It’s March! And I’ve been living in Seoul for 6 months now! Plenty has happened to keep me occupied, and my outdated laptop was a huge reason for not posting all that has been going on. But I finally gave up on my Macbook from 2008 and bought a new Acer Chromebook for under $200. I love it so much already and it’s gotten me excited about blogging again, so let’s begin with some insight into my life in Korea so far, starting with the most time consuming thing: my job.
My 47+ work week as an English teacher at a Hagwon:
I mentioned in my previous post that I had been struggling with adjusting to the long work weeks. I’m happy to say that I am struggling much less, but the hours are still the same. In my opinion, this is a lot of time to be committing to a job. I remember before coming to Korea, I had had a conversation with a friend who said she worked 50 hours a week at her accounting job. My jaw dropped. I just couldn’t wrap my head around how that was humanly possible. When did she go out? When did she have time to enjoy the sunlight? And where do you get the energy to do that? Once I realized I was in a similar situation, I felt very anxious. I found myself thinking “Isn’t this the lifestyle that I was trying to avoid? Working so much that I had little energy or time to do much else?” And that’s what caused my initial problems with my adjustment.
For those that are curious about what my work schedule looks like (for comparison purposes in case you have a job in Korea already or plan to get one), here it goes:
First semester: Monday-Friday. In the office by 9 am, start teaching my first 40 minute block for Pre-K (5-6 year olds) at 9:30. There are 4 40-minute blocks before my 1-hour lunch break. After lunch, I have one final block, then a 30 minute break before going to my PM Elementary classes (ranging from 1st-4th graders). I got about 12 blocks of paid prep time per week, but if a teacher is absent, the present teachers rotate for subbing depending on availability, which cuts into my prep time. My class sizes are small; 12 students maximum. I teach several subjects: AM: Phonics, Reading, Writing, etc. PM: Grammar, Vocabulary, Science, Speaking, Listening, etc.
When I get annoyed about the hours, I remember the perks that make it worthwhile:
- Free rent. That’s a pretty sweet deal. I enjoy my apartment and it’s fun to have my co-workers living in the same building or neighborhood. It’s reminiscent of college dorms without the rowdiness. My apartment is clean, quiet, functional, cozy, and safe. Having come from a situation in the states where I had no place to call home makes this perk especially sweet.
- Good pay. I get 2.5 million won per month. I’m paid on time and I will get a completion bonus equivalent to one month’s salary once I finish my contract. Plus, the money that’s been taken out of my paycheck for pension each month will be reimbursed to me when I leave Korea. So come September 2016, I’ll be in a very nice place financially. There are also a few bonuses we’ve received throughout the year for holidays like Chuseok and Lunar New Year. The exchange rate sucks for USD at the moment, unfortunately, but I’m still able to transfer money home to make payments on my credit cards and student loans, while having more than enough leftover to live very comfortably, eat out whenever I want, drink, and entertain myself.
- I get to live in Seoul. When I first began looking for teaching jobs in Korea, I read over and over again that Seoul was a difficult location to be placed in because “everyone wants to live there.” So I thought I had no chance because of high competition. I signed up with several recruiters (Morgan, Adventure Teaching, Ace, Korvia, Reach to Teach, Footprints) and luckily enough, a great job in Seoul reached out to me, and they boasted the 2.5 million won pay, which was awesome since I had only heard of jobs paying up to 2.1 at most for qualified teachers. I jumped onto this job as soon as it was offered to me.
So obviously, work is a huge part of my life here. I’ve gotten a better handle on what’s expected of me from my employer and my students’ parents, and I’ve grown more confident in my performance in the classroom. But enough about work. Let’s get into the social life.
Socializing at work:
I’m lucky to be working with a large foreign staff. There are about 22 Americans and Canadians working at my hagwon. Not sure how else to say it, but it’s nice to have options when choosing who you want to socialize with on a daily basis. Overall, everyone is friendly and welcoming, but all 22 of us hanging out together never happens, so little branches are formed. These branches intertwine with others, so it’s not cliquey. It’s nice to be able to chat to fellow English speakers daily, relate on things from ‘home’, and get to know people from other states. It can definitely be too easy at times, causing me to be ‘sheltered’ from a more ‘authentic’ experience, but I’m having fun and I don’t feel the need to avoid what my situation is.
Eventually I’ll make a post dedicated to my favorite spots for hanging out in Seoul, but I haven’t explored too much to have a fair opinion. When I have the energy and drive to venture out of my humble neighborhood, I go to Itaewon or Hongdae for the bars, activities, and nightlife. I’ve been attending art classes regulary in Itaewon at Jankura Artspace since I’ve always loved to paint and draw. I enjoyed an open mic night at The Hidden Cellar in HBC (Haebangchon: a neighborhood by Itaewon). I signed up for a guided class for indoor bouldering at Climb Emotion in Gangnam and had an excellent day testing my strength. I recently partied until 7 am in Hongdae, bouncing between bars, clubs, and late night noraebongs! And I’ve enjoyed several game nights at local cafes or co-worker’s homes to avoid going out during this cold winter. Despite the good times, I’m eagerly looking forward to the spring and summer and giddy to my core about the return of sunshine and warmth! My California spirit has endured this winter long enough! I need my sunny hikes, picnics, outdoor sports, rooftop bars, shorts, skirts, and sunglasses!
Let’s just say I’m back to my original plan: Single life in Korea. No dating. No commitments. No mess. It’s been a while since I’ve been willing to date someone. My last relationships got complicated when thinking about our future. Relationships are hard enough, but getting involved in one while abroad has proven to be a whole other dimension of challenging. I love guys. I love the idea of love, and I love the perks of having a partner, but I’ll have to put those fine things aside for a time in my life when it feels… right? Look at me, trying to approach this logically. I tell myself I’ll be cautious, but I’ll probably be charmed and and swept off my feet again within the year. Quite frankly, I’m a hopeless romantic. Is it so wrong to love the idea of meeting a life-long partner while living/traveling in a beautiful and foreign country? I’ll do my best to stick to my original plan, but we’ll see who the universe throws my way to shake things up.
So that’s a brief but thoughtful version of my half-year in Korea. I’ll have to update my blog to include more details about the quirks of Korean culture I’ve encountered, my challenges with the language, my students, my apartment, and my travels within this time. I managed a few sweet trips outside of Seoul and outside of Korea and I’d love to share stories about them! Until next time!