Expat Tales: Building a teaching career in Korea
What inspired your move, and how long have you been there?
As cliched as it may sound, I have always wanted to "see the world". So I didn't need much inspiration to hop on a plane as soon as I could, after uni, to start a new life in South Korea. I've been here since August 2013.
What do you do there?
I teach English as a second language at three different primary schools. I'm now in my third year and have since gained an additional position teaching a middle school English club in the evening. A few months prior, I directed a training course for Korean teachers.
Ardyn and her husband, Peter, attend summer camp with her students. Image: Supplied
What are the greatest advantages to living there?
My job here allows me to save some money and pay off my student loan, which is awesome. But the best perk is that I am getting tons of teaching experience. I want to teach one day in NZ as a secondary school English teacher. I've also been able to travel more and many of us here are always off somewhere new during each school holiday.
Homesickness, some culture shock and "desk warming". Desk warming is when school's out and we foreign teachers still have to come into school, and there's little to nothing to do. For the most part we are warming our desks from nine to five. By the end of the week we are internet shopping, surfing and slowly going mad with boredom.
How expensive is it compared to New Zealand? How much is a beer?
South Korea is far cheaper than NZ in many ways. My average electricity bill is under $30, my water bill has never been over $10 and my unlimited high-speed internet is about $40 a month. You can buy a beer from any dairy for less than $3 and I'd say dinner for two in Korea on average is less than $30. But NZ groceries and produce are much better quality and cheaper. I really miss cheese, NZ butter, milk and good-quality steaks!
What do you do in your spare time?
I like to go on weekend trips to other cities. There are cheap hostels you can stay at and the nightlife in some areas is cheap and always buzzing. I have been to a few theatre shows and hope to attend more. I also blog a lot about my teaching and it's become a real passion. Check out my blog, mrsbaiasclassroom.blogspot.kr
What's the local delicacy and would you recommend eating it?
My favorite Korean dish would be dak galbi, which is a spicy chicken stir-fry that has lots of vegetables. They usually serve it on a huge cast-iron hot plate in the middle of your table. You can add cheese, rice cakes stuffed with cheese and even ramen noodles to it. It's a big meal and we pay around 9000 won per person (about $12).
Easiest way to get around?
Buses and trains. Or bikes, if you're in a small town. The subway system in Seoul and Busan is pretty huge but it's cheap, in English and easy to understand.
What's the shopping like?
The sizes are very small here so many foreigners are limited to Western chain stores. If you are a busty beauty – bring bras! Electronics are cheaper than back home and there are lots of markets that you can go digging for good but imitation products.
Best after-dark activity?
In Seoul there are two places everyone goes to party. Itaewon is full of foreigners and so foreign bars, restaurants and nightclubs are all the rage there. Over in Hongdae is the university area, so there are many cheaper places to eat and club. I do enjoy a night out on the town every now and then – a great dinner and dancing the night away is a super way to spend the weekend.
Best time of year to visit?
I'd say around June onwards, it's summer time and I like it hot. It gets humid though, make sure your hostel/hotel has air-conditioning!
What are the top three things you recommend for visitors?
Definitely a trip to Seoul and Busan. My small town is called Buyeo and it's a historical town, once home to royalty from the Baekje Dynasty. It's a nice town to see for a day trip. Some really beautiful parks, a bit of history and it's very different from the city. There are also two major theme parks I have yet to visit, Everland and Lotte World.
Ardyn enjoys Gwangalli Beach in Busan. Image: Supplied
Besides family and friends, what do you miss most about home?
I miss speaking English... I miss being understood easily and quickly. I also miss the warmth of Kiwis. We are such a friendly nation and I've realised this from my travels and especially since living here. Korean people are more reserved and less outgoing.
How easy is it for you to get back to NZ?
It's not. It takes almost a day or more to fly home. There are no direct flights. So I recommend if you have the option to take unpaid leave give yourself some extra days to visit home, because two or more days' travelling really eats away at your time.
For Kiwis looking to move there, which industries are seeking fresh talent?
I was recruited by EPIK – English Program In Korea – and they are hiring for February and again in August. Teaching is the only industry I can recommend as South Korea has pretty strict guidelines for work visas and living permits.
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