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Why did you come to Korea?

After "What's your name?", "How old are you?", "Do you have a boyfriend?", "Why not?" and "Do you know Dokdo?", one of the most common and weirdly challenging to answer questions I get in Korea is "Why did you come to Korea?" Why Korea, and not some other country? Why would you fly halfway across the world, leave everything familiar, and take a job here?

Well? Good question.

Before I came to Korea, I'd been considering both Japan and Korea as possible destinations. Thanks to a dumb mistake on my JET application (postmarked by and received by are VERY different, kids), Japan fell out of the running pretty early. However, that doesn't mean that there weren't plenty of reasons why Korea felt like a good choice.

 1. Food

Some lovely things

Being enough of an idealist to want to instil a sense of empowerment in my students, along with ownership of their own learning, I’ve been carrying out periodic learning reviews during this semester. These have basically asked students to reflect on their learning and my teaching and the results - whilst undoubtedly valuable - have also been apt to bring me down a peg or six at times. There was the kid who just scrawled TOO DIFFICULT all over his paper, or (worse) the one that wrote ‘I’m so sad I can’t speak to my friends in your class, because your class is too hard to me ㅠㅠ’. ‘ㅠㅠ’ are characters in the Korean alphabet used to represent crying eyes, and in this particular instance they initiated the appropriate response in me.

Exam season

Exam season

Korea Q&A 3: Planning, Gaming, & World Cup!

The third episode of Korea Q&A! Enjoy! Leave questions for us in the comments!

The post Korea Q&A 3: Planning, Gaming, & World Cup! appeared first on Evan and Rachel.

Incheon Denies all New EPIK Teachers!

Incheon City in South Korea revoked the applications for ALL new EPIK teachers suddenly. More to follow? More information in the video above or in this thread!

The post Incheon Denies all New EPIK Teachers! appeared first on Evan and Rachel.

5 differences between Korean and American Elementary Schools

I was recently asked to give a short presentation on my experience teaching at a Korean elementary school. I have been wanting to make more videos in and about my school, so this was the perfect opportunity! I asked two of my best students – Gaeun and Jiyeon – if they would help me out and give a tour of our school in English. They highlighted several things they thought were unique about our school, but I do want to point out that these differences are not across the board generalizations. Rather, they are differences between my current school in Korea and what I remember from elementary school in America (which was a long time ago!).

The Asia Fail

*This piece may have appeared on the web once or twice before, but we’re publishing it again here because we likes it, yes we do.

by Mr. Motgol

In the Old World, people went to the New World to start anew. Once America became settled, folks would head “out West” to shake away their demons, with destinations such as California and Alaska luring folks with promises of riches and rebirth. These were places where no one cared about your history or imperfect past. You were given a clean slate, and only as good as your current effort.

Daily Snapshot: sister, teacher,

There's all sorts of classes, but my favorites are the ones who share my dumb sense of humor, the ones I can laugh and joke with. A great example happened just recently, in my 2nd period 2nd grade class.

We were playing a game in teams, where each team had a mixed up sentence on strips of paper to rearrange into a correct sentence. First 3 teams to finish got points, so the pressure was really on. However, it's really hard to keep track of which team raises their hand first, so...things get a bit silly.

For instance, in the third round, team 4 was convinced, and I mean CONVINCED that they had been the second team to finish. As I'm scanning the crowd, consulting with my coteacher, I suddenly hear the piercing cry of a middle school student in the wild.

"언니!! Unnie! Unnieeeeeee!" 

How To: Get Along With Your Korean Coworkers

Before I write a single word, I want to preface this with my awareness that my advice is based only on my own experience- I am not, by a long shot, the expert on cross-cultural office relations. However, I do get along quite well with everyone in my office, so if that's proof enough for you, please read on!

Step 1: Eat delicious food together.

How to Talk to People in Korea

AKA Slow Motion Teacher Talk.

It's a disease.

The first symptom, as you might guess from my subtitle, is slower speaking speed. Unsurprisingly, if you speak quickly to someone in a language they aren't super comfortable with, they won't understand you. It's the same for me with Korean. If someone mumbles or talks too fast, I can't catch anything, but if they slow down for me, suddenly a world of comprehension opens up for me.

When I first started teaching, I was nervous. When I'm nervous, I speak more quickly. I think a lot of people do this. In an ESL classroom, though, fast talking is not gonna fly (though it is great for saying things you don't want your students to hear). That was the first critique I got from my co-teacher: slow down. So I did. Suddenly, a classroom full of unresponsive glassy-eyed students began to understand me. Maybe not everything I said, but finally I was getting through to them on some level.

Learning to Read and Other Skills


It’s still amazing to me how many people are unable to understand text. Now, I don’t mean the people who are actually illiterate, which is a genuine concern, I mean people despite being able to read cannot actually understand what is being said and the context and content fully. Such people are the type who have been gifted with the ability to actually read, unlike so many deprived of the skill, but who cannot use it to living a fulfilling life.

The Perfect Other Job for a Photographer in Korea


As I briefly mentioned before, I teach English at a university here in Korea. This job is well suited for creatives and photographer who are working abroad and need to balance work life with their photo life. I say this because many of us are not quite pro yet and need a visa in order to work in Korea. After spending 10 years here in Korea and working up from hogwans to public school, and now at a university I feel that I can finally take advantage of my days. However, the question that I get a lot is “how did I get this job?”

From the Mouths of Students

Teaching is hard.

I know it's not what you want to hear, but it's true. A good portion of my students on any given day don't give a crap about learning English. When I first started teaching, I really let that get to me. I sincerely care about these kids, I want them to learn, so every student who talked or napped through my class was like a personal wound. Right in the feelings.

Open Letter to Prospective and Current Epik Teachers,

If you’re anything like me, the closer you come to getting on that plane, sending in that application, or whatever step you’re at, the more freaked out you are. I get that feeling. As I recall, my entire last month in Seattle was split between frantically trying to see everyone I knew, and obsessively looking up such seemingly inane yet vitally important things as “Can I buy toothpaste in Korea?” (Answer: you can, but it tastes odd) Because I know where you’re coming from, my biggest advice to you, in the timeless words of Douglas Adams, is this: Don’t Panic.

How to Make Your EPIK Job Awesome #5 – Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff!

This is part 5 in a 5 part series about how to make your EPIK job awesome! This final tip is an all-encompassing one: Don’t sweat the small stuff. Shake things off. Insert other cliche but true statements here. ;)

How to Make Your EPIK Job AWESOME #2 – Be Prepared for the Unexpected

This is the 2nd post in a 5-part series about how to make your EPIK job awesome! This one is really important. Doing your research into the culture before you come is vital to managing your expectations about the life you will have at your school. In general, but especially in regards to your job, it is important to be prepared for the unexpected. While in most situations there’s nothing you can do but accept it, there are a few tips I have to share that may alleviate some of the stress caused by last minute situations that can occur in your school.

How to Make Your EPIK Job Awesome #4 – Participate in Your School

This is the 4th part in a 5 part series about how to make your EPIK job awesome! Being an active participant in your school and having a good relationship with your coteacher(s) is so important. I really can’t stress this enough!

How to Make Your EPIK Job AWESOME #3 – Make Your Office Comfortable

This is the 3rd post in a 5 part series about how to make your EPIK job awesome. This tip is more straightforward but surprisingly causes new teachers a lot of grief, especially if its unexpected. You will be spending a lot of time during the hottest and coldest days of the year sitting at your desk. Here are some tips to help make your office more comfortable!

How to Make Your EPIK Job AWESOME! #1 – Use and Learn Korean Manners

This is my 3rd year of teaching public school – at the same school! I’ve loved my school from Day 1 and I feel so so so amazingly lucky to work here. You hear horror stories about public schools too, not just hagwons, so I basically won the Korean job lottery! Working at the same school has also given me the opportunity to observe and learn a lot more about the way Korean schools are run. Now that I’ve been at this school longer than many of my coworkers, I’ve also been able to compare how teachers treated me in my first year when I had no idea what I was doing, to now, as someone that can converse with them in Korean or English and adheres to Korean manners. This makes new teachers feel comfortable around me, and they see me as another respected staff member and not just “the foreigner”. This is so important in how you feel about your job and your time spent in Korea. I know it has made all the difference to me.


Spoiler Alert:  If you haven’t seen Frozen yet, crawl out from under your log and do it, or read on at your own risk.

“Is it ‘Do you want to build a snowman?’ or ‘Do you want to make a snowman?’,”  my hapkido instructor asked me last week, genuinely interested in the grammatical intricacies of Disney’s newest blockbuster, Frozen.  At that point I knew that if my 관장님 (Master), a forty-something man with no small children, had seen and loved the film, that it had taken a firm hold on the minds and imaginations of the Korean public.

On “2.5 Oyajis” with YouTube’s Japan Vlogging King, Gimmeaflakeman

If you are interested in traveling and teaching in either Korea or Japan, your search will ultimately lead you to Gimmeaflakeman.  Victor is possibly the most recognizable figure in J-vlogging, so it was a pleasant surprise and honor to be asked to be part of his show “2.5 Oyajis”.

Along with Hikosaemon, also of Japan, the two lead a periodic show where they interview characters who live abroad as they do. They share stories and insights and provide for an entertaining but highly informational show. It was great to chew the cud for an hour with them covering topics such as South Korea’s relationship with Japan, my North Korean heritage, and North Korea in general.

A fun activity to do with my kindergarteners is something I call...

A fun activity to do with my kindergarteners is something I call “mixing animals.” I ask my students what their two favorite animals are, and we combine them, or as I tell them, “mix them together.”

Often the children pick insects (e.g. butterflies and dragonflies), but there aren’t any rules. I do recommend helping them when naming their new creature, or you’ll end up with “buttham” which is the combination of a butterfly and hamster.

An activity I like to do with my kindergarteners is a pizza...

An activity I like to do with my kindergarteners is a pizza craft. I have cards with various vocabulary, such as pepperoni, onion, bell pepper, mushrooms, cheese, dough, and tomato sauce. This is a breakdown of the activity:

11 Months (and One Day) Later

I used to eat at home a lot more than I do now.


Hi, Ethan.



The Law of the Land

Sometimes kids lock horns with each other in  surprisingly intense ways. The epic battle over the empty seat.  The squabble over who turned in their work first.  The showdown over who gets to write the answer to question number 7 on the board.  In America, the teacher is usually the go-to mediator for such disputes.  As the adult in the room, he or she gets to make any and all final rulings with regard to classroom policy and procedures.  

However, here in Korea, there is a god higher than that of the teacher’s authority, a totem so sacred that to defy its judgment would be like spitting on the taeggukgi, the symbol of what it means to be South Korean.  This arbiter is exacting, lightning quick, and utterly beyond reproach.  It does not play favorites, nor is it swayed by tears or pleas or even good behavior.  Its word is law, and every student unquestioningly accepts this as truth.  

Children in Peril

Many of my children never realize just how close to their own demise they come as they test my patience and faith in humanity in the classroom.  Having survived a dozen years in the classroom, most of the time I can let their behavior roll off my back–after all, they are just kids–but some days the urge to kill threatens to break my composure.  Yesterday was one of those days. 

Here, presented for your amusement, are my pedagogical frustrations in blog form. No children were harmed in the creation of this posting….yet.

If another child thrusts another paper into my face, I swear to God I  will rip it into tiny pieces and force him or her to EAT every last bit of it.  Is it too much to ask a child to calm down long enough to turn in work in a civilized manner?  

Anti-Education and My 50% Success Rate at Answering Korean English Exam Questions

So, I am an Englishman flown in to South Korea to help educate their young in English.  In my school my level of English is obviously unmatched (I am English after-all) so why is it I am so bad at answering English exam questions in Korea?

Perhaps I only ever get asked about the tricky questions, or maybe I am just a dumbass, but it turns out that I am right about 50% of the time in my estimation.  In many ways it is embarrassing, why can't a reasonably well educated native English speaker, from England, who has spoken, read, listened and wrote in English all his life, answer questions correctly in a country where the overall level of English is poor (this is not a criticism, just simply that English is not their first language)?

Say What?! Episode 10: How Do I Poop at School? Squat Toilet Tips

One of the biggest anxieties that I hear about from new or prospective teachers applying to EPIK is about the bathroom situation at public school! I hope these tips will help you calm some fears about using squat toilets, which you will most likely have to do if you work at public school!

1.) Find the 교무실 (the teacher’s room) in your school, and look for the bathroom nearby. That bathroom will usually have toilet paper and soap!

2.) Keep soap, hand sanitizer, and tissue in your desk. I would keep tissue in your bag/purse whereever you go, but keep an extra set of tissues just for school!

3.) Depending on your office situation, teachers may chip in to buy office supplies, snacks, coffee, and tissue. Ask your co-teacher or officemate about the system they use. But I’d go ahead and bring everything you need and keep it in your desk just in case! Ask your co-teacher if they have a system or if you should donate some money to buy tissue for the office.

My hagwon (or “private academy”) went on a field trip to an...

Bad Banana

Bad Banana
Today the kids at school, being charming as ever, gave me the nickname of Bad Banana. Now they mention it...

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