what to expect when you’re expecting… to move to Korea… Part 1

Hey there, Reader. This is a post I’ve meant to write for the last two years… Literally. When I arrived in Korea, I meant to spell out exactly how I got here, the headaches that ensued as I prepared, and also tell exactly what kinds of things might be smart to pack and what’s not so much worth the space/baggage weight. Well, I never did… Obviously. So, if you’re a regular reader, you probably won’t find this too interesting. I definitely intend to give people out there looking for information a decent gloss-over so they have a good idea of what to expect. I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for online when I was preparing to come over here, so it seems appropriate that I should share my wealth of knowledge with others who are making the jump across the pond (whichever pond that may be…).

To make this very long story easier to digest, I’ve decided to post it in pieces. Hence the “Part 1” in the title. You’re welcome.

And so, dear regular Reader, I feel I should tell you that while you may not gain any valuable knowledge for yourself, you can rest assured that I will write in my normal, slightly annoying, sarcastic, story-telling tone. There might just be something entertaining here for you after all…

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I decided to come to Korea sometime between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, 2011. At the time, I was living in Portland, Oregon and working at a company that had moved me there from Denver, Colorado. When I took the job nine months before, I loved it. Six months after starting, though – once they had shipped me off to Oregon – it was clear that things weren’t as they had been promised and I felt like I was drowning. I’ve struggled with depression on and off for more than ten years and I can honestly say, that time in Portland was filled with some of my darkest and most challenging moments.

I didn’t really know what to do because I definitely didn’t want to stay in Portland, so I wasn’t keen on looking for a new job there. I wanted to move, but to where? I have a sort of unspoken rule that I should never return to a place that I left, so going back to Denver didn’t seem like a good choice. (Not to mention I would have felt like a complete failure going back to where I had just left. But on the plus side, going back would have returned me to the world of bountiful breakfast burritos, which I sincerely missed…)

So, unsure of what to do, I went home to visit my family for Christmas. I was absolutely dreading going back home to rainy Oregon. One night, I was on Facebook and saw that an acquaintance of mine from college, Anna, had just returned from a 15-month teaching stint here. I had heard about other girls from our small university going to Korea on a year-long contract to teach, but I never had any interest in Korea, let alone Asia. I had definitely never considered it as an option for myself. But seeing Anna’s homecoming photos with her family and then reading through her blog while she was here, I knew that taking the leap and moving to Korea was going to be my next big step.

This is how the conversation with my parents went:

Me: Guys, I’m going to teach English in South Korea for a year and I’m leaving in 2013. Just wanted you to know I’m ditching the Americas.

My Mom: Okay. I think you should!

My parents have never been ones to discourage me from taking calculated and well-planned risks. And so, that was that.

I went home to Portland a few days later and filled my roommates in on my crazy plan to get myself out to Korea in a year’s time. I don’t think they believed I would actually do it. I also got in contact with Anna and asked her, [almost] literally, a million questions. How do I find a job? What should I pack? What’s a waste of time? How much money should I take with me for start-up costs? What’s the coffee like in Korea? Is everyone going to stare at me because I’m blonde and blue-eyed?

Anna was super helpful and completely patient. She answered all my questions and gave great details. I hit the ground running more than eight months out from when I planned to leave.

I applied for jobs with two companies that Anna suggested: Aclipse Recruiting, based in Boston, and Footprints Recruiting, based in Vancouver, BC, Canada. After talking with both agencies, I chose to go with Aclipse because I just preferred the recruiter assigned to me. She was a no-nonsense type of woman and got back to me super fast.

The interview process you experience with recruiting agencies like Aclipse and Footprints is pretty easy and straightforward. I mean, if you’re a college graduate (which you must be in order to even come to teach in Korea), you might feel like a monkey could pass the initial interview. Both companies set up times to call me on the phone and ask a series of run-of-the-mill interview questions. Aclipse also sent me a packet of “test” stuff beforehand to gauge my understanding of English and to see if I could pick up on simple grammatical errors, identify themes/main ideas, etc. I had to email the completed “testing” materials back to my recruiter prior to my phone interview.

Aclipse’s phone interview was a bit more intensive; while some of it was pretty straightforward, they also did an exercise with me where they asked a series of rapid-fire questions. I had to answer within three seconds and my answers could only be three words. Talk about a challenge! It was kind of fun, though. We also discussed my answers to the “test” and talked about what kind of age group I would be interested in teaching.

Turned out I was nervous for no reason at all.

Both agencies offered me “preliminary” opportunities. I was so far out from planning to leave the country, I was basically guaranteed a job with the companies in Korea they worked with. They had both “recommended” me to the academies they were hired to recruit for, but there were still a lot of holes. I had no idea where the job would be, what the actual pay would be like (I had a range of salary and cost of living numbers), what age group I would teach for… It wouldn’t be until I got closer to the leaving date that I would actually learn anything about my future job.

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I’ll end the story here for now, Reader.

If you’re reading this post in an effort to get some good information about coming to teach in South Korea, I would like to offer this piece of advice at this stopping place in the story: Try to start planning for your departure and start preparing everything you need for your job as early as you can. Things get hairy the longer you wait or the closer you are to departure, and it can get pretty stressful. Tune in to Part 2 to get the next part of the story!

If you’re looking for some quick info about reputable agencies or basic shopping information in Korea, check out my other pages.

Cheers!

9 Comments

  1. Pingback: what to expect when you’re expecting… to move to Korea… Part 2 | a little bit brave

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  7. Great story, Krissi! Right now I am not planing to move to Korea, but I have something in my mind for the near future. Your post is very expiring and gives me more courage to take a risk and to move there. Hopefully one day.. Best regards

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