teach in korea

Embarrassing Foreigner Moments in Korea

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Communication is key. I'm sure you've heard that one.

When I moved to Korea I knew things would be very different and as a language and culture fanatic, I was excited by the communication gap challenges to come.

I enjoyed piecing together basic sentences in Korean while a Korean stranger did the same in broken English. Sign language, body language, weird facial expressions, sound effects -- when you are abroad and have a need to communicate, anything goes!

But with language barriers and cultural differences you are bound to run into some awkward and embarrassing moments. You have two ways to react to these moments.

Negatively, you can shy away, flee, turn red and burst into tears OR throw an angered, offended tantrum. The other option is to react positively, even if you are thrown off, you can choose to adapt the "Korean way"or simply use the moment as an opportunity to discuss your differences in a civilized fashion.


Here are 3 REAL, personal examples of embarrassing cultural shock experiences.

1. At my first job in Korea, I worked in a small public elementary school on Ganghwa Island. I became very close with the librarian. She was the sweetest woman ever! She took me under her wing, filled me in on any news, information and gossip of the school. We even shared lunch together, exchanging food items we'd pack in our vegetarian-friendly lunchboxes.

One day she took one look at  me and pointed out the big, fat pimple hanging out on my cheek. "Stress?" She said.

Naturally, I was mortified.

As if I hadn't noticed the monstrous lump on my face staring at me in the mirror. I'm sure my face instantly turned red. I was so embarrassed. The thing is, I knew that Koreans commented on appearance often, I just wasn't used to any negative comments. Koreans love to compliment you on your makeup, outfit, weight, face size, eye size, the list goes on.

Although embarrassed and a bit hurt that my friend would point out my ugly pimple, I knew it was a cultural difference. In Korea, it is common to point out if someone has a pimple, dark eye circles, or a rough appearance and ask if it is "stress". It is a way of showing concern for the other person's well-being. Pointing out those huge eye bags shows that they are attentive to you and notice your changes.

To be honest, I felt fine and I wasn't stressed but I lied and said I was feeling stressed. This was me playing the "Korean way" as I mentioned before. In Korea, people see pimples as a direction reaction to stress. Where I'm from, this correlation isn't automatic. Sure acne could be stress related but we also think it could just be from certain foods, allergies, hormones imbalance, etc.

You obviously don't have to lie, and I think at the moment, I did so out of embarrassment and a loss for words.


2. In the second moment I want to share, I didn't react in a positive way. It was a late night after dance class and I was hungry. The area I lived in was about a 20 minute walk from the main street in Gangnam, however I had just walked 20 minutes from the opposite direction from my dance class. Most of the restaurants near my villa closed early. There was one kogi chib (aka Korean BBQ restaurant) open and I decided to go in and see if I could order a kimchi stew or cold noodles. As soon as I step foot in the door the ajumma (older woman) asked,

"How many people?"

Of course, I said I was alone. The ajumma burst out laughing, while the rest of the customers stared blankly at me.

I scooted out of the place as fast as possible and hurried to the local convenience store to grab a snack instead. I was angry, embarrassed and upset. I ranted to myself about how rude she was and when I got home I told my roommate about the "evil ajumma".

A few cultural differences pop up in this situation. One, the staring and laughter and two, the custom of not eating alone.

The staring was something I was used to at that point, people always stared, but having all eyes on me in that tiny restaurant was unbearable.

The ajumma laughing at me and denying service felt personal, I took it personally. I knew I obviously looked different, and probably sounded different speaking their language. I felt attacked and isolated.

The fact is however, in Korea you don't eat alone. And if you do, it is definitely NOT at a kogi chib.

The laughter? My guess is that the ajumma found it amusing that I'd even ask if eating alone there was an option. Koreans are very blunt and this can be a lot for someone accustomed to the "sugar-coating" we do in parts of America.

Handled better, I shouldn't have taken the situation personally. The fact is, that when you go to a kogi chib you cannot order a single portion of meat. The grill format and setup is a shared experience. Even though my intention was to come in and order a a soup or noodles (technically considered side dishes to the meat), that is not the way things work in Korea.

In America we are the "have it your way" kind of people. We customize, take out, add, and completely change the menu items to our liking. In Korea, for the most part, you get what you get. There is not a culture of customizing the food and there is not a culture of eating alone at a restaurant.


3. Last situation, it is time to shine light on some positive embarrassing moments here! Transportation in Korea is spectacular. You can fill a T-money card with cash at the convenience store, hop on a bus to work, take a taxi to run errands on your lunch break, and then subway to meet a friend for dinner, all using the SAME card. A lot of people fill the card with money at the beginning of the month and use it freely. Well, it must have been towards the end of the month, I hopped on a bus, scanned my T-Money card and the recording shouted something at me that meant "You're out of money biotch!"

Okay, no problem get off the bus, right?


In Korea you basically run and jump onto a moving bus or if the bus is fully stopped, the second you're in, the driver hits the gas. I sheepishly scanned my card a few more times and began to rummage through my purse for some cash. I had never actually used cash to pay for a bus ride so I asked the driver where the correct slot was. The driver mumbled something under his breathe and seemed quite annoyed with me.

I swear she must've been an angel... a young girl jumped up out of her seat with such a sense of duty and shouted,

"I'll take care of it!"

That has to be one of the most memorable moments for me in Korea. I gave her a full 90 degree bow and a million thank-you's.

She literally saved my day and made my day with her gesture.

Life in Korea will bring you tons of situations just like the ones mentioned above. Sometimes our reaction is uncontrollable and instinctive. Other times we have time to process and decide how we'll react. I strongly believe that one way to save yourself unnecessary stress is to learn as much as you can about Korean culture and the way the society functions. It is most likely extremely different from your home country.

Being aware of these differences can keep you from spending your evenings curled up in a ball of isolation or bubbling over with anger.


I created Hello Tonya Teacher as a way to reflect upon my experiences in Korea, dissect them and give back!

One way I can help you now is by helping you actually get to Korea!

Download my Roadmap to Korea Checklist and stay organized and sane as you go through the application process!

Korea for the Artsy-Fartsy Types

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.


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^^.



The Complete Guide to Getting a Teaching Job in South Korea (checklist inside!)

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First of all, CONGRATS! If you are here it is because you have made the bold choice to teach English in South Korea.

BOSS decision.

Now, how do you actually go about finding and obtaining the IDEAL teaching job?

This post is your complete guide to doing just that.

WARNING: This guide is for AMERICAN CITIZENS. As you may be aware, the documents and process for obtaining a teaching job in Korea vary country to country.

After you read this post you may feel overwhelmed. But don't worry- I GOT YOU. At the bottom you will find the link to download my FREE Teach in Korea Roadmap Checklist. The best way to use this document is to print it out, slap it on a cork board/refrigerator etc. and check-off as you go down the road to Korea!

Now let's DO THIS! 👊🏿👊🏾👊🏽👊🏼👊🏻

Roadmap to Teaching in Korea 🚗


Do you qualify?🤷‍♀️

Before you start strutting down the road to teaching in Korea, make sure you are eligible to teach English in Korea.

Requirements to teach in Korea:

  • Citizenship from one of these English-speaking countries: U.S., U.K., Ireland, Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand

  • Bachelor’s degree/diploma from an accredited college or university

  • Clean National level criminal record check

  • Clean health check and drug test

👨🏾‍🏫🍎The Job👩🏾‍🏫📚

Eligible? Yaass! Now let's learn about your options so that you can get clear on what type of teaching environment will best suit you.

Public or Private?

  • English Program in Korea (EPIK)- Korean government sponsored program for teaching in public schools. Average hours are M-F 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Since it is a government program you get government holidays off, secure pay and benefits.

  • Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education (SMOE)- This is the EPIK program for Seoul.

  • Gyeonggi English Program in Korea (GEPIK)- This is the EPIK for the Gyeonggi Province(area surrounding Seoul).

  • Teach and Learn Korea (TaLK)- This government program requires the least amount of working hours but also the lowest pay. From my experience, it is a great transition program because of its long orientation and frequent cultural trips throughout the contract. Again, because it is a government sponsored program you get government holidays off, secure pay and benefits.

  • Hagwons (Private School)– These are private academies or cram schools. Work hours vary, it is possible to teach Kindergartners in the morning and then the after-school crowd of elementary and up. Hours can go 8am to as late as 9pm. These are for-profit schools so they are very much ran like a business.

  • English Villages- These are camp style facilities where students come and go for a few days up to a month! As an English teacher at camp you will live in the teacher dorms on the campus (College 2.0). Work hours range, but have a typical 9-5/6PM schedule.

  • University – If you can score a university job in Korea all other expat teachers will drool over you with envy! Friends of mine who work as university professors have long vacations and comfortable pay.


Recruiter or Nah?

There are tons of recruiters out there. Some are good and others not so much. Everyone has a personal preference on whether or not they want to use a recruiter or do the job search and application solo. I personally have done both and prefer going solo. If it is your first time applying, a recruiter might help you keep everything organized and streamlined.

TOP RECRUITERS- See Roadmap to Korea

TOP JOB BOARD SITES- See Roadmap to Korea


City or Countryside?

Getting clear on your preferred living standards will help with this decision. Are you a big city girl or a low-key countryside kind of gal? There are also suburban areas in Korea, my experience of them has been in the Gyeonggi area (area surrounding Seoul). Countryside/rural areas usually have lots of farmland but all the major necessities are there (markets, small boutiques, coffee shops, restaurants, banks, pharmacy, etc). Of course the BIG city life is in Seoul and Busan, but other popular smaller cities are Incheon, Daegu, Daejeon, Gwangju, Suwon, Ulsan, Gangneug, Mokpo...

Ultimately the best way to learn about an area is to do your research (Hello Google) and contact current/previous teachers located in the area.


TEFL Certification?

If you go the public school route, you'll need to take a 120-hour TEFL course. Having an in-class portion is ideal. If you are going the private school/English village route, getting a TEFL isn't necessary but it can't hurt! You can start this before you begin the whole application process so that you can list your TEFL certification on your application. If not, you can note on the application that you are in the process of obtaining the certification and list approximate completion date.



When you are ready to fill out the application you will need to prepare the following:

  • Basic personal information

  • Qualifications (certifications, degree, teaching experience)

  • Essay(s)

  • Sample lesson plan



And now the journey begins...

*time to put 👏🏽 in 👏🏽that👏🏽 WORK*


Getting your Documents🗃️📃

This is when the tedious part of the process begin because it involves you running around and gathering a bunch of documents and waiting, and waiting some more. For fees, waiting times and extra tips be sure to download my printable Roadmap to Korea Checklist!

1. Get your notarized copy of diploma with an apostille

  • To do this, Google "notary near me" and follow directions to have your diploma notarized

  • To obtain an apostille, you will need to Google "apostille service [state name]"

2. Get your Apostilled FBI background check

Getting the Background Check

  • Option 1: Electronic submission (NEW!)

    1. Go to https://www.edo.cjis.gov

    2. Follow directions under the “Obtaining Your Identity History Summary”

  • Option 2: Submit directly to FBI via Mail

    1. Follow directions on their website they even provide a checklist to use

  • Option 3: Use a FBI-Approved Channeler

    1. For an additional fee (most expensive and fastest), a channeler will submit your request and expedite the process. Here is the list of approved channelers.

Getting the Apostille for the Background Check

  • Option 1: Use a channeler. Simply Google "apostille channelers" and follow their directions (most expensive and fastest)

  • Option 2: Mail it to the State Department. Follow directions on what to submit.

  • Option 3: Go in person t o the offices in D.C by appointment or walk-in.

3. Additional documents you'll gather

  • 2 letters of recommendation

  • Sealed college transcripts

  • Résumé

  • Photocopy of Passport Information

  • E-2 Health Statement

  • 4 Official Passport Photos


👸🏽✨Shine Queen, Shine!✨👸🏽

1. Phone Interview

To get the job, you'll probably have a phone interview. Time to shine! Like any interview you want to represent yourself in the best light, be professional, friendly and show off your personality. They want to check to make sure you are someone who can adapt to new environments and foreign culture- not someone who will be overwhelmed by teaching or culture shock.

2. Introduction Video

This video is a perfect time to shine and give them a sneak peak of what you are like as a teacher. Be yourself, smile, have good lighting, keep the background simple, dress appropriately and introduce yourself. In other words..SLAY💁🏽.


🥂🍾🎉Say What?! You got the job??!!!🥂🍾🎉

Getting your Visa 💳😉


1. Google your Korean Consulate

Google " [your state] Korean Consulate".

2. Get Documents

Contact the Korean Consulate to get an official list of what to bring. Here are some general items you'll need:

  • Contract

  • Notice of appointment

  • E-2 visa application

  • Passport sized photo

  • Passport

  • Fee (check consulate website for approved payment types- ie cash, check, etc.)

3. Yay. Visa!

Inform your recruiter/point of contact that you've got your visa.


✈️ Pre-Departure Prep 🛄


1. Book Your Flight

I will always recommend Korean Air (literally THE best airline I've been on). Their flights can be on the pricey side, however, you are going to be in the air for a LONG time, might as well make your first trip to Korea as comfortable as possible.

2. Ask your recruiter/ point of contact about your arrival plan

Get as many details as possible. A lot of their answers will be "It depends", however, they should be able to tell you how you should get from the airport to you living quarters.

3. Prepare yourself for life in and out of the classroom.

Email hellotonyateacher@gmail.com for a deeper look into how to do this and how I can help.

4. Pack

In my program you can find a full list of things to bring. Your recruiter/point of contact should also inform you of the basics to bring. One key thing I'll mention is to bring a little bit of home. Korea has everything! All the essentials you'll find there (plus a lot of little luxuries you never knew you needed LOL). However, to ease your homesickness and aid towards a smooth transition, I recommend packing things like your favorite snacks and photographs. It is also a good idea to think about little things you can bring your classroom/school, such as stickers, decorations, and gifts for the Principal/VP.

5. Tie up any loose ends

You are leaving the country, you should-- let your bank know, turn off your cellphone plan (unless its free internationally), stop any subscriptions, put things in storage, sell things you don't need, and of course have your last brunches, dinner dates with family and friends!



That's a lot of steps, no? Luckily I've created a FREE Roadmap to Korea Checklist that you can print out and track your progress. Follow the link below and let's get this party started!🎈🎉

This download also has extra information not listed in this post like the costs of these steps, waiting times, and extra tips!


Are your EPIK dreams over?


No more English teaching jobs?

According to a recent article in the Korea Times,

"Tens of thousands of English teachers across the country are in danger of losing their jobs as the government is set to ban English education for children from preschool to second grade."

If you have been following the news on English education over the past few years then this is no surprise. Budget cuts, job cuts and thus higher competition has become the theme in South Korean English education job market.

So are your dreams of teaching English in Korea over?


What is over, is sending in an average application and having mediocre credentials. With less positions available the gloves need to come off, you need to truly SELL yourself in your application, essays, photograph, interview, etc.

Getting TEFL certified? Great. What else 'ya got?

Now more than ever it is imperative that you throw on your thinking cap and think of ALL the things that make you awesome, flexible, fit for adapting to new cultures, and fantastic teacher material. You must think about why YOU over anyone else deserve a spot in the program.

The two main areas to shine in your application are in the Essay and in the Lesson Plan.

Here are some actionable tips to use to help you get hired!

Essay pro tips:

  • Literally make this list of awesome stuff about you, your experiences abroad/ with other cultures, teaching/volunteering/tutoring, etc.

  • Write, revise, write, revise

  • Use the max word count

  • Send your application in as early as possible

  • Get someone to read over your essay and check for errors

  • Seek the help of someone who has been through the process

  • NO FLUFF! This is not a time to talk around a subject, be direct and answer the question

  • Read the directions. Follow directions (11pt font means 11pt font).

Lesson Plan Pro Tips

  • Read the directions and follow them.

  • Use your background. If you majored in Dance in university, create a fun lesson about movement. Don't send in a boring lesson plan on colors and expect to WOW the recruiters.

  • Have someone else read over your lesson plan. We make sense to ourselves in our head but you must make sure your lesson plan is ready for any average Joe to pick up and execute.

  • Keep it student-centered NOT teacher-centered. For example, word your plan like "Student A says"...." and Student B say's "...."

  • Details people! Give them as many juicy details as possible. What props will you use? Is there a seating chart? How will students be rewarded?

Put your best effort into these two pieces. Have the goal of inspiring the socks off the EPIK recruiter!

Most importantly maintain a good attitude and this will show up in your work. KNOW that if you are meant for this program, you WILL get into this program.

Be confident.

Even though this is just the application portion and not a live video interview, confidence and positivity can produce great work!

One favor you can do for yourself is get organized! Creating a quality application won’t happen if you can’t keep up with deadlines, for get to submit things , etc.

Stay organized and SANE with my Roadmap to Korea Checklist!