Tag Archives: Korea

International Schools in South Korea: The Good, the Bad, and the Sketchy

International schools come in many shapes and sizes in Korea. Teaching at an international school can be the experience of a lifetime or a complete nightmare, depending on the school and its management. Here are some things to be aware of when considering international schools in Korea, whether you’re a teacher looking for work or a parent looking for a good place to educate your kids.

Accreditation

Perhaps one of the most significant factors when considering an international school is accreditation. There are several ways that a school could be recognized in South Korea. The best, most trustworthy schools will obviously be accredited by a reputable board, whether Korean or foreign.

Government-approved

The biggest international schools with the strictest requirements for teachers and facilities will be international schools recognized as such by the Korean government. Officially recognized international schools have to meet government-approved standards, and teachers must be appropriately educated, licensed, and experienced in their fields of study. Real registered international schools are typically sizeable, reputable, and well-funded with their own property and facilities.

Other Accreditation Councils

Many private international schools may also have accreditations or memberships associated with various international school associations and councils that all have their own standards and requirements. Schools with these accreditations and memberships may or may not be registered as schools with the Korean government. There are too many different associations to list exhaustively here, but a few memberships and accreditation associations you might see include East Asia Regional Council of Schools (EARCOS), Korea Council of Overseas Schools (KORCOS), and Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI). Also be aware that some organizations offer different levels of membership, such as full membership and associate membership. Lower levels of membership may or may not guarantee serious standards from member schools.

Whatever accreditations or councils you see a school advertising on their website, you should do your own investigation into what those associations actually mean and what their standards are. Reputable organizations have high standards and ensure that their members continue to uphold those standards to maintain membership, while other no-name associations are simply there to make things look official without really checking up on their members or guaranteeing any kind of standard.

Unaccredited

Lack of accreditation should be an immediate red flag to teachers and parents alike. A school without some kind of accreditation may be a small, perfectly well-meaning private school, but without some kind of official recognition, it may be difficult to tell. If a school you are interested in is not accredited, here are a few things you can ask to dig deeper:

  • When was the school founded? A young school may not have been open long enough to get accredited yet. Some organizations require that a school be in operation for a certain number of years to be eligible for membership or accreditation. The accreditation process may also take several years to complete. If a school has been operating for several years and has not bothered to begin some kind of accreditation process, they have probably chosen not to—likely because they don’t want to do what it takes to become accredited or they already know they won’t be approved.
  • Have they started the accreditation process? If so, how far along are they? Some unaccredited schools may say that they are still in the process of becoming accredited. This may be true, but some have been saying this for years just to sound good but actually have no intention of becoming accredited. If it’s been a long time since a school supposedly started the process and they’re still not very far along, they’re probably not really going to get accredited anytime soon.
  • Were they previously accredited? Some schools have previously been accredited but lost their accreditation or let it expire. They might even leave their framed certificate on the wall for everyone to see, knowing that nobody is actually going to look at the date. There is not really a good reason for a previously accredited school to no longer be accredited. They’ve either let their standards slip, or they’re too cheap and lazy to keep up with the renewal process. Even if they have a legitimate reason for no longer being accredited by a certain organization, they should at least be in the process of joining another.
  • Why are they unaccredited? It is possible that a small private school may be great at what they do but truly lack the means or facilities to become accredited, but most schools should have some kind of motivation to seek accreditation. Even a small private school would need a pretty convincing answer to this question to still seem legitimate in any way.

If the management of a school can’t answer the questions on this list honestly and convincingly, the school is probably not worth any more of your time or consideration.

Registration

Closely related to accreditation, a school’s registration within Korea determines a lot about the standards and requirements a school must meet. International schools registered as schools with the Korean government must follow strict requirements and guidelines like any other Korean school would have to. However, not all supposed international schools in Korea are actually registered as schools. In fact, a lot of them aren’t.

Many small international schools are only registered as hagwons or miscellaneous businesses. Although hagwons are academic in nature, they are still just businesses in the eyes of the Korean government. Hagwons are not schools, and their teachers are only required to have an E-2 visa for teaching conversational English.

Because of the relative ease of starting and running a hagwon, it is not uncommon for low-budget international schools to have conversational English classes like any other hagwon in the afternoons while having international school classes during regular school hours. Since they are only registered as hagwons, such schools can easily hire teachers that only have to get E-2 visas rather than the E-7 or F-series visas teachers would usually have at registered international schools.

Hagwon status and its academic nature gives sub-par international schools the apparent legitimacy of some kind of registration and membership within the Korean hagwon association, but it still doesn’t make them real schools, even if the words international school are part of their names. To unsuspecting foreigners, hagwon registration might be enough to make a small operation seem like a legitimate school, but hagwons are actually just businesses and do not have to meet the same criteria as actual schools.

Curriculum

The more highly-accredited a school is, the stricter the curriculum requirements are likely to be. The important thing is that a school has a proper, reputable curriculum of some kind and that they stick to it properly. Different accreditation organizations have their own curriculum standards, so things will vary from school to school.

A good school will use reputable, up-to-date curricula and textbooks. Students and teachers alike will be properly equipped with the textbooks they need for each subject. The school will be able to confidently show and explain their curriculum and textbooks to prospective employees and students.

A sketchy school might not even have proper textbooks or materials. In some cases the teachers might not even have the books or materials they need and be left to come up with their own plans and materials. Particularly bad or poorly equipped schools (probably of the unaccredited hagwon flavor) may end up photocopying books and printing a hodgepodge of free worksheets off the internet rather than providing everyone with appropriate textbooks and materials. Always ask to see the curriculum and textbooks a school uses. If they can’t or won’t show you a thorough and complete curriculum with appropriate textbooks and materials for every subject, they’re probably hiding something.

Faculty and Staff

As the word international implies, an international school would typically have a lot of international teachers. This doesn’t necessarily have to be the case, but the point of having an international school is to teach international students in a language that they can all understand, typically English. It’s normal to have some local Korean teachers too, but many of the faculty and staff at a legitimate international school are likely to be foreigners.

More importantly, the staff at a real international school will have to meet certain requirements to be hired. To work at an official international school, faculty will typically need to be licensed teachers with master’s degrees in their fields of study to get E-7 visas. Teachers who have been in country for a while may also have F-series visas instead.

If the teachers at an international school are not licensed or are hired on E-2 visas, then the school is not registered with the government as a true international school. It is probably only registered as a hagwon at best.

Facilities

Reputable international schools will typically have their own property and buildings. They should have all or most of the equipment and facilities you’d expect at a normal school anywhere else. Small-time private schools and hagwons will often just be renting a building, or even just a floor or two of one. Really low-budget operations will have bare minimum classroom supplies and equipment. The smaller and sketchier the facilities, the more alert you should be for other red flags. Always ask for a tour, even if it has to be by video call.

Avoiding Bad Schools and Hagwons

If you’re a teacher looking for work, you might consider getting hired through a recruiter to make sure you end up at a legitimate school or hagwon. And whether you’re a teacher, parent, or student, you should check out some of these review sites and blacklists for schools and hagwons to avoid:

These lists and reviews are far from exhaustive, but it’s good to at least make sure a school you’re considering isn’t on a blacklist. If you’re up for a little more digging around online, you might also consider joining a Facebook group for foreigners living in the same city. Other foreign teachers in the same city have likely at least heard about the other hagwons and schools in their area and may be able to give you specific information that you won’t find anywhere else online.

Conclusion

Depending on what you are looking for, it may not matter to you if a school is public or private, government-funded or small-time and unaccredited. After all, it is possible to get a good education from good people without fancy facilities and accreditations. That being said though, the more highly-accredited and government-regulated a school is, the easier it will be to know exactly what you’re getting into. Especially when considering small private schools, be sure to do your own due diligence and ask lots of questions to make sure they are legitimate.

Teaching English in Korea: Bad Hagwons and How to Avoid Them

Have you ever considered teaching English in Korea? Teaching English can be a great way to travel and gain valuable work experience, but it can be a bit risky if you don’t know what to look out for while seeking employment. Signing a contract with the wrong employer can quickly turn an overseas adventure into a hagwon horror story! Hagwon life is not for everyone, so if you are considering teaching English in Korea, be sure to do your research and ask lots of questions before making any agreements.

What is a hagwon?

A hagwon (학원) is an afterschool academy where students get extra lessons and tutoring. Many hagwons specialize in one subject, such as English or math, while other hagwons offer classes on a variety of subjects all in one place. Some hagwons are independent businesses, while others, such as 눈높이, are part of a large chain of hagwons. Although hagwons are academic in nature, they are still businesses, not schools. The popularity and relative simplicity of hagwons makes them very abundant and, unfortunately, very attractive to some unsavory businessmen looking to make easy money.

Good hagwons vs bad hagwons

Bad hagwons have red flags big enough to see from space if you know what to look for. Unfortunately, most unsuspecting foreigners have no idea what to look for or what kinds of questions they should be asking when considering job offers from hagwons. Here are a few things to consider and ask questions about when applying and interviewing for hagwon work:

  • Reputation: Good hagwons have good reputations that they have earned over time. As such, they are well-trusted, have good systems and methods in place, and get plenty of business to keep things running profitably. Bad hagwons often pander to parents and bend over backwards to keep them happy and keep them paying, even if that means the hagwon has to shoot itself in the foot and mess up its own system to cram in a new student, move classes around, or send a kid to class with no textbook for several months.
  • Discipline: A good hagwon with a good reputation wants to maintain that reputation. Their work speaks for itself, and they are not afraid to discipline or expel problematic students when necessary. They do not need to pander to unreasonable parents or put up with terrible students just to keep their tuition money coming in. Bad hagwons have little or no discipline because they fear angering parents and losing students. In a bad hagwon, teachers who complain about problematic students are often given a lame excuse such as, “That’s just how it is,” or told that it’s not a problem with the hagwon, but rather with their teaching abilities.
  • Class structures and levels: Good hagwons have clear class structures and levels for students to advance through as they study and improve, and they do their best to place students correctly and stick to the system. Bad hagwons bend over backwards to cram in any new students they can get and randomly move students around between classes and levels to make room or satisfy complaints from controlling parents. Bad hagwons often end up with classes full of students on different skill levels with different textbooks (or no textbooks at all) because they wanted to make room for some new students in another class or because someone’s overcompetitive mom called and demanded that her kid move up a level.
  • Curriculum: Good hagwons have a curriculum to follow. They may use a curriculum they’ve developed themselves over the years, a series of textbooks, or a bit of both. However they choose to do things, they have a system in place and follow a logical progression of lessons and textbooks. Bad hagwons have no clear system, or, if they do have one, they don’t actually stick to it. With all the pandering and moving around, they end up with students who have multiple unfinished textbooks, the wrong textbooks for the class they are in, or no textbooks at all, creating quite a nightmare for teachers. Teachers in bad hagwons often have to teach off the cuff, change schedule with little or no prior notice, make copies of textbooks for kids who don’t have any, and spend hours creating their own tests and quizzes.
  • Facilities: Appearances are very important in Korea, so good and bad hagwons alike will do their best to look presentable to parents. Behind the scenes, however, bad hagwons’ facilities are often lacking. They may be missing simple things like a decent computer and printer for teachers to use, and the computer they do have will probably be old and slow and lack proper office software. In some cases, the entire business might be running on one cruddy old laptop! Chairs and tables may be severely worn out and falling apart. The hagwon likely won’t provide copies of textbooks for teachers to use in class. Bad hagwon owners either can’t afford to maintain their facilities, or, more likely, they simply don’t want to spend the money.
  • Pay: Pay will vary even among good hagwons, depending on things like location and what other benefits the hagwon offers. A good hagwon should typically offer somewhere around 3 to 5 million won per month. A hagwon in a smaller, cheaper city might offer a paycheck around the lower end of the spectrum, while a hagwon in a large, expensive city might offer a relatively high paycheck. Pay can also vary depending on whether or not the hagwon offers other benefits like housing and insurance. Always read the contract carefully when considering a hagwon, and, if something is not crystal clear, ask lots of questions until you know exactly what you’re getting into. Sneaky employers may describe a certain salary per year but neglect to mention anything about sick days and reserve the right to cut your pay by the hour if you miss work for any reason.
  • Teachers: Korean parents understandably want their kids to learn English from native speakers, so most of the teachers at a good English hagwon will be foreigners from places like the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia, and South Africa. Of course, hiring foreigners is more expensive than hiring locals, so bad hagwons may try to cut corners by rotating one or two foreign teachers through the classes while local Korean teachers fill in on the off days. It’s not bad or uncommon for a hagwon to hire some Korean teachers to help out, but if most classes are not primarily taught by foreign teachers, you might be dealing with a bad hagwon.

Hagwon and International School Combos

In your search for hagwon employment, you may come across international schools that also offer hagwon classes in the afternoon. Such institutions might be looking for someone who can teach at the international school during the school day and then teach hagwon classes in the afternoons. A setup like this may not be impossible, but such an “international school” is likely not legitimate. And even if it were a legitimate school, the number of teaching hours one person would have to put in per day is ridiculous. If an institution claims to be an international school and a hagwon, they are likely only registered as a hagwon, not as an accredited school. In addition, the E-7 visa requirements to be a teacher at a real international school are different and more demanding than the E-2 visa requirements to be a conversational English teacher at a hagwon. If an institution is offering to hire you as an international school teacher on an E-2 visa, they’re either not an accredited school in Korea, or they’re into some shady business. Always do your research!

Hagwon Blacklists

Many people have taken it upon themselves to help out their fellow humans by sharing their hagwon horror stories online so the rest of us don’t have to suffer the same horrible fates. Unfortunately, online backlists are not nearly exhaustive, but they are still very helpful. If you’re considering a hagwon, look for their name on these popular hagwon blacklists to be safe:

Even if you don’t find a hagwon’s name on a blacklist, always do your own research and ask plenty of questions to make sure you don’t end up being the one to add them to a blacklist yourself!

If you’re still looking for more detailed information on a specific hagwon, you might also try looking for a social media group for foreigners living in the same city—Facebook pages for foreigners in Jeonju or Busan, for example. Ask around the group to see if other foreigners in the city have heard anything about the hagwon your considering. You might even find someone who’s worked there!

Teaching English in Korea can be a fun and rewarding experience if you find a good school or hagwon to work for. Just be careful to avoid the shady characters looking to make a quick buck and ruin the experience!

Korean signs lighting up a dark street

Useful Apps for Living Abroad in Korea

There are a lot of apps we use to make our day to day lives a little easier. From shopping and eating out to navigating and catching a ride, we rely on apps to do quite a bit these days, and if you’re going to a foreign country, you might need some different apps in your arsenal to keep doing all these familiar things while you’re away from home. Here’s a list of a few apps that I frequently found helpful during my time teaching in Korea.

Keyboard

The reason I mention keyboard apps first is that you’ll find life much easier if you are able to type in Korean on your phone. You don’t need to be fluent in Korean to get by for a while in Korea, but you’ll need to at least be able to read and write the Korean alphabet to make good use of some of the other apps on this list. That means you’ll probably have to spend a little time studying Korean, but being able to read and write in Korean will make things go much more smoothly, whether you’re just taking a quick trip or living in Korea for an extended period of time. Don’t worry though, you can learn to read the Korean alphabet, called Hangeul, easily in about an hour or two. To learn Hangeul quickly, I recommend GO! Billy’s 90-minute YouTube series, and if you’re really excited about learning Korean I recommend TalkToMeInKorean.com.

Most smart phones these days offer options for typing in multiple languages in the settings already. However, if your phone doesn’t have the option to use multiple languages, you might consider installing a keyboard app like Gboard instead.

Translation Apps

If you don’t speak Korean, you’ll definitely want to keep some translation apps handy. I recommend being comfortable with more than one translation app if you plan on spending a significant amount of time in Korea. Sometimes one app might just be inaccurate or not be able to find the particular word or phrase you need, and sometimes you might need to translate offline. For a quick trip you might get by with one basic translation app, but to handle all the different circumstances you might find yourself in during an extended stay in Korea, it is best to have more than one app at your disposal. Here are the apps I recommend.

NAVER Korean Dictionary

NAVER is a big name on the web in Korea. You can think of NAVER as a sort of Korean version of Google. NAVER offers a range of web services including search, email, translation apps, and more. You’ll see lots of people using various NAVER apps in Korea, and you might end up using a few yourself. The NAVER Korean Dictionary as a translation app is not as fully featured as Google Translate, but it does have some great features that you might enjoy. Its dictionary function is pretty straightforward. You can input words in either language with your keyboard or voice, and it has a handwriting feature for inputting Korean characters. The app also includes Korean conversations with scripts and audio and features short video and audio lessons to teach Korean vocabulary and phrases for those interested in studying Korean language and culture. NAVER’s dictionary might not be the best app for quick translations on the go, but if you’re serious about studying Korean, some of NAVER’s study features more than make up for its unremarkable translation functions.

Naver Papago

Perhaps the most useful translation on this list is NAVER’s Papago. Papago is a fantastic app for quick translation on the fly. You can easily switch between several languages, and you have plenty of different input options. You can type in either language using the keyboard, use voice input, and even use a conversation mode similar to the one Google Translate offers. One of Papago’s best features is its camera input method. It allows you to take a picture or screenshot of the text you want to translate, pan around and zoom in on the image, and highlight the specific text you want to translate. Papago saves your translation history and allows you to star your favorites and frequently used words and phrases. Another fantastic feature about the app is its built-in phrasebook for everyday topics, travel and tourism necessities, and emergencies. Papago is a must-have in Korea, and it’s my go-to translation app for everyday use.

Google Translate

I know your Spanish teacher in high school told you that you can’t trust Google Translate because it’s just not accurate. Mine did too, and our teachers were right. Google Translate is not entirely reliable, but it has come a long way over the years. Many common phrases and individual words are perfectly accurate.

Google Translate has some handy features that make it an impressively versatile app. It’s easy to input text in either language with various input methods and has a handwriting feature you can use even if your keyboard app doesn’t already have the option. You can also use your camera to translate text as you look at it. Google Translate also has voice input and a conversation mode that allows two speakers to converse back and forth in their own languages. Another great thing about Google Translate is that many languages are available to download for offline use, making this app indispensable when you don’t have data or Wi-Fi. Google Translate also makes it easy to save frequently used words and phrases in a phrasebook.

Kakao Talk

Just like you probably rely on a favorite texting app at home, in Korea a lot of people rely on Kakao Talk. Kakao is another big name on the web in Korea. They offer many web services including Kakao Talk, navigation apps, games, and even a social platform called Kakao Story. If you have even one Korean friend or colleague you need to stay in touch with, they’ll probably ask if you have Kakao Talk, or “Katok,” as most people call it for short. Kakao Talk is a pretty straightforward messaging app, which is what you will really need it for. It offers free texting, phone calls, and video calls with all the standard features that other similar apps offer. It has deeper features and functions and connects to other Kakao apps and services as well, but I won’t get into all those details here. Kakao Talk is a convenient and versatile messaging app, and you’ll probably need to get familiar with it if you plan on staying in Korea for long.

Air Quality Apps

An unfortunate dilemma that comes with staying in Korea is having to be wary of air quality. Korea has a bit of a pollution problem. Some of the pollution in the air comes from within Korea, and some of it blows over from China. The severity of the pollution varies with the weather and time of year. You’ll want to keep track of the air quality when you plan on going outside, as the pollution can be detrimental to your health. When the air quality is poor, you should wear a mask outside, even if you don’t plan on being out for long. Breathing the pollution can give you a sore throat, bother your sinuses, and make you sick. It’s best to have an app to check the air quality, so you know when to wear a mask and keep your windows shut to avoid breathing in pollution.

Some weather apps like AccuWeather include an air quality index with the other weather information, but they may not be as accurate or reliable as dedicated air quality apps. I recommend using either AirVisual or MiseMise. If you prefer to be able to read all the detailed information in English, then go with AirVisual. AirVisual offers detailed information about the level and content of the pollution and what precautions you should take. If you would prefer a Korean app, then MiseMise is a good choice. You’ll need a fairly decent understanding of Korean if you want to read the information on this one. Both apps are color-coded and have different visuals for different levels of pollution for a quick idea of the air quality, so if you’re not that interested in the details and just want to know whether the air is decent, either app will do the job.

Navigation Apps

At home in the States, a lot of us are used to using popular navigation apps like Google Maps and Waze, but sadly those won’t work so well in Korea. Google Maps might be better than nothing in a pinch, but in Korea it just doesn’t cut the mustard. Here are a couple alternative navigation apps you might find useful for getting around in Korea.

KakaoMap

Kakao comes in handy once again. KakaoMap seems to be the most reliable map app in Korea. It works pretty much the same as apps like Google Maps. You can even use it in English, but you’ll find better search results for some destinations if you’re able to type their names in Korean. Just like Google Maps, you can search for the best routes by car, bus, bike, or on foot; save favorites; and choose to see the map in several different modes.

Kakao Navi

Kako Navi is a GPS app similar to Android Auto or Waze. It displays detailed information about traffic congestion and the locations of speed monitoring zones and CCTV cameras for traffic law enforcement. Kakao Navi provides lots of handy information for driving, but it does beep and talk a lot to tell you all this information. Don’t expect much peace and quiet on the road.

MAPS.ME

MAPS.ME is particularly useful for its offline features. This app also works similarly to Google Maps, but allows you to download maps for offline use, even in places where Google Maps might not let you. It allows you to save area maps, locations, and routes for offline use, which can be a lifesaver when traveling somewhere without data or Wi-Fi. MAPS.ME is not always perfectly reliable though. I ended up doing a lot of extra walking on a hot July day in Fukuoka, because this app confused an apartment complex named Fukuoka Tower with the famous Fukuoka Tower tourist attraction. It’s not a perfect navigation app, but it’s reliable enough and a lot better than nothing in a pinch. Just remember to download important maps and routes before you travel somewhere without data and Wi-Fi.

Public Transportation Apps

In addition to their great navigation apps, Kakao also offers a suite of public transportation apps. For finding a taxi, Kakao offers Kakao T, which allows you to request a taxi to pick you up at your location. If you’re looking to take a bus, there’s KakaoBus. This app offers bus stop information for many cities in Korea and can notify you of bus arrivals and departures. Finally, if you need to take the subway, you might want to try KakaoMetro for checking subway maps and information and finding the right train and exit. Your mileage may vary with some of these apps depending on where you are in Korea, as some apps and services might not work well in small cities or rural areas.

Travel Apps

Now that we’ve covered getting around within Korea, let’s mention a few things about traveling internationally from Korea. Incheon International Airport is a big hub for international travel, and it’s surprisingly affordable to travel to a lot of other countries from Korea. If you’re staying in Korea for an extended period of time, it’s likely that you’ll want to travel for a vacation or a long weekend. If you plan on traveling during holidays, especially big Korean holidays like Chuseok, you’ll want to plan as far ahead as possible. Everybody in Korea has the same grand idea of taking a nice international vacation on their long weekends and holidays, so tickets can get expensive if you don’t plan and buy tickets well in advance.

Jeju Air

Jeju Air is a budget airline that offers affordable flights to many major international destinations. It’s a popular airline in Korea, because it’s cheap and offers some great deals, especially if you book well in advance. They also have a rewards system, so if you plan on being in Korea for a while and using Jeju frequently, it’s probably worth creating an account. Jeju flights are not always for sale on the usual big travel websites, so be sure to check Jeju directly.

T’way Air

T’way Air is another budget airline based in Korea. I haven’t used this one myself, but depending where you want to go, it’s another cheap alternative to consider when booking your trip.

Kiwi.com

Kiwi.com is a travel site for booking cheap flights and hotels. They offer some good deals that you might not find on more well-known sites, and they even list Jeju and T’way flights.

Hopper

The Hopper app tracks flights and tells you when to wait and when to buy for the best price on the flight you want. Again, you’ll want to start watching and planning as far ahead as possible, so you don’t miss the best price on your flight.

Banking Apps

If you’re living and working in Korea for an extended period of time, you might need a bank account. Banking in Korea is probably a bit different from what you’re used to. Unless you’re already fluent in Korean, you’ll probably need your employer or a good friend or coworker to help you open your bank account. Once you have an account, you should have a debit card and a bank book.

Korean bank books function sort of like an ATM card and a checkbook in one. Bank books are important and should be kept up to date, but sometimes it’s much more convenient to view your account information on your phone. The app should update your transactions almost immediately after they occur, so you have an accurate idea of how much money you have in your account every time you log in. You will likely be required to download an additional security app alongside your banking app for added protection.

Apps for Learning Korean

Whether you’re going to be staying in Korea for a while or you just really love the language and culture, you might be looking for some apps to help you learn Korean. Like I mentioned previously in this article, if you’re serious about learning Korean, I’d recommend TalkToMeInKorean.com. They offer free audio lessons, and they sell a great collection of textbooks and workbooks for serious students. No app out there can really get you to a true mastery of a language, but there are a few that can supplement your learning along the way.

AnkiDroid

Anki is a flashcard-based study app you can use to memorize just about anything. You can download flashcard sets made by others or create your own. Anki will then show you some new cards each day and use spaced repetition to review old cards. Anytime you come across a new word or phrase, add it to your deck of flashcards, and Anki will do the rest!

Rosetta Stone

Rosetta Stone is not perfect, and it won’t make you fluent, but it can give you a good start. It’s available on mobile devices and in a web browser if you prefer to use it on a computer. Rosetta Stone takes the immersion approach to learning a language, attempting to simulate the way we naturally learn our native language as we are exposed to it. It’s speech engine also helps you improve pronunciation. Rosetta Stone is a good place to get started, but it will not help you fully understand things like reading, writing, and grammar, and it will not prepare you very well for natural, real world conversations all on its own. If you decide to subscribe to Rosetta Stone, I recommend you check prices on their website and in the mobile app before you pay. The pricing within the mobile app is often significantly lower than the pricing offered on the Rosetta Stone website, and subscribing from either the app or the website grants you full access to both platforms.

Innovative Language

Innovative Language offers courses for a lot of languages. The website for their Korean courses is KoreanClass101.com, where you can listen to their podcasts and access many other useful learning tools, some for free and others requiring a subscription. Innovative Language often offers big sales and discounts on apps and books available on their store page as well, especially for new subscribers. Much of the content you can find in Innovative Language podcasts and apps is also available for free on their YouTube channels.

HelloTalk

HelloTalk is a language exchange app. It allows you to chat with native speakers of your target language who wish to learn your native language. You can message each other for free and easily translate texts and correct mistakes to help each other improve. The app also offers free voice and video calls to practice speaking and interacting with native speakers. There are some paid features available, but the free version should be more than adequate for most users.

Duolingo

Duolingo is primarily useful for memorizing key words and phrases from the app or your favorite browser. It makes memorizing vocabulary somewhat entertaining and gives you a little sense of progress to keep you motivated. However, it can get a bit tedious and will not help you much with speaking or grammar, although it is still improving over time.

Quizlet

Quizlet is a good flashcard tool, and it offers several methods for learning and memorizing vocabulary cards in engaging ways. You can make your own flashcard sets, or you can study sets that others have already made. Quizlet is available for free on mobile devices or in your web browser.

VPN

Sometimes you may want to use a VPN to access non-Korean versions of certain websites. Many websites automatically detect your location and display the version of the site designed for the country you are currently in, and it can be difficult and frustrating to find your way to the version you’re looking for, if you can get there at all.

A VPN can also come in handy for online shopping. If you’re trying to make a purchase online with a credit or debit card from your home bank, the merchant might decline your card for security purposes. Sometimes simply selecting your home country on your VPN settings is all it takes to get the transaction to go through. A good VPN to try is ProtonVPN. It’s free and available on mobile devices and on your desktop. Hoxx VPN is also a decent option. It’s available as a free app or as an extension for Chrome and Firefox web browsers. If you want to know more about how VPNs work or need help choosing the best one for your specific needs, I highly recommend this article by ConsumersAdvocate.org. Their team has done thorough and diligent research and put together a list of the best VPNs to help you choose the right one.

Security Apps

Now that you’ve downloaded and set up a suite of useful apps to make life in Korea a little easier, you might want to install a security app to keep everything running smoothly and protect your personal data. Korea has a bit of a problem with scammers and hackers these days. That’s why Korea takes security so seriously, especially when it comes to banking and online shopping. Sometimes the extra security can be frustrating, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. The readily available public Wi-Fi connections all over Korea are just as convenient for hackers as they are for the rest of us. Even having a simple app like Kakao Talk get hacked can cause drama and inconvenience for you and all your contacts. Therefore, I recommend having a security app to protect your devices, especially if you use public wi-fi connections at places like coffee shops, malls, and restaurants. McAfee offers protection for all your devices under one subscription, and it has great security options for scanning, protecting, and cleaning your devices; securely deleting sensitive files; managing passwords; protecting your device on public Wi-Fi connections; and locking and locating a lost or stolen device. There are plenty of other reliable security apps available with equally competitive offers. Choose a reliable security app you’re comfortable with for added protection and peace of mind while you’re living abroad.


I hope you found this discussion helpful and thought-provoking. If you’ve found some other apps useful in Korea, or you think I missed something that should be on this list, please feel free to share! If you enjoyed this article, consider subscribing and following the Grammarai Warrior Facebook page for updates.

inside a colorful Korean pagoda

Ten Awesome Things About Living in Korea

It’s easy to get in a comfortable routine at home. We get used to doing everyday things in certain ways, paying seemingly normal amounts of money for expenses, and putting up with some inconveniences that we assume are totally normal pretty much anywhere. Sometimes we don’t realize that the everyday things we take for granted might be a little bit different or even a whole lot better in other parts of the world. Here are a few awesome things that I found quite impressive about Korea when I first moved here from the States.

Cleanliness

I’ve traveled a good bit up and down the Eastern United States, and I’ve stayed in quite a few cities. Some were cleaner than others, and overall they were quite tolerable. In the States we almost expect certain cities to be fairly dirty, and we don’t really think much of it. If you live in a rural area, you might be a little surprised by how dirty a place like New York City can be, but for the most part, we’re all pretty used to some level of filth on the streets. After visiting New York City and Boston several times, living in Pensacola for my college years, and traveling up and down the East Coast a couple times a year, I was pleasantly surprised to see how clean Korea is. The cleanliness and order were some of the first things I noticed when I got to Korea. Even taxis in Korea are clean, and they don’t even smell like cigarettes inside! Sure, it’s not spotless, and not quite as pristine as somewhere like Japan, but Korea’s cleanliness is impressive and much appreciated.

Korea’s cleanliness and orderliness are not only limited to tourist destinations like Seoul and Busan either. I live in a relatively small city, and even there, people are committed to keeping their hometown clean. Several days a week on my short walk to work I pass at least one city worker sweeping the sidewalks and medians and hear a street sweeper truck pass by outside my workplace every morning. Korean cities also have programs to keep senior citizens active and involved by organizing meetings to pick up trash, pull weeds, and sweep sidewalks and parks. After a lengthy stay in the cleanliness of Korea, your home city might seem surprisingly unsanitary when you get back!

Public Transportation

Besides actually being clean and not making you feel like you’re going to get lung cancer from breathing the air inside, taxis and buses in Korea are plentiful and affordable. Taxis are everywhere and can even be easily requested by an app on your phone. Buses and trains make traveling around your city or between cities affordable and easy. Even a somewhat more expensive and comfortable bus line is surprisingly cheap. I frequently buy bus tickets to get to Incheon International Airport, and I only pay about twenty-five dollars each way. Taxis are also very cheap compared to prices you might be used to. Within my city I can get almost anywhere I want for under five dollars. Korea’s infrastructure and well-organized public transportation systems make it quick, convenient, and affordable to get just about anywhere.

Travel Opportunities

Besides convenient domestic travel, living in Korea also comes with some great opportunities for international travel. Incheon International Airport is a major hub for international travel. Living in the States, traveling all the way to Europe or Asia is dauntingly expensive and often seems out of reach for many of us, but once you’re over there, international travel can be surprisingly affordable. Plus, budget airlines in Korea such as Jeju Air and T’way Air make travel to many popular destinations even cheaper. Living in Korea makes it easy to go on awesome and affordable international trips during your time off whether it’s just a long weekend or a full summer break.

No Tipping

You might be used to handing over an additional ten- to twenty-percent at restaurants or leaving a few bills on the table at hotels, but you don’t have to in Korea. Wait staff in Korea are expected to do a good job simply because it’s their job. Wait staff are even expected to do a bit more in Korea. Korean customers often call a waiter or waitress from across the dining room whenever they need something rather than waiting until the next time one comes to check on their table, and staff are fully expected to respond promptly and politely. Korean wait staff do not demand or even expect a tip for simply doing what they are already supposed to be doing. In fact, they might even be offended by tipping and think you are being arrogant. Coming from a culture where tipping is demanded even for poor service, this sense of responsibility for doing one’s own job without expecting extra payment can be very refreshing—for you and your wallet.

Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi in Korea is fast and affordable. There are a few big providers for Wi-Fi, cable TV, and cell phone service, and they usually offer all three in a bundle for a surprisingly reasonable price on one easy bill. And when you’re not at home, there are cafes and restaurants everywhere, so you can easily find Wi-Fi on the run. Some places offer free public Wi-Fi, while at others you might have to ask for the password or buy something first, but either way, Wi-Fi is always readily available, reliable, and affordable.

Convenience

As several topics discussed so far have not-so-subtly hinted at, convenience is a big deal in Korea. People in Korea are often busy and in a hurry and expect prompt professional service for just about everything. A lot of locals will even openly admit that Koreans are not very patient people because they are so used to the countless conveniences in modern Korean culture.

Convenience stores in Korea especially live up to their name. Besides being everywhere and usually open late, they sell all kinds of things you might need in a hurry from toiletries to full meals. Convenience stores offer an impressive array of drinks and foods, hot or cold, and they even provide microwaves to heat up food and eat it right in the store for no extra cost.

Even picking up your prescriptions when you’re sick is convenient in Korea. Anywhere there’s a clinic or a hospital, there’s a pharmacy right next door or even in the same building. You might not even have to wait to pick up your medicine. Pharmacies are so efficient they sometimes have it ready by the time you get there.

Perhaps one of the most convenient things about Korea is the delivery service. Tons of restaurants offer delivery—even fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s. No wonder some people can become so impatient in Korea!

Affordable Medical Care

Medical care in Korea is extremely affordable. When moving to Korea from another country, you might find yourself getting sick more often for a while as your body adjusts to the new environment, but clinics and pharmacies are everywhere and won’t cost you hundreds for insurance copays and prescriptions. The full cost of a doctor’s visit and medication is often cheaper than an insurance copay alone back in the States. Any trip to a clinic or hospital back home in the States gets expensive fast and often comes with a sizeable copay depending on your insurance, but medical care in Korea is refreshingly affordable.

Healthy Lifestyle

Medical care might be very affordable in Korea, but hopefully, you won’t be needing it too often. Korean culture encourages healthy living, so it’s a little easier to keep a good diet and exercise regimen. Korean meals make use of lots of rice and vegetables, and even a lot of snacks and refreshments are designed to be at least relatively healthy. Many of the snacks and sugary beverages we often buy in large containers at home in the States come in smaller packages in Korea and are often individually wrapped. Drinks like soda and sweet tea come in smaller cans and bottles, and cookies, chips, and ice cream often come in much smaller containers. Korean culture makes it a little bit more inconvenient and expensive to eat too many sweets, even if you want to.

Besides encouraging healthier eating, Korea also encourages exercise. With everything being so close, it’s easy to walk or ride a bike just about anywhere you need to go. Korean schools often have picnics and outings to get students outside, and many parents also put their kids in taekwondo classes to keep them active and help them grow strong and stay limber. Public parks and playgrounds are almost always equipped with free exercise machines. Even the elderly stay very active in Korea, and you will often see them out walking, riding bikes, or volunteering to clean up parks and sidewalks. Korean culture does a good job of encouraging diet and exercise habits for people of all ages to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Safety

In addition to encouraging healthy living, Korean society also encourages safety. Overall there is much less fear of walking around the city at night. Many Koreans work hard and late, so it is not uncommon to see lights on and a few people out and about even during the wee hours of the morning. Streets are clean and well-lit, and there are CCTV cameras everywhere that discourage crime. Korea also makes heavy use of CCTV cameras to watch traffic and establish speed monitoring zones to effectively keep people driving within the speed limits for safer highway driving. Whether you tend to be out late by nature or are just looking for a safe town to settle down in for a while, Korea is a secure and comfortable place to live.

Beautiful Scenery and Culture

No list would be complete without mentioning Korea’s beautiful scenery and unique culture. Korean culture offers a wonderful mix of the old and the new. You can experience old traditional Korean villages only miles away from bustling modern cities. Koreans are sure to keep up with modern fashion and style while also holding on to and still making us of the traditional Korean hanbok. The Korean people are equally proud of their rich history and their modern advancements and achievements. Korean culture is an interesting mix of old traditions and philosophies and modern comforts and technology. In addition to the rich culture, there is also some great scenery to take in. Korea has beautiful mountains to hike, beaches to relax on, islands to visit, and cities to explore. No matter what you’re into, you can always find plenty to enjoy in Korea.


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