Backpacking

I’ve been posting and updating the teaching side of the blog of late while neglecting the backpacker side of things so I mean to start evening the score out.

I was sitting out on Khaosan road with large Chang beer which eventually turned into 2 and then 3…the pleasant taste of the beer and the warm sunny air beating down on Khaosan led me to thinking about why people go backpacking.  Admittedly my my backpacking experiences have been confined to Southeast Asia thus far but the feeling and emotion behind it must be the same as it is to backpack across any other part of the world.

I guess I should define what I mean by a ‘backpacker’.  When you picture a backpacker you often see someone in their 20s typically but that is to think only of the bulk of backpackers.  Sitting at a bar on a hot sunny day in Khaosan it is clear to see the age group varies from 20s into 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s and potentially beyond?  Besides the telltale sign of a bulging backpack or two (because let’s face it, traveling through a place like Southeast Asia with a suitcase on wheels is an exercise in folly) there is a mindset.

The reasons behind the decision to backpack are many. I like to travel. I want to go party in exotic locations. Its a good way to go soul searching. I’m having a midlife crisis. My girl friend broke up with me. I got a divorce. My marriage/relationship is failing so I think this would rejuvenate things. I like to experience new cultures. I need a change of scenery.  I have nothing better to do in life at the moment. I’m a professional travel blogger and I get paid to do this (no that’s not me, thought perhaps one day I’ll get paid if enough people notice this blog; SPREAD THE WORD!!). And many more reasons. I’m not disparaging any of these reasons, I’m just thinking out loud about the reasons many people decide to depart their regular life, back their clothes into a backpack, and depart for weeks, months, or if you’re lucky YEARS!

I think what unites backpackers of all different ages and backgrounds is a common mindset.  It is the feeling of wanting to experience the unknown.  To break out of the Matrix.  To live vicariously. To fulfill your travel dreams. To reject the mainstream reality of 9-5 week to week, and often living paycheck to paycheck (a reality I know very well).  I think the word that best captures these thoughts and emotions is wanderlust.  Oxford dictionary describes it simply as a strong desire to travel….Yes, this is true but does it really capture the deeper essence of the meaning? I think not.

To be completely capture the essence of the term wanderlust I think you have to consider the metaphysical aspects.  By leaving your comfort zone and traveling half way around the world you’re welcoming a whole different paradigm.  From the party animals, to your usual backpacker types, all the way up to the more senior people who feel backpacking is a way to experience something they might have been waiting for all their life.  They all share the fact that backpacking opens your mind to new ideas, cultures, norms, existences.  You question your own place in reality, even just subtly by comparing the young girl serving you pho while you tap away on your smart phone.  You think about the processes that led to the construction of places like Khaosan Road or Pub St in Siem Reap.  You think about how lucky you are to be born in a country where you can afford to just pick up and leave for an extended period of time (if you’re from a Western country).  To put it simply, to go backpacking is to embrace another plain of existence and accept that there is more to life than what meets the eye.

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A Change of Scenery: Thailand

Having been frustrated with the pickiness and unreliability of the schools I was interviewing for jobs in Korea I decided to post a resume on ajarn.com .  A day later I got an email from a teacher placement agency for schools in Thailand asking for an interview.  What the hell, I’ll take the interview, I thought.

A day later, the interview was very straightforward and I felt it was more or less to check my character and comfort level of moving to Thailand. Having backpacked and volunteered there, not to mention having been in Thailand as recently as October, I feel no stranger to the country. I confirmed the next day that I would take the job. That was December 24th. It is now December 28th and I am now in Bangkok preparing to teach high school kids in a small town out in the Thai countryside.

I decided to take the job in Thailand because although it may not compare to South Korea financially, it does offer me a chance to gain experience teaching older children in an age group that is hard to get into in Korea without being in the EPIK program. Not only does the job give me the chance to teach high school children, it also gives me the chance to teach big classes.  Why does the chance to teach big classes interest me? Because it gives me the opportunity to build the necessary confidence, skills, and experience I need to manage classes of similar sizes at the university level. It is my ambition to teach English at universities once I obtain my masters. Thai public high school classes can be up to 50 students!! Pretty daunting. So it is only natural that I’m spending the days before I start teaching (January 4th) reading up on how to manage classrooms of that size and generally preparing mentally for the challenges ahead.

The other positives of the job is that it will give me new opportunities to build this blog as well as to hopefully get back into muay Thai training. I look forward to sharing updates on the teaching and living situation once I start work. Until then, keep an eye out for the improvements I will be making to the blog, namely working on the backpacking guides as well as adding a guide to teaching in Thailand! Thanks for stopping by!

 

Landing an English teaching position in South Korea

Part One: Getting your visa

First off, you need a degree in any field, some recruiters (Gone2Korea) may tell you that you won’t get hired if you’re a guy and/or you don’t have a degree in education but this is BS and just pure laziness on their part and are likely financially motivated to make you apply through the public EPIK program.  Also the Korean government typically only issues E2 visas to English, Canadian, American, Australian, New Zealand, and South African citizens.

There are two major hiring windows in S. Korea: Feb/March and Aug/September.  So when you know which window you want to start work in then you should start getting these documents ready no more than 6 months away from your intended start date.  This is critically true for having your degree and criminal record check (CRC), these must be no more than 6 months old when you start applying for the visa.

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You should get a national level CRC (RCMP/FBI) and get your fingerprints taken electronically to expedite the time taken to process them.  This could take anywhere from a week or so to get the results mailed back to months or even depending on the competency of your police service – never.  When I went to Vietnam to volunteer teaching English the RCMP simply never sent my results back and never bothered to pick up their phones or send me anything other than an automated email….the second time I got the results back in under 10 days, go figure.

While applying for the CRC, ask your uni to send you two sealed copies of your transcripts.  In this early phase you can go get 5-6 passport pictures as there will not be much more you can do until you get your CRC, most recruiters will be looking for candidates who have their CRC taken care of because this takes the longest to acquire typically.

Once you have your CRC and degree in hand, take copies of them to a notary service (private or public) and have them notarized.  After these two documents are notarized you can then take them (the copies and the originals) to the Korean consulate, along with a sealed transcript and passport.  There should be no waiting time to get these documents affix the consulate seal, i.e. you should be able to go there and get the consulate staff to afix the consulate stamp there and then.

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With this out of the way, you can feel free to contact recruiters about finding a job.  This is not to say you can not start talking to recruiters before you’ve got the aforementioned documents take care of, but many will give priority to candidates with these items already in hand.  Dave’s ESL Cafe is a great place to find job listings posted by many of the recruiters and they typically repost the same jobs on a nearly daily basis.  Gone2Korea has alot of great information on their website but if you are looking for a hagwon job as a guy without an education degree, they will tell you it is not worth their time trying.  As I said before this BS.  Personally, I recommend Appletree Global Recruiting http://www.appletreeedu.com/ They were fast to respond to my application (basic personal information, resume, professional picture (this is standard for all recruiting firms)) and actually listened to my preferences.  Many recruiters will ignore your preferences (e.g. Daegu, kindergarten/elementary) and repeatedly send you job listings they need to fill.  What impressed me most about Appletree was that instead of sending me school jobs and asking if I wanted to apply, they already sent my resume and information to schools and only sent me their information when the school wanted an interview, if I liked what I saw I would agree to arrange an interview.  Interviews are typically via phone or skype and last no more than 30mins.  I landed my job after only two interviews. For the best results, take a shotgun approach and apply to as many recruiters as possible as you will get so many more interviews and job offers than just sticking with one recruiter.

Once a school wants to give you a job, and you agree (more info on what to look for in the contract in the second part of the post), then you must send a package of documents to the Korean Immigration department, this includes your 4 passport photos, notarized copies of degree and CRC (also sending your original CRC I believe), your resume, job contract, copy of your passport info page, and self-medical form….there may be one or two other things but your recruiter will confirm what you need to send at this time in the visa process.

Next, once you receive your visa number, you will complete a visa application and take this as well as another passport photo, your passport, $72, and your other transcript to the Korean consulate closest to you.  The time to process this varies between 5-10 business days they will tell you.  Be assured that you are supposed to leave your visa there and you come back for it after the processing time is up.  You can leave an express envelope with them to send it to you rather than having to go in personally.  In my case I think they saw how little time I had left before I was to come here and they expedited my application and sent it via the Expresspost envelope I had left with the consulate staff.  After your passport is in your hands you will see it has been stamped with the E-2 visa and you are now golden! You can look forward to working in Korea.

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Part two: Public vs. private

Public Pros:

  • Reliable employers and workplace
  • 4 weeks vacation
  • Contracts respected
  • Co-teacher (could be argued a con depending on your co-teacher)
  • More prestige
  • Just generally a better option to working at a hagwon
  • Orientation period before starting work

Public Cons:

  • Extremely competitive due to the S. Korean government slashing the EPIK program in recent years
  • No guarantee you will work at the location you desire
  • You will probably be the only native-speaker at your school
  • More certifications needed e.g. in class TEFL/TESOL/CELTA, B.Ed, MA, etc

Private Pros:

  • More job opportunities year round
  • Potential to make more money
  • Freedom to choose where you want to work
  • Your school will probably have other foreign ESL teachers
  • More selection in what age group you want to teach i.e. kindie, elementary, middle, high school, adults
  • More variation in work times

Private Cons:

  • Slowly growing more competitive as teachers from EPIK are pushed out and look for hagwon jobs
  • More work (depends on the job)
  • Less reliable working conditions e.g. management, contracts, housing, workload, etc
  • Only 10 vacation days, typically 5 in summer and 5 in winter but some schools spread the days out across the year into glorified long weekends…thus limiting the prospect of backpacking expeditions!!
  • Potentially longer work days

Interview and contract advice:

1) the school should pay for the flight; it used to be a return trip and now due to the poor economic conditions this has changed more to a one-way ticket

2) in an interview dress professionally

3) have questions

4) if they don’t ask for a teaching demo, to really impress them ask to do one

5) have questions to ask the director/teacher who will be interviewing you

6) If they offer the job, ask for the email of a current/former teachers (former teachers are better as they will not be under any duress), ask the teacher what conditions are like, are contracts respected, how long they’ve been at school, how many foreign teachers are there, it is a good sign if teachers have stayed there beyond the first year

7) ask to see pictures of the apartment or similar living quarters

8) have the number of hours a week and month specified in the contract

9) make sure there is a clause including pension; it is illegal for schools to not offer a pension

10) the contract could mention working a few Saturdays/Sundays, do what I have done before and ask that you get an addendum guaranteeing you will only work no more than 5 Saturdays/Sundays in the year

11) make sure severance pay is included in the contract, this is standard to all contracts and should be equal to one month of pay

12) standard starting salary without formal teaching experience is 2.1m KRW.

This is all that comes to mind at the moment but I think even if you did some more research online you should find that I’ve touched on the most pressing concerns when considering signing a contract for a year in a completely foreign land. I should also note there is no guarantee they will keep their word on the contract…but if the former/current teacher doesn’t ring any alarm bells then you can be fairly sure that you will be treated well and given what is stipulated in the contract.

If there are any questions please feel free to leave a comment!

Introduction

Hello everyone, thanks for coming to visit my travel and ESL teaching blog! I just want to say that I will be posting a variety of different things related to the topics of this blog and occasionally other interesting things that I get up to in my life as a backpacking teacher.

One of the aims of this blog is to show people it is indeed possible to embark on a life of travel and still live comfortably. I myself have been living the backpacking teaching lifestyle for almost 2 years now and I can honestly say that it has more than fulfilled my wanderlust and desire to make a living from ESL teaching and if you can draw inspiration from my posts and start your own adventure, I will know I have succeeded.

Obviously it is early days for the blog but I hope you can understand that I am still new to this and that at times my blog may be a bit rough around the edges but over time it will get better as I master the ins and outs of this undertaking. I should also add that by visiting my blog now in its early stages you will be able to see its transformation over time as it grows as opposed to coming across the final polished product of some of the other major travel blogs online. Help the little guys out and throw me your support 😛

Again, thanks for stopping by and I hope you come back frequently! 🙂