Wednesday 1 November 2017

Should TEFL Teachers get their Boss a Christmas Gift?

TEFL teachers have the chance to be immersed in the country and culture. Giving gifts are an important part of many cultures. There are a few things to remember before giving Christmas gifts.
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1. Is Christmas celebrated?
In some countries, Christmas may not be celebrated, such as in Muslim countries. Or if it is, it's not that big a deal, like in Korea, where gifts are usually given during Chuseok and not during Christmas. When in doubt, ask what the local customs dictate; you don't want to end up committing a major faux pas.

2. Don't expect something in return 
Gifts are all about giving; not receiving. Just because you give a gift, doesn't mean that your boss has to get you something in return. Expecting something in return brings us to the next point: bribery.

3. Don't use gifts as bribery
This should be a given, but some people still expect preferential treatment because they gave their boss a Christmas gift. Don't expect to be treated special or that giving a gift will get you that promotion that you've been wanting. This is probably the main reason people don't give their bosses Christmas presents; they don't want people to think they're bribing their boss.

4. Stick to the budget 
If you are going to give your boss a Christmas gift, ask your co-workers how much they usually spend. Spending too much or too little is not good. You don't want to stick out. Remember the nail that sticks out gets hammered down. You want to blend in. Maybe everyone can pitch in and buy your boss an amazing gourmet gift basket.

5. Is it appropriate?
As an adult, you should know whether a certain gift is appropriate or not; however, the company culture also comes into play. Some offices give gag gifts or white elephant gifts. Others do secret Santas. Find out what the norm is for your office and follow it.

6. Get something for the office 
Speaking of the office, perhaps the safest thing to do is get a gift for the entire office. Homemade cookies are always appreciated. If you can't bake, no worries, there are plenty of delicious store-bought items that you can buy and everyone can enjoy. Food like mixed nuts, dried fruit, coffee cake, and cookies are always a safe bet. Drinks such as a variety box of coffee, tea sets, and assorted hot chocolate are sure to be enjoyed during break times.


Sunday 1 October 2017

How to Legally Work on a SOFA visa (ex. Teach English)

If you're coming overseas with your spouse and are hoping to get a job off base, you'll need to jump through some hoops in order to do so legally. If you want to do it off base, you're going to have to go to the immigration office and get permission. The only way that you can work legally on a SOFA visa is if you're doing it on base. If you want to work on base, there are many options available. You can find out more in the post, getting a job on an American military base overseas.


Please don't believe people who tell you that you can work on a SOFA visa. The SOFA visa allows you to live in Korea. Live. That's it. Not work. Not study. Just be here. If you work, it will not be legal. If caught there will be repercussions for you as well as your sponsor, so don't risk screwing up their career because you didn't go to the source. Fines, deportation, counseling for your sponsor have all happened to people who have been caught. Don't risk it. Same goes for modelling. Here's more info about modelling in Korea.

Go to the Source
The people you need to ask are immigration. The Legal Office does NOT issue visas. They will refer you to immigration, who are the people who issue visas, fines, and revoke visas.

If you're in Korea, the immigration office can be reached from 9am-6pm on 1345. Like everyone else in Korea (except teachers), the entire country shuts down and they have a lunch break from 12noon-1pm.

The immigration website can be hard to navigate since the url doesn't change and it's not globally friendly at all. You have to use an antiquated version of Internet Explorer and even then it's not guaranteed to work. 

What will happen to your SOFA visa?
You have two choices. What you choose depends on your situation. I choose the second option since my sponsor was leaving Korea and my SOFA visa would be cancelled. By getting my own visa, I could stay in Korea.

1. The first is to keep your SOFA visa and simply get "permission for activities outside your sojourn" added to your SOFA visa. That means you have your A3 SOFA visa but have asked for permission to do something else and they have granted it. Basically, you're legal. Go to the immigration website and choose "immigration", then "immigration guide" on the left you'll see "foreigner sojourn" then pick "participation in activities certified for current sojourn status? According to their website it costs 120,000. I think that since SOFA visa holders are not required to have an ARC, then you wouldn't have to pay 30,000 for the card plus 3,000 for delivery, but don't quote me.

2. The second option is to cancel your SOFA visa and get another visa. You do not have to do a visa run. You can do it right here in Korea at an immigration office. This cost 100,000 to change your visa, 30,000 for a new ARC, and 3,000 to mail it to you. Here's the fee info.

Going to the Immigration Office
Many immigration offices now require you to make an appointment first. This has to be done on their website. You need to register first and download a whole bunch of random keys, ActiveX, and TouchEn. It's a pain. I'd see if you can get someone to help you. The other option is taking your passport to your immigration office and getting them to make an appointment for you. They'll then send you a text with the info. Screenshot that text.

What docs you need depends on what job you want. Basically, you need to fulfill the same requirements as anyone else who would get that visa would need. Let's say you want to teach English and would get an E2 visa. Here's what you need.
  • A passport from the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand, or Australia
  • An apostillised criminal background check (within the last 6 months) (more info)
  • A bachelor's degree and apostillised copy (more info) with sealed transcripts   
  • A self-medical check
  • A medical check from a specific hospital or clinic
  • 2 photos 3.5cm X 4.5cm
  • Fee (bring about 200,000)
  • Lease with your name on it (or document that certified you live there. Go to the immigration website and choose "Application forms" from the bottom right. It's at the top of the pop-up under "sojourn related forms")
  • Utility bill
  • Your school will also have to provide you with docs, like your teaching schedule, contract, business registration, and educational certificate.  
  • Photo copies of everything 
Get the right paperwork together and you CAN legally work on a SOFA visa. No need to worry about doing something illegal and getting yourself and your sponsor in trouble.


Saturday 26 August 2017

When Should Teachers Throw In the Towel?

The following post is from Jessica H., a guest blogger who has been teaching at a university in Korea for over 15 years.

When do you throw in the towel? I don’t mean quitting expat life or changing your career or even quitting and finding a new employer. When do you quit a class? I was once offered a class of middle schoolers. It was twice a week for several months and offered through my employer at my work site. It paid well and I didn’t have to worry about getting into trouble for working illegally.

Teenagers have never been my favorite students. The hormones and the sassiness that invariably accompanies them has always tried my patience. But I sucked it up and said yes because I needed the money to pay those ever-looming college loans.

How bad could it be??? Show up a couple times a week and try to impart some knowledge of the English language and maybe even have a bit of fun. I didn’t get to interview the students before the class began. I didn’t get to choose the book. The admin decided that would fall on another teacher’s shoulders.The day before the class I’m told that the parents wanted the students to do homework. OK, whatever I can do that. The first day of class I walked in and found a group of twelve elementary school students. They were between 10 and 12 years old. They weren’t middle school students. They didn’t have the ability to speak middle school English. Yet here I was with an inappropriate book and unprepared.

In this situation in Korea you’ve got two choices: suck it up buttercup or complain. Both will get you the same results. Nothing. Nothing will change. You’ll talk to someone, plead your case, and get a smile and the ever helpful shoulder shrug. I charged ahead trying to make the best of the class week by week. I made worksheets and used the textbook as little as possible.

I soon realized the students didn’t know how to write 1-30 in English. No problem! It’s homework! They didn’t know days of the week or months of the year either No problem! It’s homework. Then came the problem. Very few completed their homework. Yet I had no way to enforce it. No amount of pleading or cajoling or bribing would get the homework done. But remember I was told the parents wanted it. I wasn’t given a list of home phone numbers or emails to let parents know that the homework wasn’t complete. That the thing they wanted wasn’t being done.

I threw in the towel. I couldn’t do it anymore. I gave up. The money I so desperately needed wasn’t enough to keep me there. I don’t want to say quit when you’re challenged. Of course no one wants to be a quitter. However, sometimes you’re over your head or your teaching style isn’t working. You can try to change and make the best of it. Sometimes you hand the class off to someone else and shake the dust of your boots and go home. In the end I learned a valuable lesson. I learned that sometimes things are beyond our control as EFL teachers in Korea.


Thursday 1 June 2017

Loads of Links for Student Evals

I have written a handful of articles about student evals and how they can impact things such as contract renewal and bonuses.  Below is a compilation to the various articles I wrote as well as other ones online.

Problems with Evaluations and Their Affects on Teachers
There are many, many problems with student evals. One problem is that students aren't customers even though they may think they own you because of the high cost of tuition. Here are a few more problems. Lastly, here's what teachers think about student evals

Student evals affect contract renewal and this means teachers might do anything they can to increase their evals, including being a dancing monkey.

Sometime you get punished if students don't evaluate you. An easy way to make sure they do is to do the evaluations during mid-term or final exams.

Ideas for Evaluation
What should the standard be for evaluation? Make sure the evals are reliable and valid. Or better yet, stop evaluating and start mentoring.The admin should be supporting teachers.

Teachers don't get a break. They are always being evaluated. Here are 4 different ways teachers are evaluated. Since the admin evaluates teachers, then have teachers evaluate the admin. It would be a great way to get rid of some of the horrible administrators sitting around. Having teachers do self-evaluations can also be useful.

How to Get Better Evals

More Articles about Student Evals


Monday 1 May 2017

3 Different Ways of Dealing with a Curve

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Grading on a curve can be a blessing and a curse at the same time. I've found that most teachers do one of three things when faced with using a curve.

1. They max out the curve
If you take a TEFL course you will find out that many of us are teaching required courses. Even if it's not required, I highly recommend you take a course even if you've been teaching for years; there's always something new you can learn. Some popular online courses are the CCELT (100 hours) and the University of Toronto (100, 120, and 150 hours). Due to this, many of the students don't care as much about these classes as they would about classes in their major. Although English is important, a basic course probably isn't going to make or break their career, so why fight it? If the curve allows for 30% A's, then they'll give 30%, no matter how low the scores are.

There are a couple of exceptions to this, one is when teachers save a couple A's just in case there are mistakes. If they have students with identical scores, they might bump them both down to B's, though some teachers will take a look at how much they improved or their effort and give one an A and one a B. I personally find that difficult to do. Some students are naturally better than others and will score higher with little effort. So what do you do in that case? Reward the student who has slightly better English or reward the student who tried the hardest? Either way, these teachers will do their best to max out the curve.

2. They use cut-off scores
Commonly referred to as a cut-line in Korea, these teachers ignore the curve. The purpose of the curve is to put a cap on how many grades you can give. They don't state that there has to be a minimum number of A's. Therefore, these teachers might use a straight 90-80-70-60 cut-off, or make up their own. If the highest score in the class is a 79, then no one gets an A or a B. The highest score will be a C. Of course, this might set you up for a bunch of student complaints, but I've found that most teachers who do this don't care about complaints and are very firm with grading. They believe that students get what they deserve.

3. They look for a natural separation
This method kind of combines the first two methods. The teacher isn't going to max out the scores nor are they going to use per-determined cut-off scores. They're going to look for bunches. Let's say you're allowed to give a max of 30% A's and the top 23% of your students have scores in the 90s and then there's a huge drop from there and the next score is an 84. Teachers who use this method are going to use the drop as a cut-off score since that's where the divide naturally falls. Of course, even with this method, you're going to get students who complain, however, there will always be students who complain, even when you max out the curve.


Monday 3 April 2017

A Quick and Easy Way to Decrease the Complaints You Get About Writing Scores

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At once time or another I'm sure every teacher has been asked by a student to re-grade their writing. Usually what happens is that they'll come to you and say something like they think they deserve a higher grade. Sometimes, they'll bring their friend's paper and say their friend got a higher score and they think that they also deserve a higher score.

In the past I made the mistake of increasing their score. In hindsight, this definitely was a major mistake to make. First of all, it tells the student that you didn't do a good job grading. Second, it lets them know that if they complain, you'll raise their grade. The only reason I would give them a higher grade when they came and complained was to appease them. Once students find out you'll raise their score if they come talk to you, you'll be bombarded by students.

After over a decade of teaching at the university level, I know what grade a student deserves. Due to the that and the fact that it can be depressing for students to see red all over their paper, I don't correct every single mistake. Plus there's the fact that very few students will actually look at the corrections I've made.

One little change I've made has dramatically decreased the amount of complaints I have once I hand a writing activity back.When students come to me and ask me to re-consider the grade I gave them I start at the very beginning and correct every single mistake. Usually after a sentence or two the student will realise that they got a higher score than they deserved. If not, I'll refer to the rubric and start deducting points. Then I'll give them the option of keeping their score or changing it. When they come with their friend's paper, I do the same to their friend's paper and they quickly realise that their friend will lose points.

Some people will say that it sounds mean, but I personally know that I do a good job grading and grade fairly. I don't play favourites. More often than not give them higher scores than other teachers would. This isn't a problem since all my students are graded against themselves: not against other teachers' students. In addition, there's a curve involved.

Granted, there are times when I've made a mistake with the math involved and when that happens I'll happily change their score. However, if you make this one change, students will realise that complaining will not necessarily raise their score and if anything, it will decrease it.


Wednesday 1 March 2017

Review of Tax Uncomplicated / U.S. Expat Taxes in Korea

I've written reviews about tax accountants before. First in 2012, I wrote about Greenback Tax Services and then in 2013 I wrote about Taxes for Expats. I never used Taxes for Expats for my tax returns due to the dodgy feeling I got from them. I used Greenback Tax Services from 2011-2014. In 2015, I decided to try a different accountant. The two people who ran this service were Americans who had lived in Korea for years. They're called Tax Uncomplicated and their Facebook group is called U.S. Expat Taxes in Korea. I figured they would have a different prospective on things.Tax Uncomplicated is the American headquarters and Klemsen Consulting is the Korean branch.

I exchanged messaged with Wayne Allen Pfeister over Facebook. They put their prices on their website. However, as I mentioned before I don't just have one income from one country, so that complicates things. I knew I wasn't going to be paying the basic fee, but that's fine with me. I was quoted 235,000 KRW, which is about $200. That's about half of what I was paying with Greenback Tax Services and I liked the fact that they had lived in Korea, so were familiar with that aspect of it.

Speed: 4
Wayne was pretty good at answering my questions very quickly, often within the same day. There were some lags, but I think that was because we were in different time zones.

Communication: 5
Absolutely fantastic. He answered all my questions and gave me all the information I needed. Their Facebook group is called U.S. Expat Taxes in Korea, is also great for getting information.

Price: 5
Looking at what other accountants charge for expat taxes, Tax Uncomplicated is very, very affordable. I paid less than I had before and got more back. However, getting more back could be due to re-marrying. Nonetheless, it's a fantastic deal. I also like the fact that since I live in Korea and make money in Korea, I could pay in Korean currency into a Korean bank account. No need to worry about exchange rates.

Quality: 5
Wonderful. He asked for my past returns and looked them over to see what Greenback Tax Services had done. Tax laws are always changing and he's on top of it and knows how to get the most money back. Their website is very simple and easy to navigate. There's something to be said about the fact that it's not confusing to find out what you need.

Professionalism: 5
Great. I was always treated with respect and in a professional manner. I never felt like any of the questions I asked were stupid.

Overall Review: 4.8
Tax Uncomplicated is great, especially for expats living in Korea. Working with accountants who know about Korea and can allow you to pay via Korean bank transfer makes everything so convenient. The one issue that people might have is that information is sent using email or Facebook. I know with Greenback Tax Services, they had a special encrypted client area. That might be something that they could look at for the future. However, I think Tax Uncomplicated targets a different niche: teachers in Korea. And unfortunately, let's face it, we're certainly not rolling in it.


Wednesday 15 February 2017

A Warning About Teaching in the Czech Republic

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The following post is from Ella L., a guest blogger. She taught in Korea, went to the Czech Republic and is now back in Korea. You might also be interested in reading, Stories from an EFL ClassroomWhat are your stories?

Some months ago, i thought the grass was greener on the other side in Europe. I had a job offer in the Czech Republic, and thinking it was the offer of a lifetime, flew to Europe. However, what I got was less than what I expected thanks to a broken contract, unhelpful bosses, and theft.

First, the contract was broken as soon as I had landed. I was told that the contract was invalidated at the immigrations office and so had arrived there with no legal documents to support me. I wound up being paid less than half of the promised salary and had to use online teaching to support myself.

Second, the bosses there didn't help with anything. They made me pay for everything, never got me a refrigerator, and expected me to do my visa by myself, which was nigh impossible to do. They also did not pay for insurance, and expected me to cover it.

Third, I had some items stolen from me. My son, who is nearly 2 years old, had some toys taken from him. I had a couple of valuables taken from me at the bus terminal. It broke my trust in humanity that a nanny could steal toys from a child they had cared for.

I don't feel that Europe is the place to go anymore. You might find yourself having difficulty getting the work visa, spending a lot of money, having your items stolen from you, and find yourself struggling if you're not paid enough. Asia provides jobs with living wages and the people are more helpful, so I recommend going there.


Wednesday 1 February 2017

Stories from an EFL Classroom

The following post is from Maria D., a guest blogger.

Being an English teacher in Korea can be a thankless job. The hours are long, vacation is short and cultural boundaries can be intimidating and annoying. But the thing that keeps me teaching are the students. Watching them progress is rewarding, but they also provide ample entertainment in the classroom. Here are my favorite stories!

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1. I was teaching a class of middle schoolers. One of them absolutely loved attention and constantly disrupted the class to get attention. I told him, “If you’re going to act like you’re in kindergarten, you can sit on the floor like in kindergarten.” So, he sat on the floor for the rest of the lesson and quietened down. At the end, when I gave him permission to stand up, he stretched up, then started rubbing his rear, and said, “Teacher! My ass!”

Other disruptions included, “Teacher! He said he cut my pen-is!” and “Teacher, what does ‘wasted’ mean?” He was never boring.

2. I got engaged and had a nice diamond ring to prove it. Often, my partner would pick me up outside the school. One of my other middle school students proceeded to say, “Oh! Teacher, boyfriend handsome!” then held my hand and slid my ring off, then wore it herself. I pretended I was going to fight her then took the ring back.

3. The fifth graders were learning body parts, and the expression, “I hurt my [body part].” When students were lining up to leave, one of the boys walked around to each student, pointed to his crotch and thrust, then said, “I hurt my penis! I hurt my penis! I hurt my penis!”

4. For some ridiculous reason, a middle schooler thought it would be a great idea to bring her 3 tiny pet fish to school in a water bottle. I put it to the side on my desk. Two of the students started play fighting then fell onto the bottle, breaking it apart and suddenly there were three flapping, traumatized fish on the floor and a bunch of screaming middle schoolers. I had to pick up the little things and place them in the remains of the water bottle.

5. And last, but not least, one of the most adorable students I had was a chubby cheeked first grader. She told me about her pet hamster named, “Pudding-ee!” I confirmed with her, “Pudding-y?” and she replied, “No, no, no, teacher… Pudding… EEEEEEEEEEEE!”

These moments are what make teaching worth it, for me. What are your stories?


Tuesday 3 January 2017

Looking Back on the 2004 Earthquake and Tsunami in Indonesia

The following post is from Thomas Tye, a guest blogger.

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Earthquakes. Tsunamis. More earthquakes. I’m not trying to sound nostalgic in the midst of all of these natural disasters, but it makes me think about the really BIG earthquake, the really big tsunami that called upon me to come to Asia. In 2004 it was the earthquakes of all earthquakes, the big one that hit off the coast of Ache in Indonesia. Sent a tidal wave that caused destruction and mayhem in its wake. Everyone on the planet that was supposed to go, went, including me. It took me a few weeks to decide if I was going to leave America or not, but I finally did.

I had no money, just enough gas to get my truck down to Texas to the only NGO that was willing to take me over. I had no relief training, no idea how or why I even wanted to go. All I knew was that there was something pulling me across the planet, something… a feeling I couldn’t ignore that was making it hard for me to drive down to the rickety 747 that was held together with duck tape and chicken wire, an airplane that belonged to the organization Global Peace Initiative, and to Dr. K. Paul, an immigrant who used his life as a radio beacon between him and God who went anywhere and everywhere to bring aid and assist in the time of heartache.

I was lucky enough to bum a ride, along with Congressmen, reporters from all the major news agencies, doctors, and aide workers that constantly have a bag packed and ready in the closet of their homes for times like this. Like I said, I bummed a ride, so I had no idea or control over where we were going. Our first stop—Abuja, Nigeria during the African Conference. No room on the runway for our plane, so we had to park at the end and hike 45 minutes over blazing tarmac to the gates, which proceeded to lead me into the craziest night of my life, a story meant for another time.

I only reminisce about that time now because we just completed our 10th episode on our podcast Married to a Foreigner (Facebook) here in Korea. My wife and I just had our 5 year anniversary, 10 if you count how long we dated before getting married. If it wasn’t for that tsunami 11 years ago, I’d probably still be sitting on someone’s couch wondering when my life was going to begin, hazy eyed thinking that I’d one day get up and out of America. Instead, I hitchhiked on an NGO plane, set up Jack’s Place, a backpacker’s hotel in Sri Lanka, went to diving school in Thailand, spent 6 months learning to walk again after almost cutting my foot off, made a movie in Japan, lived in a castle in Spain and caravanned around Europe, met my wife in South Korea and spent 10 years teaching English around the world. All because one day, the universe told me to get up off of my ass and care about something other than myself. Earthquakes. Tsunamis. I’m sorry that I didn’t learn to give a damn sooner.


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