When I first visited Korea, a year and a half ago, I fell in love with a dish called dak galbi. The friends I was staying with were kind enough to let me drag them to eat it every few days. I was obsessed, and upon my return to Korea, the love I have for dak galbi has only gotten stronger. Dave is now equally as passionate about dak galbi as I am. I can’t imagine anyone not adoring it.
The restaurants that serve this dish are solely devoted to making dak galbi. The tables are equipped with a large round pan in the center and a gas burner underneath. The amount of table space you have is fairly limited and it is quite crowded if you go with more than three people, but certainly doable.
Basic dak galbi consists of marinated chicken, cabbage, green onions, potatoes, onions, ddeok, and the special red spicy chili sauce they marinate the chicken in. Ddeok are known as “rice cakes” in English, but they aren’t the crispy cracker-like rice cakes you are probably thinking of. They are solid, glutinous, penne pasta shaped, flavorless by themselves, and made from rice. We always order ramen and extra ddeok to go in our dak galbi. There are different things you can add to your dak galbi order, such as cheese, but Dave and I like our typical order so much that we haven’t tried to mix it up yet.
Dak galbi is spicy, in fact it’s probably just on the verge of being too spicy for me. Because of this, it is imperative that you drink beer while you eat this dish. Water doesn’t neutralize the spiciness as well as beer does. If I didn’t drink beer while eating dak galbi, I probably would never finish the meal.
If you are still hungry after you have finished the deliciousness in front of you, order some rice to soak up the yummy remnants stuck to the pan. The staff will scrape down the pan as they stir fry the rice with more spicy sauce. I’ve only been hungry enough at the end of dak galbi to do this once. Between the beer and the main course, I’m usually much too full to attempt to eat more. Dave and I haven’t been eating dak galbi every few days, but it’s definitely hard to get through the week without having it once. We’re addicted.
Back in the day, when I was ice dancing six to seven days a week in Los Angeles, I was incredibly jealous of the people who lived in cold climates. I thought they would have tons of opportunities to skate outside on lakes and outdoor rinks. To this day, I get extremely giddy about the concept of skating outdoors. It seems so much more enchanting than skating in a building.
One of our Canadian co-workers had been telling us about an outdoor rink we could all go skating at in Seoul, and last Thursday we went to check it out with him. I was excited to go skating in Seoul, but a little nervous about being too cold and the crowds. I am a spoiled skater and chose to avoid skating in crowded sessions when I practiced. Seoul is a very crowded city, so I expected the ice rink to be miserably and possibly dangerously packed. I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t. We went after work and made it for the 7-8pm session. Skate rental and the skating ticket cost 1,000 won (about a buck). I brought my own skates, and Dave and our friend got rental skates. For those of you looking to rent figure skates, be forewarned plastic hockey skates are the only kind of skates available to rent.
To get to this rink, take the subway to City Hall and leave out of exit 5 if possible. Exit 5 was closed for construction when we went, so we had to walk out of exit 4 and turn around and walk in the direction of exit 5. You can’t miss it. Don’t go on weekends if you want to avoid the crowds.
Since I’ve lived in some kind of house for most of my life, I never really thought about how people in apartments move in or out. I can imagine that it’s challenging to fit a couch in an elevator or move it up ten flights of stairs. In Seoul, they have figured out an ingenious solution to this problem; just take out the windows.
As shown below, you can avoid the hassle of moving all of your belongings out of a huge apartment building by ordering a truck service. They will take out your window and send a large ladder to your room. They put everything on the platform attached to the ladder and it swiftly moves to the ground where it is then loaded into a truck. Somebody was moving out in the building across from my classroom, distracting my kindergarten students and leading to a discussion about moving. Most of them have already moved multiple times in their few years and know the moving process well.
There was a big red truck parked out front for a few hours removing things from the apartment and then after it left a big white truck came and moved the new folks in. Everybody was moved out and in within about six hours. Incredible.[slideshow]
I don’t even know what to say to this one.
Saturday was a freakishly cold day and we were trying to come up with fun indoor activities that would keep us out of the icy wind. I suggested we grab a warm beverage at the Hello Kitty Cafe in Hongdae, which we had seen before, but had not spent time in yet, and my wonderful boyfriend said yes. How many boyfriends willingly agree to being dragged to a pink Hello Kitty Cafe?! I’m the luckiest girl in the world.[slideshow]
I have always loved Hello Kitty. I can’t explain why, I just do. When I was little I could spend hours inside the Sanrio store eyeing all the goodies. Places like Korea are wonderful because it is perfectly normal for a grown woman like myself to adore Hello Kitty. I am currently sporting a Hello Kitty cell phone cover, which would probably be considered embarrassing at home, but is totally acceptable here.
When we first arrived at the cafe, I was a little bummed because it didn’t look like we would be able to find a seat. This seems to be a perpetual problem in Seoul, so we’ve learned to hover around seated people, eventually somebody is bound to get up. After a few minutes we snagged a table. I held down the fort while Dave got me a hot chocolate, a latte for himself, and a Hello Kitty waffle for us to share. The line to order was long, but he eventually came back with a Hello Kitty buzzer and said it would be about ten minutes.
In the meantime, I played the role of tourist taking pictures of everything. I usually feel awkward doing that, but everybody else was doing the same thing, so I didn’t feel like we were standing out too much. Dave was one of three other guys in the cafe the entire time we were there. The other two dudes fit in a little bit better, mostly because they didn’t look as manly as Dave. His furry beard and broad shoulders didn’t quite fit in with the pink, white, and red Hello Kitty decor.
We sipped our toasty drinks and munched on our waffle, as the girls around us took pictures and applied makeup with their compact mirrors. The waffle left much to be desired, but it definitely got style points. On our way out, I purchased a small Hello Kitty cell phone charm to go with my Hello Kitty cell phone case. I don’t think we’ll be going there every weekend, but I’m sure I’ll be back there again with my patient boyfriend.
See Dave’s perspective here. For directions to this glorious cafe, read my comment below.
Step 1: Pick a Place
The first thing you want to do after you’ve decided you want to teach in South Korea is choose a location. If you don’t have a specific city in mind, think about whether you want to be in a small town or large city. If you don’t particularly care where you end up, that’s okay, you just need to make sure you are somebody who can be happy in any type of setting.
Step 2: Find a Recruiter
Teaching English in South Korea is a huge business and there are many recruiters out there who will help you find a job. I recommend finding a couple recruiters and having them both try to find jobs for you. It’s best not to depend on just one recruiter.
One way to find a recruiter is by going to Dave’s ESL Café. Look through the forums and message boards and try to find a recruiter with some good reviews. Then all you have to do is email them!
Step 3: Tell Them What You Want
Make it clear to your recruiter(s) what you want. If you are trying to find a job with your significant other, make sure the recruiter understands that you want to live together in the same apartment. This is totally possible and is not as difficult to find as some might lead you to believe. Are you set on living in a specific city? If so, tell your recruiter that that city is the only place in South Korea you will move to. Also let them know whether or not you want to teach in a public or private school.
Step 4: Get Organized
Your recruiters will do the job search for you. While you wait for them to find you some interviews, you should start getting your paperwork together. The South Korean government is constantly adding new things to the list of documents you need, as of now, you need a:
- Valid Passport (make sure it will last at least one year from your estimated departure date)
- Copy of Your University Diploma Notarized and Apostilled
- An FBI Criminal Background Check Notarized and Apostilled (these can take a long time to process so do this ASAP!)
- Two Sealed Official Transcripts
- Passport Size Photos
- Pre-Employment Self Health Check
Your recruiter will inform you if there have been any changes to this list and exactly what you will need.
Step 5: Interview
Once your recruiter finds a school they think you might like, they will set up an interview for you. This is not just the school’s chance to chat with you and make sure you aren’t a nutcase, but it is also an opportunity for you to feel out what kind of school you could be potentially teaching at. Interviews are not typically long. They will ask you a few questions about yourself and why you want to come to South Korea and then they will ask you if you have any questions. It is always good to ask a couple questions. This is not a good time to discuss things like money, your recruiter will negotiate that for you. You can ask about the curriculum, the daily schedule, class size, etc. And don’t forget to ask for the email address of a current foreign teacher at the school. That is incredibly important!
Step 6: Decisions Decisions
Don’t rush into things. If something doesn’t sound right or feel right, don’t let your recruiter convince you otherwise. You will be signing a year-long contract and you want to make sure everything is the way you want it. Your school should pay for your housing, if they do not, keep looking. Salaries range from 1.9-2.3 million won. If you have teaching experience or a teaching degree you will be offered the higher end of that range and if you don’t have experience or a relevant degree you will be offered the lower end of that spectrum. Also, ask your recruiter for pictures of where you would be living.
Make sure you get the email of another foreign teacher working at the school. Ask them all of your questions. Important questions include:
- Do you get paid on time?
- How many people have left before their contract was over?
- Do you enjoy your day-to-day life at this school?
- How many other foreign teachers are there at the school? (The more the better. This can be a good indicator of how well the school is doing. A school with only a two foreigners might not be a very strong school.)
- How many sick days do they give you?
- How many vacation days do you get?
- How is the medical insurance at the school?
- How long is your commute to school?
- How well did the school stick to your contract?
- Did they pay for your flight and if not, did they reimburse you quickly?
These are some really important questions. Unfortunately there are many cases where recruiters leave out some serious details or try to flat out lie to foreigners looking to teach in South Korea. Recruiters get paid for finding you and getting you to sign a contract, that is their first mission. Don’t let them push you into a contract you don’t feel comfortable with. The best way to avoid this problem is by directly asking a foreign teacher who is already teaching at the school. Make sure you are confident that you are sending yourself into a good situation.
Step 7: Applying for a Visa
Applying for a visa is the last step in this process…other than boarding a plane and leaving. Your recruiter will give you all the information you need to apply for your visa. Before you can apply, you will have to sign a contract and the school you will be teaching at will have to submit your information to the immigration office in Korea. Once they have done that, you will be given the information you need to successfully apply for a visa. You cannot apply for a visa before the school submits your information.
Check out my other posts for more information on teaching abroad: