So, I'm an artsy-fartsy type.
I've been this way since as long as I can remember! I was the kid in school who left no white space un-doodled on my worksheets. I recently sorted through HUNDREDS of old sketches and drawings. I begged my mom to sign me up for dance classes and I can't tell you how many times I watched "You're Invited to Mary-Kate & Ashley's Ballet Party"...(shoutout to the 90's babies).
In middle school I played violin, in high school I dabbled in modeling and I always dreamed of living the starving artist life in Los Angeles!
Tick-tock, tick-tock, I'm reading this article to hear about KOREA!
Okay, so HOW does this apply to Korea and YOU?
I'm guessing that if you decided to read this, it is because you too are an artsy-fartsy type (last time I'll use that phrase- promise.)
Honestly when I first moved to Korea I didn't think it would be an opportunity to dive into the arts or dig up old passions. My first year I spent how anyone planning to move to Korea thinks their life will be. I went to school, lesson planned, hung out with new friends, studied Korean, and traveled the country.
My second year, after moving to Seoul, things changed - dramatically!
A co-worker and close friend told me about her dance school and when she found out I used to dance she encouraged me to join her for a class.
My relationship with dance was a complicated one at the time. I loved dance but I was convinced it didn't love me back. I stopped dance lessons in middle school and since then I sporadically took classes, auditioned and yet somehow was confused about how I wasn't amazing, but I digress.
I mustered up the courage to attend class with her at DEF Dance Skool in Gangnam. It is a K-Pop trainee school, full of students who dedicate their entire lives to dancing, singing, and music. The school was intense! The instructors were amazing. The style of teaching was very "K-Popy", for a lack of better words. Each month we focused on learning a cover to ONE dance. The music was slowed down until it was almost unrecognizable, and each move was taught to be performed with extreme precision. Not the place for the free-spirited improv queens out there!
A few months in, and I was asked to be the first foreigner to perform in the monthly "test" video (a.k.a a dance cover video that would be uploaded to Youtube and the school site). I was honored, shocked and scared out of my mind! That month I endured a grueling schedule of 12am-5am dance practices (no that is not a typo) and then teaching English at my day job from 9-6pm. It was incredibly tough and I loved EVERY second of it!
Sparing the details, that experience changed the way I took on life in Korea. I was now Tonya Teacher AND Tonya the artist. A few months later, DEF Dance offered me a position as a dance instructor. They wanted me to teach a weekly English KPOP Dance class. Of course I accepted!
I must note that receiving money for anything outside of your teaching contract is ILLEGAL.
I had to exchange work for free dance classes instead. Later I auditioned for another dance cover video and made the cut. My friend who encouraged me to start, was with me the entire way! We co-taught the English KPOP Dance class and both auditioned for the dance cover video. We formed our own team naming it, Pink & Black Dance. We took to the streets of Hongdae, busking and even performing on a live stream for Afreeca TV.
I started networking with other foreign artists in Korea. I attended auditions for dance, modeling and acting gigs. I met foreigners who were also living a "double-life", teaching English and following their dreams. Some even came to Korea, knowing that as a foreigner, there are lots opportunities being the minority in the industry.
Being the minority in a homogeneous society does come at a cost.
For instance, actors and actresses will find that most of the roles they can audition for are stereotypical. Being cast as the "sexy foreign girlfriend", the "scary foreign male", the "foreigner who does drugs", etc. isn't uncommon. Not all roles are like this. As an African-American female, I've been cast to play a high-strung mother and a hard-working businesswoman.
As more and more foreigners pour into the Korean entertainment industry, opportunities only grow bigger and bigger. Seeing artists like actress Carson Allen , or K-Pop star Alex Reid from girl-group Rania, should inspire and empower us all!
To be very honest, there are a lot of foreigners illegally working in the entertainment industry, receiving monetary payment for acting, modeling and dance gigs. As sketchy as it sounds it isn't that uncommon. Just like working under-the-table as an English tutor isn't uncommon either.
To be very clear- I AM NOT ENCOURAGING ANYONE TO WORK ILLEGALLY!
While it can be difficult to obtain, there is an artist visa available (E-6 Artistic Performer -예술흥행) for those who are interested in bypassing the English teacher route and coming to Korea solely as an artist. Visit this page for more information on E-series visas.
The way I went around not being paid for the dance instructor position was working in exchange for free lessons at the dance school. This was perfect for me because much of my "fun-money" went to dance classes anyway!
I wanted to write this post to encourage any prospective English teacher applicants who have an artistic side. You'll want to settle into life in Korea when you first arrive and adjust to teaching and adapting to the culture. I'll repeat- you'll want to focus on teaching and adjusting FIRST. Your day-to-day, 5-6 days a week, is dedicated to educating children and this should be top priority.
Please don't add to the teachers who give foreigners a bad reputation by half-heartedly preparing lessons and showing up late to work tired and a mess!
However, if you are already considering teaching in Korea, and maybe you are on the fence about it, and you just happen to be an artsy-fartsy type (okay, I lied, this is the real last time :p) I want to open your eyes to the world of possibilities in Korea!
Did this post resonate with you? Well then let’s get you through this tedious application process to become an English teacher! Download my Roadmap to Korea Checklist and stay organized & sane throughout the entire thing!
PS- If you are more of the sip on organic coffee and check out street art kinda artsy or an urban fashion enthusiast kinda artsy, or listen to live indie music in a quaint bar kinda artsy, Korea is WONDERFUL for you too ;).
OH! And below you'll find a semi-embarrassing highlight video I used to send out for dance gigs^^.