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What's It Really Like To Teach English In Japan?

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Wondering what it is like to teach English in Japan? Super. You are in the right place.

In this post I'll talk about the culture, the environment, the teaching scene and share some video interviews with teachers in Japan.

I'll also be doing some comparison to some other Eastern Asian countries like Korea, Taiwan and China.


"So in Japan having a debate is a really big issue. So it's totally different. Like in America we like to argue all the time. But in Japan people don't.

Some Japanese students find it easier to debate in a different language like English. So that is always interesting to see. So that is what I like, different experiences."

Jeanie in Tokyo, Japan

You'll hear more from Jeanie and other teachers in Japan later. But now we'll talk a bit about teaching in Japan.


Japan is by far the most formal place to teach. Many schools will expect you to dress in a suit and tie.

Visa Freedom

You'll have the most freedom here.

In Japan your employer is not connected to your visa. This means that if you quit your job, you can keep the visa and find a new job without having to leave the country to get a new visa.

In the other places the employer basically owns your visa and that makes changing your job more difficult.

You can also change the status of your visa in country. For example, if you enter on a tourist visa and find a job you can change it to an employment visa.

In China, Korea and Taiwan you can't typically do that you have to leave the country for a visa run to get a new visa.


Japan is by far the cleanest place to live in East Asia. The streets are pretty clean and there seems to be a greater awareness about the environment here than in the other places. For example, public bus drivers will turn off the buses at red lights to conserve resources.

You won't find that in other parts of East Asia which is generally crowded and polluted.

Most unique

You'll see a far greater array of fashion styles in Japan than in the other countries. Self expression seems to be more acceptable here than in the other places. Japan has also started a number of trends in Asia, like for example anime and cosplay.

You'll also find a greater diversity of music styles here. In the other three locations you'll find mostly mainstream pop music. 

elvis presley imitators in japan


Japan is hip. Japan was the first country in Asia to embrace Hip Hop. You'll also find Elvis Presley imitators, low riders, and their own unique styles like Cosplay.

It's westernized

Japan is also the most modern and westernized. It is a wealthy country - the third largest economy in the world, but it's considerably smaller than China or the USA. The level of comfort here will be the highest.

People are polite

The people here are generally very polite and well mannered. If someone bumps into you, you'll most likely get an apology or two. This is different compared to other countries like China or Korea where pushing can be common especially among older folks.

As Jeanie say in the picture above people don't like to debate. Most East Asians don't like confrontation and that's part of the culture

The earth shakes here

Japan lies in the Ring of Fire. Making it a very active place with many earthquakes and volcanoes. Taiwan also lies within this area.

It's bike friendly

There are many bikes in Japan. People of all age groups ride pedal bikes. You won't see many pedal bikes in China, Taiwan or Korea, but here bikes are aplenty.

My Experience

I am a fan of Japan. I like the vibe. I haven't lived there yet and I know that that is a different experience from just traveling to a place, however, I truly enjoyed my time there. I have spent time in Fukuoka (on multiple visa runs from Korea) and in Tokyo and I give it 2 thumbs up.

Teachers in Japan talk deep stuff: The banana game, debating, ups & downs and then answer the question, "Is Japan foreign friendly?"


The teaching scene in Japan

  • Requirements: 4 year degree & native English speaker, plus possible preferences for experienceTEFL certification, etc.
  • Job Market: Most Competitive
  • Average Salary: 250,000 Yen ($2,030) a month 
  • Cost of Living: Most expensive 
  • Housing: Not free, employers sometimes help find
  • Airfare: Usually only a free flight home with the JET program
  • Teaching hours: 22-30 a week
    *These are just averages expect differences between institutions


Things You Probably Didn't Know About Teaching English In Asia, But Should Know

How to Say ‘Doctor’ in Korean

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While none of us come to Korea with the hopes and dreams of getting hurt – surely it’s the opposite – sometimes a visit to a doctor simply is inevitable. You’ve got an eye infection? You’ve sprained your ankle? You need to redo a prescription for your allergy medication? In those moments, knowing how to say doctor in Korean will be essential. It allows you to explain to your Korean friends what you need help for, and in turn they can help you find the right doctor for your needs and perhaps even get you to the doctor’s office.


*Ready to learn Korean yet? Click here to learn about our 90 Day Korean learning program!


‘Doctor’ in Korean


So, how to say doctor in Korean? The word you’re looking for is “의사” (euisa). Whether you’re describing a physician, pediatrician, or a general doctor, the basic word to use is always “의사”. You might trip over the pronunciation a little bit at first, but otherwise the word is easy peasy to memorize!

To speak of a doctor practicing a certain type of medicine, the department gets attached to the word doctor. Here are some examples:

physician = 내과 의사 (naegwa euisa)

gynecologist = 부인과 의사 (buingwa euisa)

eye doctor = 안과 의사 (angwa euisa) 

dentist = 치과 의사 (chigwa euisa)

dermatologist = 피부과 의사 (pibugwa euisa)




A word of caution about Romanization

While it is possible for you to study the words in this article simply by reading their romanized versions, it will come in handy for you to be able to read Hangeul if you ever wish to come to Korea. Hangeul is the Korean alphabet, and not difficult to learn. In fact, you can learn it in just 90 minutes.

After you’ve familiarized yourself with Hangeul, life in Korea will suddenly seem so much easier and the country won’t appear so foreign for you. So, if you’re serious about learning Korean, why not learn Hangeul today?




Sample Sentences



오늘 의사가 계세요? (oneul euisaga gyeseyo?)

Is the doctor present today?


의사를 필요하세요? (euisareul piryohaseyo?)

Do you need a doctor?



다리를 이렇게 아프게 다쳤으면 의사를 보러 가요. (darireul ireohke apeuge dachyeosseumyeon euisareul boreo gayo.)

If you hurt your leg this bad, go see a doctor.


저는 의사를 필요해요. (jeoneun euisareul piryohaeyo.)

I need a doctor.


우리 아버지는 안과 의사예요. (uri abeojineun angwa euisayeyo.)

Our father is an eye doctor.



나는 의사로 되고 싶어. (naneun euisaro dwaego sipeo.)

I want to become a doctor.


Now that you know how to say doctor in Korean, you don’t need to worry in case of any situations appear where you’d need to find one. Just remember to check the price when you get to the clinic so you don’t break the bank. Of course, we hope there will be no need for you to go see a doctor any time soon!


*Want more Korean phrases? Go to our Korean Phrases Page for a complete list!


Photo Credit:


The post How to Say ‘Doctor’ in Korean appeared first on 90 Day Korean.

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Zombie House: Seoul Trick Eye Museum’s Winter Exhibit

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Trick Eye Museum Seoul Tourist Attraction

Seoul’s Trick Eye Museum

Since moving to Seoul nearly 2 years ago I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the Trick Eye Museum in Hongdae 4 times!  It’s amazing to see how this Seoul tourist attraction has changed even just over the past year.  Dedicated to the user experience, the Trick Eye Museum has made several enhancements and renovations.  If you haven’t visited in a while, definitely go back and check them out!

Trick Eye Museum Seoul Korea Winter Exhibit Zombie House

Trick Eye Museum Seoul Korea Winter Exhibit Zombie House

The Trick Eye Museum

The Trick Eye Museum still has plenty of photo opps.  Make sure to download the Trick Eye App as it really makes a difference in your photos and videos through animation and sound!  Check out this video below to see how the pictures and video differ.  There were sections related to classic paintings and dance, water sports and activities, places around the world (and their monsters).  My favourite section, Candyland, is gone.

Trick Eye Museum Seoul Korea Winter Exhibit Zombie House Trick Eye Museum Seoul Korea Winter Exhibit Zombie House Trick Eye Museum Seoul Korea Winter Exhibit Zombie House Trick Eye Museum Seoul Korea Winter Exhibit Zombie House Trick Eye Museum Seoul Korea Winter Exhibit Zombie House Trick Eye Museum Seoul Korea Winter Exhibit Zombie House

Winter Exhibit at Seoul Trick Eye Museum: Zombie House

Fret not, the winter exhibit is a thrilling world of horror.  The zombie house exhibition is a spooky experience with projection art and cool LED displays.  This zone is especially cool with the Trick Eye App since it makes the elements move and adds zombies and skeletons!


How to use augmented reality(AR): you will need to download TRICKEYE app in advance or when you visit the museum (free WIFI id: TRICKEYE). Once
you download it, go to settings-> there you can change language settings and make sure the selected region is Seoul. You can take both photos and
videos with AR effect(in case of video, you can film max 30 second per one video).

Ice Museum Trick Eye Museum Seoul Korea Winter Exhibit Zombie House Ice Museum Trick Eye Museum Seoul Korea Winter Exhibit Zombie House Ice Museum Trick Eye Museum Seoul Korea Winter Exhibit Zombie House Ice Museum Trick Eye Museum Seoul Korea Winter Exhibit Zombie House Ice Museum Trick Eye Museum Seoul Korea Winter Exhibit Zombie House Ice Museum Trick Eye Museum Seoul Korea Winter Exhibit Zombie House

Trick Eye Ice Museum

The Ice Museum was -4 degrees Celsius.  It hasn’t changed much over the past year, if memory serves.  I didn’t notice the ice bathroom the first couple of times I went in.  Of course, in true Korean style, there was a perfect little emoji poop in the toilet.  The ice sculptures were really cool so it’s definitely worth a visit.  I still have yet to go down the slide (the slide made of ice is still there)!  Wear layers to the museum because some areas are very warm but this area was not!  I would suggest getting a locker for your things and then grabbing them before going to the ice museum on your way out.

Trick Eye Museum Seoul Korea Winter Exhibit Zombie House

Virtual Reality Arcade

The Carnival Section has been changed into a virtual reality playground!  You can go on rides with a variety of different settings and atmospheres.  There’s an area at the back where you can dance to K-Pop music or play sports.  This area was really busy when we visited on a Sunday and everyone seemed to be having a blast!  You’ll pay KRW 1,000 – 2,000/ game or ride.

Instagram Photo

CaFace Cafe

At the cafe, located on B2 beside the Ice Museum, you can actually get a picture snapped and have it printed onto a hot or ice beverage right away!  I had an iced green tea latte.  Orlagh sipped a mint hot chocolate.  Don’t they both look adorable?  Check out the video above to see how the sugary sweet photo melted into a flurry of colours before I drank it all!

Trick Eye Museum & Ice Museum Ticket Rates

Adults: 15,000 won
Children (under 18): 12,000 won
Adults: 11,000 won 
Children (under 18): 8,000 won
Trick Eye Museum Seoul Korea Winter Exhibit Zombie House

Getting to the Trick-Eye Museum Seoul (서울 트릭아이미술관)

AddressSeoul, Mapo-gu, Hongik-ro 3-gil, 20 서교 프라자 B2 트릭 아이 미술관 B2 floor, Seogyo Plaza 20 Hongikro 3gil, Mapogu.  

Open daily from 9 AM – 9 PM

Directions to the Trick Eye Museum Seoul:  Go to Hongik University (Line 2) and take exit 9.  Walk straight to the main intersection and cross the street.  Take a left and walk until you see H&M.  Go down the alley.  The Trick Eye Museum is on your right (down a set of stairs). 

Trick Eye Museum Seoul Korea Winter Exhibit Zombie House

The post Zombie House: Seoul Trick Eye Museum’s Winter Exhibit appeared first on The Toronto Seoulcialite.

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Korean Phrases Ep. 55: 작심삼일

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This week's new video is a "Korean Phrases" episode. This series is for learning quick idioms and phrases in Korean. Even if you don't use any of these idioms in this series when speaking, you might find them written in books, or hear someone use them when speaking. So they're useful to know, especially if you're at an intermediate or advanced Korean level.

This week we'll be learning about an idiom that originally comes from China and the Chinese language. But it's still useful to know in Korean.

And today's idiom is: 작심삼일

This idiom is perfect for the upcoming New Year, and New Year's resolutions. Make sure your New Year's resolutions don't follow this idiom.

Check it out here~

The post Korean Phrases Ep. 55: 작심삼일 appeared first on Learn Korean with GO! Billy Korean.

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What's It Really Like To Teach English In Taiwan?

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Wondering what's it like to teach English in Taiwan? Awesome. I was there once, then later some other countries and now I am here to tell you about it.

I'll be doing some comparison to some other Eastern Asian countries like Korea, Japan and China.


"What do you like about Taiwan? Everything that England hasn't got. We've got great weather. It's a good lifestyle. It's a really easy lifestyle. You work 5 or 6 hours a day max and you have weekends and evenings free. You can have a..."

Dale in Taichung, Taiwan

You'll hear more from Dale later...

It's easier going than Korea or Japan

To generalize a bit I'd say that the teaching scene in Taiwan is a bit more easy going. Schools typically have shorter work hours in Taiwan compared to Korea or Japan.

Of course you could find a forty hour a week job (like in a public school), but it's quite likely that you could find a visa from a school working less than 20 hours a week (both of my contracted jobs).

There are lots of jobs advertised like that in Taiwan.

If you want to work more then you can get another part time job.

It might not only be the work it could be the weather too. Maybe the heat slows people down a bit and gives it a bit of the Southeast Asia vibe.

Most "exotic" in East Asia

From the unearthly Dragon Fruit and the Yen Shui Fireworks Festival (where people charge headfirst into fireworks) to the Bin Lang Xi Shi (sexy showgirls who prepare and sell betel nut), you'll feel like you're in a different land here.

The Tropic of Cancer runs right through Chiayi, Taiwan. The environment here is tropical like and you'll find the weather to be hot and humid. The north of the island is much wetter than the central and southern part of the island.

Instead of snow days, here you'll have typhoon days.

Roughly one third of Taiwan is urban, very urban and populated. Over 23 million live in an area the size of Maryland and Delaware. That third is pretty much plains and the other two thirds are a different story.

Outside the urban third...

Taitung Coast, Taiwan

You'll find mountains nearly 12,000 ft. tall, hot springs and some nice beaches in the very south and on the beautiful east coast of Taiwan.

Incredible fruit

You'll find a wonderful selection of exotic fresh fruit here. Dragon fruit, lee chi, wax apple, longyan, guava, mango, papaya, and many more wonderful fruits.

Vegetarian friendly

If you're a vegetarian then you might like it here best. You'll find many vegetarian restaurants that cater to Taiwan's large Buddhist population. There's no meat here, although you will find many things that look like it.

There's no garlic or onions neither, and the food is still quite tasty. I'd say that it's the best place for vegetarians in Asia.

Scooters in Taipei during rush hour

It's polluted

This is the downer about Taiwan.

The western plains of Taiwan are pretty densely populated and all these people contribute to pollution which is mainly because there are millions of scooters in Taiwan.

They are convenient and fun to own, but unfortunately many are two strokes and contribute greatly to air and noise pollution.

They say it's friendly

Taiwan actually could be more friendly to outsiders compared to a place like Korea or Japan. It's a pretty welcoming place, but to be honest I definitely had moments where I didn't think so and that's just part of the cultural experience.


I remember soon after I arrived, there was one night when I was out looking for a laundromat.

I happened to bump into a group of teenage girls on the street and I asked them where I could find a laundromat. They said there wasn't one around and then one of them said she could help.

She took my laundry home to her house to wash and then brought it back.

How's that for friendliness?

As a foreigner you'll definitely get some special treatment at times and then at other times not so much.

Great intercity buses

If you go to Taiwan make sure you try the green Free Go bus. You can travel between cities in Taiwan on a bus with large comfortable chairs while watching movies.

It's very nice! And it's cheap too.

A teacher in Taiwan talks: language, relationships, money, food & difficulties

Here's an interview with my friend Dale in Taichung, Taiwan.


My Experience

Taiwan was the first place that I went to in Asia. I lived there for two+ years. I like Taiwan and I have some good memories from there. I found people to be pretty friendly.

What got to me there was all the noise and pollution mainly from scooters.

If I was to go back I would go to either Taipei or somewhere on the beautiful east coast.

I first lived in Taichung and then later moved to Tainan. Taichung is the 3rd largest city and kinda like a mini version of Taipei.

Tainan is a bit different. It's the 4th largest city. It's less cosmopoliton than Taichung, more laidback and historical. I probably preferred that to Taichung.

Who & where I taught

I taught mostly kids. I taught in kindergartens and buxibans. I also did some subbing at a lot of different schools which included adults and even at a public high school and an elementary school.

My bosses were o.k. They paid on time. One was a bit dodgy and was deducting tax money, but not paying into my refund. Come tax season my new employer helped me get it back.

My other boss was a single woman who owned a small cram school in Koahsiung county.

The teaching scene in Taiwan

  • Requirements: Usually a 4 year degree & native English speaker, some schools may prefer experience, teaching licenses, TEFL certification, etc.
  • Average Salary: $NT600 an hour/$NT50,000-60,000+ ($1,550-1,900) a month
  • Cost of Living: Medium, similar to Korea
  • Housing: Not free or usually included
  • Teaching hours: 15-25 a week 
  • Airfare: No
    *These are just averages expect differences between institutions

Related articles

How to Say ‘Cold’ in Korean

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Brrr… The winter is here and, depending on where on the globe you live in, it is likely getting very cold. If you’ve been to Korea during winter yet, then you’ll know the temperatures might not go down so low, but the wind will definitely be brutal enough to make you feel cold. You know you’ll want to know how to say ‘cold’ in Korean so that you could tell your Korean friends just how you feel about the weather.


*Ready to learn Korean yet? Click here to learn about our 90 Day Korean learning program!


‘Cold’ in Korean


As with ‘hot’ there are two primary words for how to say ‘cold’ in Korean. If we are talking about the temperature, whether it’s the weather outside or just your body being cold, most often the verb to use is 춥다 (chubda).

The descriptive verb 차갑다 (chagabda) also means ‘cold’. However, you would not use it to describe the weather, for example, besides describing the wind as ‘cold’ or ‘chilly’. Instead, you would use it to describe the temperature of your food or drink, as well as someone’s personality.

Other words you can use to describe cold weather are 싸늘하다 (ssaneulhada) and 냉랭하다 (naengnaenghada). They may be great additions to vocabulary with which you can truly impress your Korean friends with your Korean knowledge. However, keep in mind that these words are much rarer to see in use and usually even Koreans stick to simply 춥다 and 차갑다.


A word of caution about Romanization

While it is possible for you to study the words in this article simply by reading their romanized versions, it will come in handy for you to be able to read Hangeul if you ever wish to come to Korea. Hangeul is the Korean alphabet, and not difficult to learn. In fact, you can learn it in just 90 minutes.

After you’ve familiarized yourself with Hangeul, life in Korea will suddenly seem so much easier and the country won’t appear so foreign for you. So, if you’re serious about learning Korean, why not learn Hangeul today?


Sample Sentences


오늘부터 날씨가 추워진대요. (oneulbuteo nalssiga chuweojindaeyo.)

They said the weather will be colder as of today.


그녀는 차가워 보였어요. (geunyeoneun chagaweo boyeosseoyeo.)

She has an icy look to her.


왜 제 질문을 이렇게 차갑게 대답했어요? (wae je jilmuneul ireohge chagabke daedabhaesseoyo?)

Why did you answer my question so coldly?



오늘 되게 춥지 않아? (oneul dwege chubji anha?)

Isn’t it really cold today?


차가운 바람이 불어서 추워. (chagaun barami bureoseo chuweo.)

It’s cold because of the cold wind.


그이 손은 차가워. (geue soneun chagaweo.)

His hands are cold.


What do you usually do when it’s cold in Korea? Do you have a favorite Korean winter food or activity? Let us know in the comments how you enjoy it when it’s cold in Korea!


*Want more Korean phrases? Go to our Korean Phrases Page for a complete list!


Photo Credit: BigStockPhoto


The post How to Say ‘Cold’ in Korean appeared first on 90 Day Korean.

How to Get A Job Teaching English In Taiwan

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So you are thinking about teaching English in Taiwan and you are wondering how to get a job? If that is correct then you are in the right place.

I spent 2 years teaching English in Taiwan (Tainan and Taichung). I'll give you a brief overview of the scene there and then tell you about a couple of different ways on how you can do this.

Hualian, Taiwan coast

Here's a quick overview of the scene teaching in Taiwan

  • Requirements: 4 year degree & native English speaker, some schools may prefer experience, teaching licenses, TEFL certification, etc.
  • Job Market: O.K.
  • Average Salary: $NT600 an hour/$NT50,000-60,000+ ($1,550-1,900) a month
  • Cost of Living: Medium, similar to Korea
  • Housing: Not free or usually included
  • Teaching hours: 15-25 a week 
  • Airfare: No
    *These are averages expect differences between institutions

What kind of school will you work in?

  • Buxiban (cram school)
  • Public school or university

Most teachers will work in buxibans. These are usually after school private insitutes that offer classes.

To teach in a public school in Taiwan you usually need to have a teaching license. To teach in a university you usually need to have a master's degree.

Your 2 options for how to find a job teaching English in Taiwan

  1. Try to find a job online before you go
  2. Go there and look

1. Find a job in Taiwan online before you go [Not what I recommend]

I guess some people do it this way, yet I don't really recommend it. It might work out fine for you, however in my years teaching in Taiwan I learned some things about the schools that do hire from abroad.

They usually have these things in common:

  • In off-the-beaten path places
  • May offer some accommodation
  • Are through recruiters
  • Lower pay

It's not that they are necessarily bad, but...

I have applied to a few different jobs in Taiwan that hired from abroad and have seen a quite a few job posts for these kinds of positions.

This is really not the way most people do it in Taiwan, but if you do your research on the school then you may have a good experience with it.

I can't recall seeing a job post like this in a big city.

All of them that I have seen like this are in smaller more rural locations. I think that's because fewer teachers want to work in those places, so they look for teachers who are abroad.

Quite a few of them I have seen like this offered accommodation too. I have actually interviewed and seen a few jobs like this when I was in Taiwan. It was nothing special and it was just a single room most of the time. Sometimes it might be free and others they may charge you for it.

I don't like recruiters, so I just tend to stay away from them. They'll pretty much just give you the run around and it's just better to deal directly with the school rather than going through a middle man.

Where to look?

  • ESLcafe occasionally has a few jobs posted from Taiwan where schools will hire from abroad.
  • Google it which will likely bring up some recruiter sites.

2. Go to Taiwan and look for a job [What I recommend]

Most people go to Taiwan to find work. That's the way I did it and everyone else I knew there did it. Prior to going I did interview with a school there that would of hired me from abroad. But I still would of showed up on a tourist visa and done all the visa stuff there.

Only a few schools hire foreigners outside of Taiwan. That means your chances of finding a job from home are way lower than if you were there.

Where to look?

  • Tealit is probably the best place to look. Keep in mind most schools will ignore you if you apply and are not in Taiwan.

Things you'll need to teach in Taiwan to get a visa

Here is a list of requirements for teaching in Taiwan that you may need:

  • 4 Year Degree - Some schools will accept a 2 year degree with a TEFL/TESOL certificate
  • Passport Photos
  • Background Check - I never had to do this or even heard of friends doing this. But recently things may have changed in regards to this and it may be a new requirement.

Option 1:

You could just show up without a visa and get a 3 month visa free entry. After you find a job you'll have to leave Taiwan and go to Hong Kong (the closest place for a visa run) and apply for a new visa.

Three months is plenty long to find a job and after you find a job it can take up to a month to process the visa and then you will have to do a visa run. I wouldn't stress about this now. Your employer will tell you what you need to do.

I would do this instead of option 2. Back when I taught in Taiwan they only gave a month long landing visa, but they changed that in recent years. This is much better.

Read more about this topic at forumosa.

Option 2:

You could apply for a two month or more multiple entry tourist visa that's extendable. They do cost money. Then fly to Taiwan to find work. But don't tell them that you are flying there to find work. Just say that you are going there to travel and/or use Taiwan as a hub while you travel around Asia. Or to visit friends (although they may ask for numbers). 

I now recommend option 1 or 3 if you want to study.

Option 3:

Sign up for Chinese classes and study two hours a day to get a student visa. This can be good as you won't be dependent on an employer to get a work visa. This method will also work with the other countries.

There can be a minimum amount of study hours that you will need to get a visa. The article on teaching without a degree also goes into detail on this.

Related articles:

More on visas in Taiwan:

Korea 2017 Year in Review: The Presidential Impeachment was Actually the Biggest Story

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Image result for korea 2017 impeachment

This is a local rep-post of a piece I just wrote for the Lowy Institute. I like these sort of retrospective, end-of-the-year pieces.

Basically I argue that the impeachment of former President Park Geun Hye was the biggest story of the year. Yes, Trump sucks up all the oxygen in the room, but who even knows if he means all his threats? But completing a full impeachment cycle is a pretty rare event in the history of democracy. And the Koreans did it with no violence or civic rupture. That is pretty impressive. But yes, I did then list North Korea and Trump as otherwise the big stories of the year.

The full essay follows the jump:

2017 was a rollercoaster year on the Korean peninsula. The South Koreans impeached their president. The North Koreans tested dozens of rockets, including intercontinental ballistic missiles. The American president threatened war repeatedly, possible nuclear war, against the North. And some random dorky foreigner in Korea got famous, because his cute little kids wandered into the frame while he was on TV. Honestly, why didn’t they fire that guy? It was quite a year.

For all the bluster and threats of war, I would nonetheless rate the impeachment of the South Korean president as the most important event. North Korean war scares are, as disturbing as it is to say it, pretty common, while a completed democratic impeachment is actually quite rare.

1. The Impeachment of South Korean President Park Geun-Hye

With several months of distance from the upheaval of the winter protests against Park, the impeachment trial, the new election, and all the attendant drama, it is now pretty clear that Park Geun-Hye’s circle was grossly corrupt, and that she, by extension, did not really deserve to remain in office. There are diehards who are convinced it was a ‘communist’ conspiracy. The South Korean right is disturbingly comfortable with mccarthyite attacks on liberal opponents, and there is an Alex Jones-style conspiracy fringe here. But it is otherwise pretty widely accepted that Park’s confidant, Choi Soon-Sil, grossly abused her access to the president and had far too much influence over Park.

Choi was often compared to Rasputin. Choi’s father had a quasi-religious influence over Park since her youth, and Choi seemed to ‘inherit’ that. Choi in turn abused it, particularly on Park’s ascension to the presidency, enriching both herself and her cronies. It was undeniable sleazy and embarrassing, and as more and more details came out, Park’s approval rating fell to an astonishing 6% at one point. Has any chief executive in a modern democracy ever fallen that low?

There is much debate about whether Park herself knew about all the corruption. But like Ronald Reagan’s ignorance defense during the Iran-Contra affair, this too represents a gross dereliction of duty. President Park was either blithely unaware of what was happening right under her nose among her closest companions and staff, or covered it up, Nixon-style.

Eight months out now from all the controversy, my own sense is the former, while most of the Koreans I know seem to think the former. Park, it strikes me, was more incompetent than dastardly. Her behavior throughout her presidency suggested she was constantly overwhelmed by the scope of her office. On missile defense, North Korea policy, or the sinking of the Sewol ferry, she was adrift, and the rumors from her staff regarding her (low) intelligence were harsh. We will likely never know.

2. North Korean Missile Tests.

North Korea conducted twenty separate missile provocations in 2017, involving dozens of missiles, from short-range Scud-style launches to full-blown ICBMs designed to strike the continental United States. This was the fastest test tempo ever. For all Donald Trump’s pettiness, his ‘rocket man’ nickname for Kim Jong Un is not wrong.

One of these tests overflew Japan, prompting the commencement of civil air defense drills. (Although in a society whose median age is 47, they likely will not work well given the 8 minute warning time the Japanese will have.) Others have sought to demonstrate a capability to strike the United States. November 29’s test seems to have been accepted as that breakthrough.

Much of the debate over the weapons turns on whether the North intends to use them offensively. It is widely accepted that nuclear weapons give North Korea a potent shield against US-led regime-change against Pyongyang. After the Western removals of Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, and Moammar Kadaffi, that is an understandable goal, however regrettable for us. There is a defense and deterrence logic here which all can grasp.

We may dislike it, but it is in fact quite rational for a state like North Korea to pursue these weapons. It is poor and backward. It is loathed by much of the world as a freakish cold war relic. It is surrounded by enemies, or frenemies like China eager to exploit it instrumentally, but it has no real friends. When international relations theorist Ken Waltz spoke of ‘internal balancing,’ North Korean nuking up against such a tough neighborhood despite its poverty is exactly what he had in mind. Friendless, encircled, dysfunctional, and poor, North Korea is, in Victor Cha’s words, the ‘impossible state.’ In such circumstances, nuclear weapons are in fact an excellent choice. Not only for security, but they can be proliferated for cash and used as gangsterish shake-down instruments as well.

Hawkish fears of North Korean aggression in the vein of the old saw that ‘nuclear weapons make the world safe for World War II’ strike me as over-wrought. Even if North Korea could successfully ‘de-couple’ the US from South Korea, it could likely still not defeat South Korea. The terrible health of that recent defector, who was a relatively privileged border card, is suggestive. And even if the North somehow managed to win, it would struggle enormously to occupy and integrate a modern state of free people twice its size into its ossified framework.

3. Trump’s Fire and Fury

Throughout the year, Trump’s erratic and explosive commentary raised tension in ways not seen before. No previous American president had ever threatened to ‘totally destroy North Korea’ or threw around casual war threats – the ‘armada, ‘fire and fury.’ Trump, in his impatience to distinguish himself from his predecessor, claimed ‘strategic patience’ to be over. All this created a momentum to strike North Korea – enough that South Korean President Moon Jae-In felt it necessary to publicly declare to the National Assembly, just days before Trump’s arrival, that no war could take place against North Korea with the South’s assent.

And curiously, Trump blinked. When he also spoke to the National Assembly, he forsook the best chance he had to lay out a case for war to the South Korean government and public. Instead he fell back on bromides about South Korea’s self-evident moral superiority and the need for ‘maximum pressure.’ In fact, there is little difference between that and strategic patience – alliances, deterrence and defense, missile defense, sanctions, etc. Similarly, after the November 29 ICBM test in which North Korea triumphantly declared it could strike the US, Trump said little more than ‘we’ll take care of it,’ likely because he know realizes that no one believes his bizarre threats anymore and that war in the region would be a catastrophe laid at his feet.

South Korea came through these multiple challenges remarkably well. It completed a full impeachment cycle without violence or civil upheaval. Few democracies have ever done that. It similarly held the line on the North’s bullying despite a new liberal president whom conservatives relentlessly criticize as too dovish. And for all the anxiety about Donald Trump’s warmongering – or it just reality TV star blather? – the US president finally seems to have realized what South Koreans and the analyst community have known for years: There is no obvious solution to North Korea; if there were, it would have been tried long ago; and war is a terrible option. Now if only they could find a way get rid of that hack BBC Dad guy…

Filed under: Korea (North), Korea (South), Lowy Institute, Nuclear Weapons, Trump

Robert E Kelly
Assistant Professor
Department of Political Science & Diplomacy
Pusan National University




Korean Test Practice with Billy [Ep. 9] – Intermediate Korean (Listening Practice)

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Are you preparing for the TOPIK test, a government Korean test, or a Korean test at school? Then let me help you prepare with my video series focused on Korean test questions and explanations.

This episode will cover an example of an intermediate level listening question. More episodes to come soon!

And feel free to send me requests for videos you'd like to see. There are also higher request priorities through my Patreon page. Thanks for watching~!

Don't read below if  you want to try the problem on your own first.

Here is the listening example from the video:

안녕하세요? 처음으로 뵙네요. 저는 김유라라고 해요. 15학번 과대표를 맡고 있어요. 이쪽은 17학번 과대표 민정이에요. 16학번 과대표는 지금 수업을 들으러 가서 없네요. 한국은 처음이죠? 학교생활하면서 모르는 것이 있거나 도움이 필요하면 언제든 연락하세요. 앞으로 일 년간 잘 지내봐요.

Here's the English translation:

“Hello. Nice to meet you. My name is Kim Yu-ra. I’m representing class 15. Over here is the class 17 representative, Min-jeong. The class 16 representative now went to class and isn’t here. It’s your first time in Korea, right? If there’s anything you don’t know relating to student life, or if you need any help, contact me anytime. Enjoy the year ahead.”

The post Korean Test Practice with Billy [Ep. 9] – Intermediate Korean (Listening Practice) appeared first on Learn Korean with GO! Billy Korean.

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