Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A list of listy lists. And the PCC Debacle is far from resolved.

First things first: The email address given on the SAPS website for police clearance certificate queries is WRONG.

The correct address is crcnameclearance@saps.gov.za. Yes, I'm publishing it. No, I don't care if they get spammed. They publish it on their website, or, at least, they think they do. This address is the correct one. Use this one, unlike a certain red-penned moron who emailed them weeks ago to ask them to change the method of dispatch so my friendly but expensive document assistance lady could pick it up and get it apostilled. Basically, I paid R500 for her to:

1. Check on my PCC and speed up the process.
2. Pick it up.
3. Get it apostilled.
4. Send it on to my recruiter. 

But of course, our wonderful civil services have thwarted my attempt to save time and money by spending money:

1. Nationwide delivery strikes led to my PCC getting lost in the mail.
2. When they did eventually find it, weeks later, the backlog from the strikes meant that my PCC took longer to appear on the database than it should have,
3. Their website provides the wrong contact information, so weeks after I emailed this wrong address about wanting them to NOT POST IT, but rather give it to my document lady, I still had not received even the slightest acknowledgment of receipt. My documents lady gave me the correct email address, which I have reposted above. But I was too late...
4. After I emailed the correct address, I received an email from them saying that I had just missed it; the processed PCC was posted to me this morning.

So, who's willing to bet this will a) get stolen, b) go missing, c) spontaneously combust?

While it isn't my document lady's fault, considering that the Civil Services have successfully thwarted any chance she might have had of doing anything remotely useful (not for want of trying), I am trying to see if I can be refunded at least some of the money.

And I'm trying not to cry, and trying not to murder someome.

But you know me - I'm an optimist. So, final list in this rather listy post:

1. At least it's been processed.
2.  At least it's on its way.
3. At least my house isn't flooded.
4. At least I'm not living in a bathroom (true story, it happened, maybe I'll mention it someday - probably in the same breath as 'WOW this Korean apartment is TINY' or something. Stay tuned for that).
5. At least I'm alive.
6. At least the internet is working (albeit intermittently).
7. At least my interview has been scheduled!!!!!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Great PCC Debacle of 2012

Crikey, what a mission. I suppose it serves me right for ignoring warnings and leaving it so late to apply for my Police Clearance Certificate, the very last document that I need. Well, in early September, I went to get fingerprinted. R59 and some very dirty hands later, I was ready to send it on to be processed at the Criminal Records Centre in Pretoria.

Mistake number 1: I didn't send it immediately; I was waiting until the new EPIK application form came out so I could do all my posting at once. Get this sorted out ASAP.

So eventually I speed-serviced it over to Pretoria. Getting a tracking number reassured me, as this one envelope contains everything an identity thief could ever dream of. I sent it off the day after my EPIK stuff was sent to my recruiter for the simple reason that I'd forgotten to bring it with me on my first visit to the post office.

Mistake number 2: Wrapped in the bubble of news-silence that is Grahamstown, I was unaware that there was looming strike action. And, whaddaya know? The very week I send my most important document off, the delivery truck drivers go on strike. Story of my life. The post office outsourced to private drivers. However, this inevitably led to chaos as these guys really are not trained to do post. For example, one guy gave the entire bag of post - parcels, snail mail and speed services - to the nearest human being, a security guard, when he arrived before the post office opened. Luckily that security guard was an honest person, and he brought it into the post office branch where my flatmate works (which is why I know this happened).

As a result of this fiasco, my PCC went missing. And I only discovered this when Noma, the nice lady at Docs4Expats who I'd paid to speed things up and to monitor it, emailed me to tell me that it hadn't arrived. Even though I'd sent it over a week before that.

I spent an entire day phoning the post office and police station (and intermittently crying in between) trying to find my missing documents, and Noma suggested I get re-fingerprinted and send them via courier as soon as possible. The wonderful lady at the Post Office went out of her way to track my parcel down, and finally managed to confirm that it had been delivered to the CRC in Pretoria. When the young cop on the phone at the CRC told me about how they were barely dealing with the backlog, and sounded like she was going to cry from being shouted at by an entire country all day, I decided to give it a week. I also didn't want to go back to the dodgiest part of town to get fingerprinted. Again.

So I waited, and waited, and waited. The strike ended and Noma said she'd see if she could pick up the documents from the post office. And that was the last I heard about it - which is understandable as nearly every person and their aunt is using Noma to get things apostilled and so on in Pretoria this time of year, so she is beyond busy.

On Friday I asked my nice boyfriend if he could give me a lift to the police station to get re-fingerprinted this Monday, as rain has been putting me off the walk. Well, it has not stopped raining since Wednesday. And not the usual half-hearted drizzle; this is 5 days of solid torrential downpour, 24/7 (except for a brief sunny respite which coincided with our usual Ultimate Frisbee practice time, luckily enough). Nearby towns are flooded, and a couple of hours ago the only road to the nearest city was washed away by a flooded river.

Here are some photos of the devastation in Grahamstown:

The main road to Port Elizabeth

So... if I did try to post anything, it would go via Port Elizabeth. But only if the van is driven by Sandra Bullock.

In a fit of optimism I decided to see if anything had progressed on Pretoria's end, by checking the status of my application here.

And lo and behold, my PCC application has appeared on their database, which means it is being processed. Additionally, the other day my original copy of my TEFL certificate arrived in Mauritius, so I'm just that much closer to being in Korea. My recruiter says I'm on the waiting list for an interview, so I should hear about that any day now.

In the end, after all this chaos, things are looking up. Well, except for the destruction of the main supply lines to town. Farms have lost their crops because of flooding, and anything they did manage to harvest is stuck on the other side of impassable roads, so (of course) Pick n Pay have doubled their prices and it looks like I'll have to start rationing the cookies. Students have been seen bum-surfing on local schools' fields, some businesses are closed, and it is quite likely that no one will show up to class on Monday, as students in this town are known to dissolve if they get wet. Something to do with the alcohol content in their blood streams.

Time to break out the rubber duckie.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Korean Ultimate Players Association

Looking at the title of this post, you may think I am going to write about dating practices, cheating, and people who look like this weirdo:

ye standarde tinfoil pimpe cup.
No, no, silly people. I'm going to talk to you about sports. Or not. Maybe I'll just post a video of what I found today that makes me ridiculously happy. It's a way to stay fit AND make friends and, well, I'm not very good at it but if this weather ever lets up and we get to have more games, I'll improve.

And now, our feature presentation, courtesy of KUPA:

Watch the bonus footage at the end to see an incredibly cute demonstration of bringing your interests into your school, and lessons.

They have teams all over Korea! I've never played in a competitive team before, aside from a few months of hockey in high school. So exciting! And Ultimate Frisbee is ridiculously fun. 

I think this is another thing to look forward to in Korea. :D

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

What to Bring to South Korea

My old friend Grant asked, "Where exactly in Korea are you based? And what should I bring with me? I'm still waiting to hear, but I'm hoping to get to Seoul."

Well, firstly I'm also still waiting for my interview, but I've got my fingers crossed for Daegu. As for what to bring...

The official EPIK website has a pretty detailed list of what you'll need to have when you're in Korea, but I've found options that make it easier for you to pack. The EPIK list is here, outlining the basics. And somehow you need to fit it into a 20kg bag.

Some tips and tricks I've picked up from reading other blogs:

Pack for half the year, not the whole year. 
If you're arriving in Fall, then pack winter clothes (you can get an idea of what the weather is like at whatever time of the year by going to your city's Wikipedia page). Limit the bulky items; the key to staying warm in Korea is layering, and they're also better equipped for cold there, so you can buy the bulky stuff there, if you are not a 6ft giant. Be ruthless; your school has to provide you with a washing machine and there is indoor space for you to hang things up in your apartment, so just accept that you'll need to do laundry often at first. Pack up the clothes you won't need for 6 months and get someone generous to post that package to you once you know your address.

Pack things you know you can't get in Korea.
It's really hard to get shoes if your feet are a Saffer size 6 and above, although some shops and markets in Seoul are becoming more sasquatch-friendly. And you can order shoes online from other countries and have them delivered. But when you arrive there, make sure you've got shoes that are worn with socks and come off easily for various occasions. Koreans are not so hot on bare feet, and you need to take your shoes off when entering a home. Also pack a decent pair of hiking boots. Again, you can leave half your shoes at home, to be posted later - if you're arriving in February, you don't need to pack your wellies as the monsoon season only starts in August-ish. But make sure you have some kind of boot to traipse through puddles in.

As I mentioned previously, other things like underwear also might be hard to find in your size if you don't have a particularly Asian build, so stock up on that.

Koreans don't sweat nearly as much as Westerners, for some reason. As such, it's almost impossible to get deodorant unless you pay an arm and a leg on the black market. Bring as much as you can fit in your bag, keeping in mind that summer in Korea is very humid.

The cold - there's a weird weather system that means that in Korea, in winter, the wind blows frostbite at you from Siberia. No, really, SIBERIA. South Africa doesn't ever get that cold, so you might need to visit Cape Union Mart and get a Ski jacket. Even then, it probably won't be warm enough, so accept that you're going to look like an obese jersey-addict for a bit until you get a proper warm Korean jacket.

You start work pretty much immediately after orientation, so make sure you've got some decent teacher clothes as well. Suit up, boys and girls, and ladies - hide the girls. Koreans don't mind if your skirt is so short you can see your armpits, but your shoulders must be covered and your twins stowed neatly out of sight.

Settling into your apartment - I've seen a lot of blogs suggesting that you bring bedding, as it is difficult to buy it in Korea. Wellll... I suppose so. But I am personally going to save space by ordering the basics from The Arrival Store. They're cheap, they deliver to your door and they're awesome, according to people who've used them. I'm not sure how long you'd need to wait for them to deliver it, after you arrive, but every apartment has underfloor heating, so if you bring a blankie or something you can probably 'camp' on your floor until your TAS box arrives - probably only a night or two. Hey, it's an adventure. It will be fun. Maybe.

Unnecessary items:
Don't bring your phone unless it's a recent smartphone, such as one running Android, Windows OS or an iPhone. Ordinary phones don't work in Korea, and you can easily get one when you arrive. If you bring a smartphone, you probably won't be able to use it at first because those require contracts, which no one is going to give a GET in their first six months, as a lot of GETs get homesick or fed up or disillusioned and leave.

You can buy most shampoos and conditioners in Korea, and their make-up is about 500 years ahead of the rest of the world, so bring some basics but indulge in the wonders of BB cream and eyeliner compasses when you arrive.

Bring a couple of pairs of nice socks with you - soft, clean, new-looking and not raggedy and full of holes, but know that you can buy them by the bucket load when you arrive as well. So, bring a couple for the first month or so, and then go shopping with your first paycheck (2.1 mill) + entrance allowance (1.3 mill) + settling in allowance (300 000) +... How awesome is it that we'll be millionaires in a month? Ah, ok, millionaires in Kwon isn't quite the same, but hey, I like seeing multiple zeroes in my bank account. Provided there's something in front of those zeroes. I digress. You only get this at the end of your first month (except for the settling in allowance) so bring some cash with you to tide you over for a month.

Quell homesickness
If there is a particular item from home that you love and cherish and makes you feel happy, bring it. Your first couple of months in Korea can be pretty lonely. I'll be bringing a massive stack of fake polaroids of some very happy times and the teddy bear I've had since I was a baby. But the best way to deal with homesickness, and I know this as someone who's lived away from home since I was 14 years old, is to

a) pretend you've slipped through a portal into a parallel universe. I'm nerdy like that, but if you treat it like you're hopping in the TARDIS for a bit and can pick up right where you left off, you may be horribly mistaken but it will feel a lot easier than if you think you're abandoning your home, your country and all the people you love.
b) learn to use and love Skype. You'll have internet set up in your apartment pretty soon, and until then there are lots of wifi hotspots, so you can keep in touch with the fan-damily if you feel the need.
c) keep busy. Learn Korean. Explore your city. Make amazing lessons for your students. Don't just sit in your apartment, wallowing in self-pity and loneliness. If you made friends during Orientation, meet up with them. They're probably feeling as lost and as lonely as you are.

So bring stuff that lets you do that. You can buy books on learning Korean when you get there. Save weight by bringing a Kindle - it can hold thousands of books and it will love you forever and you can cuddle it and snuggle it and try not to fall asleep holding it above your face because it is harder than a paper book and it will hurt you. Ow.

That's all I can think of right now - but remember I haven't listed everything, just the personal tweaks I'll be making if I make it through the interview stage. Use the EPIK list as your foundation, but know it's a little bit flexible depending on how willing you are to adapt to your new environment.

Waiting for that interview (re-enacted)

Wake up and wait for my gmail to load:

See that someone got rejected. Still no word for me.

Someone got in! It wasn't me. On the outside:

Meanwhile, on the inside:

And the wait continues.

Korea vs Kalamazoos

Koreans are obsessed with appearances - why else would they have the highest plastic surgery stats in the world? Well, one part of their body they won't tweak is their chesticles*. Korean ladies like 'em small - it's part of the lanky, skinny waif trend, I guess. Behold, a beautiful Korean woman:

They have lines for everything - V line for the face and cleavage (uh, what cleavage? You mean that little valley between your twin peaks, Mt Mozzie-bite and Mt Kumquat?), S-line for 'curves', I guess. And all kinds of other such ideals about beauty. I'm not really going to go into them here - click the link to read about it.

Let's get back to the jubblies at hand.

Now, women in my family are blessed with good health, good hair, a sense of humour and pretty blue eyes. One area we don't do so well in is, well, the wah-wahs. With one exception.

Yep, you guessed it. The one person in the family who has decided to zoom off to kimchi-land is the one who is the least aerodynamic. They're not huge, but they're definitely bigger than the average Korean's hemispheres. And with Korean ideas of propriety clashing majorly with those held by your typical South African, my 'over-endowment' in the bikini-stuffer area is looking like it might end up being a bit of a problem.

In South Africa, it is considered acceptable, and even quite elegant, to go out looking like this:

In fact, we even celebrate 'National Cleavage Day' as a Breast Cancer awareness thing. We like our mammaries. We're not ashamed of them, and we don't hesitate to whip out our fun bags whenever it seems appropriate... Within reason.

Oddly enough (from a Korean perspective), we happy mushmelon-jiggling Saffers think this is a bit trashy:

It's perfectly acceptable in Korea, apparently. All right, let's agree to disagree about where it's appropriate to flash whatever kind of cleavage. What worries me is that because I am 'lucky' to have the most shapely sugarplums in my family, I've always cunningly used them to draw attention away from the junk in my trunk, if you get my drift. I have a loooot of junk in my trunk. What can I say? I'm a hoarder.  See, if we break it down into Korean terms, my body is less of an S line and more of a ᄅ. So I most definitely veer away from the Korean trend of miniskirts and matron tops, toward a more western idea of enhancing the Moo Moos and hiding my other-other lovely lady lumps.

This means I'm going to have to go through all my clothes and throw out anything strappy or plunging. I didn't even know some things were low cut until I saw photos of myself in what I thought at the time was fairly formal, conservative wear. Why yes, I did bring my Jemimas to your wedding. Sorry about that.

Once I've gotten rid of all the clothing that lifts my udders, squeezes my tortillas, drops bass on my woofers and frames my dueling banjos, I wonder if there will be anything left for me to actually wear. I'm also going to have to invest in a whole lot of over-shoulder boulder-holders as they don't sell anything larger than a B-cup in Korea.


*Ah, euphemisms. Boy, this was a fun post to write. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Red pen... of doom?

I've been flip-flopping between names for this blog. It's still in its early stages, although people in my class read up on my tips and things for PGCE, so I probably should avoid changing its name.

Red Pen of Doom - it sounded catchy, and I wanted to reference the ultimate feeling of power held by the teacher, as she marks work, deciding the fate of her students. Tongue in cheek, of course. Hyperbole. And stuff.

Then I thought, hey - if I'm going off on an adventure, and writing about how I'm trying to make my dream come true, it's probably not a good idea to be talking about doom, is it?

Thus, Ramblings in Red Ink. Similar enough to the old one to keep some continuity, but a little less dramatic. Not catchy enough, though. Do I want to be stuck with this mediocre name for the next few years of teaching?

And then I remembered something I'd read years ago. I came across it in a K-blog last week.

Traditionally in Korea, the names of the deceased were recorded in the registry in red ink. Thus, apparently if you write a living person's name in red ink, you are expressing a wish that they die, and 'cursing' them or shortening their life. This tradition seems to be falling away, as young Koreans no longer seem to observe it. 

But I thought I should probably change the name of this blog again, moving completely away from the red pen thing.

So I tried 'Keopi Kat in Korea' but.... Ugh. It's just not me, and I would have to retrospectively change any and all links to my blog from before the change, and...

You know what? If the tradition says that red ink spells out doom and gloom, then Red Pen of Doom is perfectly appropriate after all.

So, that's my waffling for today - an explanation of the name of this blog and a little Korean culture to snack on.

Still no sign of the interview email.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Malala Yousafzai and the Suppression of Education

My heart is breaking today, as I have just read about Malala Yousafzai's shooting on Tuesday.

Malala is a 14 year old activist who has spent the last 3+ years fighting for education for women in Swat valley, Pakistan. The Taliban have attacked her school, her classmates, her teachers, and on Tuesday she was shot in the head and neck by a member of the Taliban, who boarded her schoolbus. She had been published when she wrote a diary under a pseudonym, aged 11. She was filmed in multiple documentaries, held press conferences, hosted dignitaries and received awards, while continuing to attend school despite a Taliban edict forbidding education for girls.

Here is one such documentary.

As far as I can tell from press releases, right now she is still in a critical condition but showing improvement. Whether this brilliant girl will suffer permanent brain damage remains to be seen.

But Malala's story highlights not only the crisis in girls' education in Pakistan and the Middle East, but also crises in education around the world, and the responsibility of us, as adults, to provide that education for our children. And this responsibility seems to be ignored by so many people, which makes me want to defenestrate them.

On the one hand, people say 'I don't really want to teach, but EPIK is such a great way to make some money while travelling'. These people clearly don't realise that it's a full time job, and you're working with human beings. Living minds. When I get up in the morning and walk into the first class of the day, I'm a mess of barely concealed nerves. Nervous not because I think I'll embarrass myself, but because of the pressure I'm under to lift these children to the next level of understanding. The responsibility of having the words you say to them taken pretty much as gospel - they're children, they haven't had 3 years of university to teach them critical thought. Nervous because these are real minds that I'm fiddling with, and what if I snip the wrong wire here, or rip something there, or add something that shouldn't be there?

Students spend at least 6 hours a day (in South Africa - often a lot more time in Asia) with you as their leader, their guidance counselor, their role model, their source of knowledge or their facilitator in the journey towards knowledge. They respect you, they bow to your whims and churn out tasks that you have set. And you're using them for the money, and the opportunity to travel? Friend, you have not thought this through. And you're bloody irresponsible.

But that's the small scale stuff. One selfish 'teacher' using kids to fuel his adventure or nest egg. This kind of attitude only escalates from here: we go from teachers who are in it for the wrong reasons to the teachers who think it's all right not to show up at school at all. Teachers who use strikes as a way to extend their holidays, and avoid doing work. Schools in South Africa that have not had a disrupted term once this year. To the point where their students actually march to the Department of Education to beg for teachers who will teach them.

You get politicians who are so desperate for that next BMW or mansion that the funding for schooling is funneled away into their pockets. And people who deliberately prevent their children from going to school in order to further their own political agenda, such as the man in Olifantshoek who refuses to allow his kids to go to school until the municipality addresses issues of infrastructure in his town.

Yes, let me repeat that: people are using the withholdment of education as a tool for protesting against the government not doing its job properly.

Doesn't that seem ridiculous? Especially when the people running the unions, and the people who are running the government, are the people who took part in the Soweto Uprising:

Hector Pieterson, shot during the student protest against the socially limiting Bantu education

A UCT student protests on behalf of those who are not given a political voice
under the Apartheid regime
This is making me incredibly angry, so I'm going to sum it up here. HOW DARE YOU limit the education of a child? HOW DARE YOU put your selfish desires ahead of the education of a generation? HOW DARE YOU think that these kids don't matter, that they won't be running the world when you're reliant on them for medical care and pensions, and other such things. HOW DARE YOU use your children as a political or religious tool?

When the representatives of SADTU and NAPTOSA came to speak to our class, I posed these questions to them. They didn't really have an answer; they scoffed and sniggered patronisingly and said that strikes are the only tool for industrial action that actually work. Ok, sure, you might get your smidgen of a raise, or a pledge that the department will appoint the posts it promised to (although 6 months later they have done bugger all). But is it worth the cost of trashing a generation's education?

Is this the future you want for education?

Thankfully there are some amazing people fighting against this global movement of anti-education.

People like Mamphela Ramphele:

 People like Malala's father, who kept her in school, and ran a school for girls. People like the teachers who do go to school, who do teach despite the absence of textbooks. Principals who make a plan despite the obstacles being placed in front of them by higher-ups. People who actually give a crap about the future condition of our society, rather than the present condition of their bank account or political reputation. People like Jonathan Jansen and Malala Yousafzai who speak out. Hopefully people like you, a young teacher or teacher-to-be who actually takes this job as seriously as it should be taken.

These children are real people, with real minds. They should be handled with care.

The Waiting Game

Aaargh! This waiting is killing me. So far EPIK have been working round the clock to interview applicants; direct applicants first and those who went through recruiters (like me) second. So the recruited applicants have just started being interviewed, and some have been successful while others are having to make other plans. And every day, someone asks 'What should we prepare for the interview?' or 'How long will I have to wait?'

Here, have a soothing and yet relevant song:

Well, firstly, I haven't had an interview yet, so I can't talk from my own experience. But I can give tips on how to pass ANY job interview, based on what the successful applicants have said. [Edit: I passed my interview! So you can trust me after all.]

For ethical reasons, NO, I am not going to tell you what they might ask you. If you have come here looking for the questions so you can create rehearsed answers, stop reading now. It won't help you.

What I will give you is general advice that has been common to most responses to the frantic questions of 'What do they want from me?!'

This is not doctrine. Hell, I don't even know if this is right, because I haven't had my interview yet. But this is basic common sense as far as interviews go, for any job.

Here we go.

1. Be honest
Seriously, folks. You're going to work with children. You'll be a public servant. Do you really want to start that off with dishonesty?

2. Be yourself
It takes a certain kind of person to pack up their life and head to another country in order to teach children. You've decided to do this. You're a certain kind of person. So be yourself; let your personality shine through, because if you're sincere about this then you are what they're looking for.*

3. Be professional
It may be over Skype, and it may be from your little brother's bedroom because it's got the best wireless signal in the house. But take it, and yourself seriously. Clean up (or sit such that there is a blank wall behind you - sneaky trick) and dress up. In any job interview, you want to make a good first impression, and this is your chance to wow them with your dedication and professionalism. This plays into my next point:

4. Be prepared for technical eventualities
There's nothing that screams unprofessionalism like having to have your little brother answer the phone when they ring, and say, 'Don't worry, I'll fetch her,' while you're waving your phone around outside trying to get signal. True story. Not mine. No names mentioned here, but that was an example from a failed interview. And then you rush inside, panting, sweaty, and stammer/babble your way through the interview. Except that they can't hear you, because your onboard mic is picking up the whirring of your laptop's fan and so you sound like a cross between Darth Vader and E.T.

To hell with that. Get yourself a headset, and Skype a friend who lives as far away as possible, and ask them to tell you if you're coming through clearly. Save these settings.

NB - if you update your Skype, you may have to re-configure these settings. So, double-check them a couple of hours before your interview, and then don't touch anything. And you should be all set.

If you live in a third world wasteland like me, you may not have amazing first world internet. Maybe high speed internet is one of the main things that is drawing you to Korea (something else I wouldn't necessarily mention in an interview). One of the main reasons for laggy internet is that, even if you're uncapped, there are too many users on your line or you've pulled too much data and your ISP is throttling you. Make sure people are aware that you need them not to destroy the internet for a couple of days leading up to your interview.

5. Take the interview seriously
They are interviewing you for the job of a teacher in a public school. So it might not be a good idea to talk about how you're using this teaching gig as a springboard to travel through Asia. This is the education of their children, their future workforce, their future leaders, that you are treating as a free ticket. Screw you - go backpack through Thailand or something. This is a job interview, so talk about the job, and what you bring to it, and what you hope to get out of it. How can you make their organisation more efficient / effective / exciting? This is common sense, it's what you would do in any serious job interview, even if it was for a job sorting paperclips in a law firm in your home town. It's not about the free ticket to Korea or the free rent or the fantastic pay. Those are PERKS. They are REWARDS for being a GOOD TEACHER. So tell them what makes you a GOOD TEACHER.

6. Be relaxed and confident
EPIK have warned that it is unacceptable to have notes that you refer to in the interview. They're asking some deep questions, that you should definitely have considered beforehand, but if you're stammering, babbling or reading from notes, it sure doesn't sound like you mean a word that you're saying. They want to get to know you. Leave the rehearsed lines and cheesy waffle out of it; if you're honest, professional and taking this seriously, then you should have a good answer and you should mean it. Pause after a question to collect your thoughts. Take a breath.

You should also know exactly what you said in your application (without having to refer to it) because that's all they know about you so far, so they're probably going to ask you about it. This includes the lesson plan and essay.

7. Be clear
You're applying for a job as an ESL teacher, so your ability to speak clearly and concisely is also being tested. Don't rattle off in crazy terminology about your pedagogical beliefs about homogenous cultures and the duality of mind and body in a globalised social reality. You might sound smart but you're also showing that you don't know how to communicate effectively. Your accent should also not impair understanding by a second language learner; likewise, try to minimalise regional or dialectical slang in your speech. Cos, ja, bru, if you are lekker brief and keep it toight like a toiger, they'll smaak you stukkend, china. But if you're wack and late for days, they might not dig you. Aweh.

8. Be sparkly
Smile. Crack a joke (if you think the interviewer will appreciate it). Throw in a Korean phrase you've learned. Mention kimchi or your favourite K-Pop band. Dazzle them with your passion, interest in their culture and schweet personality.

If you keep these in mind, then I don't see how you can go wrong.

Good luck. :D

*Unless you're a drug-addled serial killer with paedophilic tendencies. Then it's probably best not to be yourself. And probably best to think of an alternate career path. Just saying. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Tax Minimalism 101

One of the best things about teaching in Korea is that you earn a ridiculous amount of money in a country with a relatively cheap standard of living. But you might miss out on a tidy R7000 (about US$780) per year if you're not careful; it might be sucked into Korean pension and tax. Not  planning to retire in Korea? Really? But the ajummas and ajeossis seem to be having such a blast at the colateques...  Oh, all right.

If you are a resident of South Africa, you do not have to pay tax for your first 2 years in Korea.

aww yeaah

All you need to do is fill out a SARS IT77 form. Simple enough.

Or so I thought. It's long. And specific.

But guess what? You don't really need to fill in the whole thing; you just need to put in your South African ID number, name and address so they can put you in the system. Add in a certified copy of your passport/driver's license/ID and a letter from your bank confirming your bank details. Stir. Drop it off at your nearest SARS office and ask them for a residency certificate for you to present in Korea, and you're all set. Don't have a SARS office in your dorp (although even Hogsback has 4 liquor stores)? Use Docs4Expats. They rock.

Wasn't that easy?

So, the children, the culture, competitive StarCraft, Hello Kitty, the sparkly rainbows and purple unicorns aside, let's hear it for the main (if secret) reason for us to flock to Korea:

Saturday, October 6, 2012

A booze cruise of K-Blogs

Depending on how adventurous you are, you may or may not have started reading K-blogs (blogs about foreigners in Korea) to prepare you for your upcoming trip. I think going into Korea with no idea whatsoever of what to expect is incredibly brave, but I also like to be prepared.  I have been a regular reader of some K-blogs for years now, whereas I have only recently discovered others that are so amazing, I feel I need to share them with you.

A brief introduction to K-blogging:  

So far, I've found that K-blogs mostly fall into one of four* categories:

1. The Shout-out-To-The-Folks-At-Home:
These are made by teachers who have just arrived in Korea and want to reassure their parents/friends/family  that North Korea has not yet nuked them. The bloggers are sometimes couples, sometimes single, and the tone is chatty, personal and intimate. The language of the blogs is clear, direct and can feel very honest. Short and sweet, most of them have a very similar flavour, and they're nice for a quick read or to answer a quick question you may have.

If I could drink this, it would be: 

Blog of choice: Maggie Moo Does Korea

2. The Journalist-in-Teacher's-Clothing (to borrow a term from Deva)
The first thing you'll notice with these blogs is that they are beautifully written. These read more like the sort of article one might find on the Matador Network, with poetically descriptive prose that puts you right in the experience. The posts are longer, and a lot more planning, research and editing has gone into them. They also tackle a range of different attitudes and ideas about Korean life, culture and the experiences of expats in Korea. The journalistic experience of the bloggers also means that each writer has a subtle, yet distinctly different style.

By the glass, or by the bottle:

Blog of choice: The Culture Muncher

3. The right-here-right-now webzine
These are collections of contributions from bloggers all over Korea. Most of those bloggers have their own personal blogs (which fall into the 2nd category). The webzines, however, also have a lot more current information and hold a bunch of different points of view and sources in one place. Good to get to know a particular area (of interest or geographical) from a bunch of different angles.

Punchy, vibey and immediate:

Blog of choice: Chincha 

4. The unique-little-snowflake 
Of course, there are some blogs that just don't fit into the other categories neatly, or at all. These are startlingly brilliant and creative responses to living in South Korea and may be in the form of a web-comic, or, um, other stuff. Yeah. I can't really describe this category other than 'misc'. I guess you just need to take a sip and risk it.

Some interesting ones I like to dip into:

In summary, there are bazillions of expat blogs all over the place, and they come in many different shapes and forms. If I really like one, I tend to link to it from this blog so I can find it later - the links are in the nav bar on the right. If you know of a fantastic (and I mean FANTASTIC) k-blog that you think I should check out, leave your suggestion in a comment below.

*I have chosen not to include video blogs in this, for the sake of my rubbish South African bandwidth. K-vlogging is a whole n'uther story

Friday, October 5, 2012

10 Ways to Make Time Fly In October

So you've run around getting things stamped and signed, and maybe you've sent your mountain of paperwork in to your recruiter, or directly to EPIK. Well, if you haven't sent them in yet,

What the hell are you waiting for?
Get a move on! EPIK started accepting applications sent in by recruiters today. And it's first come, first served.

If you're on the ball, and have sent all the things in, you've levelled up! Congratulations. You have progressed to the next stage: Waiting for an Interview.

And waiting... And waiting some more...

Even playing your invisible playstation won't help that email come any faster.
It's so close, but just out of reach. So, how can you make October go by a little faster? Well, let's think positively and assume that you will get the interview, and you will pass it.

1. Make a bucket list.
List all the things you want to do before you skip town, or all the things you want to do in Korea.
For bonus time-wasting points, research all the things and find out how easy, cheap and amazing they will be (or won't, depending). Make a horribly complicated spreadsheet with all this information on it. Colour code it.

My list is here.

2. Inevitable Facebook time-wastage.
Post links to anything and everything vaguely related to Korea on the EPIK facebook group and get sucked into absorbing, exciting and interesting comment threads with your future potential friends.
For bonus time-wasting points, face-stalk the members of the group. Creep.

In the end, everything comes down to the hip thrusting.

3. Get to know your POE/MOE on Google Earth.
Not as dull as it sounds, actually, and you can spend hours and hours following bike trails along rivers - wait, what the hell is that, Daegu?

Is it a maze? Some kind of weird Korean Sports field? A macrochip? A very well-groomed crop... rectangle?
4. Start learning Korean
There are some great websites with free resources for you to start teaching yourself Korean. Let me break it down for you:

KWOW - Korean Word of the Week. I found this youtube channel a while back, which helps with some vocab in her KWOW program, as well as various other cultural snippets. She's also ridiculously adorable.

Korean-Flashcards.com sends (sometimes awkwardly funny) sentences of the day to your inbox, as well as having a bunch of vocabulary-building resources on the website.

The best so far, however, is Talk To Me In Korean - amazingly well-explained and in-depth lessons that teach you not just handy phrases here and there but actually how to correctly construct sentences, and what all the bits and bobs mean. It's awesome! I worked through ten lessons today, and now I can have this hypothetical conversation:

Waegook: 이거 커피 예 요        This is coffee.
Coffee:  안녕하세요! (^_^)         Hello!
Ajumma: 이거 뭐 예요?              What is this?
Waegook: 커피가 예요.              It's coffee,
Ajumma: 커피가 예요? 아니요... 이거 커피 는 이에요!    You call this coffee? No... THIS is coffee!
Waegook: 저 친구가 없에요... (ᅲ.ᅲ)         I have no friends.

So, you know... Useful things.

5. Become addicted to K-Drama
K-Drama refers to soapies made in Korea. But they're not quite like what your western idea of a soapie is.

Less this:

More this:

He has to clean up her puke AND give her a piggy back? Seriously?
Some recommendations to get you started:

My Sassy Girl - Better than the American remake, and pictured above. Boy meets girl. Girl passes out. Boy drags girl to love motel. Less creepy than it sounds. Maybe.
I'm a Cyborg but that's OK. - Girl thinks she's a robot and has to be checked into a mental institution. Kinda cute, actually. You'll like this if you enjoyed Amelie.
200 Pounds Beauty. - Who couldn't love a movie whose message is that the only way to succeed in life is to have extreme plastic surgery? I am not being serious. I am being sarcastic. It's a fun movie though.
Oldboy - A change in tone. Disturbing. Not for the faint of heart (or stomach). Best known for the infamous Octopus scene.

Boys before Flowers: Uh. I don't even know how to begin to describe this. Basically, 4 ridiculously 'attractive' (by Korean standards) men at an elite private school rule the school and are fundamentally evil bullies, in my opinion. But we're supposed to like them anyway. I think the main character, a working-class dry-cleaning girl, makes this show worth watching.
You're beautiful: A catholic nun stands in for her twin brother (whose plastic surgery has gone horribly wrong) in an all-boy band. She's in drag, and wonderfully androgynous. Light and entertaining. A fair bit of projectile vomiting and suggested nudity. Hooray for Korean TV.
Coffee Prince: More androgyny (get used to it!). So butch she's kicked out of the girls' section of the jjimjilbang, this poor delivery girl ends up working at a coffee shop staffed by studly men (and pretending to be one). Hilarity ensues. Some weepy bits too.
Love Rain: A couple of boy hipsters fight over a girl-hipster. Lots of rain and arty shots. Nice music, though, and some good writing.
Moon and Stars for You: horribly cheesy and yet hopelessly addictive, and bizarre series revolving around people involved in the running of a bread company (in which bread is seen as the holy grail of foods, more like cake than like the thing we use to get tasty spreads/sandwich fillings into our mouths) and a whole lot of love triangles.

6. Learn some catchy K-Pop songs
I'm not talking about Gangnam style, now. Everyone knows Gangnam Style. I'm thinking more along the lines of songs by Wondergirls, Big Bang, Super Junior, B2ST and so on. They're corny as hell but learning the lyrics can be a bit of a tongue twister, so that's bound to pass the time swiftly. Bonus points if you can sing and do the dance moves at the same time.

And a one, and a two, and a one, two, three...

(Eoddeokhajyo)  Eoddeokhajyo
(Ddeollineun naneun)  Ddeollineun naneunyo
(Doogeun x 4) Doogeun Doogeun georyeo bameh jamdo mot eerujyo
Na neun na neun babon gabwayo geu dae bakkeh moreuneun babo geuraeyo geu dae boneun nal
Neomu banjjak banjjak noonee booshyeo no no no no
Neomu Kkamjjak Kkamjjak nolla naneun oh oh oh oh oh
Neomu jaritjarit momee Ddeollyeo Gee gee gee gee gee
Jeojeun noonbit (Oh yeah) Joeun hyanggi (Oh yeah yeah yeah)   
("Gee" by Girls Generation)

7. Learn the National Korean Stretching Routine

So far this list has been restricted to things you can do while sitting on your lazy bum, with your face in the internet. Get up. Start moving. Learn this by heart. Here is a video. Good luck.

8. Read up on Korea
Get your hands on any writing remotely to do with Korea; blogs, magazine articles, travel brochures. But most time-consuming of all (and this is our aim, remember), read some actual books.

Nothing to Envy, by Barbara Demmick This book made me cry. It has also made me determined to find some sort of volunteer work in Korea through which I can help refugees/defectors.

9. Meditate
Korea is a buddhist nation, and meditation is a great way to calm yourself, clear your head, and take stock of exactly what's happening right. This. Instant. Read up on buddhist methods and give it a try. What have you got to lose? The worst that can happen is that you'll doze off.

This is as good a place to start as any.

10. Create a photographic tour of your home town to show kids (and mine for vocabulary) when you get to Korea.
Another one to get you moving, and also to get you out of the house. Grab a camera and walk or drive around your town, taking photos of all the things that make it quintessentially HOME-ish to you.

An example from Grahamstown:

Rush hour.

If you're feeling creative and have more time to kill than you thought you would, turn it into a film, with an awesome soundtrack. I bet the kids will love it. And it's a nice way to say goodbye.

(I suppose an eleventh item could be 'Write a blog post listing 10 ways to waste/pass the time'). Writing this post has taken me 3 hours... and now it's 3am. Sheesh. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

South Korea Bucket List

Well, with my documents heading to my recruiter at this very moment, and my feet itching to leave, I think it's time I started a South Korea bucket list. Here we go!

This list is adapted from the list made by Chris Backe of "Chris in South Korea" (whose personal blog has since disappeared - if you know of a new link to it, please let me know). 83-85 were suggested by Alannah Boland. 88 suggested by Silvy Alvarez-Martinez.

  1. Spend the night in a jimjilbang (day spa / sauna). Bonus points for spending the night in the jjimjilbang at Incheon Airport.
  2. Stay out in Hongdae or Itaewon all night and catch the ‘subway of shame’ home the next morning. 
  3. Bargain for clothes at Seomun Market
  4. Go to Lotte World on a rainy / snowy day. 
  5. Take in a drag show on Homo Hill, and smile at the ladies of Hooker Hill.
  6. Visit the Loveland sex museum on Jeju island. 
  7. Try the collagen face masks from Face Shop.
  8. Watch the largest waterfall bridge performance at Banpo Han River Park.
  9. Get off at a random subway stop and explore the local area.
  10. Find a small town and enjoy being the only foreigner around. 
  11. Drink Korean beer in a convenience store cafe
  12. Raise funds and/or volunteer for a Korean charity 
  13. Dress up as something crazy for Halloween in Hongdae.
  14. Eat dried squid, fried chicken and drink soju at a baseball game. Bonus points for figuring out how to cheer along.
  15. Go skiing at one of the dozen ski resorts around the country.
  16. Get muddy at the Boryeong Mud Festival! 
  17. DVD bang. Private movie screening. Like a drive-in theater without the car. ‘Nuff said. 
  18. Play with the fancy technology around Yongsan Electronics Market or one of the Techno Marts.
  19. Mix yogurt and soju. See what happens.
  20. Eat some beondegi (silkworm pupae)!
  21. Meander around the phallic statues in Penis Park (warning: NSFW) (Gangwon-do)
  22. Watch the mayor of Daegu ring the big bell on New Year’s Day.
  23. Drink makgeolli (rice wine) and eat pajeon (green onion pancake) on a rainy day. 
  24. Push yourself across the ice on a sseolmae (wooden sled).
  25. Take a bike ride along the Han river. 
  26. Use your connections to get on one of the American military bases. 
  27. Enjoy a Westernized Korean wedding. 
  28. Say saranghae (I love you) to a special someone, whether they’re Korean or not.
  29. Appreciate the air-conditioning on the subway in the middle of July. 
  30. See NANTA or another non-verbal, high-energy performance. 
  31. People-watch at Garosu-gil over a cup of coffee. Alas, they've broken it all down and turned it into cosmetics mecca. Bleh.
  32. Get up to a moktok (a wooden instrument used in Buddhist temples) at 3:30am for a Korean Buddhist templestay.
  33. Have a cocktail in a bag
  34. Munch on some some live octopus, Oldboy-style.
  35. Appreciate the spiciness of a good kimchi jjigae.
  36. Try your best to converse with a Korean taxi driver.
  37. Get the evil eye from an ajumma
  38. Try the Korean version of ‘forest therapy’ in either Damyang or Anmyeon-do.
  39. Swim in the East Sea and the West Sea.
  40. Go puddle-jumping in a monsoon
  41. Eat cold noodles with watermelon
  42. Survive 'fan death' in summer
  43. Spend a platonic night with a friend at a 'Love Motel'
  44. Greet a car greeter
  45. Spot a fake town in North Korea
  46. Shape a hard boiled egg into something too cute to eat
  47. Brush your teeth at work
  48. Learn a KPOP dance
  49. Cook a South African meal for some Koreans
  50. Watch a Korean movie at a cinema
  51. Go geo-caching in Daegu
  52. Work out on public exercise equipment in the park
  53. Go to the Daegu body-painting festival
  54. Hug a giant teddy bear
  55. Take ridiculous photos and have them turned into more ridiculous stickers
  56. Stuff your face with meat at a Korean barbecue
  57. Watch competitive Star Craft
  58. Learn to play Star Craft/League of Legends/Sudden Attack
  59. Play Korean Dance Dance Revolution at an arcade
  60. Eat sweet potato bread
  61. Learn the Korean synchronised stretching regime
  62. Go to Everland
  63. Wear BB cream and be flawless (maybe she's born with it? Maybe it's BB cream)
  64. Get a haircut in a Korean salon
  65. Try Korean oriental medicine
  66. Visit a Korean fortune teller
  67. Check out Daegu's pink light district
  68. Bump around to trance music at G2
  69. Check out the LGBT scene in Daegu's gay district
  70. Bang all night (PC Bang, Noraebang, DVD Bang, Wii Bang, Jjimjilbang...)
  71. Ride some rollercoasters in Daegu
  72. Go swing-dancing
  73. Ride a disco pang-pang
  74. Check out some cherry blossoms
  75. Take part in a traditional tea ceremony
  76. Visit the Toilet Exhibition Hall
  77. Cringe at the Plastic Surgery Museum
  78. Teleport to a German village
  79. Go on a tour of the DMZ
  80. Play baduk 
  81. See a K-Pop concert
  82. Catch the Busan film festival
  83. See what the fuss is all about at Jeju island
  84. Get lost in a garden maze
  85. Drink coffee from a can
  86. Enjoy coffee and cuddles at a Pet Cafe 
  87. Have a conversation completely in Korean
  88. Hike Seoraksan mountains in autumn
  89. Climb the highest mountain in Korea
  90. Order a mystery meal to be delivered to my apartment
  91. Soak in a natural hot spring
  92. Be cute at the Hello Kitty cafe
  93. Go to Korean classes and learn the lingo
  94. Do the Itaewon Freedom dance in front of Namsan Tower
  95. Work out in the park
  96. Learn to cook a Korean meal
  97. Take a traditional pottery class
  98. Win a game at a boardgame coffee shop
  99. Oppa Gangnam Style in Gangnam
  100. English Teachers' choreographed dance in a dance club.  (The night we did the macarena, gangnam style and YMCA covers that, I think).
  101. Drink in public, in inappropriate places.
  102. Have your feet nibbled by fish at Dr Fish.
  103. Be gatvol (spot someone wearing a gat). 
  104. Sleep on a yo.
  105. Sign up for a class at a Hagwon, in Korean.  Yoga completely in Korean totally counts.
  106. Sit a TOPIK exam.
  107. Have a normal dinner in a Korean's home
  108. Time-travel to the past
  109. Climb inside a painting. 
  110. Learn to salsa/swing dance
  111. Go to the Rape Festival
  112. Get armloads of freebies from cosmetics shops just for going inside
  113. Do Noraebang on a long bus ride to pass the time
  114. Hike the entire East Coast
  115. Ulleongdo scavenger hunt: find the absence of 3 things (thieves, snakes and pollution) and the presence of 5 things (many aromatic trees, wind, beautiful women, water and rocks)
  116. Catch waves in a waterpark.
  117. Hug trees at the Daegu arboretum.
  118. Drink persimmon wine underground.
  119. Birdwatch in Eulsukdo
  120. Go whale-watching or ocean-staring
  121. Find Nemo at the aquarium
  122. Eat barbecue that's cooked with a blow torch
  123. Have chicken or duck cooked in pumpkin
  124. Go to the Bus Bar and/or the airplane cafe.
  125. Eat cheesy jjimdalk

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Applying for the EPIK Spring intake

Crikey, what a busy couple of days it has been! EPIK released the new application forms about a week ago, and since then the internet has been full of people squeeing about applying and panicking about the process.

Well, by the time you've read this post, my application will be complete. And here's how to do it:

Before you start:  Make sure you are eligible!

If you don't have a degree, or didn't complete middle school and high school in one of the 6 recognised countries (USA, UK, SA, AUSTRALIA, NEW ZEALAND, CANADA) then you're not eligible for EPIK. You might be able to apply for a hagwon, but good luck with that.

1. Find a recruiter

Recruiters make your life a lot easier, if you live somewhere away from where apostilling can be done. That sentence was poorly constructed. Anyway, I live in a tiny university town and have no way of getting to Pretoria to get pretty little stamps and pieces of paper affixed to my documents. Can you tell I'm not really a fan of bureaucracy? Anyway. I'm going through Teach Korea, who cover SA. Make sure your recruiter is one of the 6 officially approved EPIK recruiters; otherwise they might be a scam.

2. Find the forms

You may need to fill out an agency agreement. Those forms should be on your recruiter's website. More importantly, you need to fill out the somewhat lengthy (but thorough) EPIK application form, which can be found on www.epik.go.kr > application. Download the instructions as well; they will help a lot. Teach Korea have made their own instructions specially geared towards South Africans, so that will help too.  They also have a handy checklist with formatting guides here.

3. Go to the police station IMMEDIATELY. 

Seriously, when you're done reading this post, go to the police station and apply for a Police Clearance Certificate. The process might be different if you're not in South Africa. As for SA, I took my ID and R59 to the police station, asked where to go and followed instructions. It's pretty foolproof. The biggest hassle, I think, was washing the fingerprinting ink off my pretty little digits. And I misheard the policeman when he said 'It should take 28 working days' - I got excited and thought it would take 2-8 days.

They'll give you the form and the receipt. I think they used to use an internal mail system to send this stuff off to Pretoria for more fancy stamps, but now you need to post it off yourself. Apparently if you enclose a self-addressed envelope, it will get back to you faster. Do not use regular mail for this; use Speed Services or a courier so that it gets to Pretoria quickly and you can track it in case it goes 'missing'.

While you wait, scan in the receipt, print it, and email/post it to your recruiter.

4. Have a photoshoot. 
Dress up in your shiny new teacher clothes and bribe a professional photographer friend to make you look attractive. Remember to face the camera dead-on. I tried submitting a photo with slightly turned shoulders and was told to change it. Get this photo printed passport size, and get lots of them. You will need them for further documents in Korea. I asked for 6 but he printed 8 (technically 12, but 4 of them were far too close up and would have been rejected - I'm keeping them for future passport renewals, drivers licences, and all other bureaucratic needs).

5. Ask someone to say nice things about you

Find two people who are not related to each other or to you, who have been your bosses, teachers or supervisors. Ask them each to write you a reference letter. Either ask for two copies or ask them to email you a copy, because you need to send a scanned copy to your recruiter for the initial application. You must also post the original copy with your application. I only had one copy of each letter so my recruiter said it was okay if they were not sealed. Did I read them? OF COURSE. And now I can't fit my head through any of my shirts. 

6. Get your degree copied and certified. If you're not going through Teach Korea, get this apostilled too.

This step took me five minutes, and only because I went to the wrong floor. Librarians, school principals and police can do this. I don't know about the apostilling process because Teach Korea are sorting that out for me. 

7. Get 2 sealed copies of your academic transcripts thus far. 
What it says on the box. This was also pretty simple. 

8. Scan in your passport 
Use a scanner. Seriously, this stuff is easy now. It's downhill from here. 

9. Sending them off

And there we have it - getting all the documents ready. And it doesn't look like that much after all, does it? These will be posted to my recruiter today, via speed services or some kind of courier if I can afford it.

Other things were emailed:

- application form
- photo
- scanned passport
- a letter from my middle school proving I went there, as it was an international school in a non-approved country
- scanned reference letters
- TEFL certificate

I think the most time consuming and difficult part of this whole process were the essay and lesson plans that needed to be completed for the application form, and I'm still not entirely happy about them. But hey. I think my application is pretty strong... So here's hoping.

holding thumbs