Am I too fat to teach English in Korea?

Am I too fat to teach English in Korea?

I’m applying for the EPIK teaching program in Korea. Could I fail the medical check in Korea because I’m classified by my doctor as obese?

Answer

It’s not about how fat you are, it’s about how healthy you are. Sure you could be overweight, but your cholesterol, heart, and blood pressure may all be normal.

If your doctor didn’t flag anything wrong when you were checked, then it shouldn’t be an issue getting accepted into the EPIK program. That is, if you passed all the other tests like the criminal background check, drug test, etc. You can’t fail a medical because you’re overweight unless your weight affects your health.

I am assuming you’re in your 20’s. If you were perhaps older, then being overweight might catch up with you and cause medical issues, which might be a concern for EPIK. Diabetes, blocked arteries, etc. They don’t want to hire unhealthy foreign teachers.

When you fill out an EPIK application they’ll probably ask you for your height and weight. I know one woman who was a size 22 and she was rejected. They cited it was due to being overweight. Of course, we don’t know what medical issues came up during her test aside from that being a size 22, so I can’t comment further.

There are many overweight foreigners who get accepted into the EPIK program so you’re NOT alone. It all depends on your health, not your weight.

If you’re applying for a private language school (hagwon) job then they don’t put you through these discriminatory tests. However, they will ask you for a photo, but it’s usually a head and shoulders picture, so they can’t determine how obese you are.

Just remember, that if you’re overweight, expect to be told you’re “too fat” from your students. I’ve heard everything from “fat pig teacher” to “Miss Piggy” from elementary school children. Just play along with it, and don’t let it get to you.

I gained 15 pounds my first year in Korea and even my adult students (whom I would see after summer break) would notice that I had gained weight and wouldn’t be shy about saying “wow you’ve gained weight! why?”

I’d say. “I just enjoy Korean food too much, sorry”. They laughed and couldn’t argue that their national cuisine wasn’t delicious!

If you do fall into the “morbidly obese column” then expect some stares on the subway. Koreans may even be embarrassed to sit next to you since everyone is staring at you, and they don’t want to be perceived as being with you. Unfortunately, this is a reality in Korea.

As for Koreans who gain, weight, the criticism can be much harsher. Your friends and family will tell you that “you got fat”. You will be constantly reminded of it. But, once you lose it, you’ll be complimented on how slim you look.

Some Korean women starve themselves just to keep up with the social pressures of looking thin. Plastic surgery, make up, fashion, and being skinny are all part of their tool kit for looking glamorous.

If you get stressed out about being stared at, commented on (in Korean), or even confronted by the children in your classroom about being fat, maybe Korea is not a good choice of countries for you to teach in.

I’ve definitely seen many overweight foreigners teaching and living in Korea so Koreans don’t kick us ALL out just because we’re fat.

To summarize, if you’re overweight in Korea, just ignore the stares and comments. You’re a foreigner, and not part of Korean culture so you don’t have to subscribe to the same standards as they do.

Learn to be thick-skinned about it and enjoy Korea food. Koreans don’t mean harm. If anything, they’re just concerned about you, is all! At least that’s what I’ve convinced myself (I think).

If you want to stay slender while teaching in Korea I suggest you refrain (as much as possible) from eating these 4 super delicious Korean foods below:

Ramen – Oily, high caloric noodles fried and then boiled with water for 5 minutes before consuming. My Korean students have told me the oil is raw, low-grade, industrial cooking oil full of transfats.  I’ll take their word for it, because it’s a cheap, worthless, high carb food replacement. I drank a bowl of this stuff at least 3 days a week at my hagwon for BREAKFAST with my Korean colleagues until a student told me how unhealthy it was.

Ja-Jung Myun – Deep fried black noodles in black bean sauce with peas, or potato wedges, fried onions, and pieces of pork for added flavor. This stuff is just drowning in grease. I ‘m not sure of the calorie count, but I’d say at least 1,000 calories per meal size serving.

Soju – Hey, it’s alcohol so we’re talking empty calories.  Koreans drink a lot of soju. They also over drink which not only causes weight gain, but it’s hard on your liver being it’s 15-20% alcohol. It’s also cheap at bout 1,200 won a bottle.

Yum Yum Chicken –  Sweet marinated friend chicken pieces. Sugary and Oily. I found myself going out at least a couple of times a week  for this dish with my adult students after class. If you indulge, you can expect to add about 2,000 more calories each time you go out, if you add a few beers to wash it down. That’s an extra 4,000 calories per week.

Note: 1 pound of fat is 3,500 calories, and if you indulge in these 4 foods, and don’t exercise in Korea, expect the calories to add up fast.  And if you gain too much weight, you’ll definitely have a hard time finding clothes that fit in Korea as well as fitting into bathroom stalls.

To summarize, if you’re overweight in Korea, just ignore the stares and comments. You’re a foreigner, and not part of Korean culture so you don’t have to subscribe to the same standards as they do.

Learn to be thick-skinned about it and enjoy Korea food. Koreans don’t mean harm. If anything, they’re just concerned about you, is all! At least that’s what I’ve convinced myself (I think).

There’s a related blog post written by a foreign English teacher who talks about the challenges of being overweight in Korea with some good advice! Check it out… Being a Fat Foreigner in Korea


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