Introduction to South Korea

Korea has a special place in the list of countries I’ve been to. It is the only country, other than South Africa, that I’ve lived in.

There’s a big difference between visiting a country and living there. The initial allure and shock of a new place wares off in about two weeks (in my experience). Living in a country gives you an exposure to its subtleties and the reality of life there.

I lived in Korea for two years, and had some fantastic experiences there. It’s perhaps as different from South Africa as you could expect a country to be, and there was always the feeling that you’d turn around a corner and see something you’d never before imagined.

A photo of the Namsan tower in Seoul, Korea

Korea is a great country to travel to. It’s currently visa free for South Africans to visit as a tourist. However, the most common way most South Africans visit Korea is by becoming an English teacher.

As my BA degree at UCT approached it’s end, the looming spectre of unemploymeny made me consider my options. A friend had signed up with a reputable agency in Glencairn that sent intrepid SOuth Africans off to the East. He had landed a position in Busan in August 2009, and could give me first hand advice about his experience.

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I set off to Korea in February 2010, on an Emirates flight. Two years later, in February 2012 I left Korea for the final time, again on an Emirates flight, and have yet to return. Between those two flights countless exciting experiences happened, some of which I’ll recount on this blog.

Colourful laterns outside the entrance to a Buddhist temple in Gwangju, South Korea

Activities

There are plenty of things to do in Korea, more than can be captured in a single blog post.

Here are some of my favourite things to do and see:

– Myeongdong shopping district in Seoul
– N Seoul tower
– Gyeongbukgung Palace
– Insadong
– Jeonju
– Busan
– Jeolla islands
– Korean nighlife – ‘booking clubs’
– Hiking
– Temples
– Korean food

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Border Control

South Korea is one of a handful of developed countries that allow South Africans to enter visa-free. Neighbouring east-Asian countries like Japan, China and Taiwan all require tourist visas before entering.

Incheon airport is routinely ranked among the best airports in the world. I never had any issues with going through immigration and customs, and never recalled long lines or delays.

Incheon airport is the main entry point for the whole of Korea. Once you pass through customs, you can take the subway into Seoul, or take a comfortable express bus directly to other cities.

From Cape Town you can reach Korea via Instanbul, Doha and Dubai with only one stop required. Typically Emirates has the best flights without long layovers.

A map showing the flight route between Cape Town, South Africa and Incheon airport in Korea

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Work in Korea

It’s become tougher to get a teaching job in Korea, but it’s still possible and the salaries are still good. At the moment starting salaries for English teachers at government schools are R22,000 (with a private, furnished rent-free apartment thrown in). For South Africans looking to travel and earn a living, this is a fantastic opportunity.

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