Question from a reader: what to tell your parents

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A reader writes in:

My parents seemed quite impressed and supportive when I mentioned that teaching in Korea was a possibility for graduates like myself, but now that I’ve actually started the process, they’re, well… less than, shall we say.

Any advice/tips/resources you could recommend to help put them at ease? I’m going to go through with it either way, but it is nice to have them on one’s side..

[D.S.]

D.S.,

“You’re doing WHAT? WHERE? WHEN? WHY?!” The questions are as varied as the people, and the responses aren’t necessarily straightforward.

For twenty-plus years, they’ve been trying to keep you safe, out of trouble, and possibly bailing you out of a tough situation. To most parents, choosing to leave your home country will come as a shock, or at the very least a change of plans. In most cases, however, being a twentysomething means the need to recognize your independence.

Some questions parents commonly ask:

A reader writes in:

My parents seemed quite impressed and supportive when I mentioned that teaching in Korea was a possibility for graduates like myself, but now that I’ve actually started the process, they’re, well… less than, shall we say.

Any advice/tips/resources you could recommend to help put them at ease? I’m going to go through with it either way, but it is nice to have them on one’s side..

[D.S.]

D.S.,

“You’re doing WHAT? WHERE? WHEN? WHY?!” The questions are as varied as the people, and the responses aren’t necessarily straightforward.

For twenty-plus years, they’ve been trying to keep you safe, out of trouble, and possibly bailing you out of a tough situation. To most parents, choosing to leave your home country will come as a shock, or at the very least a change of plans. In most cases, however, being a twentysomething means the need to recognize your independence.

Some questions parents commonly ask:

Why are you going to South Korea? Good answers: to make some money, to experience a new culture, to get a decent job, or to do something with my English / Education degree. Bad answers: to meet Korean girls (or guys), to drink all the time.

Why don’t you just get a real job around here? This is a tricky one. Depending on the area, there may not be any ‘real jobs’ at home, or even in the area. There’s also the concept of what exactly a real job even is – the concept of working at one place for more than a few years is increasingly foreign to our generation.

Why don’t you just go to Europe? Europe is more dangerous, more expensive, and the rules make it extremely difficult to find a job there. Combine that with the austerity measures and the debt crises in multiple countries. Europe may still be fun to tour, and if you’re ok with under-the-table sort of jobs, can get across the continent.

Where are you going to live? If your school provides the apartment, explain that the free furnished apartment is part of the compensation package. If not, your school is likely helping you with that process, putting down the key money,and so on.

What happened to working as a [insert a career related to your major]? Again, another tricky one. After four years of getting a Business degree, the only companies interested in it / me were only hiring hourly workers. Despite months of searching I couldn’t find a decently-paid job – and this was 2004.

What else are you going to do while there? The options are many, and the number is usually expanding. From singing and acting to dancing and traveling, there are tens of thousands of other foreign English teachers around the country.

What’ll you do if you get homesick? If you went to college that wasn’t within commuting distance, you’ve had four (or more) years to get used to life on your own. Otherwise, being far away from friends and family can be a legitimate concern. The need to leave the proverbial nest is a big one, especially to the college graduate. There are plenty of places around Seoul and Busan to socialize with fellow foreigners. If you’re not in one of the big cities, you’ll probably want to turn your apartment into a little taste of home. Alternatively, use technology to keep in touch – Skype, e-mail, etc.

When are you coming home / when is your vacation? Explain that vacations are part of the contract (because you’ve checked, right?), and that the dates are determined by the school’s schedule. You can’t just take vacations whenever you want. There’s likely time to make it home during summer or winter vacations, if that’s an interest – but you’ll want to factor in the cost of flying home.

Will you be able to find everything you need? There are local versions of virtually everything from home, and plenty of other stuff is imported into the country. The locals sleep, drink, eat, play, and work just like everywhere else in the world. Some things will be a little harder to find than at home, while others will be easier. Places like http://www.thearrivalstore.com make finding some things easier, although life in a foreign country feels more authentic when you use the same things the locals use.

What should we send you? You won’t know that until you arrive – and your two suitcases and a carryon can hold a lot of stuff. I’d say to send them an e-mail or Skype them once you’ve settled in and realize what you need.

Isn’t it dangerous there? / How close are you to North Korea? I’ll get worried about this one when the locals do. It’s a threat they’ve lived with for 60 years, and despite the saber-rattling they don’t typically get too worked up over it.

Do you have enough money? A question you’ll want to answer yourself. Don’t expect to make your first paycheck until after your first full month of work. If you’re arriving on, say, November 20th, and they pay on the 15th of the month, it could conceivably be two months without a paycheck. Your two biggest expenses (e.g. a place to live and a way to get from A to B) will be quite low, but you still need to eat. Aim to have enough cash to buy at least 1,000,000 Korean won (about 872 USD or 638 Euros) as a minimum; the more the merrier.

Will you have a cell phone / a computer? Yes, you’ll pick up a Korean cell phone once you get your Alien Registration Card, and your laptop from your home country will work in Korea. You’ll want to pick up either a basic plug adapter (to physically transform the plug size) or a transformer (to change the type of power received). The first is usually all that’s needed – a couple thousand won and you’re done.

What about your bills at home? Definitely something to take care of before leaving. Make sure cell phones are cancelled, electricity and water accounts settled, and apartment leases / contracts taken care of. Make sure your credit cards and student loans can be paid online. Also, ensure your bank knows you’re moving to Korea, and that you have a debit card to access your home bank account.

Is South Korea developed? Unless you’re living in the biggest of cities in the Western world, it’s safe to say Korea is more advanced / developed than where you’re living right now. 300 km/hour trains, public transportation that’s cheap and dependable, plenty of wireless internet and electronic devices, and a generally ambitious population

Well, I remember seeing on M*A*S*H… This one I would laugh at if I heard it. While that may have been the image seen by many from our parents generation, the show ended in 1983, and major hostilities on the peninsula ended decades earlier. There were decades of rebuilding, to be sure, but the present is much different from that ‘historical’ record.

Have you learned Korean? The short answer is that you don’t have to learn Korean before coming to Korea. Knowing some basic Korean will help immensely, and being familiar with the hangeul letters will make a huge difference. You can also explain how living in the foreign country will require you to pick it up. There’s still lots of English across the country, until then.

You can expect they’ll have a thousand other questions, especially of the ‘who-what-where’ nature. While you may not have all the answers (especially if you talk to them early on in the process), you’ll want to know the following:

  • What city / town you’re moving to (the proper Romanized version you can find on Google Maps). If you’re moving to a big city, it’s also really helpful to know the gu (district), and what subway station is closest.
  • How far your apartment is from the school
  • When you’ll be leaving (explaining that the final details won’t be set until the paperwork is complete and you’re almost ready to go)
  • The name, type, and age group of the school
  • How much you’ll be making (convert the millions of won into your local currency)
  • Your working hours / when you’ll start working

Readers, what questions did your parents ask you before you came to Korea?

Questions from readers are always welcome! Check out previous questions to make sure it’s not been answered before, then use the contact form, or just e-mail me at chrisinsouthkorea AT gmail DOT com.

 

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