You've landed the job, booked your flight, and are ready to get things going. Whoo! Here are some things that I've learned and experienced in the past month. I've included small tidbits of what you should and shouldn't do before coming to Korea.
Below is a timeline of things that I highly recommend you do leading up to the anticipated departure date.
2 MONTHS BEFORE
4 WEEKS BEFORE
2 WEEKS BEFORE
1 WEEK BEFORE
I brought 2 copies of the following:
**Gyopos (F-4 Visa): Bring parents' Korean registry information and renunciations
1 DAY BEFORE
DAY OF DEPARTURE
Things to Bring
Let's get down to the nitty gritty of what I think you should bring. Some items may not make sense, but know that Korea may not have the same quality of items that America has (such as toothpaste, floss, and deodorant). I've also included links to items that I bought before my flight, but I may have gone a little trigger-happy. If an item has a quantity beside it, that's the amount I brought with me.
How Much Money
The standard recommendation is $1,000 USD, and I concur. This will give you enough room to pay for initial living expenses, and any required documents and procedures for the immigration. You may need more or less depending on what your school provides and average cost of living in your city. Usually, schools will provide your first paycheck after 30 to 45 days. You'll need enough money to get you through 5 weeks.
Below is a list of expenses to account for.
Budget: $1,000 ~ $2,000
Basic Household Goods
*These expenses are based on 2018 Incheon prices. If you live in a major city like Seoul or Busan, they may be higher. A more rural area will probably be cheaper. Check your cost of living expenses to get a more accurate idea.
Remember to bring those nice big, fluffy towels from home! You won't find them here.
Hopefully, your school will be nice and give you decent bedding, but I often hear that the blankets, comforters, and sheets here are nothing like at home (soft, fluffy, warm). Mine were way too thin. I ended up sleeping on the floors for the first 2 weeks because apartment floors are heated and I came at the end of winter. It's spring now, and the temperature permits me to sleep on my bed with the thin blankets. My pillow was exactly like the ones given on international airplane flights, economy class.
I just list a few items that I've come across that can help you get by for the first 5 weeks in Korea, and to give you an idea of costs. Again, check your cost of living expenses to get a more accurate idea.
Groceries can be anywhere from $50 ~ $300 before your first paycheck, depending on how much cooking you do at home, if your school provides free meals, whether you enjoy milk and juices or can get by with just water, etc. Personally, I haven't cooked since I got here because 1) eating out can often be cheaper than cooking, 2) you have less trash, and 3) it's so much easier.
One app I use (yo-gi-yo) lets me order food and there's 1 restaurant that offers meals with a minimum order of 5,000 won (~$5) with no extra fee for delivery. I've seen so many restaurants that offer decent, fulfilling meals for as little as $4, too. It's literally heaven.
Apartments charge utilities in 2 bills: gas, everything else (called "Maintenance Fees")
Random Cultural Facts
My next post will go over more cultural tidbits in-depth that will be helpful to know before stepping foot onto Korean soil. Just to give you a teaser, here are some of the more apparent things I've noticed.
These are just a few of the many different cultural intricacies that I've noticed while staying in Korea. My next post will go more in detail about a few confusing topics that will be helpful to know, such as the washing machine, garbage system, the subway system, and best mobile apps.
I have no teaching experience. Should I get a relevant certificate?
This is a common question that many prospective teachers ask. Perhaps you graduated with a degree in Science, Philosophy, or Journalism and have absolutely no background in dealing with kids. Should you get a certificate? Let's go over your options first.
If you're curious, I've laid out some common acronyms used in the "teaching English abroad" industry. You don't need to memorize them. I go over the most important one right below the table.
That's a lot, isn't it? Well, the most important one you really need to know is "TEFL" if you're interested in teaching in Korea. The term is used interchangeably with "TESL," "TESOL," and "CELTA" because they are all certifications. However, "TEFL" certificates are commonly seen when applying for schools in Korea.
Do you really need a TEFL certificate?
If you're looking for a job at a hagwon (for-profit private institution), you probably won't need one. Will it look better on your resume? Possibly.
If you have one of the following backgrounds, you do NOT really need a TEFL certificate:
In all other scenarios, especially if you have no teaching experience, it may be worthwhile to nab one.
Which TEFL Certificate?
If you've begun your research on which certificate to get, you probably have found at least a dozen different brands of TEFL certificates. You might have seen i-to-i, TEFL Online, CIEE, and so on. Which one is the best?
Hagwons usually do not really care where you get your certification.*
* Public schools, on the other hand, do take a careful look on accreditation of the program and legitimacy of the course content. They often want certifications that include in-class instruction (brick-and-mortar location) of at least 20 hours.
TIP for hagwons: Get the cheapest online TEFL certificate, preferably one that isn't known to be fraudulent (stay away from International Open Academy). Though TEFL certificates do not need to be accredited, steer clear from ones that are publicly disdained.
The quality of instruction will differ depending on which program you use. Some will be entirely text-based with lots of reading, while others may include interactive activities, forums, videos, teacher feedback, etc. If you're looking for a fulfilling resource of information and material, don't pay a premium of $500 for a TEFL education to get it. Get that wealth of knowledge for free (more on that in my next post).
TIP for public schools (EPIK or SMOE): Find a TEFL certificate that offers in-class instruction. There is a table on the EPIK application that asks how many in-class instruction hours you have taken.
It is only required for Busan locations to have 50 in-class hours, but it will increase your chances of getting accepted for any other school as well. You can see directly on their website that they "highly prefer" an in-class TEFL component.
Recommendations for TEFL with in-class components:
* KEI-TEFL is offered online with 5 hours of guidance in-person at their Korea location. They are accredited by Korea's Ministry of Education, so it is 100% recognized by government programs like EPIK and SMOE. You can purchase a separate 20-hour Onsite Training Module for an additional $400.
** Several Redditors used Oxford Seminar and were accepted into EPIK.
Other Tips for EPIK
I received my credentials from TEFL Fullcircle (see below), which is currently on Groupon for $39. If you wait for a Groupon seasonal discount, you could get it for as low as $31.
Accreditation doesn't really matter if you're applying to hagwon schools in Korea because rarely will they check. There is no internationally recognized and accepted accreditation body for TEFL/TESL/TESOL certificates. However, if you would prefer a program with somewhat legitimate credentials, they have been approved by Accreditat, which "accredits" 12 other TEFL programs under their standards.
You can visit TEFL Fullcircle's website to see a syllabus of 26 different modules for the 160 Hour Professional TEFL Course. Subjects range from teaching common subjects like writing, reading, and speaking to how to manage a classroom to specific techniques for activity prep. Their grammar section (Module 5) is very intense and has an unnecessary amount of verb tense review. I don't know anyone who would be able to get 100% without help.
Many of the lessons are very intuitive, such as "use positive reinforcement," and "take advantage of technology to supplement your lessons." If you have absolutely no or extremely limited experience teaching in a classroom setting, there are great pointers that would be helpful to know.
Most of their material is based on techniques and articles from Oxford and other credible sources. They include a list of additional readings to emphasize the information learned in a specific module. I've read a few of them and it can be informative.
There is one module that goes over the theory of learning and cognitive behavior of early language development. It was probably the most interesting section for me. The Verb Tense section is over the top and excessive. It goes over the very nitty-gritty of all types of tenses, naming each category in a over-simplified manner making it even more confusing.
For beginning teachers, they have a solid reference for a lesson plan template that I could potentially see myself using. Overall, fundamental topics are covered, but I definitely recommend reviewing their supplemental materials if you want a more thorough education.
Their website is probably the most professionally designed I have seen for any TEFL certificate program ever. It's extremely pleasing to the eye (a plus for me!). However, once you sign up and begin learning, it's a whole different story. Don't get me wrong, it's not like a 90's website with seizure-inducing flashing GIFs, but it is a slight disappointment after seeing their wonderful home page.
When you first login, you will be prompted for a Start Date, which is when you will begin to have access to all their material. After, you'll see your Home screen.
The big black box you see at the center of the page is actually un-clickable, which is kind of silly. You have to press the title "Advanced 160 Hour TEFL Course" right above it to be directed to the Modules.
You will then be directed to the following Module Dashboard:
I highly recommend opening each module in a new separate tab. If you don't, the website directs you to whichever link you clicked on (Introduction, Module, or Module Exam), but there is no way to get back to the Module Dashboard you see above. You will have to go back to Home Screen → Module Dashboard → Module lesson again. It's a very frustrating experience.
Module 4: Introduction
For example, this is the "Introduction" to Module 4. There were only 2 slides of information, as you can see in the "Table of Contents" on the left. There is the "Module Content" and "Introduction" pages. After that, there is nothing that prompts you to go to the next part: the actual Module 4 content with all the relevant learning materials.
You begin at Module 1 out of 26. Each module is organized to have a list of smaller topics ("units") that relate to the overarching module. You may only move on to the next module after completing your current one.
Every lesson is presented through text and an occasional picture. There are no videos or audio. You will have a few quizzes spread throughout multiple units and a "final exam" at the end of a module.
Quiz for Module 2 & 3
You can flag questions you're struggling with. The Quiz Navigation bar on the left tells you how many questions there are.
At the end of all 26 modules, you will need to take an "End of Course Assessment." This involves taking a 61-question test, creating a lesson plan and writing an essay regarding teaching principles and methodologies you learned from the course. You will submit it to TEFL Fullcircle directly via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) for a real review and approval from one of their staff.
The e-mail response I received after submitting my End of Course Assessment materials.
It took them roughly 2 weeks to assess and award me my certificate (during the holidays)
The TEFL Certificate that was available for download after passing.
I did not order a hard-copy. I printed it at home myself.
GOAL: Obtain your TEFL Certificate ASAP
Since you have access to all past test questions and answers (exams are open-book), I recommend just speed reading through all the material without taking notes. You won't retain a lot of the information, but this will probably be enough to give you a general gist of what a module covers.
Steps to Achieve Goal
Yes, this is not efficient for actually learning the material. However, in many cases, the goal of a TEFL certificate when you're trying to find a hagwon job in Korea is to check the "TEFL Certificate" box that employers screen for.
IMPORTANT: You will still need to know a few core concepts in order to understand and correctly do the "End of Course Assessment" to receive your certificate. If you fail, you will have to e-mail them and ask for a re-do. Hence, you should not skip the material, but speed read or skim through it.
TIP: Pay special attention to the PPP technique and how to apply it during lesson planning.
DURATION TO COMPLETE
It took me one full weekend to complete all the modules and finish the final course assessment (lesson plan and essay), dedicating my entire morning to evening - probably 20 to 30 total hours spent. I used the speed reading method to go through each module. For the grammar section (verb tenses), I assure you, you will not remember every single rule that they review, so I recommend super speed reading those lessons and using the strategy above to complete that module.
You should anticipate an additional 2 weeks for TEFL Fullcircle to review and give you a PASS/FAIL grade on your "End of Course Assessment."
Is the program worth it? Yes, if you are applying to hagwons! You pay less than $40 to receive a 160 Hour TEFL certificate from an accredited program. The material may be dry and not as extensive as other programs, but for the benefit of adding an extra credential to your resume for a low cost, I 100% endorse TEFL Fullcircle.
The information itself is actually decent. When time permits, I go back and review some of the concepts. Most of the content is intuitive, but there are a few modules that make me think "oh, that's pretty interesting."
TEFL Fullcircle Registration
If I somehow convinced you to get a certificate from TEFL Fullcircle, cool! I don't have an affiliate link, so I'm not selling my soul to get you to register unfortunately.
Steps to Sign Up
After setting your start date, you'll have 6 months to complete the certificate. Good luck!
I was nervous. Quivering hands was an understatement.
My fingers traced the lining of the four generic U-Haul boxes packed at the back seats of my mother's white Subaru. As soon as the engine rumbled to silence, my two friends and I hopped out the side doors. My anxiety was a good distraction from the lines of parked cars and bustling students moving into their new homes. This was Greek Row.
We walked towards an aged building covered in vines and ivory columns supporting the entrance. Two full-forced breaths of air pressed against my chest. I could barely let out an audible "let's go" before I opened the beige double doors.
What welcomed me was a fairly simple common area with a set of couches and tables layered in one corner and a small office to the left.
"You must be Silvia!"
A tall woman with a crimson dress that complimented her pale white skin emerged from the office. She had the longest gleaming black hair, waving elegantly down her thighs. With such a bright smile, I couldn't help but return the gesture.
"Hi, are you Athena?"
Even her name gave off the same dignified radiance that her appearance befitted.
"Yes! Let me show you around Eta Beta."
This was the beginning of my new life. It was a new chapter unfolding up the stairs and through the hallways, passing by the kitchen and weaving around the dining area. All while trying not to let the edges of the boxes labeled “clothing” spill out of my hands. Sarah and Lillian followed closely behind, carrying with them the remnants of home stuffed away in containers.
The door was white. The same door that would signify that I was no longer Silvia the high school student, but Silvia the college freshman. I was Silvia, no longer living with my parents. I was Silvia, an independent adult.
Coming from the small suburban Edmonds city in Washington was different. Now I was surrounded by the busy streets of Seattle. The sounds outside was filled with shouting sorority girls and professional movers shifting through furniture. They drowned out all my nerves.
Light emanated through the windows as I heard the hinges creaking when Athena pushed open the entrance. She left us to explore the simple dormitory-style room. Half the room belonged to me. My desk was situated in front of my bed and a wardrobe was graciously stationed at the other end. The floor wasn’t carpet, which was disappointing, but a pair slippers took care of that.
We made several trips from the car to my room as we gathered as much of the packing I had prepared the week before. The room was thankfully furnished, so big appliances were off my list of worries.
If it weren’t for the help of my friends, transferring all my belongings would have taken at least an extra two hours. I was a typical college freshman; I thought I needed to bring my entire house with me, everything from my books to my pictures to my pencil sharpener. If I had it, I brought it. My wonderful mother also took time out of her schedule to give us a ride. The parking was atrocious that day, so she saved us from the headache that could have doomed us before even setting foot inside the house.
Somewhere in between all the moving, my roommates came back from their own errands and introduced themselves as international graduate students. Wow, was all that consumed my thoughts. Various shades of white flushed my face at the thought of befriending students in completely different worlds.
Everything was happening.
It took the rest of the day plus some to set up my room just the way I wanted. Call me a perfectionist, but there was a certain atmosphere I wanted to capture. At the end of the week, I was ready to be the college student that filled my dreams and fantasies during the summer after graduation.
I won’t lie. There were a few hiccups from my experience. I definitely packed too much, and yet not enough. The biggest learning experience was knowing what to pack. I brought so many mementos that it began cluttering the space below my bed and on top of it. For some reason, I thought it was smart to bring every spare kitchen appliance that I could stuff in my mother’s already cramped car.
The thing I would do differently and advise other students to do is pack what you need. If you need some remembrance of home, bring a couple scrapbooks not boxes of albums. You will only need one pot and pan. College students learn how to make do with just a couple appliances. Worst case scenario: treat yourself to a new set if you can’t.
** This was an essay prompt written for Movers.corp 2018 Scholarship.