My London: 1

I’m supposed to be writing my MA dissertation, but I can’t. I’m wondering what the hell happened to my WordPress interface…

WTF

WTF

A bit of fanangling and it’s better. But still eh.

I’ve not been writing much since I moved to London. I feel in many ways as if I’ve lost the spark to do so, drowned it in the Thames or the rain or the overwhelming desire to drink a beer that thinking about how much money I owe for a rather useless degree brings on.

I want to capture what my life is for posterity. It sounds stupid. Vain. Recently, I spent ages on the internet trying to find out who lived in our Victorian terraced house when the Great War broke out 100 years ago this month. I found them, a whole family of emigrated Scots by the name of Kenzie. A son who was 22 when the war began. A daughter who was 24. Surely, surely, the war touched them closely. In Dagenham last year, we found the gravestone of two grandparents who required a living and grateful remembrance of six grandsons who fell in the Great War.

London 2013

London 2013

Six grandsons who fell. A generation lost.

I’m of a somewhat lost generation, too…though not through war and machine guns and chlorine. I graduated in 2010, in the midst of the worst economic climate since the Great Depression. I’ve travelled the world. My life is so much better than my ancestors could’ve imagined…but we are still in a transitional economy. I’m still working for less than £7 per hour while I finish a £30,000 degree. I’m still living in a house with eight people and a single toilet. I’m still spending what money I have on practically two things only: rent and food.

I’ve been watching the Great War Diaries, a series on the BBC that puts the words of those who lived through that Great War in action. It’s haunting. I still feel a thrill of terror whenever I hear bells ringing wildly like in the opening scenes.

I want people to hear my voice in 100 years, for my descendants to hear my stories and my world. But I’m not on the Western Front. I’m not in Armenia. I’m sitting around in my room all day, every day. The details of life are strange.

A pack of Mayfair cigarettes in the gutter of East London. The DLR’s aching grind while a couple from Texas break the code of silence on the city’s transport. A pack of venison delivered from the butcher, cheaper than beef of the same weight but with the warning “MAY CONTAIN LEAD SHOT” on it, almost an apology. The droning of the night bus along the periphery of Hackney Marshes at 4AM.

I am 26 in 2014. I’m a student and a bar maid. I live in the converted front room of a Victorian house in East London with my fiancé and our small collection of material possessions. I read about the world every day, in the form of stories about Gaza and Ukraine and Ferguson…and the many Spanish, French, and Italian-language news I read since I studied and lived abroad.

We eat well. I get one craft beer each shift at the Brewdog bar I work in, and have one or three more in the shift includes idiots wanting Auchentoshan as a shot. I wear old clothes with holes in them, because I don’t want to buy into the global system that weaves blood into the very threads we carry on us. I can’t escape it, of course. Try as I might. So I am trying to stop buying any clothes at all.

And this is my London. I want to photograph it in a different way. Show a different side. What I live in. Not necessarily the big gleaming tourist capital. This is the first in a series of posts about my London, and my life here. I hope to continue once I finish my dissertation.

 

No Longer A Beginner

I’ve fashioned two silver rings, two pairs of earrings, a copper keyring, and ended the beginning silver class on a high note. This is the silver bracelet I made over the last two weeks.

Finished bracelet.

Finished bracelet.

I made the whole thing: pierced the jump rings, soldered them with a blow torch, textured the band. Caught my fingertip painfully under the hammer while I flattened the clasp. Built the very beginnings of callouses from filing edges on my hands. Miraculously managed not to burn myself even once on the hot metal.

This beginning silver class was the best thing I could have done for my sanity, given the backdrop of my MA. I’m planning to write more about it soon, but in a sentence: It’s frustrating. I’ve never worked so hard for so little. I sit for hours without moving, puzzling over predicate logic and ellipsis. No movement. No progress. No fun.

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 09.43.04

First-order predicate logic, from Wikipedia. Note the annoyingness.

My body is aching from sitting around concentrating in vain on annoying things. It’s difficult; as far as I know at the end of this course I will be one of the best-educated women in the history of my family. I have this massive opportunity to learn, and the incredible luxury to be a full-time student. I’m coachable;tell me how to be better and I will do it. I have always loved school.

I just can’t love this MA.

Today I have to go to a meeting with the staff of our department and represent those on the MA programme. The words used by those I’ve spoken to in the last few weeks match my own feelings with creepy accuracy. We don’t know how to work harder, much less smarter…and everything that we thought we wanted from an academic career or had the hubris to believe we were good at is cast in a distinctly mediocre light. For someone who has defined myself as an aspiring academic, and a decent one at that…it’s hard to keep my footing on the rapidly shifting ground. It’s hard to know who I am, exactly, and what defines me.

Textured, solid silver

Textured, solid silver

When I finished my bracelet last night, the instructor told me I am a natural.

It couldn’t have come at a better time, to help me redefine who I am and what I’m good at. A natural. Not a B- student. No admonition that my intuitions are wrong, but proof positive that they can be right in the physical objects I can wear on my body. A moment each week to focus on the metal and forget my MA.

First chain maille earrings.

First chain maille earrings.

A minor obsession with handmade jewellery is gathering steam, and I’m trying my hand at chain maille. Leaning on my new callouses, which aren’t truly hard enough yet. I’m budgeting for tools and metal to work at home. I’m no longer a beginner.

The intermediate silver course begins on March 6, and I can’t wait.

With special thanks to Linda and Vannetta, at the School of Jewellery Design in Islington. 

2013

This was a year, if ever I had one.

Holy cows, it’s been awesome. And challenging. And fulfilling. And worrying. And exhilarating. And confusing. I wanted to write a Year in Review, but it’s hard to pull it all together. Four continents, untold thousands of miles that I’m too lazy to add up, and major life shifts just don’t make for easy writing. So I’m going to make it a simpler, categorical look back at the last 365 days, month by month. I have a love hate relationship with “listicles” of this kind, but I just cannot get my brain to wrap around organisation without the structure.

This is 2013.

January


The year began in our tiny Korean apartment, quietly. I had a couple of the German beers from the 7-11 down the street, and Russell was deathly sick with prawn-induced food poisoning. I was working working working working. It was intensives season in my hagwon, which meant long days and an impossible commute in the cold. I walked one day from my apartment all the way to work, when the weather was -17C.

I was ill practically the whole month, and just seemed to be stuck in a revolving door of colds. The coup de nuisance was a nasty bout of gastroenteritis, which rendered me incapable of standing up to teach. I threw up outside my classroom, into a trashcan, and returned to continue taking roll. I taught my favourite class ever, the science class! It was the best. I miss it so much.

We went to the Toilet Museum and the Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon, and spent our last few weeks in Korea eating delicious food and seeking out places we had not yet been. It all started to wind down.

February

This month brought the first of the major continental shifts. My contract ended and I said goodbye to all my friends at Avalon on February 19. I shed my identity as Coleen Teacher with a dramatic outward change: cutting all my hair off. When I showed the picture to the stylist in Itaewon, he literally walked away saying, “No!” I loved having my pixie cut.

We left for India on February 22, and flew through the night through Seoul, Shanghai, Chengdu, and finally Mumbai. Our arrival was an intense baptism by taxi-cab, complete with annoying and pushy “helpers” in the cab rank. No seat belts. No apparent rules of the road. No idea where the hell we were going. A 90-minute rocket across Mumbai through slums, late-night religious processions, and crumbling colonial architecture. The patterns that would define our long and annoying wander through the country all showed up on that night, but at least we were still optimistic. Our version of Around the World in 80 Days kicked off.

March

March was intense. Well over 2500 miles overland in India, by boat, bus, train, foot, taxi, tuktuk, and whatever else we could find. It was an exploration of the South of India, the closest to the equator I’ve ever been. 9 degrees North, and I’ve got the permanent freckles on my right forearm to prove it. It was already so hot we could barely function, and I learned to dress for travel there by wearing stifling clothing all the time. I had hoped that having shorn hair and wearing the baggiest (read: practically maternity) clothing possible I’d avoid some of the terrors of being a woman in India, but it was an impossible task.

We stopped in Mumbai, Panjim (Panaji), Palolem Beach, Mangalore, Udupi, Calicut, India, Sultan Bathery, Fort Cochin, Alappuzha, Munnar, Bangalore, New Delhi and Jaipur in the span of those 31 days. We went on quests for beer in dry states. We took mountain buses to nature reserves that turned out to be on fire. We nearly died on the most terrifying road by far I’ve ever been on to see a stupid temple and eat a gnarly thali. We went to the first Indian Biennale. We played Holi. We swam in the Arabian sea. We spent the night on a boat. We saw countless monkeys. We narrowly avoided major rock-throwing riots by minutes and hours in a few places. We got used to me wearing my right-hand ring backwards on my left, as a “wife ring.” We flew on an Indian jet. We negotiated a hotel in New Delhi.

March was packed, and at times incredibly difficult. We made the decision to leave India early, after a series of difficulties and terrifying news stories. But not before we saw a little more of the country.

April

April began in India and ended in England. We travelled the north of India, and visited all the major sights. We weren’t actually too stoked on being there at this point, but we made a point of staying beyond the point of annoyance and anger in order to never return. I don’t feel we missed out on much.

We swam with the dead in the Ganges, and whitewater rafted past cremations in the late spring melts. We saw the stupidity of some well-meaning hippies in Pushkar, Rishikesh, and Haridwar. I got an ulcerated cornea that required a trip to an Indian hospital. We practiced yoga and learned to chant (half-assedly) at an ashram. I scaled the wall of that ashram to get medicine to Russell when he fell ill with a bad stomach. We got the sickest either of us have ever been on grape kofta. We saw the Taj Mahal at dawn, eaten alive by mosquitoes and flies and still running high fevers from the terrible illness. We went, “Eh,” in Varanasi and saw some dead bodies in the river. We saw a wedding on the Ganges. We stayed in the nicest hotel I’ve ever been to in New Delhi, and dodged cows standing on the smoke-choked highways to get to the airport.

Russell called our flight to Munich “The Party Route.” I wasn’t as pleased with it. Pakistan, Afghanistan, Part of Iranian airspace, Russia, Georgia, Serbia…the gang’s all there!

We ended the month in London, with an almost miraculous transition to the clean, safe, and beautiful city we now call home. My very first day ever in London was spent on the Eye, seeing the whole thing spread out below our feet. We even explored the English coast with friends in Devon. I finally began to relax after months of Fight, Flight, or Will The Bus To Stay On The Road. We decided while we were there, given my failure to get into US graduate school, that we would move to London in September.

May

May brought more exploration of London, a trip to the Tower, and a direct flight to Denver. Three hours of customs/immigration and one incredibly rude officer later, we were in the US! Our trip around the world in 80 days was complete, and we’d also physically circumnavigated the globe as of that point since the previous November.

Our route around the world.

Our route around the world.

We didn’t stop travelling. A long road trip through the American Southwest, including the Four Corners, the Grand Canyon, and Lake Powell was our May trip. I drove the whole time since Russ doesn’t, and we even got to go on a 130-mile detour through the Arizonan wilderness when the canyon we were meant to go through collapsed onto the roadway. Guns, bibles, and dust devil territory. We passed within miles of the FDLS enclave Colorado City, and tried to swim in the frigid waters of Lake Powell. We got laughed at by a nice French couple doing the same, and got out to “enjoy” the 3/4 mile walk back to the parking lot.

This was the month we discovered Gravity, our favourite brewery. It’s in Lousiville, CO, and on Memorial Day we went down to check it out with the intention of coming back after a beer. It was so amazing that one beer turned into four, and our bike ride back to my parents’ house turned into a tipsy adventure. We became regulars there over the summer.

June

June brought a big family vacation in North Carolina. My parents organised that trip that brought together 13 family members  from both sides of the family, and we got a nice beach-front house for a week. It was so relaxing and wonderful to have everyone around. Our aperitivo worked exactly as planned to make everyone talk to one another for several hours, and we had fun making tacos!

June is where the travelling had to start tapering off. I had to buckle down and work as an intern at my university, and Russell spent his days doing jiu jitsu and wandering around my parents’ house. Our weekends were Louisville Street Faires and trips to Gravity.

July

July took us to the West Coast in San Francisco. We explored the city and did all the best touristy things like eating a ridiculous amount of Dim Sum, buying tea in Chinatown, eating at Fisherman’s Wharf, and climbing the huge hills to view the Bay. Seeing the city that was our other choice for moving (if I’d gotten into graduate school there instead of in England) was bittersweet. I still feel very at home in the Bay Area, for never having lived there.

July 4th was fun for Russell, as an Englishman in the former colonies. We had a great party with neighbours and drank far too much Avery IPA. I started working properly full-time, so there are few pictures from this month.

At the end of the month, we climbed a 14,000 foot mountain in Colorado. Mt. Evans required summating a 13er first, and then an hour and a half of scrambling over terrifyingly loose rocks. It was a reward to reach the top, out of breath and beaten up from scrambling, with all the folks who lazily drove their vehicles to the top. I thought I was in the worst shape of my life, but I wasn’t even that sore the next day!

August

There are very few photos from August. It was a somewhat crappy month. Russell’s visa waver finished, he had to get on a flight on the 10th and go back to London to job search. I had to continue working full-time and finishing up projects for my summer internship. The money was good, and the coworkers amazing, but travelling this was not. I finally got my Tier 4 visa for England, after months of emailing almost daily to various organisations and getting very little support.

I went on a crazy health kick and tried gluten-free, vegan, no-alcohol diet (mostly in the attempt to drop weight). By the end of the month I’d actually gained weight and I was eating rare lamb shanks. One lives, one learns.

One good thing is that I finally got on the Pintrest bandwagon. I’ve found so many great recipes and projects there, and I actually make most of what I pin! Check it out if you want to see some great Nibbles and Booze and some attempts at DIY.

September

I moved, again. Abroad, again. I finished my internship, packed up and got ready to go. Then, the night before I was to fly to London, the mother of all floods struck Boulder County. Some estimated that such an even had not been seen since well before the city was established, perhaps as long as 500-1000 years ago. The devastation was epic, but at our house we got off easy. Even so, I spent the night before it was time to go bailing our backyard like it was a sinking ship. My room at my parents’ house was ruined, and much of my meagre material possessions were covered in dirt and water. Miraculously, my brand-new laptop made it through the storm.

I arrived in London and we spent time exploring again. We went to Cambridge, a city that I instantly fell in love with. We got me enrolled and registered as an official graduate student. Russell began his new job. I got the first of my checks from the US Department of Education, and began studying on the MA Linguistics programme I decided on. Russell had his birthday. I began to understand just what an hour commute in London’s rush hour means.

October

October was a great month! We found a new “home brewery,” in Hackney at London Fields, where we spent a long day drinking big German style pints. I settled into (or more properly began to chafe under) my MA. Russell toiled with his accreditation process for his job. We spent our weekends travelling around London and going on the Emirates Air Line, a guided walk in Westminster, and many great restaurants. We met up with friends in the city about once a month, as we continue to do. I spent hours and hours on Syntax and the rest of my courses. Russells’ parents greyhounds and I spent many long hours studying together (well, they spent many hours sleeping near me).

On my 26th birthday, we took the Thames Clipper from Canary Wharf to central London. It’s still one of my favourite nights of the year, since we got to see everything in the centre from the Thames itself. The city was alive and glittering, beautiful and futuristic. It started to feel like home.

November

November was a good month. It began with my very first Reading Week, and the writing of my first assignment for the MA. We went to Norwich for the annual beer festival, and I immediately felt homesick for the place although we’d spent barely 36 hours there. We stumbled upon the rehearsal of the Norwich Cathedral Choir, which made my month! Such beautiful singing, and such beautiful acoustics.

We began our search for our own place to live, which was a quick and mildly annoying process after a couple of missed meetings. My parents came to visit for nearly a week, and we had a lot of fun showing off our new home. The weather was surprisingly beautiful. They met Russell’s parents and we all went to the Romford Dogs. Dad had incredible luck and won a lot of money on the races. The rest of us, not so much.

We settled in Leyton, and began to wander our neighbourhood. With the end of the term looming, I set myself the task of making Thanksgiving Dinner for all the family. It turned out better than I could have hoped for.

December

This hasn’t been the easiest of months. The final month of December saw the end of term, the settling into our own place here in Leyton, and our annual Christmas Steak Dinner. We loved being out in London and spent time using the Central Line to see parts of London we never saw before. I got my first marks back for my MA, and went through an annoying last week of term trying to figure out why they were so very low.

We spent Christmas at Russell’s parents’ house, and we had a great time. There are so many presents that we don’t know where to put them.

Yesterday, we went through the city and walked along the Thames. It was beautiful light, and still I struggle to believe that we live in such a beautiful place. I very nearly fell into the Thames on a wet staircase near Embankment. Now that would’ve been a great story to end 2013!

Goodbye, 2013! May 2014 bring as much adventure. 

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How to Apply for a Tier 4 UK Student Visa

London here I come!!

London here I come!!

Disclaimer: This information is based on the process I went through as a low-risk United States applicant in 2013 to obtain my Tier 4 Visa. The process has changed slightly since then.

This guide is ***not*** legal advice, and it may not be up to date. Visa regulations change all the time, without warning. If you wittingly or unwittingly deceive the UKBA, they may ban you from the country for TEN YEARS. Check with the United Kingdom Border Agency for the most up to date information.

If you follow the instructions carefully and do all you are supposed to, then you may get this very expensive sticker in your passport:

UK Tier 4 Student Visa (Redacted for privacy)

UK Tier 4 Student Visa (Redacted for privacy)

Don’t worry, I’m a professional at this. Italy, Chile, Korea, India and now the United Kingdom. I’ve even started putting a section about my bureaucratic expertise in my CV. I’ve applied for at least one visa per year, every year out of the last five. The most difficult so far was the process to obtain legal residency in Korea, but I have to say that the UK Tier 4 process is right up there in complexity! The biggest problem was that there is not a consistent or consolidated list of what one needs to apply anywhere on the UKBA website. I bounced from department to department at UCL asking questions, and no one seemed able or willing to answer.

It’s taken me almost a year to obtain all of the necessary requirements for my Tier 4 visa. 329 days since I began the first step, applying online to my Master’s Program.

Many students must obtain a student visa in order to live and study in the UK. Some nationals are not required to apply for a visa. Maybe you can save yourself the headache!

Determine whether you are required to apply for a visa and which type is appropriate for your course of study, using the quick guide from the UKBA. Tier 4 Student Visas are generally applied for under a Points-Based System that requires 40 total points. According to the UKBA:

As a Tier 4 (General) student, you must have 40 points in our points assessment. You can score:

  • 30 points for having a valid confirmation of acceptance for studies
  • 10 points for having enough money (also known as maintenance or funds) to cover your course fees and living costs

Before you can apply to the UK consulate with jurisdiction over your state/area, you must obtain a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) from your university.

To get your CAS, you will need:

  • A completed and submitted university application
  • An UNCONDITIONAL offer for acceptance at your university
  • Constant vigilance of your email account

Your university should identify you as a student needing a Tier 4 visa and email you with a request to confirm that the identifying information they have is correct. Confirm the details, and they will submit the information to the UKBA.

This is what a CAS looks like, edited to protect my identity somewhat. The blanks are not actually blank.

This is what a CAS looks like, edited to protect my identity somewhat. The blanks are not actually blank.

Now comes the time for gathering the documents for your application. Begin with your online print and send application, which can be accessed for US citizens on the Visa4UK website.

To fill in your VAF9 application form, you will need:

  • Your current contact information
  • The date on which you wish to travel to the UK
  • Your passport information
  • Information about your family origins, including dates of birth and nationalities
  • Information about previous travel and any visas you have held in the past
  • The ability to answer questions about your involvement in war crimes, terrorism, criminality, and genocide (Hint: If you’ve been involved in any of these, do not apply for a UK Visa. As a matter of fact, get the hell off my blog!)

When you complete the VAF9 application form, you will need to pay your visa fee. Use the UKBA Country Finder to find out what the fee is for your nationality. In the case of US citizens, the fee currently stands at £298 (~$460).

OMG

OMG I hate the exchange rate

You can pay by credit card or Paypal. I had some issues when my bank tried to cancel the transaction for fear of identity theft. I had to sit around on the phone for a half an hour to get this fixed. Consider letting your bank know that you will be using a card for the visa, in the hopes that they will not do the same to you. Save yourself the agony of listening to Visa’s god-awful elevator music that repeats every 30 seconds.

You will be prompted by the Visa4Uk system to make an appointment at the Biometric Center for your state/area to submit your biometric data. You must be physically present at the appointment. You cannot arrive more than 15 minutes late. Use this planning tool from US Citizenship and Immigration Services to find your center.

To enroll your biometric data, you will need:

  • Your passport
  • Your printed biometrics appointment confirmation

At your biometrics appointment, you will scan each of your ten fingerprints and have a photo of your face taken. You cannot refuse this on the basis of privacy. If you are older than 5 years old, you must have this done or your application cannot proceed.

The biometric center in Colorado is kind of sketchy and quite difficult to find. Give yourself time to get lost, or consider bringing a change of underwear for those moments when you cannot find it!

You will also need to have the appropriate Appendix. In my case, that was Appendix 8.

To fill out your Appendix 8, you will need:

  • A lot of the same information as for the VAF9, for some reason
  • The address at which you will reside in the UK, or a temporary address upon your arrival
  • The information of your University from your CAS
  • Your course details from your CAS
  • Your actual CAS number
  • Information on your English language abilities and financial situation
DSCN3973

Protect those documents!

I am considered a “low-risk” applicant because I am a US Citizen. Your passport is used to determine your nationality, and you can check the list of low-risk countries here. I found it very difficult to find accurate and concise information about exactly which documents are required of low-risk nationals, in part because there are many sections on the UKBA website. Additionally, everyone seems afraid of giving advice on this process. I literally got passed from department to department within my university, and no one seemed to have a clue which documents are actually required.

Below is the list of documents that I sent to the New York Consulate General on July 31st, 2013.

Tier 4 Documents List for Low-Risk Applicants:

  • Passport
  • Passport photos (to UKBA standards)
  • Print and send application form VAF9
  • Appendix 8
  • Receipt of payment online
  • CAS information in the form of an email
  • Biometric report receipt stamped by my local immigration office
  • Return shipping envelope (Overnight, with a tracking number!)

You will also need to have ALL of the documents that the UKBA requires of non-low-risk applicants. As part of your application, you will affirm that you hold all the documents necessary, even as a low-risk applicant and they are not required for your application.

IMPORTANT: THE UKBA CAN REQUEST THAT YOU SUBMIT ADDITIONAL DOCUMENTS AT RANDOM. IF YOU CANNOT PROVIDE THE DOCUMENTS, THEY MAY BAN YOU FOR TEN YEARS FOR DECEPTION

My additional documents, if needed.

My additional documents, if needed.

Additional documents:

  • Proof of financial solvency for your course of study, including maintenance
    • Bank statements
    • Official Loan Letters from your university if receiving financial aid
    • Any additional funding/sponsorship
    • Your parents’ financial information if they are paying any part of your costs
  • Proof of your educational history (transcripts/degrees/etc.)

Check all of your documents several times for accuracy, and take them to a mailing center. I used FedEx because I’ve used them for other visa processes and trust them. NEVER send your documents without obtaining a tracking number!

An amazing part of this process is that the New York consulate actually sent me updates on the status of my visa throughout the remarkably short review period. My visa is currently on its way back to me via the return envelope I included, and should arrive tomorrow. I can’t believe that I’ve managed it, after literally 10 months of legwork on applications and recommendations and loan packages and biometrics.

I will be carrying the original documents that are returned to me, as well as copies of everything I submitted to keep with me when I fly out on September 12. They may ask for them when I cross the border, and I don’t want to be turned away!  I will update this blog post as necessary when I have the final details of my process, including a possible trip to register with the police in London.

A couple of final tips:

  • DO fill out all of your documents in BLACK INK (tip from a friend of mine who helps prepare UK visas).
  • DO make and keep copies of every single document and carry them with you on your flight.
  • DO ask questions of your school, but know they may not get back to you.
  • DO consult others who’ve been through the process before you.
  • DON’T try to fake anything.  TEN YEAR BAN TEN YEAR BAN (Clear enough?)
  • DON’T  try to apply more than 3 months before the beginning of your program.
  • DON’T wait until the last minute for any of this.
  • DON’T freak out when the requirements change.

Happy hunting! Please post comments if you have any recent changes or if you have questions.

On Saving Lots of Money in Korea

I miss my old Korean neighborhood, the Gok.

I miss my old Korean neighborhood, the Gok.

About one year ago, I wrote a post titled “On Not Saving Any Money in Korea.” I encourage you to check it out for a reality check if you are currently considering moving abroad to do TEFL, currently living in South Korea as an English teacher, or interested in my bank account. Sorry, phishers. There’s only a screenshot without any info.

The post is almost wholly negative. I griped about the cost of living in South Korea. I griped about the possible inflation of saving possibilities by TEFL recruiters. I griped about how expensive the visa process was. I griped about my projection that I would only save about $2400 total during my year in Korea.

And guess what? I was wrong. Wrong. Wrong wrong wrong.

I miss my old apartment, too!

I miss my old apartment, too!

I blame my apparent lack of maths skills for the miscalculations, but there are other factors at work. As it happens, that post is one of the most-read ones on this blog. It consistently shows up in the top ten posts on the left there, and it seems that quite a few people are interested in the topic. In the interest of not being one of the many (MANY) out of date TEFL in Korea blogs out there silently sabotaging potential teachers’ dreams with incorrect and scary-sounding information, I want to correct that post with this one.

Some of what I wrote last July is true. Exchange rates are generally shitty, no matter which end I find myself on (I’m finding this to be especially true as I prepare to move to the UK for graduate school, and my tuition keeps fluctuating literally thousands of dollars based on the ups and downs of the market.). The global economy is still getting dragged through the mud somewhat, don’t let the talking heads deceive you. I still have semi-expensive tastes in food and clothing. And above all, saving money is hard work, no matter where one happens to find themselves. But the crux of the article, that it is difficult/impossible to save money in Korea while teaching is flat false.

At the end of my time in Korea, I had a little over $11,500 in the bank.

Yeah, that’s a shitload of money. My calculations were off by almost 500%, if I did my maths correctly this time. I was able to put away almost $7,000 in the months after I told the internet I wasn’t saving any money in Korea. Almost exactly the $1000 a month promised by my recruiter before I came over. Whoops. Perceptions can be wrong!

I miss those kiddos most of all!

I miss those kiddos most of all!

After I completed my contract, I received even more cash injections into my bank account. I got $4,000 in severance and my final paycheck (I left just after we’d all been working our asses off in the Winter Intensive schedule and got a little overtime). Last, but certainly not least, I got my pension money back at the end on March. Already in India for over a month, I suddenly saw $1,800 show up in my bank account.

Furthermore, I paid almost no taxes this year. Because I earned almost all my income in Korea for 2012 and the US has awesome tax treaties with the ROK, I was exempt from paying federal and state taxes. I paid taxes in Korea (around 3% of my income…that is ridiculously low), but I got to write off everything else as non-taxable income. US citizens who teach in Korea for two years or less are able to take advantage of this kickback. It’s a pretty huge one.

And now, it looks like at the end of the summer I will have almost exactly that $8,000 I wanted in the bank from the original post. Even with traveling in India for 2 months. Even with a month in England. Even though I’m only working part-time this summer.

Shit! My financial situation turned out way better than predicted!

I may need to keep this in mind as I as I lay awake at night regularly worrying about graduate school finances and apply for an exorbitant amount of loan money. Hmm.

Despite the awesomeness of my finances post-Korea, a few words of caution. The over-arching theme of that July 2012 post remains important; don’t make the experience of living in Korea suffer for the hypothetical payoff of traveling or graduate school after the contract ends.The Incredibull India experience certainly brought that home.

Far too many teachers I met in Korea spent a lot of time indoors playing MMORPGs and eating instant noodles as their only sustenance. Surprisingly many of these folks eventually ended up staying on for multiple years after the initial drive to travel turned into a desire to plant roots, meaning that the fabled travel for which they were sacrificing just never happened. Then again, everyone has their own financial preferences and circumstances. I know of several teachers in Korea who had moved abroad in large part to afford health insurance, or to pay off student loans. It would be harder to save as much as I did if those were concerns.

Circumstances also change. Last July, I thought I’d be living in the States again for graduate school. After the application process went slightly differently than planned, I’m moving abroad again (and getting a visa AGAIN). I’m also in a long-term committed relationship, which was in its infancy last summer. We can share resources and effort, and I’m not in this alone. My finances have to adjust to the new realities that come up. DSCN1994

Bottom line: It is definitely possible to save a lot of money teaching in Korea. Don’t let my old, mathematically-inaccurate, and pessimistic article discourage you.

As a final note: I am always thrilled to talk to those who want to get a TEFL career started, who want to travel more, or who want to study abroad. It’s part of my job, but it’s also my passion. Contact me today with your questions. I promise to get back to you quickly.