Tag Archives: EPIK

The difference between being a dive instructor and an English teacher


I was a dive instructor for 8 years but became restless. As part of a couple I found myself being shoe-horned towards office jobs instead of teaching and guiding and I refused to be pigeon-holed because of my gender. I took a few years out to get back into normal life and then decided to get back into teaching of another kind: teaching English as a Foreign Language. I love traveling and exploring countries by living in them so this was a perfect way for me to keep my lifestyle going. The quality of my life is more important than  chasing dollar signs so teaching/ traveling/living outdoors suits me to a t.

I believed that teaching English and teaching scuba diving would be much the same. Same same but different.

Pros of being a dive instructor:

– You get wet every day and see awesome wildlife.

– You get to teach a variety of ages.

– Your students generally WANT to be there, they’re on holiday and they are happy.

– Small class sizes with additional helpers with a class of 8+.

– You can choose whether to certify someone or not based on their ability.

– Fast results.

– You get tips.

– You can drink with your students after class. Students can become friends… or conquests.

– You are usually in good shape because you do moderate exercise every day to off-set the booze you drink with your customers.

– You can swear underwater and no one will understand you.

– The majority of people you encounter during your working day will share English as a common language.

Cons of being a dive instructor:

– Less holiday time, long hours and early morning starts. You work when everyone else is on holiday (Christmas, Easter, New Year, school holidays).

– Commercial pressure on you to perform/ bend standards/ pass students.

– You have to spend a lot of your free time with customers to give them an unforgettable experience. This leaves less time to nurture personal relationships.

– There is a large amount of egotistical, crazy managers and dive shop owners in this world and no human resources department to support you in case of maltreatment.

Pros of being an English Teacher:

– You have lots of fun and laugh a lot.

– You get a good amount of holiday and enough money to travel.

– You are making a difference, especially if you teach in a government school. Even if the kids still suck at English, you are teaching them about the wider world and acceptance of “other”. When you’re a dive instructor you mostly teach people who are well-off who can afford to see the world and travel.

– You get letters and gifts from your students and they love greeting you outside of school.

Cons of being an English Teacher:

– Large class size, hard to give individual attention, kids get left behind.

– Everyone passes regardless of ability.

– You will encounter discipline problems and language barriers to a degree not encountered as a dive instructor.

– More creative lesson planning required as opposed to pre-planned formulaic PADI teaching.

– You can’t swear.

– You may be the only foreigner at your school so you may feel isolated because of the lack of English around you.

For me, Teaching English is more challenging but far more rewarding. I miss being a dive instructor and in an ideal world I’d alternate between the two jobs.  However, I managed to educate 600 teenagers about the ocean and conservation last year. I would never have been able to teach that many students how to dive. I may have moved battle grounds but the fight remains the same: education in order to preserve oceanic species.


Pohang Botanical Gardens

Teacher Trips are par for the course here in Korea, as are teacher dinners. Some people HATE these events and are always whining about them on waygook.org , trying to find new excuses to avoid attending. LOL. These guys don’t realize that Koreans become waaay more confident in their English skills after a few drinks. It’s the BEST time to talk to other teachers who are usually very shy and reserved.  You have to realize that they are curious about you and the country you are from, they’re dying to ask your opinion of Korea and the rest of the world but they’re usually too shy to speak English in front of everyone else, should they make a mistake. Going out with your Korean co-teachers is a great privilege- I can’t stress the importance of attending enough. It’s like mainlining Korean culture.

Yesterday we went on an afternoon trip to Pohang’s Botanical Gardens aka Arboretum. The gardens opened up in 2001 and feature 24 sections separated by theme and season. The iris garden looked a bit rubbish because it’s not quite the right season yet but it’s full of tadpoles! A section near the top is dedicated to the foliage of Ulleungdo island.

There is a pond which features some pretty big carp and a mini replica of Dokdo island in the centre (Dokdo is a disputed island territory between Korea and Japan, who call it “Takeshima island”).  Many foreigners find Korea’s  Dokdo propaganda  excessive but it has very rich fishing grounds so you can see why they are fighting for it (nevermind historical proof of ownership).

Dokdo island replica

My teachers told me about Jangseung, the Korean totem poles we saw in the gardens. Traditionally a male and female wooden totem pole were erected on either side of the road at village boundaries to scare ghosts away and to keep the villagers safe. 

I also learnt about Dooly the dinosaur, the “famous” Korean animation series (another statue on the grounds). Gotta say, I’d never heard of it but here it is:


There was also a moon bear statue. One of my teachers explained to me that the bears, Asiatic Black Bears, are used in Chinese traditional medicine. “Medicine for what?” you might ask. According to wikipedia “It is purchased and consumed to treat hemorrhoids, sore throats, sores, bruising, muscle ailments, sprains, epilepsy, reduce fever, improve eye-sight, break down gall stones, act as an anti-inflammatory, reduce the effects of over-consumption of alcohol, and to ‘clear’ the liver”. Sore throats and hangovers. Awesome. The Korean government recently elevated the bears’status to protected level to ensure their survival however illegal farms still exist and there is a big bile tourist trade in China.  Read more about moon bears here and here.

The gardens were pretty but not exactly Kew (wink wink!). HOWEVER, the drive that leads there is probably the best I’ve done in Korea so far. The road winds slowly up the mountain and the views on the way up are incredible! I kept on thinking “This would be awful to cycle!!!”and then “This would be amazing to cycle!!!!” So, I’m well keen to cycle this baby once I have a lighter bike that can handle gear changes 😉

If you don’t own a car or don’t fancy a killer bike ride, you can take the bus there too. From Pohang Intercity Bus Terminal, take Bus 500 bound for Cheongha (청하). From Cheongha, transfer to a local bus bound for Sangok/Haok (상옥/하옥).  By car the journey takes around 40 minutes from downtown Pohang.


Seoul to Busan cycle

Last year I completed the Seoul Busan trail with 3 other people- a guy I knew from EPIK orientation and 2 other Busan EPIK teachers who we met on the Facebook Forum Cycling in Korea. We accidentally picked the  the hottest week in 2013- a heatwave featuring  day time temperatures of 40C and over. We originally planned to complete the route in 4 days but it ended up taking 5 long, gruelling days. We got lost a lot and my super basic Korean-made road bike had a few problems, like not being able to handle gear changes without chain slippage and a worn out tyre bursting and resulting in 3  punctures (I think it was 3 , or maybe that’s when I stopped counting). Let’s just say I wasn’t very impressed with the guy who serviced my bike prior to the ride… It was an epik tale, with Jake leaving on day 4 (he’d done almost no prep and didn’t have much long distance bike experience so he did well to last as long as he did). We all had our ups and downs energy wise and mentally- it’s amazing how trivial issues become heated debates by the side of the road as a side effect of fatigue.

The level of Korean hospitality was off the charts amazing- restaurant staff took such special care of us and always gave us free ice to add into our bottles when we left. We cycled through old train tunnels, beautiful countryside and up a few mean switchbacks, not to mention my favourite part of the ride: night cycling under a clear sky and twinkling stars.

Anyway, Tim Travis, who lives in Seoul, does a lot for foreign cyclists in Korea. He arranged for us to get FREE long sleeve finishers’ tops from  the Korean Tourist Organization. It arrived in the post today and it is shweet 🙂 Tim told me each top costs around US$65!


If you’d like to cycle from Seoul to Busan, you can download e-book maps and read more about the routes here.

I plan to complete the whole 4 Rivers Trail this year and I highly recommend it to you: it’s a great way to see the real Korea!

Cycle safely x

Mole removal in Korea

Health care is very affordable in Korea, so it would be silly not to make use it! EPIK teachers contribute towards a medical fund, making the trip to the doctor, dermatologist or dentist far less painful.

I used to be very bad at wearing sunscreen: during my 8 year scuba diving career I’d use SPF15-20 for the first two days in any new country. The rest of the time I would burn then tan. My face, chest and back were permanently in the sun. I hated sunscreen because using it lead to break outs.  I’ve had a few moles on my neck and chest area ever since I can remember, but one sprouted on my face 5 years ago. That’s around the time I started wearing sunscreen regularly… The possibility of skin cancer always floated at the back of my mind so I decided to face up to the unknown.

I went to my local dermatologist to have my 4 moles removed. I had to present my ARC (Alien Registration Card) to prove that I was paying into a medical fund. The doctor had a look at my moles and surprisingly enough, they were all benign, which meant I had to pay the full treatment price (40,000 won/ US$40) instead of 20,000 won if they were dodgy (malignant).

The procedure was straightforward. An anesthetic cream is applied to the moles and left on for about 20 minutes. The doctor used a laser to burn the moles off. It felt like series of small zaps and I could smell the burning flesh but it was very bearable and over quickly.

I was given clear dressings to protect the wounds and to aid the healing process. I did a little experiment. I did NOT use the dressing on my face and neck but went swimming in the ocean and got sand in and all over my open wounds instead. I DID put dressing on my chest wounds. My chest wounds not only took longer to heal, but they also have more visible scarring although I technically took better care of them. The wounds on my face and neck were pretty much gone within 14 days but my chest wounds took about twice as long. Maybe I have weird skin… I know that next time I’ll probably just expose my wounds to sand, sunlight and seawater again 😉

It’s worth mentioning that getting a mole removed does not mean that the hair follicle is killed off. If you had a sexy, thick black hair sprouting from your mole it’s going to keep on growing  afterwards so don’t throw your tweezers away just yet.

Bike pimping

It’s turnaround time in Korea. The time when old teachers leave and new ones arrive. This year there will be a smaller EPIK intake due to the government’s decision to cut high and middle school positions so fewer new people :/

I accidentally took a bicycle off someone’s hands because they’re leaving and it was such a good price I couldn’t resist: 40, 000 won ($40). It’s a girly bike with a basket.

If I had unlimited funds, and space, I would own a bike for every day: BMX, carbon road bike, mountain bike, Brompton foldable,  girly basket bike, unicycle and tandem.  For now, I have two.

So, this bike is pretty but it could be girlier. I went to Daiso and bought 4 squares of plastic grass (1, 000 won each) and a bunch of plastic flowers (1, 000 won) and started pimping.

I love the end result:


Happy pimping and riding x

Boozy skin

Welcome to the land of mirrors and vanity! Before I moved to Korea, the only mirror I used on a daily basis was the one hanging in the bathroom. In the Land of the Morning Calm, you can’t turn a corner without looking at your reflection. School girls (and boys) are constantly distracted by their reflections in hand held mirrors during class time (oh how I love confiscating those!). The disease of vanity is mildly contagious so I started thinking “Hey, I wonder what I look like?”. I’m not obsessed, just aware. Please kill me before I put looks before character 😉

Everyone knows that Asians tend to age much better than any other race. Everyone also knows that plastic surgery is super popular in Korea. Invasive procedures notwithstanding, I can say that I have learnt one or two things about skin care in this country.

Lots of girls complain that they develop skin and hair problems when they come here, blaming stress and water quality for lifeless hair and break outs. There is probably something to be said about water quality in Pohang. The water DOES contain lots of chlorine and more heavy metals than we’re used to back home, which tends to leave the skin feeling dry after showers (it also kills off plants and gold fish). You can buy bottled water but it’s more environmentally friendly to buy a water filter (you can buy a shower filter too). I’ve been drinking tap water for a year now and I haven’t been diagnosed with cancer yet so “the experiment” continues.

I just scoff at anyone who blames “stress” here for skin problems… we live the life of Riley. There is no stress. Or if there is, far less stress than you’d have back in your home country. Fact.

I think girls overlook the main reason WHY they have skin and hair problems here. Why do Korean women have great skin and glossy hair and we look like old, dried out hags? Let’s look at the main culprits, shall we?

1. BOOZE!! Korea is like “spring break forever bitches”.  Maybe it’s part of the memory loss aspect of booze that you forget how alcohol dehydrates your skin (and hair). If you want to know how your 247 party people lifestyle is ruining your future face, look here, here and here.

The video games, scuba diving and EFL industry have one thing in common. Can you guess what that is? I have been in boozy environments since my early twenties and only recently took stock of what effect this has had on my life (no doubt I ‘ve had some great times, if only I could remember them all!).

I have significantly cut my alcohol consumption in the last month or so and upped my water intake and my skin has seen a vast improvement ! I have less zits, less red flushing and my wrinkles look less pronounced! Less really is more, if the “less” is booze. I am really happy that my eyes finally opened to the truth.

2. Lack of sleep. Closely linked to boozing is lack of sleep. Pulling an all-nighter is pretty standard here. Alcohol is well known for disrupting sleep- I think we all know that.  BUT check this out : “poor quality sleepers showed increased signs of intrinsic skin aging including fine lines, uneven pigmentation and slackening of skin and reduced elasticity.”   

3. Fruit and veggies. When you’re spending your not-so-hard earnt millions of won on beer, wine and mini breaks all the time, it doesn’t leave much money for decent groceries. Us waygookins love complaining about how expensive fruit and veggies are here, but there’s more to the story 😉 We tend to buy ramen noodles and other cheap, processed foods and use the money we saved on the important things like going out, getting drunk and taxis home. Korean fruit and veg ARE more expensive but I really respect the fact that they sell only what’s in season. We’ve become so spoiled in the West, expecting fruit and veg from all over the world to be available at cut price. This is not only bad for the environment but also carries a human price (the farmer on the production end struggling to make ends meet).

Recently, I have made a concerted effort to add more fruit and veg into my diet and I can see the difference in my skin. I have done a lot of reading on veganism, vegetarianism and raw food diets and while I’ll never give up animal products completely, I have taken massive inspiration from the blogs I’ve read and YouTube videos I’ve watched. Have a look at my blog roll for more. There is no denying that these people touting fruit and veg are healthy and glowing. They’re not just a bunch of tree hugging hippies. They’re onto something.

I know you’re thinking “Oh my god, I’m not giving up my social life!!!” and you don’t have to. But I think we can all benefit from cutting back A LOT! We need to stop blaming the environment we live in and take responsibility for the choices that we make for our bodies. If you want to look and feel better, you can. But you need to MAKE IT HAPPEN. No one else can do this for you.

The end result will be a younger, fresher looking you. It might also save you from hooking up with guys you’d steer well clear of otherwise. To me, that sounds like a win-win situation 🙂

With love from Korea x



This week I’ll be saying goodbye to my high school students. When I first applied to EPIK I requested a placement at either elementary or middle school and was pretty dead set against high school. I mean, teenagers, they’re evil, right?! I was so terribly disappointed when I learnt that I had been placed in the one environment that filled me with dread.

Almost one year on and I have learnt so much from these kids. They fill me with admiration and love and I will miss them something chronic.

I am grateful that I was given the opportunity to gain an insight into the lives of Korean teenagers. I love their innocence, their sense of respect for elders and their commitment to work. Korean students often get a bad rep in the press as being depressed, suicidal little drones. In reality, the majority of my kids have sunny dispositions and have mastered the art of balancing a gruelling academic schedule with learning music, art and calligraphy.

I plan to hold a monthly conversation class for my kids at a local coffee shop this year. The Korean government may not believe in investing in the practical application of language, but I would hate for my kids to lose the self-confidence they’ve built up over the last year. You can only progress in a language if you are brave enough to speak it, write it, make mistakes and learn from it.

My last lesson will be a mash-up of Valentine’s Day inspired movie music trivia, origami heart folding and Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. Watching the scene where they meet for the first time still gives me goose bumps.

V-Day: Lost in Translation

This is my penultimate week teaching at high school level so I’m trying to keep things relatively fun and light. Our theme is love and dating in preparation for next week and Valentine’s Day. I don’t believe in Valentine’s Day but whatever, it works in the classroom.  I created a “Blind Date” TV show questionnaire which features the question “What do you look for in a boyfriend/ girlfriend?”.  I do the rounds and sit with my groups to help them with their answers. One girl points “down below” and says “big, big”. So I give a little nervous laugh and continue to explain (and write down) the terms “well hung” (slang) and “well endowed” (correct).  Turns out she meant something else entirely. Oh.