5 Must-Have Apps for Travel in South Korea

Traveling in a foreign country is sometimes challenging, and where the language is just a bunch of boxes and lines squished together, doubly so. But South Korea is a country with a lot to offer; Buddhist temples and Internet cafes are within minutes of each other and McDonald’s sit next to traditional fare on many of Seoul’s ancient and packed streets. Thankfully, South Korea is also very technologically savvy, and part of the key to having a great vacation is tapping into their many helpful apps for your smart phone.

Now, some of these travel and tourism apps will be much easier to use if you understand Hangul, the Korean writing system. Have no fear, the strange symbols are actually phonetic and pretty simple. You might even be able to memorize the writing system during your 10-12 hour flight over. If not, you could pick it up once you’re in Korea. I’m not saying you’ll be able to read anything faster than, say, a four-year old, but that’s okay. And if you are a slower learner or just have no desire to learn Hangul, that’s okay too, because some of these phone apps are useable in English too.

Regardless of your Hangul abilities, at least download or install a Korean keyboard on your smart phone. It takes five seconds. If you don’t use it, the Korean you convince to help you will. Ready? Get your phone out and head to the App Store, Google Play, or wherever else you get your apps.

1. Google Translate

google translate

Do I need to say anything about this? Alrighty, good.

2. NaverMap


The Korean version of Google Maps, you’ll find much more detailed and accurate locations here than good old Google. This is especially helpful because Korean restaurants and stores seem to close and change within 18 months of opening in the first place. There is also a street view, the upside-down teardrop shape with a green and black stripe across it, especially helpful when you don’t want to wander around forever. While you can only search basic English words and get results (like “subway”), the GPS locator will show you exactly where you are with incredible accuracy, which is indispensable.

Also, if you ask a Korean person to help you with directions, they literally won’t understand how Google Maps works, so you better download this one.

3. Subway or 지하철 (Ji Ha Cheol)


If you’re spending any time in Seoul, which I assume you are (who doesn’t?), then this app will help you navigate the huge, complex subway system around the city. Complete with awesome features like the nearest station locator and the exact duration of a subway ride, you’ll come to depend in this app like Grandpa and his prosthetic hip.

You can set the language to English (or Japanese!) and it has subway maps for not just Seoul, but Busan, Daegu, Daejeon and Gwangju as well.

4. Visit Korea 3.0

visit korea

This app is created (and updated frequently) by the Korea Tourism Organization and is basically a huge database of tons of cool tourist attractions all over Korea. Everything from mountains, wildlife parks, Buddhist temples and shrines, to the weirdest museums are all in the database; they don’t miss much. (However, sometimes they name them weird things, so searching for the Korean name of what you’re looking for sometimes helps.) Addresses, phone numbers, directions and a summary of the attractions are all included in this app.

Bonus hack: Copy and paste the Korean name of your destination into NaverMap for directions. No Korean skills needed!

5. 코레일 or Korail – Korean Only


If you plan on leaving Seoul to see Busan or any of the other major cities, then this app will help you navigate the train system and schedule. Unfortunately, though, it’s exclusively in Korean. That’s okay, though, because if you’re staying in a hostel or a hotel, you can ask the desk person to help you look up schedules or even book your ticket ahead of time.

Bonus: Cookie Run for Kakao Talk

cookie run

Just to fit in with the locals. You know. The middle-school-aged locals playing cell phone games while walking down the street and everything. (Hey, if your face is buried in your phone, it’ll take someone at least five extra seconds to notice that you’re a foreigner!)


Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments!

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The 10 Stupidest Things I Did While Living in Korea

When someone mentions they are an expat or living abroad, you might feel like they’re being a little pretentious. Some blogs (cough cough Thought Catalog) like to romanticize the experience, talk about why home will never be the same and generally just drone on and on about what an original experience everything is when you’re abroad.

Yeah, I’m sorry, but I need to tell you the truth. Being an expat is just a series of stupid moments and mistakes that never end. Yes, it’s like no other experience, yes, you’re better for it, yes, you’re automatically a little misunderstood when you go home because no one was there with you. But let’s cut the shit: being an expat isn’t glorious. You go somewhere, act like an idiot and learn enough about patience to accept that sometimes you’re stupid. And it’s okay.

Being an expat is asking yourself this question: how many times in one day can I embarrass myself before I just die?

As I’ve learned from living in South Korea, the answer is, well, a lot. In fact, after all of these stupid moments, I’m still living! I think that’s the big lesson here when you move abroad; it doesn’t even matter. Life goes on. Embarrassment isn’t actually a cause of death and most of the time, except in extraordinary circumstances, you will get out of stupidity alive.

What did I do that was stupid? Oh this will be fun. Take a seat, I’m an idiot, so prop your feet up and settle in for some belly laughter.

I said the word “bitch” to my bosses.

In my defense, they knew I meant the word “year” and just kind of blinked and let me finish talking. But the fact that the word for “bitch” and “year” are the same, but the meaning changes depending on sentence context is just lunacy. Someone change the Korean language.

I gave myself food poisoning.

I was too lazy to go to the grocery store, so I walked half the distance to the convenience store and bought what turned out the be the most disgusting meal I’ve ever had the displeasure of putting in my mouth. I couldn’t eat solids for a week after that and I’ll spare you the details of my bowel movements. See the full story here, if you actually want more information than that, ew.


I withdrew $200 from the ATM when I only wanted $20.

In Korea, they count their money in 10,000s, because 1,000 won = ~$1 and it would be difficult to keep track of, otherwise. They even have a special word that means 10,000, “man”. So while I typed in 20 into the screen, which I assumed would mean 20,000, what I was actually typing was 20 ten-thousands. Or 200,000 won. I immediately ran into the bank, shame-faced, with my hands overflowing with bills and somehow communicated to the banker that all this money I’d just withdrawn should go back into my bank account. Never made that mistake again.

I walked into places with my shoes on, multiple times.

In South Korea, shoes do not come inside, only socks or slippers are allowed. I forgot this a couple times, at first, but within five steps there were screams and arm grabs and generally, just a tragic scene of horrified Korean faces around me. This happens to me even now, because some places are a little unclear about what is a “socks only” area. Just two weeks ago, on a ferry boat, I got the death state when I unknowingly stepped one foot into the shoe-free zone.

I agreed to adopt someone’s dog and then gave it back, all before 8am.

I can’t explain this story in only a few sentences, so just head over to the post I wrote about it to see the full story. *face palm*

There she is. Parry.
My short term adopted dog that shit on my floor as a welcome gift.
My short term adopted dog that shit on my floor as a welcome gift.

I fell on my ass in public.

Sidewalks during the wintertime in South Korea should be renamed “ice walks”. Need I explain more? People laughed. My butt was sore.

I wore Hanbok to work.

This wasn’t really my own stupidity, but simply one of the most embarrassing moments of my teaching career. My boss told me we were going to the city right that moment, took me to a Hanbok shop (traditional Korean costume), made me choose my favorite and then wear it for the rest of the morning. To work. And show the students during their English class. And show my bosses. And he stopped at the local gas station on the way back so my neighbors could see me, too. (The picture can be found, here.)

I asked where to find the salt in the grocery store.

Who can’t find salt? This girl. It was in clear view, but apparently my eyes just weren’t working that day. I also remember using Google images to show a shop owner a picture of an onion, so she could help me locate them.

Luckily, the tuna wasn't as hard to find.
Luckily, the tuna wasn’t as hard to find.
Luckily, the tuna wasn’t as hard to find.

I ordered food that I couldn’t stand to eat.

Never, ever point to something random on a menu and order it. What comes out might be cold noodles drenched in gochujang, red pepper sauce, and literally nothing else. Within three bites, my gag reflex started up and the cause was lost. Consulting my phone for pictures of what the menu said, I successfully ordered hot food for round two. The giant plate of disgusting noodles sat wayside for the rest of the meal. Yuck.

I went on dates I didn’t know were dates.

Actually, I’m not even sure that they were dates, to this day. I’m still confused about some. But there were several times I went to a dinner or two with my “guy friend” and later found out that his intentions were more romantic than platonic. I usually found this out when he had some alcohol in his system and felt he should confess his love. Even though we might have had frank conversations about how we were just friends. Anyways, I don’t have any “guy friends” that are Korean, anymore. That didn’t work out very well.

My accidental dates would have been much better if they were with G-Dragon.
My accidental dates would have been much better if they were with G-Dragon.

Those are just ten instances that I remember, but there are probably a few repressed memories hiding in the dark corners of my brain. Even after all of this, though, my self confidence is still intact and I still wake up breathing, every single day. I also still do stupid things. That never ended, unfortunately.

So next time your friend comes back from Paris and starts to drone on about the croissants, stop them. Say, “Tell me about the stupidest thing you did while you were in France.” You’ll be able to laugh instead of rolling your eyes, something both of you will appreciate, and no one will be under the illusion that expat-ing is glorious in any way, shape or form.


What are the stupidest things you’ve ever done while living abroad? Don’t you wish you were an expat, now? Do you agree that being an expat is more misadventure than adventure?

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Photoessay: Udo, Jeju’s Cow Island

If I were to describe Jeju Island in colors, I’d choose green, orange and black. If I were to describe Udo, a small island off of the big island, I’d say it was black, white and blue. Grey has always been one of my favorite colors, so it’s not hard to imagine that Udo stole my heart from the beginning and never let it go. Renting a motorbike and scootering around the perimeter made it that much better.

Udo means cow island and is named that because the island is apparently shaped like a cow lying down.

udo island map
Yeah, I don’t see it either. Anyways, let’s just move on to the pictures that make sense.

ferry boat udo korea
This is a photoessay about an island so it’s only appropriate that I begin with a photograph of the ferry that took me there.
jeju udo cow island
Black rocks and bright white sand made quite the pretty picture. It looked like this all over the island.
rhodolith korea jeju udo islet beach
This beach, named Seobin Baeksa, is the only beach in Korea filled with rhodolith, which are like coral but unattached to things. You could call them the tumbleweeds of the ocean.
bike black rocks jeju udo
What’s a rural islet without a rusting kiddy bike?
blue ocean black rock udo island islet
Rolling, clear blue waves are one thing I may never see enough of.
hermit crab wild nature rock ocean udo korea
I found a family of hermit crabs, and I temporarily kidnapped this little guy so I could take a picture of him. Which I messed up/overexposed, and have somewhat salvaged enough to show you. Adorable.
coast table beach udo jeju korea
And of course I stopped for coffee, enjoyed at one of these coast side tables.
coffee shop book writing abreathofforeignair
The coffee shop gave you little books to write it while you were waiting for your order, so I took that opportunity to promote myself. No shame.
cat sleeping photograph jeju udo island korea
Aww, a cat sleeping on top of someone’s laptop. Why isn’t that surprising?
udo island korea field black rocks green
Considering that Udo is formed by a bunch of old volcanic rocks, it’s understandable that the attempts at farming aren’t very intensive.
boat water circle island jeju udo korea
Things to do next time I go to Udo: get dizzy and nearly vomit on a speed boat.
sunlight water cliff udo jeju korea island islet
Dramatic views included.
cat jeju udo island islet korea beach water rocks
I spy with my little eye…
udo islet jeju korea rock tower buddhism
Stack a rock and make a wish; these pillars are all over Korea, especially in Buddhist temples, but they suddenly look like precarious feats of gravity when done with porous, volcanic rocks.

white black lighthouse udo island jeju korea beach


Have you ever been to Cow Island? Did you spy the hiding kitty?

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Review: Fish Tree Guesthouse on Jeju Island

fish tree hostel guesthouse jeju
Fish Tree Guesthouse on Jeju Island: built out of shipping containers.

Korean culture has some charming subcultures, one of which is very similar to something us USAers might call “hipster” or less kindly, “hippies”. This isn’t just limited to younger generations, though, and the owners, builders and managers of the Fish Tree Guesthouse in Jeju are a perfect example of that. This older couple decided to build and open their own hostel and coffee shop, of which the coffee shop is still under construction. Because they’ve aimed to do everything from scratch, the guesthouse is roomy, designed down to the very bones and feels like a home, complete with a wall full of books. Indeed it is a home, as the owners live there too.

book wall fish tree hostel jeju
The “cave” reading area, not pictured is a couch and several chairs for the more sophisticated sitters.

Let’s talk about that homey feel: a wall dedicated to chalkboard messages, another wall covered in (Korean) books, most of the interior “unfinished” as a design style, a kitchen full of ingredients in bottles and jars and other re-purposed and funky containers. Cushions on the ground in the computer area and an entire floor-level cave-like section next to the bookshelf, so you can properly lose yourself in a book. Spiral staircases led to the second floor and rooms and each bed in the dorm-style room had it’s own partition, like little cubicles for sleeping. The outside porch was huge and had several wooden tables and chairs that had me wanting to come back in spring, simply so I could sip coffee on the deck.

fish tree beds jeju island guesthouse
Dorm beds or outer space sleeping pods?!?! Okay, yeah, just really cool dorm beds.

But it’s not all butterflies and rainbows, the coffee shop is still under construction and there is a pension being built next door. The parking lot is literally a bunch of gravel and there’s not a proper walkway, yet. There’s also no WiFi on the second floor, where the bedrooms are, but the first floor is more than cozy enough to spend some time in. The biggest issue you could have here is the couple’s inability to speak English; I would recommend bringing a Korean friend or knowing a few phrases yourself. It won’t impact you majorly, but the couple was beyond sweet and definitely worth getting to know, so not being able to communicate well with them would be a shame.

fish tree hostel owner jeju
ISN’T SHE CUTE! Study Korean so you can talk to her.

When I walked into the hostel, the wife was baking homemade cookies in the kitchen and immediately offered me some. (I can forgive anything with cookies, not that there was much to forgive.) For breakfast the next morning, she freely toasted bread, sliced up some Norwegian cheese that her relatives had sent her and spread homemade (of course) mandarin orange jelly on top to make a strange but yummy breakfast sandwich. And, like the sweetheart that she is, gave me more cookies. That woman really knew the way to my heart, I even forgave her for purchasing Crocs as the bathroom slippers.

kitchen fish tree guesthouse jeju island korea
Do you see the cookies? I see the cookies!

Contrary to the “unfinished” look of the rest of the guesthouse, the bathroom was completely finished and clean and sparkly. It was only on the first floor though, so figure on getting used to that spiral staircase.

bathroom fish tree hostel jeju island korea
Nice bathrooms seal the deal.

Overall, I had a wonderful cookie-filled experience at this guesthouse and if you’ve got even a little Korean under your belt, I’d definitely recommend you give it a whirl. If you have a Korean friend with you who’s interested in design or construction, well, you might have a difficult time dragging them away. Not that I experienced that or anything, ahem, nobody I was with spent 40 minutes looking at workshop tools or metal joints or asking about kinds of paint while walking around the building, definitely not. Nope.

fish tree breakfast guesthouse jeju island korea
Breakfast: caramel Norwegian cheese, homemade mandarin orange jam and warm cookies. Or cereal, if you’d like.
patio outdoor fish tree hostel orange jeju korea
Part of the large outdoor patio; I’m itching to sit on a patio like this as soon as it’s warm enough.

If you end up visiting this guesthouse, drop me a line and let me know. I’d love to hear what you think. I hope you get cookies.

The Dirty Deetz

Name: Fish Tree Guesthouse (물고기나무 게스트하우스)
Address: Jeju Teukbyeol, Jachido, Seogwiposi, Sungsaneup, Samdalli 1037
제주특별 자치도 서귀포시 성산읍 삼달리 1037
Phone Number (Korean only): 064-783-1037
Prices: Dorm Room: 20k/night, Double Room: 50k/night (all prices in Won)
Capacity: Unless they have rooms hiding up their sleeves (possible), I saw 6 beds in the dorm-style room and 1 double/private bedroom.
More Information/Their Website (Korean only): http://blog.naver.com/fishtree72


What do you think of Fish Tree Guesthouse from the pictures? Where did you stay when you were in Jeju? What’s your favorite hostel look like?

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Photoessay: Korea’s Jeju Island

I love a lot of things, like coffee, new shoes, blankets and hot cocoa, comfortable rides on public transportation; but there’s not much I love more than the sound, sight and smell of water meeting land. That said, it’s no surprise that I adored Jeju Island.

Even though it was November/December, Jeju has just enough of a warm climate to sustain fruit and farming for most of the year. Coming from the bland dead of winter, the green fields and mandarin orange trees were a sight for sore eyes. The island also was borne of a volcano, so the majority of rocks are porous and black and fascinating. Some of the beaches are a normal white and since it’s the end of fall, some areas of the island also sport the browns and yellows of retiring plants.

So when the blues of the ocean, the green and orange and the black and the occasional white or brown or yellow come together, it’s like walking into Toys-R-Us for my eyeballs. I did my very best to capture some of the beauty on camera, but there was nothing like seeing it in person. Here are my best shots.

mandarin orange jeju black rock korea
The orchards and plots of land are traditionally surrounded by low walls, built by these black volcanic stones. Gorgeous.
green field jeju korea
More of those low walls, partitioning off small seas of green.
goat olle trail jeju korea
The local wildlife showed up during one of my walks. While they blend into the black rocks pretty well, they stand starkly in contrast here among the browns.
sunset jeju island korea
Ah, sunset. Nothing better.
boat grass water jeju island korea
Is it possible to be in love with your own picture?
shoreline jeju island blue black korea
The blue water and black rocks were incredibly vivid and beautiful.
jeju statue korea
These little guys popped up all over the island in different sizes, shapes and materials. (Oh, and the flowers too!)
dog hump beach jeju island korea
Sometimes you try to take pictures of dogs at the beach and they quickly get into a weird humping position right when you click the shutter. And then sometimes you put it on your blog, anyways.
star anise to be a whale jeju korea
The star anise that went into the best coffee I’ve ever had in my entire life.
rock shoreline cliff jeju island olle korea
Why are island rocks SO cool? Please explain this to me.
black rock shoreline jeju island water blue korea
THESE COLORS I can’t get enough. They will haunt my dreams.
tree twisted waterfall jeju korea
(This is the waterfall where I saw nearby female divers.)
restaurant ajumma korea jeju
Sitting down to eat “boring” abalone rice porridge.
oranges path jeju korea
One of the many little winding paths that traverse Jeju’s mainland.
shoes sit cafe abstract jeju korea
Just enjoying the view and my coffee (and snapping pictures of my shoes) at To Be a Whale Cafe.
jeju island orange black rock beach water windmill
The picture that epitomizes what Jeju Island is famous for: wind, water, beach, black rocks and a delicious little mandarin orange.


Which picture is your favorite? Have you ever been to an island similar to Jeju?

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Photoessay: (Delicious) Things I Ate on Jeju Island

I really loved seeing all the scenery on Jeju Island, but I’ll go ahead and admit that it was the weird food that won my heart. Being a Korean island, there are plenty of shops that serve the same old, same old; samgyeopsal, kimbap and noodles are all easy enough to find. But if you’re on Jeju Island, don’t do it. Find the specialties. They are awesome. I know they’re awesome, because I ate (some of) them.

Black Pig Barbeque (흑돼지)

Apparently, in old times, this used to be a shit-eating pig. I kid you not, people would poop in holes and the pigs would be underneath, eating it. GROSS. Anyways they don’t do that anymore, they feed the black pigs real food, so you should feel perfectly fine about sitting down for an order of this, since it tastes like (meat) heaven. (Waegook Tom agrees, he wrote an entire blog post about this deliciousness.) IMG_6301 ED R It also comes with a special Jeju-only dip called Myeolchiekjeot (멸치액젓) which tastes like liquid anchovies, and you’re supposed to drop hot pepper and garlic in the sauce while it cooks on the grill. I’ll chalk that one up to an acquired taste, because I was not a fan. Eek.

Green Tea Ice Cream (녹차아이스크림)

Fittingly, this was consumed during a brief stop at the Tea Museum. I wish I’d gotten the “Twister” though, green tea and vanilla frozen yogurt together, because those first couple bites were like licking green tea powder. Once I got used to it however it was great. I mean, it’s ice cream, how could I not be happy? IMG_6412 ED R

Grilled Octopus (문어구이)

If you’ve never nommed on octopus before, then you should probably give it a shot for the experience. The stuff you get on Jeju, though, is all particularly fresh from those famous female divers pulling up seafood all day. IMG_6549 ED R

Abalone and Rice Porridge (전복죽)

Ear shells or abalones are one of Korea’s, particularly Jeju’s most prized health foods, but they’re pricy as a result. A popular way to eat them without blowing the budget is getting this porridge, which is what Koreans call a “boring food”. The best way to eat it is by putting pieces of kimchi on your spoon with it to add some flavor. I thought it was perfectly fine without kimchi, myself. IMG_6835 ED R

The Best Cup of Coffee I’ve Ever Had In My Entire Life Ever (조르바 커퓌)

Coffee with a spiced twist; it included cloves, cinnamon, other unidentified powders, and star anise, a thing I’d never heard of until they told me the name and I googled it (you’re welcome). I can’t get over how awesome this cup of coffee was, it was like a winter day’s dream, and it was a winter day, so it was a freaking dream, people! IMG_6846 ED R On the other side was a honey mandarin latte, which apparently was also quite heavenly. Details for this coffee shop can be found here, partway down the page. The baristas speak English, but their menu does not.

Spicy Noodles with Raw Fish (회국수)

When you’re on an island, you should probably eat some raw fish. Alright, so just fish in general, but I’m a big Hwae/sashimi fan, so I’d advocate for that. This was mixed in a variation of the spicy pepper paste you can find everywhere and included noodles and lettuce, which tasted pretty awesome together. Which was weird: noodles + lettuce?! But yes. Noodles and lettuce. IMG_6887 ED R

Sea Urchin Egg Noodle Soup (성게국수)

No, I don’t mean egg noodles, I mean sea urchin eggs in the noodles. Their flavor wasn’t particularly anything, but the soup as a whole was warm and made me happy and full. Plus, now you can officially call me a baby killer and it won’t even be a lie. IMG_6888 ED R Honorable mentions include a shrimp as large as my face, a cheese muffin that didn’t taste horrible or even remotely like cheese, and a breakfast the super-nice hostel lady made for me with cheese straight from Norway and mandarin orange jam. This was a horrible post to write in between meal times. See you later, guys, I need a snack.


Have you ever been to Jeju Island? Could you eat sea urchin eggs? Did reading about sea urchin eggs make you more or less hungry?

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I came, I saw, I did not conquer: Korea’s Jeju Island

Originally I wanted to visit Jeju Island over September, during the five-day “weekend” of Chuseok. Back in June, I checked for flight tickets and was slapped with reality when there were literally no tickets to be purchased. Not a single seat on a single plane. Sold out.

Koreans are serious about their Jeju Island trips, apparently. So, a random weekend later in the year, it was. The weekend straddling November and December was chosen, tickets were successfully found and purchased and off the Jeju I went! Getting to the airport took some time, seeing as I live in a very rural area, but once on the plane, the trip was short. The actual days themselves were also short, and suddenly the ambitious sightseeing plans proved to be not only ambitious, but undoable. There is just too much on Jeju Island for a weekend trip, I’d need to stay a week to see everything I wanted to see.

So this post will be a list: what I saw and what I put on next trip’s itinerary, because yes, I’ve already planned my next trip. If you’re planning to visit Jeju, hopefully this will help you to see the places that I wish I could have seen and skip the ones that were hyped up. Links go to information, pictures and the addresses of the locations. (Photo posts, stories and food are all still to come. Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about them!)

I came, I saw:

Hyeopjae Beach (협재해수욕장)
Thumbs up

This beach is apparently quite famous and is dotted with weird naked statues, white sand and black rocks. It’s likely better in the summertime (it is a beach), but it was pretty enough in winter to be worth the visit.

The Jeju Museum of Contemporary Art Grounds and Area (제주현대미술관)

museum contemporary art statue korea jeju
There were some statues hiding in the bushes. I found them.

While I didn’t go into the museum, I did walk around the grounds and look at statues and some strange houses. Apparently only artists live in the neighborhood behind it and they spend all of their time making… well… art.

O’Solluc Tea Museum (설록차 뮤지엄 오설록)

pour tea museum osulloc jeju korea
A member of the staff pouring sample cups of tea for visitors.

The actual museum part was closed for cleaning/updates, so I missed out on the cool exhibitions of pottery. I did, however, sit down and eat some yummy green tea ice cream, try freshly brewed mandarin green tea and walk to the roof to see a not-that-impressive view.

Songak Mountain / Olle Trail #10 (송악산 / 화순모슬포 올레 #10)
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goats olle trail 12 jeju korea
Clearly I wasn’t on the walking trail, but the goat trail. Sorry for intruding, goats.

I couldn’t walk too far on this trail, time was short, but what I saw was pretty and interesting. Japanese military dug bunkers into the mountain to prepare for war back in the day, the view of the ocean and nearby island were gorgeous, and I spotted some wild goats.

“Daepo Columnar Joint” aka Interesting Volcano Rock Cliffs (대포주상절리)

lava column water jeju korea
Beautiful? Absolutely. The same picture as every single other person on that same platform? No doubt.

Honestly, this would have gotten a thumbs up if there weren’t so many damn people on the same tiny platform, staring at the same rocks. Try to avoid the crowds (early morning, weekdays) and you’ll be able to appreciate the strange beauty of these cliffs.

Jeongbang Falls (정방폭포)
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haenyeo 해녀 female diver jeju korea
What waterfall? I’m creeping on the female divers, thanks.

The waterfall isn’t so spectacular, it’s just a small waterfall, but nearby there were famous female divers, Haenyeo (해녀), pulling the day’s catch of octopus out of the water. It was worth it just to see them hauling giant heavy nets over their shoulders. (However, if you have any kind of physical handicap, climbing over the giant shoreline rocks for a good view will be a trial, so this wouldn’t be worth it for you.)

U-Do / Cow Island (우도)
Seven hundred thumbs up

udo cow island welcome jeju korea
Yes, this is the ugliest picture from the entire island. I don’t want to ruin the future photoessay for you, right?

I fell in love with this little island off of an island. Renting a scooter and zipping around the perimeter was the highlight of my trip. The scenery was breathtaking, the homes rural, yet there were several cafes and one of them served giant, delicious-looking burgers (and coffee of course). Super beautiful, super relaxing, super worth your time to see and yes, there is definitely a Cow Island photoessay in the future.

Manjang Cave (만장굴)
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manjanggul cave jeju korea
Sorry, this is the best I could do in low lighting / while very badly needing to pee.

Many people say this is an overrated place to go, but I really enjoyed it. Perhaps because I’m more fascinated by/obsessed with volcanoes than most people. If you want to learn about the science behind the lava tube and its formation, then this will be fun for you. The “big reveal” at the end? Meh.

To Be a Whale Cafe (고래가 될 카페)
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to be a whale cafe view ocean jeju korea
The view of the ocean from the back porch is pretty spectacular, yes?

Apparently this cafe is very famous among Koreans and if you want any evidence that hipster, pretentious Korean culture does indeed exist, then this is the place to see it. They also make incredible drinks: I had a Joeulba Coffee (조르바 커퓌), or black coffee with cloves, cinnamon and other crazy spices, and it rocked my world. So hard.

I did not conquer:

Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak / Sunrise Mountain (성산일출봉)

I KNOW, I know. I didn’t go to the most famous UNESCO Heritage site in all of Jeju Island. Hit me over the head a couple of times, I know I’ve already done it myself. Seeing the sunrise from the top of this peak is on my list of things to do next time along with getting to bed early enough that it’s possible, next time.

Halla Mountain Hike (한라산)

Seeing as this was a weekend trip, a five-hour mountain hike didn’t fit very well into my plans. But it’s something I want to do next time I’m in Jeju, since Mt. Halla is also an extinct volcano and I’ve already mentioned how much I love volcanoes, right?

Olle Trail #12 (무릉용수 올레 #12)

I really adore long, beautiful walks and Jeju Island might be the perfect place to do that, though sadly it didn’t fit into the schedule this time. Most of the Olle trails are beautiful, and they all hug the coastline, but I’d love to do this one that crosses part of a beach, has a cool view of some windmills and generally just looks spectacular.

Samyang Black Sand Beach (삼양 검은모래해변)

Technically I was here, but it was too dark to see anything, including the fact that the sand was black. But the area looked clean and pretty, so I want to give it another shot. Apparently ajummas also like to bury themselves in the sand for the therapeutic effects, and that’s a sight I don’t want to miss twice.

Kayaking in Soesokkak Estuary (쇠소깍)

Technically I was here as well, but it was also at the end of a day and I couldn’t see a thing. The sand here is also black, I was able to make that out at least (so cool!), but what I most want to do is take one of the clear kayaks into the ravine and weird crazy blue-green water.

Jeju Dinosaur Land (제주공룡랜드)

Look, I just have a weird thing with dinosaurs and I can’t explain it. I need to go here.

Overnight on U-Do (우도)

I fell so in love with U-Do that I want to do an overnight, instead of just a morning trip, next time. My pictures of hermit crabs got messed up and I wasn’t hungry when I went to the cafe with giant burgers, so those situations must be rectified.


Have you ever been to Jeju Island? What did you see and what did you miss? Am I an idiot for missing sunrise mountain like an idiot, I’m an idiot?

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The Guide: Teaching English in Korea

So you wanna know, how does one teach in Korea? What do you need to know? Whats the best way to go about it? My best advice and tips are below. I’m not all-knowing, but I can certainly tell you about my experiences and the way I came to Korea, as well as some of the things I’ve learned through talking to other teachers and researching. This is my advice, these are my tips, my knowledge can now be your knowledge.

Note: This article details the how. If you want to know why, check out my article 5 Reasons to Teach English in South Korea over on Life After Study Abroad’s website.

Quick Links:

Program versus Recruiter

If you’re interested in teaching in Korea, you’re probably wondering exactly how to go about it. Going through a program is definitely an option, but it’s not the only one.

About signing up through a program:
One of the biggest advantages of a program is exactly that: it’s a program. People are employed to answer your questions, help you through the process and in general, make you feel more comfortable with the fact that you’re going to live in a foreign country. If you don’t understand the paperwork you need to fill out, you’ll be able to get help from someone in a timely manner. In addition, since you’ll be part of a group arriving in Korea, you’ll have some sort of orientation with other English speakers that gives you the opportunity to meet people right away. Programs are designed to help with those rough edges of a huge transition and that’s a plus on all accounts. Also, side note, programs work exclusively with EPIK schools. (What’s EPIK?) The downside of a program is that most cases, you won’t know where you’ll be placed until you’ve already arrived in Korea. That piece of information was important enough for me that I chose the alternative route of recruitment. This might not bother others at all.

About being recruited:
How does one even go about being recruited? Well in my case (and in most cases, from what I’ve read), people are recruited through job boards. I went through Dave’s ESL Cafe and found my job on the Korean Job Board. The advantages of doing this are that I was able to see my salary ahead of time, choose the age group and look up information on the school itself and where it was.
The disadvantages of going this way are a bit obvious: I am on my own. There was no orientation for me, there was no buffer time between my arrival and beginning my job. The first weekend here, I had to use my survival skills (neighborhood-people-asking-skills) to figure out how to find food and the grocery store.

Regardless of which way you go about it, once you’ve started your job and met your bosses and co-workers, you’ll be able to ask them about anything. And then recruiter versus program becomes irrelevant.

Public School versus Private (Hagwon)

The Korean school system has two main elements: public school and private. Many students are involved with both, signing up for classes at the Hagwon after school and on weekends. Which one should you choose?

Public school teaching is a more typical structure: normally hours are 8am-5pm, Monday through Friday. Most schools aren’t in session on Saturday. Kids are kids and obviously public school is required, so they may not be thrilled to be there (but some definitely are!). You might be asked to run or plan an English camp during vacation. You’ll teach classes by age group, just like you’d imagine. Public schools are known to give more vacation (and work-from-home) time to their teachers, but this is of course a generalization and is not true for every school. Many teachers are busy doing English camps during vacation, as well.

Private tutoring schools or Hagwons are a huge industry in Korea. The hours are normally later, so you’ll start the day closer to noon than 8am and work later. Hagwon teachers also teach on Saturdays, with some exceptions. Your classes will likely be mixed age groups, unlike the public school system. The vacation time is shorter, in general. The pay, however, can be a lot better, but of course it depends. There are plenty of public school positions with comparable pay. Hagwons are also vulnerable to sudden changes, such as being purchased by a different hagwon company. Your job could be less stable, because of this, but I’ve met many people who didn’t encounter this issue at all.

More than anything, it’s important to remember that each school is different. Everyone will have a different boss, hence different rules and a difference schedule and different levels of flexibility in their contract and schedules. These descriptions are pointers, guidelines, but by no means rules.

What’s EPIK / GEPIK?

EPIK is the government sponsored English Program in Korea, which provides opportunities and the basic benefits that you associate with a native teacher position in Korea: your housing being paid for, a good salary, Korean healthcare, etc. If your school uses EPIK funds to hire you (all public schools and some private schools), then you’ll be filling out a little extra paperwork. GEPIK is the same idea, but it’s specific to the Gyeonggi Province, the area surrounding Seoul. Once again, it just means that your school uses government funds to hire you and give you those benefits. An orientation is included and the hiring season is limited to twice a year.

It’s possible for a school to not be funded through EPIK or GEPIK and not be hagwon. For example, I work at a private school and don’t have an EPIK contract. I still have all the typical visa requirements to receive my E-2 visa, except for EPIK paperwork. I was also able to partially renew my contract (i.e. not a full year) and negotiate the details of it. But as a result, I also missed out on the EPIK orientation week and didn’t get to meet all the other foreign teachers right away.

Getting Started: Paperwork

So you’ve decided you’re going to do it. You’re moving to Korea, baby! What’s first?
If you’re from the USA, don’t wait a single moment longer: start the paperwork for your criminal background check. It takes up to three months to fully process everything. Even if you’re only kind of sure, a little wishy-washy, still: start the paperwork. You can always not finish the process if you change your mind.

The paperwork you need can be found on this website: a great, detailed overview of the required documents, from the point of view of a USA passport-holder. Also, compared to getting your criminal background check, the rest of the paperwork is cake. My advice to you is that you read multiple sources’ information about paperwork processes that confuse you and if you’re still not sure, contact your program or recruiter for clarification.

In regards to the Apostille, here is the simplest way to explain it: an Apostille is a kind of notary, but for international use. It certifies that your paper is real from an internationally trusted source. Your criminal background check needs an Apostille from Washington, D.C. because it is a federal document. Your university degree needs an Apostille from that state’s capital, because it’s a state-issued document (in a way). If you are using a letter of expected graduation in replacement of your diploma because of university processing time, it will need an Apostille too, also from your state’s capital.

One last paperwork note: be ready to shell out some cash for the paperwork and visa process. It’s not fun and it adds up, but as long as you’re prepared to do so, then you won’t have any problems. I spent about $200 on paperwork, copying, notarizing, mailing and apostilling. However, my costs were a bit escalated because I (1) got double of all my documents in the case of an emergency and (2) I needed to mail documents to Korea twice: if you do it right the first time, you’ll only send things once. Paperwork is a big pain, but landing in Korea and then starting that first day of work will all be worth it.

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Aren’t Teachers in Korea Being Eliminated?

Ah, the rumors. Ever since 2011, newspapers have reported that native English teachers in Korea would be phased out and there would no longer be jobs available in the public sector. As of this writing, December 2013, there is plenty of evidence of these budget cuts but it’s by no means the end.

First of all, these are only teachers in the public sector: hagwons and private schools are still widely hiring. Secondly, the budget cuts seem to primarily affect two groups of teachers: those living and working in Seoul and high school and middle school teachers. Seoul and Gyeonggi Province, its neighbor, have had wide cuts to their public school programs and if there are any jobs left, they will be tough for a first timer to get a hold of. If your heart is set on Seoul, try going a different route, such as a hagwon, because applying through EPIK and hoping for the big city is a very long shot. As for the second category, elementary school teachers in public schools across Korea still (seem to) have job stability. It’s only high and middle school teachers that are affected right now. So if you’re hoping to teach older kids, you’ll want to search for private schools (recruiters can help you) or hagwon jobs. While it’s still very possible to do that, EPIK won’t be the best route to go about it.

That said, it’s important to know that especially in Korea, things could change within a moment’s notice and you should always be flexible. Also, each Province has their own provincial budget and ways that they are dealing with the budget cuts. Some provinces, such as my own (Chungnam), adore their native English teachers and are doing everything they possibly can to keep them in schools. Others may be less reluctant to let go of jobs in public schools. In any case, jobs are still everywhere in Korea, but they’ve just been redistributed. The budget cuts are no reason to not apply for a job in Korea.

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University Jobs

Korean universities also hire native English teachers, but the requirements are much more strict. You’ll need at least a few years in-classroom experience, definitely a TEFL (if not a CELTA) certificate and best case scenario, also a Master’s degree in any subject. As well, these jobs tend to go to people who are recommended by the former teacher, so you may need a stroke of luck and the right friend to get an in. Universities also like to test out teachers during their summer camps over vacation time, so if you can get a job at their camp (and do a good job), then they’ll likely offer you the upcoming position. If you’re lucky enough to land one of these jobs, the vacation time and pay can be phenomenal; four months of paid vacation and usually no more than 20 teaching hours a week.

There are also jobs at Universities that are part of the “language center” and offered to civilians and other non-traditional / temporary students in the area. These are nicknamed “unigwons” (university + hagwon) and generally offer less vacation time, work hours more similar to hagwons (later in the day until evening) and the courses aren’t for credit. Unlike the more “serious” University jobs with long-term students, you don’t need an incredible resume to get one of these positions. (But you will need some experience!)

When it comes to the money, every university (and unigwon) is different. Some pay next to nothing compared to public school teachers and others pay quite well, so you’ll have to check on an individual basis.

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Other Resources

I’ve written a lot about teaching in South Korea, here you can find all the articles I’ve had published on the subject including more personal accounts of my time here. Perhaps you’ll find the answers to any more of your questions in one of these.

Things other people have written:

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Helpful? Useless? More questions? Contact me here or, if you’d prefer, at abreathofforeignair [at] gmail.com. You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

A Look Ahead: The Last Month in Korea

book coffee happiness

It’s the end of November and it has been for the past week, but this November has absolutely flown by. The everyday blogging, the everyday work, the weekend commitments and events, book-binging and the daily routine of having a dog have all contributed to the light speed with which the month disappeared. More and more, I’m looking ahead.

This December isn’t just the end of the year, it’s also the end of my time as a middle school ESL teacher in Korea. I’m making that very specific on purpose; I will very likely be returning to Korea and ESL is a pretty marketable skill, but I can’t say I want to do it in this context again. It’s just not my cup of tea, but I’m grateful for the experience and wouldn’t trade it for much. (Maybe mashed potatoes, though…)

Let’s take a look at what’s coming up this next month:

A trip to Jeju Island. Technically I leave tonight, November, but I come back on Sunday, the first day of December. I’ll be trying to see as much as possible, eating as much as possible, and generally just going against my usual travel philosophy of spending all of my time at a coffee shop watching people.

– My November Reading Roundup! Look for that within a few days.

Selling my precious, bright green car with a maroon pleather interior. I’m going to be so sad to see it go. Princess Fiona has treated me quite well, this past year.

– Running a benefit pancake brunch for friends in town to try to raise some cash for Typhoon Haiyan victims. Pancakes will be involved, so that makes up for the stress of cooking things that people need to eat.

– Ridding my apartment of extra things. I’ve got clothes, books, general things and I live outside of town, so a “garage sale”/come-to-my-house-take-my-things-for-free situation won’t be possible. I have a feeling this may be my biggest stresser.

– Other general preparation, like finding and buying Mary a dog crate for the flight over (suggestions? please tell me!), those last dinners and one-on-ones with friends, shipping things home for which there is no room in my suitcase, making sure to eat everything delicious ever, one last time. (If only I could eat Bingsu again!)

– Eating three meals of macaroni and cheese, because my mom sent me some Easy Mac from the USA. I am actually quite excited about this, it may be one of those (three of those) bright spots in the midst of a hectic and stressful month.

– Finishing all of my Christmas shopping; buying online and making sure it’s delivered on time or grabbing any last-minute souvenirs from Seoul for family members.

– A goodbye party which will be super sad and hopefully also involve cake, because cake is delicious.

– A 36 hour Christmas in Korea and Pittsburgh (due to a Christmas flight and the time difference), my birthday in Pittsburgh, and the beginning of a very unplanned and crazy year to come.

Well, December, you’re pretty much already here, so come at me! Bring it on!


Do you have suggestions for keeping stress levels down this month? How about for a good airplane dog carrier? What does your December look like?

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Sacrifices of Travel: Thanksgiving Away From Home

If I had to pick a favorite holiday, I’d stop for a moment on Easter, because of the copious amounts of chocolate involved, then I’d debate over Christmas and the great times with family and gifts and hot chocolate, but eventually, I’d conclude that Thanksgiving, with all of the aromas and haste, rows of seats and unearthly amounts of incredible food, is definitely it. Something about the big table, mixture of gravy, stuffing and mashed potatoes and the fact that it’s usually not terribly cold, not just yet. So yes, after serious though, my favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. Hands down.

One of the sacrifices that expats and long-term travelers, study abroaders and other world explorers all make is missing family events. Sometimes they are birthdays, graduations, unexpected funerals or just regular, annual holidays. As the missing family member abroad, I often try to Skype in for parties, send messages and generally just let my family know that I wish I could be there for the event. It’s never quite the same, but it’s something. And once a year, that event I’ve missed is Thanksgiving.

Three years ago, after my semester abroad had ended in Buenos Aires, I spent a month traversing the country and visiting every city I could get myself to. I made a choice to miss Thanksgiving in exchange for the adventures, a choice I wouldn’t take back. But not being there for the turkey, the stuffing, the family shenanigans and occasional mishaps was hard. Three years ago, in a mountain city of Argentina with friends I’d only met a week prior, we came together and did our best to celebrate. Me and Zoe, an American working in Bariloche, cut and boiled potatoes, prepared a casserole and readied chicken to be baked. Someone else would bring the pie. Ironically, the Argentines showed up, saw our cooking attempts and immediately fixed everything; turning up the heat on the potatoes and slicing open the chicken to cut cooking time in half.

Making Thanksgiving dinner in Bariloche, Argentina.
Making Thanksgiving dinner in Bariloche, Argentina.

We ate and laughed, and though the food was good, we enjoyed the holiday more for the people. But just as the smiling faces of friends were comforting to me, they were also a reminder of exactly what I was missing.

Almost two years ago, I signed my contract to move to Korea and teach English. On Thanksgiving, last year, I worked. The foreigners in town chose the following Saturday to get together and have potluck style Thanksgiving dinner. Two homemade pumpkin pies arrived, mashed potatoes were devoured (before I even got any!) and chickens were roasted, turkey hadn’t made its way into town. We had all of the classic fixings of Thanksgiving, aside from Turkey, and we stuffed ourselves to the breaking point in true Thanksgiving tradition. As the night wore on, it developed into singing and merriment which had to be taken outside. A long line of foreigners poured into the streets of this small Korean town, celebrating their holiday, like a single bit of sun on an otherwise cloudy day.

Last year's Thanksgiving dessert spread in Korea.
Last year’s Thanksgiving dessert spread in Korea.

A week ago, I labored over a cutting board, slicing carrots into strips, peeling ginger with my fingers and adding clove after clove of garlic to the mixture. The end result was far from pretty, but finger-licking good and I dutifully carried my Tupperware containers to the annual foreigner’s Thanksgiving potluck. We packed ourselves into the tiny apartment, ate a strange mix of foods including spicy pasta, bacon mac and cheese and roasted chicken. Mashed potatoes had been promised but not delivered, stuffing arrived almost an hour late and gravy was nowhere to be found. Pumpkin pie, store bought but a god-send nonetheless, was delivered several hours after we’d finished our food. Wine was consumed, ice cream was spilled and space was tight and cramped; what last year had felt very Thanksgiving-like, this year felt nothing of the sort.

The food was good, though, and the laughter was still there. What was supposed to be a Thanksgiving potluck was more of a strange miscellaneous potluck drinking-fest with pumpkin pie and stuffing. I had my fun, I enjoyed spending time with my friends, but at the end of the night, I wasn’t hesitant to go home. More than any year before, this Thanksgiving reminded me, painfully so, of what I was missing. Of what I’d given up to live abroad, teach and earn money in another culture and expand my horizons.

My five months in Argentina, one month of it backpacking and my year and a half of life and work in Korea are experiences that could never be replicated at home. They’ve brought me trials and lessons, laughter and new ways of thinking. My brain expanded to accommodate new languages, faces and customs. I’ve grown as a person and become more confident, daring and content with what I already have. But I haven’t lived as an expat without sacrifice; missing my favorite holiday and the family that go with it are a price I pay. Missing Thanksgiving three years running is part of that cost.

Is it worth it?


Do I miss my family and mashed potatoes?

More than they’ll ever know.


Have you missed holidays while traveling or living abroad? What do you miss the most from Thanksgiving? Is there one holiday you refuse to miss?

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