Useful Or Not? Foreign English Teachers In Korea

During the last few years, the number of jobs available for foreign English teachers in Korean public schools has significantly decreased. According to an article on The Korean Observer, the number of foreign teachers has dropped from over 9,000 to 6,785 in three years. Meanwhile jobs at hagwons are becoming more competitive between foreigners. The question is whether these cuts are beneficial, or detrimental, for Korean students.

I currently work at a public middle school, but one which is recognised throughout Korea as having an impressive English programme; parents pay fees specifically for foreigners to teach their children. Needless to say foreign teachers are important to the school and their lessons are an important part of students’ timetables. And I think having such a system which incorporates foreign teachers is invaluable.
'¼ö´É Á¡¼ö ¸î Á¡À̾úÁö?'There are a number of reasons why. Firstly, because Korean teachers can focus too much upon English grammar, rather than speaking and writing, so that their students can perform well on tests. I recently read this article on Korea Times, which states that 7 out of 10 middle/high school students are unsatisfied with their English lessons because they’re too ‘test-orientated.’ Of course it’s important for students to score well, but it’s also essential that they can hold a good conversation and write well in English. As such, lessons with foreign teachers, held entirely in English, can greatly help to improve conversational skills.
Secondly, there are some mistakes which Korean teachers make, or don’t pick up on when their students make them. The Korea Times article mentions that some Korean teachers don’t have the English ability to teach well enough; they aren’t re-trained and don’t have their English skills evaluated properly. And while I’m not implying that Korean-English teachers are incompetent, there are errors made, even if they’re tiny ones. Errors that perhaps only native English speakers pick up on and correct. Here are some example of mistakes I hear daily from students (and teachers):

  • The use of stressed/ stressful/ stress: “I feel very stressful” “Homework is very stressed”
  • The word ‘funny’ instead of ‘fun’: “Skiing is very funny” “My vacation was very funny”
  • The word ‘comfortable’ instead of ‘convenient’: “My smart phone is very comfortable”
  • Pronunciation to add ‘ee’ sound on the end of words: “Finishee” “Changee”
  • The word ‘until’ being used instead of ‘at’: “Until 3 pm, you can go home”

Mistakes like these may not stop someone understanding the speaker (apart from the use of the word ‘until’, which has confused me numerous times), but they prevent even the smartest students from speaking perfectly. And for this reason, having a foreign teacher to correct mistakes is extremely beneficial.

south_korea_10_26_01_english_teachersUnderstanding different accents is also important; American/ Canadian teachers are the most popular in Korea, because their accents are easier to understand. As I’m English, the problem with my accent came up when I was interviewed for jobs, and I didn’t think it would be a problem at all when teaching, but I was wrong. Time and time again, students and Korean friends have found my accent difficult to understand. Similarly South African accents, Australian, New Zealand, Irish, Scottish, or Welsh. But it’s important that Koreans can understand English speakers with different accents; what’s the point in speaking English fluently if you travel to Britain but can’t understand anyone? Or if you only understand the Korean-English accent of a Korean teacher.

There are numerous positives of having foreign teachers in public schools. However, there are ways in which I’d agree things can be improved. Mainly, the fact that English lessons taught by foreigners can be seen by students as somewhat of a ‘novelty’ and aren’t taken as seriously as other classes. In my case, foreign teachers aren’t involved in English exams, we give no homework and as for discipline, we don’t have much authority: we can’t speak to parents ourselves, and we don’t have the same respect as the Korean teachers, so any stern-words aren’t taken too seriously.

Moreover, despite the fact that parents pay a lot of money for us to teach their children, we’re constantly told to ‘play games’ and ‘keep the children happy’ rather than have a strict academic lesson. Of course it’s important to have fun, but if foreign teachers taught in the same way as Korean teachers, having tests, giving out homework, and keeping the focus on structured learning, students could learn more.

A number of South Korea students go abroad to study English.
A number of South Korea students go abroad to study English.

Given the benefits, it would be detrimental to students to further decrease the number of foreign teachers. There may still be native English speakers working in hagwons, but not all students attend hagwons, and so some will miss out on valuable teaching. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the most fluent students are those who have travelled to English-speaking countries to learn the language: this alone proves how useful time spent with native-English speakers can help English ability.

No matter how good a Korean-English teacher may be, it’s a bonus for students to interact with, and be taught by, foreigners, and I hope that ten years from now, there’ll still be foreign teachers in Korean public schools.

The Madness That Is Winter Camp

Last Friday was a very good day for me: it was the last day of Winter Camp at school, and the start of a 5 week holiday. So it’s not surprising that I was in a pretty good mood. But, distracting me from my happiness was the horrible feeling of an entirely achey body, eyes which would barely stay open, and a general ill-feeling. Why? Because after 10 days of Winter Camp, I was exhausted.

I know that Winter Camp will be different for all teachers, depending on where you teach, the camp’s programme, and what age group you’re teaching. For the teachers at my school, it’s quite a tough schedule: 5 classes back-to-back, teaching hyperactive and eager students who have just finished their final year at elementary school and are going to join the middle school in March. And the lessons are active: cooking, sports, arts and crafts, games. So despite teaching the same amount of hours in one week as we would during the regular school year, camp is decidedly more hectic and tiring. Oh, and there’s the fact that it’s a huge deal at the school, with an exceedingly long build-up and sole focus on the foreign teachers. No pressure then.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun. I love seeing the fresh, excited new faces. There’s the awkward silence on the first day when none of the students know each other and are too shy to speak. Us foreign teachers are greeted with the same cautious, shy glances that we experienced during the first week of the semester way back in March, as if the students have never seen a Westerner before. But this timidness doesn’t last long, and by the end of the second week (or the second day, in some cases) it has gradually descended into noisy chaos. Which is actually better than the silence, in my opinion.

Winter Camp Nachos
Winter Camp Nachos

Last year, I underestimated how demanding the camp schedule was, despite being warned by my Korean co-teachers. So stupidly, I chose to teach cooking. On the bright side, it was a success: delicious food (well, by the students standards, in which cheese/sugar = heaven), no accidents or fire alarms being set off, and happy students. But it was also messy, stressful, and pure chaos. Students love food, and it was great that they consequently loved my class. However, food brings out the spoilt, whiny side of children like I’ve never seen. “Teacher, my turn.” “Teacher, more cheese.” “Teacher, drink.” “Teacher, now.” Seriously. My classroom was amass with rubbish, dirty plates and cutlery, and leftover food, and I never had time to clean as there was never a break. Needless to say by the end of camp I wanted to go to bed and stay there for the whole winter break.

So this year, cooking was off the cards. Instead, I chose art and crafts. Never mind the fact that I’m hopeless at art myself; it would be fun, but hopefully (slightly) less rigorous than cooking. And luckily, it was. There were days when the desks in my classroom were dirty with glue smears, sweeping became an hourly requirement, and I went home everyday with stained clothes. But it was largely successful: nice works of art to display at the end of camp, no-one ate the pasta meant for pasta art (although they did attempt to), and best of all, no-one stabbed themselves during my sewing class (apart from me, actually). Most importantly, the students had fun.

The thing which made me most happy? The fact that my students seemed to love being creative. It’s a well-known fact that Korean students are often taught with the purpose of passing exams, rather than encouraging independent thinking. So it was nice to see them use their imaginations for once. And wow, were they painstakingly careful and considerate when making their art, so much so that my lessons almost always ran late because they hadn’t finished. Plus, something I didn’t know before: Korean children are pretty amazing at art. Sure, there were a few whose work was pretty dreadful (one student was upset when his Pop Art picture of Harry Potter came out looking like Gandhi), but the majority of students were way more talented than I expected.

All in all, it was a good two weeks, but I have to admit that I’m glad it’s over now. It’s something which we teachers don’t exactly look forward to, but feel proud at the end of. When we have the closing ceremony, and watch the obligatory photo-diary of camp, it makes you see the whole experience through rose-tinted spectacles: you forget about the naughty kid who irritated you the entire time, the hours spent organising your lessons, the stress of buying all your materials, and the general effort of being so overly positive and energetic all the time (because ‘camp isn’t proper school, so we can’t be as strict or expect the kids to be as well behaved as they would be in school’).

I even find myself feeling a little nostalgic about the fact I won’t see the students again for a while; they were so sweet when saying ‘goodbye’ and ‘thank you’ that it fills you with warmth, and almost makes you sad that camp is over. Almost…

Moving To Korea: Top Tips I Wish I’d Known…

Coming to Korea was a huge, daunting move, and needless to say I did a lot of research beforehand; finding out about the culture and customs (bowing your head and removing your shoes inside), weather (yes, there definitely are 4 distinct seasons), and shopping (being told that buying clothes/shoes/underwear was pretty much impossible). 

The information I found was helpful, but ultimately it’s living here which gives you the best knowledge. So here, in hindsight, is what advice I’d give myself, and anyone else about to move to Korea.

  • Learn Hangul before you arrive

I had a quick look at some ‘learn to read Hangul’ guides before coming, but not in much detail, and I wish that I had. Once you’ve arrived, there’s so much else to sort out and distract you that you might not have the time to focus on learning to read in Korean- this happened to me, and in the end it was a while before I properly taught myself Hangul.

Don’t be put off by thinking it’s too difficult, because it’s much simpler than you’d imagine (everyone else I know agrees that it’s surprisingly easy to get a grip of). Being able to read it upon your arrival makes things much less daunting, even being able to read the city names and find your correct destination when you arrive at the airport.

I used the infamous Ryan Estrada method which can be found here, which I found pleasantly straightforward, and would definitely recommend.

  • Phones are generally on contracts

I imagined that I’d be able to get a simple pay-as-you-go phone in Korea and that I wouldn’t use it too often, but that’s a pretty difficult thing to do. I was told by co-workers to set up a contract, as it would be hard to find somewhere to find a pay-as-you-go option.

Everyone I know has ended up setting a phone contract and getting a Korean phone as part of that contract- so if you’re coming out with your own phone, it could be that you’ll end up getting a new one instead.

  •  Deodorant does exist-for women

I was pretty worried when I read that deodorant isn’t really used by Koreans, and came out with about 10 sprays in my luggage. Luckily for women, you can find deodorant now in most marts, even if it is the roll-on kind and more expensive than you’d expect.

But for men it’s more difficult. My male friends tell me it’s pretty much impossible to find stuff in a standard supermarket. So for them, they fill their cases with extra deodorant… or resort to buying the female version if they run out.

  • Underwear is expensive

On the whole, the cost of living is so much cheaper in Korea, apart from where underwear is concerned. The price of underwear is pretty similar to the price of proper clothes, which I found pretty shocking. Plus, the selection isn’t the best to say the least… If I were packing to move out here, I’d cram my suitcase with extra items.

Oh, apart from socks, which are sold everywhere, are extremely cheap, and also amazing. In fact, I wouldn’t bother to pack any socks and buy them all when you arrive!

  • Cosmetics are good

I didn’t have a clue what to expect from Korean cosmetics, so packed double the amount I needed: two makeup bags, extra face creams and wipes, just so many products. But luckily, there was no need as there are so many options in Korea, ranging from the very-cheap to the luxury, expensive items.

I’d guess there are even more options than you’d have back home. You only have to walk into a cosmetic shop to be faced with so many face creams, lotions, cleaners, toners, and goodness-knows what else, that you’ll be in the shop for hours, confused over what to buy.

  •  G Market is the new Amazon

Amazon ships some stuff to Korea, but not everything. And so the other option is G Market. There’s an English website which is convenient, and you can find most things you’d need on there.

  • Buy your winter gear in Korea

Winter is hideously cold, but it’s alright as long as you have proper winter clothes. I came out with a winter coat, gloves, hat, scarves etc., but when the colder months arrived I realised that they weren’t enough, and that I needed proper winter clothes which are actually designed for the freezing temperatures.

They have everything you could ever need in Korea: thermal vests, leggings, hats, gloves, fluffy socks, pajamas, snoods, the list goes on. And while a lot of the winter coats are insanely expensive, there are cheaper options which are still perfect for facing the cold. My coat is my saviour during winter, it isn’t a huge puffer-jacket, and it cost a fraction of the price of the majority of coats.

  • There are more and more Western food products

Another thing I read online about Korea was the lack of certain foods, cereal being one of the main things which people claimed you couldn’t find. However I think that now, the majority of things can be found in marts. In fact, there is quite a large selection of cereals in all 3 of our local marts, even if it is slightly more expensive than you’d pay back home.

In the past few months I’ve even seen things like quinoa and oats (yay) appear on the shelves, which weren’t here 18 months ago. The only thing I find I miss are confectionery goods and bread (it does exist but the selection isn’t great, and the taste isn’t as good). And for things which you can’t find in the shops, I Herb is amazing.

  • Daiso is amazing

One of the first shops you venture into should be Daiso. It is just the best, selling everything from tableware to shampoo to shower gel to headphones to slippers to towels to decorations for your home. It’s so cheap, but it isn’t rubbish either. Daiso is my go-to shop for most things other than food.

  •  You can find clothes and shoes

I’d read a lot about the lack of clothes/shoes to fit Westerners, but there are options out there, even if they’re limited/in Seoul. It’s true that a lot of the clothes are tiny, but there are larger shops which have a bigger selection, UniQlo being a good example. My boyfriend is much bigger than the average Korean male at over 6 foot, but he has found plenty of things to fit him here, as have I. And as for shoes, ABC Mart sells bigger sizes, and their biggest size was fine for my boyfriend.

If you’re finding it really hard to find clothes, there’s always Seoul which has a lot of Western shops, so you should be able to find something suitable, if you look hard enough!

  • Lastly (and most importantly, the food is good

I obviously had to mention the food in Korea, which I love. But it is something I worried about before coming to Korea, as hating the food would be pretty bad. And there are some strange meals which most Westerners would shy away from (raw seafood and animal innards spring to mind), but there is plenty of normal, delicious food. And it isn’t all spicy, as some people warn you. There’s a list of 20 Korean meals here, to give you an idea of what to expect.

If you really hate the food, there are Western restaurants even in smaller cities. And there’s guaranteed to be some of the Koreans’ favourite: fried-chicken. Although it might not be the healthiest choice to eat this too often.

I could start raving about food here, but that would be a whole new post…

 

 

A Beautifully Festive Display- The Garden Of Morning Calm Lighting Festival

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It’s that time of year again- it’s snowy, it’s December and it’s time to feel Christmassy! I’m sure most expats would agree that Christmas isn’t a huge deal in Korea; sure, cafes are decorated prettily, there are Christmas-themed foods and drinks, and there are a few Christmas trees to make you feel festive. But compared to back home where Christmas spirit pretty much dominates the country as soon as Halloween is over and done with, Korea is somewhat lacking proper festivity.

1376382_10152422196109305_1124506496_nAs a result, last year I spent a long time trying to find Christmassy things to do. And when I saw that there was a winter lighting festival at The Garden Of Morning Calm (in Gapyeong), it looked ideal. And luckily, my expectations were met and exceeded; the lighting display was spectacular to say the least, and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

 

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My photos from the festival don’t do justice to the stunning display; if it looks good in a photo, it looked 10 times better in real life. The view from the top of the garden is pretty breathtaking- a sea of twinkling lights in an array of bright, beautiful colours. As you wander around the gardens there are different sections with different themes. Heart sculptures for couples to pose in, a horse and carriage to sit in, animals, flowers, and light-tunnels. And it’s not only sculptures; the whole park is decorated with lights, covering the trees, plants, and paths. The whole garden looks enchanted.

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 I didn’t expect the festival to be so magical, but it’s one of the best things I’ve done in Korea and it’s well worth visiting, especially at this time of the year. It’s not a Christmas market with mulled wine and mince pies, but it’s a unique and brilliant alternative way to make you feel festive.

More information about the festival can be found here or on The Garden Of Morning Calm website. You should be prepared for it to be crowded, and full of people with selfie sticks, but it’s worth it. If you want to go walking in a winter wonderland, this is the place to visit.

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Stress, Tears, and Tantrums… It’s Exam Time.

reactiongifs.com
reactiongifs.com

There’s been a pretty negative atmosphere at school during the last week, and there’s one reason why: exam week. It’s the students’ final exams before the end of semester, a time when stress levels peak for pupils and teachers alike. Luckily for us foreign teachers, we are only in charge of one written exam. Apart from that, we’re not too involved in the tests, even the English one. But that doesn’t mean we’re completely removed from the drama when it’s exam season. During our time at the school we’ve seen students crying, parents crying, arguments, breakdowns and complaints.

I’ve written about education in Korea before: that while there is no arguing with the high academic achievements of Korean students, there is just far too much pressure placed upon students which leads to intense stress and misery. And the exam period just reinforces all my beliefs about the faults of the Korean education system.

studentbeans.com
studentbeans.com

First and foremost is obviously the absurd amount of pressure placed upon the students to perform well. My parents always used to say to me ‘as long as you do your best, that’s all you can do’- this is a sentiment which I think all students should be told. Sure, it’s foolish to not work your hardest when you have important tests, but if you try your absolute best and still only manage to gain a low/average mark, then you’ve done all you could do. And in my eyes, punishing a child who has worked to the best of their ability is belittling and harsh. Some people aren’t as academically gifted as others: this is a fact which should be understood and accepted.

But from what I’ve seen in 99% of students, this isn’t the case. Even if they try their hardest, if they study from 8 am to 12 am, if they don’t score well they will suffer the wrath, and even worse, shame, of their parents. And it seems that it is only a very high score which is acceptable; I’ve spoken to students who’ve been distraught about how ‘badly’ they’ve done, when in fact they’ve scored in the 80%  bracket. In my eyes, that’s a pretty admirable result. It’s one thing to be pressured to do well, but it’s another when ‘to do well’ means getting a close to perfect score.

Another thing which I believe has detrimental consequences is the fact that students keep their exam papers afterwards, and are allowed to ask the teachers the correct answers. Why is this a problem? Because it doesn’t allow students to relax after an exam, to actually feel relieved that they’ve finished. Instead, it causes even more stress and worry as they endlessly debate with their friends whether the answer ‘to number 2 was A or B’, and then go to argue with a teacher about the correct answer. I’ve seen it happen so many times- the second the bell goes, the English office is invaded by hyped-up students demanding the correct answers and either cheering or crying when they hear it. They then go home and study the exam paper again, anxiously working out how they performed. When an exam is over, it should be over. Keeping the papers just prolongs and intensifies stress.

sodahead.com
sodahead.com

Something I find very strange, and contradictory to everything else exam-related is the attitude of students when they’re actually taking the exam. I have invigilated numerous tests- multiple choice tests, writing tests, less-important 1st/2nd grade tests, and extremely important 3rd grade tests which determine which high school students are accepted into. And one thing I have seen in every case? Students finishing the test in half (or less) of the allowed time and then going to sleep. This behaviour totally goes against all of the stress in the lead up to and aftermath of exams, and I don’t understand it.

When I had tests in school, I would never have dreamed of going to sleep- if you finished early, then you’d check your answers again and again, to make sure you hadn’t made any silly mistakes. In Korea, I invigilated one exam in which after only 5 minutes, 50% of students had finished and gone to sleep. The first time I saw this, I walked round waking up the students, not understanding what was happening and wondering why the teacher in charge wasn’t taking control, and ensuring they were trying their best and checking their answers. Now, I’ve learnt not to bother. But I find it utterly absurd behaviour, especially in a country where there is such importance placed on the exams. How would the parents react if they saw their child give up and go to sleep 10 minutes into an exam? The only way I can understand it is to assume that the students are so tired and stressed from revising, that the minute they consider themselves finished, they can’t bear to go back over the exam, and sleep instead. If this is true, it shows even more how the extremity of exam pressure actually has a negative impact on their performance.

learnenglish.britishcouncil.org
learnenglish.britishcouncil.org

Finally, I wonder whether the ‘multiple-choice’ style of exams is the best choice. When I first realised that all exams are in this format, I admit that I thought the students had it easy. I would have loved multiple choice, instead of long 3-hour essay-style exams. But now, I’ve read numerous English exams… and in each one, I couldn’t answer some of the questions. The choices are always so ambiguous that there are often a couple of acceptable answers. And what are the consequences? Official complaints from parents when their child doesn’t get a mark which perhaps they deserved. Again, this is something I’ve witnessed again and again. And if foreign teachers find it hard to answer an English multiple-choice question, what chance do the students have?

After the past week, after seeing what chaos the exam season causes in Korea, I just feel sympathy towards the students. I’ve seen one girl crying for 2 hours over 1 mark which she lost, I’ve seen a parent come into school and do the same. My co-teachers have received phone calls on their personal numbers until 11 pm from irate parents who want to discuss their child’s test. It’s too much. Exams are important, yes. Other countries envy Korea’s academic results, yes. But where do we draw a line between enough and too much? How many students will have to suffer depression, anxiety, or in extreme cases even commit suicide before things change?

There has to be balance and perspective. I hope that my students perform well after their tests this week. But I also hope that if they don’t get that top grade they wished for, they don’t spend their evenings berating themselves and in tears. And more importantly, I hope other people around them don’t criticise them either.

 

 

 

 

 

Animal Themes, Hello Kitty Themes… And Study Themes- Cafes in Korea

Shake-on-it

Last week I was reading about a new cafe which is opening in London- a ‘cereal cafe’, with hundreds of flavours of cereal, many of which have been discontinued or are foreign imports. Lucky Charms, Barbie Cereal, Star Wars Cereal- you name it, they’ve got it. They’ve even got cereal cakes, cereal memorabilia (yes, I would like a Kellogg’s Frosties lip-balm), and cereal artwork on the walls. As a cereal lover, it sounds like my dream cafe. Needless to say I was pretty jealous I wouldn’t be able to visit.

Then, I began to think about Korean cafes, and I began to feel a little better. Because if there’s one thing which Korea does well, it’s a cafe. First of all, they’re everywhere. You never need to worry about getting your coffee-fix, that’s for sure. And even better, there are just so many cool cafes. You can forget about boring old Starbucks or Caffe Bene, and go to one of the many exciting cafes instead. Here are just a few of the cafes in Korea that are worth a visit:

Dog Cafes

Me-and-the-dogs

Never a more fun, or crazy, cafe will you find. Happy, excitable dogs ready and eager to play and entertain you whilst you drink your drink.

They’re chaotic, loud, and sometimes, you might have to watch dogs ‘do their business’ in the middle of the cafe. But, you will also be able to enjoy the company of many lovable dogs.

It might not be the most dignified cafe in the world, but it’s a happy one. (Just beware of dogs dribbling all over you…)

Slimey-hand!

Cat Cafes

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For a more peaceful animal cafe, cat cafes are the best option. A lot calmer, but you still get to play with loads of cute animals. Cats in these cafes might be slightly less sociable than dogs (we’ve been to a couple where the cats prefer to sleep than play), but they’re still happy for your attention.

Plus, your clothes aren’t as much at risk from paw prints and dribble, which is always a positive.

Sheep Cafe

Thanks Nature Cafe, Facebook
Thanks Nature Cafe, Facebook

If dogs and cats aren’t exciting enough for you, check out a sheep cafe instead. ‘Thanks Nature Cafe’ in Hongdae lets you enjoy your drinks in the company of sheep. The sheep might not be as playful as dogs or cats (and you definitely wouldn’t want them to try and sit on your lap), but it’s pretty cool to be able to pet sheep whilst drinking your coffee. Top marks for originality.

Hello Kitty Cafe

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We always thought the Koreans were pretty obsessed with Hello Kitty, something which was proved when we saw that they have actual Hello Kitty Cafes. Girly-girls and Hello Kitty fans will be in heaven in these totally cute, totally pink cafes. And luckily, the drinks are quite good too!

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Charlie Brown Cafe

www.gynews.ne
http://www.gynews.ne

The more masculine alternative to a Hello Kitty Cafe. Nice models of Charlie Brown and Snoopy decorate the cafes dedicated to the popular cartoon. If you’re a fan of Charlie, where better to reminisce and buy a cup of coffee in a special Charlie Brown mug, or to buy lots of Charlie merchandise?

Princess Diary Cafe 

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trazy.com

This isn’t a cafe named after the movie, it’s a dress-up cafe in Seoul, perfect for anyone who loves trying on outfits and posing. Go along and choose from a variety of outfits- fancy wedding dresses, traditional Korean clothes, mini-dresses, and more. Then, you can pose to your hearts content with many different props. It’s cheesy, girly, unique and fun. In fact, you’ll probably be so distracted by taking photos you’ll forget to drink your drink.

(Near Ewha Women’s University, 26 Ewhayeodae-gil, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul, South Korea)

Book Study Cafe

seoulistic.com
jaehyns.weebly.com

This is taking studying to a new extreme- having a cafe actually dedicated to it. Still, this cafe definitely has a better atmosphere than a library, and you can enjoy nice drinks at the same time! Let’s just hope people abide by the rules and stay quiet, or you won’t be able to get any work done…

(In Gangnam, Yeoksam-dong 816-6, Yongin Building)

Photography Cafe

visitkorea.com
visitkorea.com

Photography lovers will love this cafe in Incheon. You can either take along your own DSLR camera and choose a lens from the cafe to use, or you can rent both camera and lens. Then, enjoy playing with different lenses to your heart’s content (while enjoying your drink of course).

(Incheon-si, Yeonsu-gu, Songdo-dong 18-1)

There are so many more cafes around Korea- cute cafes, theme cafes, and many cafes which just sell delicious food and drinks. My favourite have to be the animal cafes, where I would happily go every day. But whether you simply want a cup of coffee, to eat some cake, or to try on wedding dresses, there is probably a cafe for you. 

But if anyone would like to open a cereal cafe too, that would be totally amazing…

 

 

 

My Winter Survival Kit

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I was pretty excited for December, to officially get into the Christmas Spirit, and even more to be able to start on the Malteser Chocolate Advent Calendar sent to me from home. And rather fittingly, the 1st December brought with it winter weather. Proper, bitterly cold winter with face-numbing winds and an actual snowstorm too. Cue us walking home from work completely unprepared for the sudden drop in temperature, with numb hands and feet and frozen faces.

So that evening it was time to get my winter gear out of the wardrobe. All of the things I bought last year to help me survive the freezing temperatures of Korea. Here is a list of my winter survival gear:

Huge Winter Coat

It might sound silly, but I never really realised how important a coat was until last year, when I bought a proper coat for the first time in my life, and it was so worth it. It comes past my knees, has a thick, padded interior and a fur-lined padded hood which covers my whole face. It might make me look like I’m wearing a man’s coat which is several sizes too big (my sister’s words, not mine) but it does the job and keeps me warm. In fact, by the time I’ve walked the 10 minute to school, my head is usually too hot. Best investment ever.

 Gloves (x 2 pairs)

Again, the first time I’ve bought proper gloves (rather than pretty ones). One thin Lycra pair for underneath, and a thick padded pair to wear on top. I can literally not move my fingers once I have both pairs on- it makes entering the code to get into the apartment quite difficult- but it does stop my fingers going completely numb. Which I see as a positive.

Snood

I knew my normal thin scarves/pashminas wouldn’t do the trick in Korea, so I bought a huge, woolly snood to keep my neck warm. Turns out that it barely fits underneath my coat because it’s so thick, but it’s nice for wearing once I’m at school.

Fur-Lined Leggings

I can thank Lotte Mart for this purchase. Not just normal leggings, but thick leggings lined on the inside with soft, warm fur. A definite treat for your legs. I wear them with dresses, underneath trousers, underneath my pajamas…basically I alternate between different pairs all winter. And, in Korea they come in men’s sizes too; leggings are no longer a female-fashion-item as they are in England, but a useful piece of clothing to help you against the cold weather. And I love them.

Fluffy Slipper-Socks

Uniqlo was where I found these life-saving slipper-socks. As we have to take off our shoes inside, I needed something warm for my feet, something better than the sandals given by the school (if I wore them, my feet would be frost-bitten by the end of the day).

These slippers are lined with fur and super-snug, keeping my feet nice and toasty all day. The students with their freezing feet are pretty envious.

Furry Welly-Boots

1382417_10201627246675910_1275793581_nAnother amazing purchase was my furry welly-boots which are the comfiest, coziest shoes I’ve ever owned. They’re soft and snug and it’s like having your feet in a cotton-wool cushion. Before I bought these, my toes would be numb by the time I was halfway to school, but now they’re actually warm, even when walking through snow.

Again, I may not look too cool, sporting thick, un-elegant wellies (especially next to my Korean co-teacher, who wears high-heels even in the snow and ice), but I feel good. Which is way more important in the freezing weather!

Hot Water Bottle

To be honest, the minute I get home I’ll make a boiling-hot water bottle, and keep it next to me all evening. I would tie one to myself all day at school if it wouldn’t be so hard to carry around everywhere.

Heat Pads

This is a good alternative to a hot water bottle, and is easier to keep with you all day. The best version I’ve tried is a sticky hot-pad which you stick to your clothing and which keeps warm for hours. In fact, it gets so hot that my co-teacher warned me not to stick it straight onto my skin, or I’d actually get burnt. Now that’s a good heat-pad.

Endless Cups Of Tea

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Any excuse to drink more tea is fine with me, and the winter is definitely a good excuse. I pretty much chain-drink tea during the cold months, and keep a kettle by my desk at school. It’s a little expensive when you get through an average of 10 mugs a day, but it’s worth it.

Fluffy Pajamas

The pajamas in Korea are so cute, and so soft and fluffy, that I’m glad of the excuse to buy myself numerous pairs. The best part is they’re so much warmer than a lot of pajamas. And when you wear them over the top of fluffy leggings too? Your legs will never go cold.

 

Of course there are obviously other things to do to keep warm; electric blankets and central heating, to name a couple. But, I find that if you don’t want your bills to sky-rocket by having your heating on 24/7, you can survive without it, as long as you take other precautions. And if you don’t want to cry every time you step outside and are hit by icy-cold air, you definitely need to buy some proper winter-gear. 

 The best part of having a proper cold-survival-kit? You can actually (kind-0f) enjoy winter, going outside to take pretty walks in the snow or alternatively, play in it. Happy winter, and here’s hoping for a White Christmas…

10 Ways That Korea Is Winning

All countries have good and bad points, things which we can either complain about or praise. And while Korea has it’s faults, today I’m going to focus on the good things: 10 things which give Korea definite cool points.

Oreo Cereal

alibaba.com

To the misery of Oreo-lovers everywhere, this cereal has been discontinued in every country…apart from South Korea. I regularly see it featured on lists along the lines of ‘foods we miss which no longer exist’. Well, come to Korea and stock up…

 

 

 

Umbrella Plastic Protectors

aliexpress.com

Ever had the problem of your umbrella dripping everywhere while you carry it awkwardly around a shop? Not a problem in Korea- stick your umbrella into the stand, pull it out and it’s in a perfectly shaped umbrella-plastic-bag. Finally, an easy way to hold your umbrella, without leaving large puddles wherever you walk. This is an invention which England could do with copying…

 

 

 

Bubble Tea

en.wikipedia
en.wikipedia

Sure, you can get Bubble Tea in other countries. In fact, it’s a new and ‘trendy’ thing in the UK- for an extortionate price, that is.

In Korea, there are Bubble Tea cafes around every corner (not just a restricted number of exclusive cafes like in the UK), and most importantly, they’re cheap.  Cheaper than a cup of coffee, in fact.

Ahead of the trends, lower on the prices. Go Korea.

 

Socks

images.1223.tw
images.1223.tw

Can we just talk about the variety/ cheapness of socks in Korea? I could literally buy a pair every day and not run out of designs. Plus there’s the choice: trainer socks, fluffy socks, socks with animal ears on. Socks have never been so exciting. (Ditto smartphone covers- endless designs and cheap. It’s tempting to buy a different cover for every day of the week).

 

Pizza Take-Out Tray

metro.co.uk
metro.co.uk

Papa John’s has just made pizza delivery more exciting- a three-layered pizza box, with one layer for pizza, another for sides & dip, and a final layer for a cookie pizza dessert. A 3-course meal in one takeout box = one pretty impressive invention.

And, it’s only available in Korea.

 

Subways

http2007,Wikimedia Commons
http2007,Wikimedia Commons

Clean, with working Wi-Fi, coffee and vending machines, and actual shops everywhere. In Korea, walking around subway stations is definitely more fun (and more likely to make you spend unnecessary money).

And let’s not forget the screens where you can find out information, or even better, play games and watch sports.

 

24 Hour Convenience Stores

en.wikipedia
en.wikipedia

The practicality of having a 24-hour store on pretty much every corner can’t be beaten. And they aren’t only good for buying emergency milk for breakfast. They have everything: food, drinks, medicines, alcohol, first-aid stuff, even emergency underwear.

On top of this, they have a hot-water stations and microwaves, so you can make hot food/drinks. Instant meals and coffee at 3 in the morning? No problem. That’s convenience on a whole new level…

 

Food Courts

WiNG, Wikimedia Commons
WiNG, Wikimedia Commons

If you get hungry when you shop, it’s no problem in Korea. You don’t have to buy an overpriced meal from a small cafe with minimal choice. No, there’s an entire food court with so many options it’s usually hard to decide what to buy.

What a way to make a trip to the supermarket more enjoyable!

 

Animal Cafes

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The most fun you’ll ever have in a cafe. Again, Korea is ahead of the trend with these cafes- in London, a cat cafe has recently opened and is such a phenomenon that there’s long waiting list to be able to visit. Imagine the excitement if someone opened a dog cafe…

In Korea, you simply pop to your local cafe any day of the week. Another win for Korea.

 

Free Coffee

k-ntertainments.blogspot
k-ntertainments.blogspot

It might be sweet, artificial coffee, but in my opinion, getting free coffee at the end of a meal is pretty great. Even better are the places where you can get an ice lolly at the end of your meal.

A definite way to ensure my return to a restaurant…

 

 

I think it’s fair to say that these are 10 things which Korea definitely does well. I would have mentioned 50 pence sushi, but I know I’ve raved about that before…

So, if you’re having a bad day full of negative feelings towards Korea, go out, buy yourself some nice socks and visit an animal cafe to cheer you up… That will definitely soften the blow of any negative feelings…

The Coolest Ice Creams In Korea

Koreans can be pretty creative and original when it comes to snacking, as I wrote about here. And there is no better example of their innovative ideas than looking at their amazing ice lollies: exciting flavours, imaginative designs, and a huge selection at every store. And, most importantly, they’re (on the whole) delicious.

Let’s have a look at some of the best Korean ice lollies, and exactly why they’re so great:

Frozen Milkshakes

A half-ice-cream half-milkshake, creamy, sweet and delicious. It’s way cheaper than going to your local cafe for a milkshake, and tastes just as good.

Jaws Ice Lolly

IMG_1313

Top marks for originality with this one. Not only named after ‘Jaws’ but actually made to resemble a shark’s mouth. Pretty random, but it’s fun and it tastes nice too, so you can’t go too wrong with it!

Corn Ice Cream

Another creative design with these lollies- not only corn-flavoured, but made to look like a real piece of corn on the cob and filled with cream. Why you would associate ice cream and corn is anyone’s guess, but at least it’s unique!

Watermelon Ice Lolly

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Another replica, this one a bit more normal than corn on the cob! It’s a cool design, and the makers have even gone so far as to recreate little watermelon pips inside the ice lolly. And it doesn’t just look good, it’s also yummy and refreshing- the whole package.

Melon Ice Lolly

I love melon, so I was so excited to see all the melon-flavoured things in Korea. And the ice lollies are as good as expected! This one has an almost creamy texture, which I found an unexpected, but pleasant surprise.

Disney’s Frozen Ice Cream

bustle.com
bustle.com

Because who doesn’t love ‘Frozen’? (Especially in Korea where the majority of children are borderline obsessed). It’s certainly a way to ensure that children beg their parents for this ice cream over the others. Who cares what’s inside, when Elsa is on the packaging?!

Chelsea FC Ice Cream

Another branded ice-cream, this one a bit more random as I’m sure there aren’t too many Chelsea FC supporters living in Korea. You can also find other teams like Manchester United and Arsenal. Maybe there’s the hope that children will enjoy the ice-cream and start supporting the football team on the wrapper…

Squeezy Ice Lollies

A lot of the ice lollies come in these plastic tubes, and you have to kind of squeeze them up. While it might not be the easiest way to eat an ice lolly, it does have the advantage that the thing doesn’t melt all over you within seconds during the hot summer months. And, it’s a better invention than cardboard tubes, which get all soggy and wet from melted ice-lolly.

Fudge Ice Lolly

If you’ve never had one of these, try one now. They are so creamy and taste exactly like liquid fudge. Definitely one of the best ice lollies I’ve ever had, and not too sinful either. These need to start being exported to England before I go home…

Choco Fudge Ice Lolly

Not quite as good as the fudge ice lolly, but good all the same. A nice chocolate exterior, with a yummy fudge filling. It has a consistency somewhere between an ice lolly and an ice cream (much like the fudge version), and it’s a good medium. Another win.

Fish-Shaped Ice Cream

IMG_1303

The fact that you have an ice cream which is made to look like a fish doesn’t surprise me any more, which might be a sign that I’ve lived in Korea quite a while. A wafer exterior, filled with ice-cream and red-bean filling, I quite like this ice cream. But that is probably because I’m a big fan of red-bean; if you’re not, then this isn’t the choice for you (and stay away from the other, many, red-bean-flavoured ice lollies too!)

Mojito Ice Lolly

This is one of my favourites. It isn’t alcoholic, unsurprisingly, but I love it (nearly) as much as I love a real mojito. Flavoured with lemon and lime, it’s so refreshing in summer. The best cocktail-replica I’ve ever tasted, for sure.

 

There are so many more ice lollies which could be added to this list: coffee-flavoured, every fruit-flavour under the sun, weird  flavours like cheese, and endless shapes, sizes and designs. I think it’s fair to say that there’s an ice cream to suit everyone, and I’m very happy to say that there are many to suit me…