With Backpack

One World in One Lifetime

Job 3: SMOE

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 8, 2015

September 2008 – August 2009

A dancing lesson given during the SMOE orientation

A Government Job

I really enjoyed living in Korea. I wanted to go back there, but I had to find a new company to work for. I did not trust English Channel anymore. I considered myself lucky for getting out when I did and with all the money owed to me.

My brother and me in Mongolia


I was on a long trip and did not have much time to job search until I got stuck in Mongolia. The day my brother, mother, and I were to fly out of Ulanbataar, there was a sand storm. Our flight kept getting delayed.

There was also a problem with my Russian visa. The expiration date for my visa to Russia was soon approaching, and I was still in Mongolia. I took to the internet at a cafe to see what I could do about it. There was nothing to be done.

The problem sorted itself out in the end. But, it gave me time on the internet to do some job hunting. I kept an e-version of all the documents I needed, so when I found a job ad for SMOE, I applied right away. I hoped that I would get the job, but at the time I had other things to worry about.

SMOE, or the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, puts native English speakers in English classes in the public schools in Seoul. SMOE is not a company, but an office in the Korean government.

I felt that working for the government would be better than working for a company. I would not have to worry about not being paid on time or the company going bankrupt. I could just concentrate on doing a good job.

Sight seeing in Finland


We spent a few days in Russia then moved on to Finland. When we were checking in to our hostel there my mom’s cell phone rang. Since she had an international sim card in her phone, I gave SMOE her phone number to contact me.

I was told that my resume sparked their interest. They asked me a few questions which I seemed to answer to their satisfaction. They said that someone would call me later for an interview. I was to stay near the phone until then.

Train stations: the next best things to airports


A few countries after that, we were at a train station in Paris waiting for the Euro-star to London. We had a 30-minute wait ahead of us when a lady from SMOE called. The timing could not have been more perfect.

I ran to a quiet area and the interview started. It felt like a very informal chat. I think the interviewer was just checking to make sure I was not a creep or crazy person. At the end of the phone called, the lady told me that, although she could not tell me officially yet, I pretty much had the job.

I think that getting a job with SMOE back then was easier than it is today. There were several people I met at SMOE that I was surprised could get any job, much less one working with children. One guy missed a whole morning of meetings at orientation because he drank too much the night before and was passed out in a stairwell. For the week of orientation everyone was supposed to abstain from alcohol.

a field trip during SMOE orientation


It took several months for me to get back to Korea. In the United States, it took 2 months for me to get my paperwork done. The Korean government had just changed the laws concerned with foreign workers and even the people at the Korean embassy weren’t too sure what to do.

I had to get 2 types of background checks. I had to visit doctors to get x-rays and blood tests. After which, I had to get an apostille from the Korean consulate in Georgia. I had no idea what an apostille was, and I’m still not completely sure.

One of the many benefits of working for the government is that they paid to fly me to Korea. Both GEOS and English Channel made me pay for my flight then reimbursed the cost after I had worked for 6 months or so. SMOE, and later the JET Programme, paid for my ticket up front.

Of course both SMOE and the JET Programme waited until the day before I flew to email me the ticket. (I had the flight itinerary a few weeks in advance, just not an actual ticket.)

Orientation Lectures


When I got back to Seoul, I spent my first 3 weeks living with a co-worker. My apartment was not yet ready, so one of the English teachers volunteered to have me stay at her place. I hung out with her and her family. I felt completely welcomed and had a great time.

I taught classes my first week at work. The second week I had orientation. At first I was expecting it to be like the useless meetings GEOS made me go to, but it was much, much better than that.

Late night snacks

First, they sent us off to stay are the Hyundai Learning Center which is a really nice place. It looked pretty new when I was there; new dorm rooms, new gym, new laundromats. The center also had free wi-fi, a gym, and basketball and tennis courts outside, and plenty of congregating areas as well as a convenience store in the basement.

There were only a few rules: 1. Don’t leave the campus and 2. no alcohol. Many people had a problem with the rules. They felt as though they were being treated like babies. But for only one week, for your job? Come on!

Some of the presentations and lectures were boring. If you had ever taught English before there was very little new information here; a good refresher course though. But for me, the orientation was not really about learning a bunch of methods for teaching; I already knew that. It was about meeting new people who would help me survive the year in Korea.

I did take notes when I heard something interesting or new. But, mostly I collected friends. I Facebook friended people I liked, lived near me, or shared several interests with me. There were almost 200 new teachers at the orientation, so there were plenty of people to choose from.

(There were 200 people at my orientation, which was orientation B of the second hiring period of the year. SMOE hired a lot of native English speakers.)

Did I mention that SMOE orientation came with Korean food at every meal?

Many people did not like the food they served at orientation. They were new to the country and were not yet used to Korean food. I liked most of what was served to me about 80% of the time. Other than fish soup and spam, I’ll eat pretty much any type of Korean food.

No body wanted to eat Mr. Spamears.

The night they first served octopus was quite entertaining. Many westerners don’t eat octopus; squid sure, but not octopus. There is just something disturbing about purple meat. It took me a while before I could eat it without having to talk myself into it first.

Spam night was not a big hit either.

Doing my weekly radio show at my high school

I enjoyed working at a high school in Seoul. I felt more immersed in Korean culture since I had more Korean coworkers. I mostly taught kids, but I had 2 classes where I taught the English teachers and 2 were I taught the non-English teachers. I trusted many of my co-workers and went to them when I needed advice or help. And they did the same with me.

My students presenting their skit

I loved teaching these girls. (I taught at an all girl high school.) They were funny, witty, and creative. You know how most high school girls are. There were a couple of bad eggs, but most of them were mostly charming, most of the time.

Making new friends at SMOE Orientation

But I think the biggest difference with working with SMOE over a company, is that SMOE is a lot bigger than any of the companies in Seoul. They hired more foreign teachers than the hagwons. The many people I met at orientation, made a huge difference for me throughout the year.

I thought that I was okay with having just a few friends, namely my 6 or so co-workers and the 3 friends I made at the English Channel training. But I made more friends after one week at SMOE’s orientation then I did during the past year.

Not only that, but I made friends with their friends and their friends’ friends. With SMOE my social net kept getting broader and broader. I had my core close friends, but many other people I would meet up with once in a while.

I like to make my friends hike!

With a bigger net work of both foreign and Korean friends, I was a lot happier and more active than I was my first year in Korea.

South Korea

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, boat, or train, though entry by train is rare if not damn impossible for most non-presidents of North or South Korea.
  • Most citizens from many countries do not need to get a visa before going to South Korea.
  • People of most nationalities will get a 90-day visa at the airport or ferry port.
  • To be completely sure, check with the Korean embassy in your country.






  • Korea is a generally safe country. You don’t really have to watch out for pickpockets,muggers, or scam artists.
    • You should watch out when crossing the streets, beware of scooters on the sidewalk, and the little old ladies that will push you to get that last seat on the bus or subway.
  • Use common sense and you will be okay.
  • Things are generally inexpensive and there are many wonderful things to buy.

Enjoy Korea! I live there for 2 years and had a fantastic time.

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