UToledo School of Visual and Performing Arts

Soul of Seoul

I have discovered many things throughout my stay in this great city. Firstly, it is a mistake to call Seoul “Westernized” because this city is definitely Eastern, with its strong sense of Confucian values and Buddhist background (despite a high number of Christians) However, I have seen first hand that the West is no longer alone with its balance of democratic and capitalistic values, human rights, technological innovation, arts, and culture, as well as its rich historical foundation. It has certainly met its match in Seoul (as well as in many other Eastern capitals such as Tokyo, Taipei and Hong Kong). What used to be solely the “American Dream” now co-exists with many other similar versions, whether you see it at Lotte World (the Korean equivalent of Disney World) or walking along the Cheong-Gye-Cheon canal on a Friday night. Incidentally, until 1955, the Cheong-Gye-Cheon had become an extremely polluted sewer upon which refugees from the Korean war built their huts. In the 1950’s and 60’s a massive project to underground the stream and cover it with an elevated freeway was undertaken. Then in 2001, the Mayor (perhaps influenced by the banks of the river Seine in Paris) began a project to remove the freeway and restore the river. Without hesitation, they demolished the highway and by 2005 had turned the area into a beautiful place for weekend promenades. You can see pictures of the before and after at this link: http://www.preservenet.com/freeways/FreewaysCheonggye.html

Interestingly, this extremely livable city offers great opportunities for Westerners. For starters we are rare. I was very surprised, to discover, upon venturing to the Royal Palace to take pictures of the changing of the guard, that my two-year-old daughter quickly became the star attraction with her blonde curls and blue eyes. Forget the Royal guards—Everyone wanted to take photos of her, to say hello, to hold her hand—

Here in Korea there is a great market for “North American” students and grads to come and teach English as a second language. English Academies are booming, and they are seeking “Authentic” English speakers. Young people who come here are often able to save enough money to pay off their student loan debts in only a few years. I was told (but have not confirmed) that these students can easily save between $20,000 to $30,000 per year, because all costs are covered, including housing.

In order to get a job here, there are a few requirements. Firstly you have to be open minded. Meals may be included, but if they are, they are bound to be Korean food. If trying different foods is not your thing, you may do best staying at home. Not that there isn’t a great variety here. You can find everything from Starbucks to Paris Baguette, to McDonalds, but one latte from Starbucks may cost you between six and ten dollars, while you can eat an entire meal for under four dollars. Another piece of info young people need to understand is the importance of manners. Manners are important in the majority of the world, and in all of my travels, I have found that apart from a few differences, most things, such as saying please and thank you, are universal. In fact, one of the things I will be doing when I return is adding a “basic etiquette” unit to my Professional Aspects class, in which I will be teaching everything I assumed most people knew. Up until now, I focused on the etiquette necessary to be successful in the Entertainment Industry, but recent feedback about a student in an internship, coupled with my observations about the high level of respect students have here, made me realize the necessity of this.

Additionally, to get a job in Korea, you need to get a background check by the FBI. They used to hire much more liberally, but a pedophilia scandal led them to be rightfully much more vigilant. Another important detail, is that here, there is no such thing as sick leave. If you call in sick, you may find yourself out of a job. Better to show up and let them know you are sick and often they will give you time off (it may go into your vacation time though) You have to understand that Korean students here study very hard. After school, they attend numerous academies in order to be at least one grade ahead in Math, reading and English. High school students are actually forced to stay at school and study until 11pm every weeknight. Entering into a university is based on one exam that takes place in November every year. Executives often book vacation time to coach and help their children pass this test well enough since it is their one make-it-or-break-it chance to go to university. The upside to this system, is that they are churning out extremely well educated people. The downside to this intensity is a very high suicide rate among young people—lately even affecting elementary school age children. ESL teachers are not worked that hard. Their hours are usually between 3-9pm, but taking a day off is frowned upon, unless you are in the hospital. If you are interested in doing this kind of work, you can check out the following website: http://www.worknplay.co.kr

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