Wednesday, July 20, 2011

20 Questions on our experience in Korea

1. Describe your overall Korean experience:

Claudia: Korea has been amazing! I am so happy that we decided to come here and experience a culture that is so different to our own. I have grown so much this year and I have had so many laughs and happy times. Korea has forever made an impression on my heart.

Oliver: Awesome! And nothing else.

Must sees and favourites

2. One must-see in Korea:

Claudia: Gyeongju, it really is a beautiful area that is filled with culture and colour. It is different to any part of Korea with its huge temples and burial mounds.

Oliver: There is no one must-see in Korea. There are several things that have to be seen by everyone that has the time to do so:
-Seoul and all of it’s vastly different areas and attractions.
-Busan. Huge, beautiful city, coastal town vibe. Superb combination!
-Gyeongju. Cultural and stunningly beautiful.
-The DMZ. To give you some perspective on things.

3. One must-do in Korea:

Claudia: Drop your bags and just walk the streets of Seoul. Have no set plan. Just roam and see what you come across. Another is to indulge in street food.

Oliver: As mentioned above, there is no one must-do. Eat, travel, live life, all of which are done with distinct ease in Korea.

4. Your favourite food in Korea:

Claudia: That’s a tough one. I have so many favourites but if I were to narrow it down it would be Dakgalbi, Haejan guk, and Shabu Shabu.

Oliver: I don’t have 1 particular favourite, but some of them: Korean style barbecue(regardless of the meat), Chuncheon DakGalbi and Nengmyeon (iced noodles).

5. Your favourite festival in Korea:

Claudia: Another tough one. It would have to be between the Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul and the Andong Mask Festival.

Oliver: Buddha’s Birthday, Cherry Blossom, Ice Fishing,

6. Your favourite memory in Korea:

Claudia: One of my favourite memories is the day we spent at Everland. It was a day with friends acting like youngsters. All in all a memorable day. Other great memories include watching the sea of people at the lotus Lantern Festival, sitting with Oliver one evening at Gwangalli Beach, Lauren and I dying our hair and putting face masks on, drinking wine at the Seoul Fringe Festival, randomly finding a sky lounge in Seoul.

No wait. My favourite moment in Korea was waking up the day after my birthday only to find that Oliver had literally fallen asleep in a bowl of ice-cream cake.


7. What you didn’t like:

Claudia: Spitting, I hate that people spit everywhere. It freaks me out and it confuses me because instead of not spitting people walk around with masks to help dodge germs.

Oliver: The spitting!! Make the goddamn spitting stop. It’s disgusting and it’s a great way to spread sickness.

8. Any regrets?

Claudia: Taking on the morning classes is my biggest regret. Yes we got extra money but it wasn’t worth getting up at 06:00 and having to leave social occasions early so we could get our beauty sleep. The only other regret I have is that I didn’t turn to my agent (instead of my director) when my mother got ill. I might not have lost half my bonus if I had gone that route.

Oliver: Only one. Having taken on extra work, which turned out to be too much work for too little pay, and ended up taking away from the overall experience.

9. Your most frustrating moment

Claudia: When I was trying to quit the morning classes (which are not part of my contract) and I was told that “it was impossible”. It was frustrating that I was left with no other options.

Another one was when we checked into a motel in Busan on a Saturday morning and made sure that we were paying for the night but when we came back later that afternoon the owner demanded more money and said that we had only paid for the day. URG!

Oliver: Trying to quit the abovementioned extra work and ‘not being allowed to do so’!!!


10. Advice on teaching:

Claudia: Be a bit of a hard arse for your first couple of weeks, the kids need to know whose boss so that they don’t take advantage. Trying to friends right off the bat comes with a fair share of challenges.

Get kids interested in English outside of the classroom with website such as and Try to not take your self too seriously and have fun!

Oliver: Take it easy, have fun. Simple.

11. A wonderful teaching moment

Claudia: One of my kids, Steve (13), was in our highest level class and when I started with Parts of Speech he was overwhelmed and wanted to quit. But he didn’t and now he knows them better than anyone else in the class. When he was writing an essay a couple of months ago he looked up and asked me what Part of Speech a specific word was so that he could figure out where in the sentence it went. I was so proud!

During a game I was dared to behave like King Kong and found myself running around like a lunatic after my kids…good fun!

Hearing Billy (6) sing Just another Lemon Tree when he thought no-one was listening.

There are just too many…

Oliver: Basically any moment that involved interaction with my kids that wasn’t strictly “teacher-student”.

12. A horrible teaching moment

Claudia: I can’t think of a specific moment but one of my classes was just painful in terms of their behaviour and attitude. That is the only negative thing I can think of.

Oliver: First day. Standing in front of 10 little kids, all staring at me, My god, kids have never been that scary.

Right now at the end. Saying goodbye to kids that I have absolutely fallen in love with. There is nothing more gut wrenching.


13. The strangest thing about Korea:

Claudia: Korea is full of ironies, like the spit and masks, but one of the strangest things about Korea is seeing people dressed in hospital gear walking about the streets. Hospitals in Korea don’t have gardens or anything so you often see people, with their drips, walking down a pavement. Odd.

Another thing that is strange is how afraid people are to deviate from “How things are done”. There is no “colouring outside of the lines here”. People are terrified of getting things wrong.

Oliver: The contrasting behaviour. Examples: Everyone spits everywhere, yet people are all afraid of getting sick, and so won’t share bottled drinks, or wear face masks on the subway. Maybe nobody has realised that spitting everywhere is a sure-fire way to spread germs.

The ‘last-minute’ nature of things when dealing with foreign teachers. Many teachers, myself included are told that there is a school dinner, literally as people are walking out of the building on the way to that dinner. Foreign teachers being told that there is a school sports day happening, on the day, when the entire school has already left for the sports grounds

14. Describe the people:

Claudia: Korean people are incredibly kind and efficient people. Some Koreans (in the minority) are not accepting of foreigners but for the most part Korean people are excited to meet a foreigner.

Oliver: Awesome. The people have ranged from super friendly, warm and receptive to downright rude and cold. To be totally honest, the rude ones have been so few and far between, that they are almost no worth mentioning. The overwhelming majority of people here see you as someone different and also treat you as someone different, but it has almost always been positive. Think: people buying you food or sending a round of drinks your way in a bar because you are a foreigner. The reception has been great.

15. Describe the culture

Claudia: Korean culture is multi-faceted. There are the traditional aspects of culture like hanboks and kimchi (which are amazing) and then there are new cultural phenomenon like everyone owning the latest, most impressive gadgets and that everyone (men and women) constantly preen themselves in anything reflective. It really is interesting to witness how the old and new merge.

Oliver: See above

16. What amazed you?

Claudia: The Banking and medical systems amazed me. The banking system is fast and friendly. The medical system is also amazing because it is so cheap and also very, very efficient.

Oliver: There were many things that amazed me. The amount of lights on a any given Korean street is ridiculous. In a very awesome way. The amount of packaging that Korea uses for everything is ridiculous. In a not so good way. Think : Individually wrapped hotdogs, wrapped in another plastic wrapper. Or triple wrapped food items, when a single wrapping would be ample.

17. Advice on living in Korea:

Claudia: Be ready to see things you might not agree with and be willing to accept that it is different to what you know. Make learning Hangul your main priority when you arrive, this will hugely impact your Korean experience. Get out there and travel. Oliver and I actively went to festivals and cities and we really got a good look at the country.

Oliver: Learn Korean! We tried it, far too late, and not hard enough. But trying and making an effort goes a looong way with many Koreans. Plus, being able to read Korean will make your life a lot easier.

Show an interest in the culture and be open minded. Things won’t always be easy and things won’t always go your way, and you will be surprised on many separate occasions, but if you are open to new things, chances are the surprises will be nothing but positive.

18. Are you the same as when you arrived?

Claudia: In some ways yes and in many ways no. I was hoping that Korea would help me slow down but I have realised that I am a person that is attracted to work and who will always be busy. However, Korea taught me to not take myself too seriously and to just sit back and take everything in. I have learnt so much through the incredible expats and locals I have met. I think I have changed in ways that are not immediately apparent.

Oliver: Not a chance. I feel a lot less stressed and on edge now then I did when I was back home, although I imagine that feeling might return again once back there. I have tasted true freedom in Korea, and that’s a feeling to be savoured and to hopefully have on a daily basis. I also have a much greater appreciation for kids, especially working with kids. Children make life better and happier. No serious complaints and just laughs all the way!

19. If you could do it again is there anything you would do differently?

Claudia: The only thing I would change is doing the morning classes which took away from my experience but other than that nothing. All the small and big moments were awesome. If I could, I would do it all again!

Oliver: Learn Korean and not take on another stupid job just for some extra money. Otherwise it was pretty much perfect!

20. Thank you:

Claudia: Thank you Korea for the wonderful moments, amazing food, beautiful scenery, funny quirks, and super people. This year has been one of the best times of my life so far. I have been inspired to travel and see more of the world. Also, thank you to all the friends I have made along the way, people from all over the world, who seem to want the same things out of life as me. Lastly, I want to thank my children for making this year a fulfilling one with a lot of laughter. Thank you!


Patrick said...

Thank you for sharing. Your insights and reflections on an experience that have stretched your mind and limits, have extended into our own lives as well. Pat and I have gone out into another world to look for what we can find. In many ways we have been satisfied with our search and experiences, and like you, the work has gotten in the way too often. Thank you guys and I look forward to sharing some more :) Renate and Pat

Zean Wednesday said...

overall, good reasons but 20 are too much lol my eyes begin itchy reading those writing... anyway thanks for sharing

Lalique said...

Friendly visit from Turkey

Anonymous said...

Regarding what you didn't like in Korea, spitting,
could you verify the spitting persons were Koreans?
I don't think so. Koreans don't spit in the street. If ever, it might be very rare case.

There are around 800,000 Chinese working and studying in Korea. Their bad habit in Korea is spitting every place. They are even urinating in public places of Korea and dump their garbage any place.

Most of Chinese in Korea come from Northern China.
They drink a lot. After drinking heavily, they fight among themselves, speak loudly, are vomiting in the street, ignore signal lights, and so on. They just don't keep regulations and Korean social rules.

Claudia Forster-Towne said...

@ ZeZe: Haha yes, the article ended up being a lot longer than we expected.

@Lalique: Thanks for visiting :)

@ Anon:Yes, we are sure that most of the people we saw spitting were Korean.

Anonymous said...

When you come back to Korea in the future, and if you have the courage to ask the spitting persons where they come from, you would be quite surprised because most of them are Chinese.

Chinese from Northern China working in Korea can speak Korean and they are inclined to lie to other people that they are Koreans. even in the other parts of the world such as US, UK, Canada. Many of them are behaving and traveling as Koreans, even using bogus Korean passports in foreign countries because they can speak Korean.

For the other foreigners like you, it is very hard to tell the difference between real Koreans and bogus Koreans(Chinese). There is accent in their Korean.

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