeping in school

My coteacher last year was always busy. Fortunately, he found time in his busy schedule for morning and afternoon naps.

As I prepare to leave Korea, my thoughts are filled with all of the things that I will miss when I return to the US. This isn’t one of them. I look forward to working in a place where I’m judged by the quality and consistency of my contribution and not my ability to look busy.

Until next time.


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Weighing My Options

Since suddenly losing a job that I thought was a sure thing, I’ve been considering my options outside of Korea. For the past two years, the Korean government has been moving the proverbial goal line – making it harder and harder to become a university professor. Outside of university teaching positions, foreigners have zero potential for upward mobility. So it’s time to think about alternatives for next year.

Option 1: China

Despite their proximity, Korea and China are very different places. Korea’s standard of living is much closer to that of the US, but I don’t have much of a future here. Without a university position, I’m simply spinning my wheels. The opportunity cost of wasting another year of my life working an entry-level teaching position is significant at my age.

China, on the other hand, has a wealth of opportunities. The English teaching market is booming, compared to Korea’s shrinking market. I can make nearly the same amount of money in a place where the cost of living is significantly lower. There are also opportunities for foreign businessmen, which might allow me to finally put my MBA to use. The most important benefit of living in China is the opportunity to learn Chinese. In today’s global market, Chinese is a much more valuable language than Korean.

The downside of China is the standard of living. I’ve lived in Korea for nearly two years and managed to never use a “squatter” toilet. I’m afraid I may have to step out of my comfort zone and get used to squatters in China. With any luck, the minor culture shock I experienced in Korea will help me prepare for the monumental culture shock that is bound to hit me in China. But, frankly, I just don’t know what to expect there.

Option 2: Go Home

Going home doesn’t seem like a bad option at this point. I could get back to the “real world” and finally get started on a career. Though I’ve enjoyed a good lifestyle for the last eight years, I have been disappointed by the fact that I have heavy student loan debt and absolutely no savings.. Going home is likely the only way that I could make enough money to save and maintain a social life.

There are two things stopping me from pushing this option to the top of my list. The first is the fact that I’m really enjoying the expat lifestyle. Although Korea isn’t as exciting as it was when I first arrived, I still enjoy an easy lifestyle and a great social life. I’m surrounded by like-minded people who are educated and adventurous. As soon as I move home, the social life goes away.

The other, more important reason that I don’t want to move back to the US is the fact that I’m worried about finding a job. I am well educated, intelligent, hard working, and dependable. But none of that matters. In the current US job market, it’s simply not possible to get a job without “2-5 years of industry experience” (as seen in every job posting ever). I’ve been a police officer, a detective, and a teacher – none of which will help me land a job in sales, marketing, or operations. I don’t mind being underemployed for a while, but I am simply unwilling to go back to waiting tables.

So, those are my options. If I don’t get a decent university job in Korea, which appears increasingly unlikely, I’ll have to choose. If you were in my position, what would you do? I’d love to hear any advice you might have.

Until next time.


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Bad Day

Today was not a good day…

Last weekend, I was extended a job offer from a university near Seoul. The job is a good one – an English professor at a reputable school with great hours and lots of vacation time.

This afternoon, I got a call from the professor in charge of hiring. She told me that the administration office, is rescinding my job offer. Some of my teaching experience overlaps with the time during which I was studying for my master’s degree. According to a new law (or maybe school policy), the school cannot count both the experience and the education. “Since you earned your masters while teaching, only one can count, and you need both to meet our requirements.”

This is similar to what happened the last time I was offered a university job, only to have it rescinded at the last minute. They just keep moving the goal line.

I signed a form a couple days ago informing my current office of education that I won’t return next year. So now I have to start the job hunt over again. I’m starting to wonder if Korea’s even the right place for me. I need more university experience to get an entry-level university job.

It’s not the first (or second) time something like this has happened. I’m starting to think that I’m doomed to bad luck with my career.

Until next time.


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The Girly Gangster

In Korea, we don’t have hoopties with wannabe gangsters blaring rap music. I never imagined that those idiots would be preferable to another country’s brand of punks. Sadly, I was wrong.

Korea’s version of the fake gangster ride is a motorcycle with super loud exhaust and a sound system strapped to the front. You can hear the engine revving from a few blocks away. Shortly thereafter, you’re treated to blaring bubble-gum music – usually Justin Beiber, girly club music, or a Korean girl band. There are always at least two Korean guys in their late teens or early twenties riding it up and down the streets near the university beside my apartment.

Korea - Motorcycle with speakers

There are two of these atrocities in my neighborhood. The one pictured above and an all pink one. These bikes are definitely in the running for the least manly “cool” ride on earth. Yesterday was the first time I saw one parked. I fantasised kicking it over or breaking the speakers, but I decided that the satisfaction wouldn’t be worth deportation….or getting my ass kicked by a gang of high school kids.

Maybe one day I’ll be quick enough on the draw to take a video for you.

Until next time.


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That Was Close – I almost fought a hotel owner

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about racism in Korea. The response was mostly positive, but some people noted a lack of specific, personal examples of discrimination. Unfortunately, I had an incident tonight that was undoubtedly the result of racial prejudice.

A business owner denied me an advertised discount on the basis of my race and assaulted me when I walked outside and took a picture of his business. When I involved the police, they were polite but totally unwilling to file a report or confront the business owner on my behalf. Here’s what happened:

I use a smart phone application called Yanolja (야놀자) to find hotels when I travel. I’ve even mentioned it before in other posts. Yanolja is similar to Yelp! in the US. It has a map to help you find nearby hotels, price lists, pictures of rooms, and a rating system with lots of reviews. Member hotels offer a discount to Yanolja users. All you have to do is tell them that you used the app to find their hotel.

Yanolja App - Map Screen

Yanolja App - Price Screen

The standard prices are listed in black. The blue prices below are the Yanolja prices. In this case, a single room is 55,000 won ($50) without and 45,000 ($40) with the Yanolja discount.

Before arriving in Seoul, I chose a hotel with a 5-star Yanolja rating that is in the area in which I wanted to stay. The hotel is called Jungno 3 Ga Story (중로 3가 이야기) – named after the local subway station. It was easy to find as it’s only a few hundred feet from a subway station exit. The place was exactly what I wanted – a small business motel that was a few blocks away from the local party scene.

I waited a few minutes before the man who was working behind the desk – I assume the owner – showed up. I asked him if he had any rooms available, and he said yes. I told him that I used Yanolja to find his hotel, which means that I wanted the discount that Yanolja users are promised when they use the app. We had the following conversation:

Clerk: The price is 55,000. No Yanolja.
Me: Why not?
Clerk: Yanolja Korean app. Not for foreigner.
Me: I speak some Korean, I can use the app. Why won’t you give the discount?
Clerk: Discount only for Korean person. Foreigners no.
Me: Are you serious? You racist asshole!
Clerk: 씨발개새끼야!…(couldn’t understand)…외국놈 – This means “son of a bitch” and “foreign bastard”

I gave him the finger (probably not helpful), walked outside and took a photo of the front of the hotel.

Story Hotel Seoul - 중로3가 야야기

This sent him over the edge. He came out after me, “why pictures?” He tried to grab the phone, but I put it in my pocket. When I turned around to walk away, he grabbed my backpack and pulled me back. I pulled away and continued to walk, but he ran around in front of me and grabbed my arm to keep me from leaving. I pushed past him several times, but he continued to grab me and try to keep me there. He didn’t take a swing, but he was very angry and aggressive.

Having spent many years as a police officer, my first instinct was to fight. Fortunately, I kept my cool and didn’t fight back. He was a big guy and there was nobody in the alley to help me if things got out of hand. I pushed past him several more times, but every time he grabbed me again and pulled me back. Finally I pushed him hard and he stumbled, so I jogged past. He followed me for a bit, but stopped once I reached the main street near the subway station.

I immediately called the police department. I explained that I wanted to make a complaint for assault. The dispatcher initially refused to send a police officer, but when I told him that I was an American policeman, he said that he would send someone. Three officers (two rookies and a supervisor, I think) showed up a few minutes later. One of the young officers spoke a very basic English, so I explained what happened. Between English and Korean, I got the important facts across.

The officers were kind, but they didn’t seem interested in taking a report or even talking to the guy. They simply took me to a different hotel and dropped me off. The hotel was 70,000 won, $25 more than I wanted to spend, but I decided not to complain since they were kind enough to give me a ride.

I can’t decide whether I should let this go or try to do something about it. What do you think? If you were in my position, what would you do?

Until next time.


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