Friday, December 30, 2011

Brussels, Amsterdam and Paris Photos

More junk to clear off my phone. Various places I've been in the past couple of months. Happy new year!

Click on the photos to see larger details.

A canal in Amsterdam's Jordaan district

Parc de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium

Delicious! An excellent beer from the Tongerlo Abbey

No idea what this is.

Hotel Ravenstein in Brussels

Shops near the Grande Place de Bruxelles

Grande Place de Bruxelles

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Buying Citizenship in Dominica

I'm afraid this one is for those with a bit of spare cash, but a number of countries allow you to buy citizenship. One of the cheapest is Dominica (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic), a tiny island nation in the Caribbean.

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Dominica is famed for its pristine, natural beauty: its jungles are virtually untouched, its beaches warm and plentiful, and its citizenship is up for sale.

Roseau, capital of Dominica
RufusTeleStrat at en.wikipedia

The cost is $75,000 US for an individual or $100,000 for a family. Yes, that link goes to a commercial firm which offers "assistance" for this service, but the process is quite legal and fairly well known. Simply searching for Dominica Naturalization and Citizenship Act will generate plenty of hits for you to research.

Interior of Dominica
Photo by Ken Bosma

The capital of Dominica, Roseau, has fewer than 15,000 people, compared to less than 75,000 for the entire country. The Dominica per capita GDP is a little over $10,000, though I've had trouble finding reliable figures for the median income (it appears to be around $5,000 per year). If you don't mind poverty, being in the middle of nowhere and gorgeous natural scenery, Dominica offers you that second passport.

For a more human touch, here's an interesting blog on an American who moved to Dominica and subsequently left. Note that the author is pretty upset with the Dominica government and has no plans to return there.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Getting a university job in Korea

Today's guest blog post comes from Sharon de Hinojosa, the author of the excellent She is an Assistant Professor at the Sungkyunkwan University, Sungkyun Language Institute, in Korea. She gives you the ins-and-outs of getting a job teaching English at a Korean university.

Photo by Carey Ciuro
I work at one of the top five universities in Korea and I got the job while overseas, something most people said was impossible to do. I’ve been teaching English for 9 years now, and 6 of those have been at universities. I’m not yet 30 either. University jobs in Korea aren’t what they used to be. Granted most jobs in Korea aren’t what they used to be. The golden days are gone. Most of my friends have been in Korea for over a decade and they say that if you take the cost of living into account and inflation, they make less now than they did when they first came here.

That being said, if you’re looking to teach English, Korea is one of the best places to save. The cushy university jobs offer months of paid vacation. I get 5 months. If I teach classes at my university during the break, I can double my salary. Not bad.

So are you interested in teaching at a university in Korea yet? If so, then read on.

There are two different basic types of university jobs: unigwon and regular university jobs. Unigwons, named for university and hagwon, usually have you teach some kids’ classes. Regular university jobs will have you teaching adults; university students usually between 18 and 24 years old. Regular university jobs can further be divided into two categories: teaching credit courses and teaching non-credit courses. Credit courses often pay more and are regular subjects that are taught in English, such as Science, Business, Writing, Presentation, Literature, and so on. Non-credit courses usually pay less and are usually the 4 skills or conversation classes.

So now I bet you’re thinking, sounds great, sign me up. Now just hang on a second, let’s see if you’re qualified. If you’re going to teach classes in English, you have to have a passport (and they usually require most of your education to have taken place using English) from an English speaking country and those are Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, the UK, and the US. French Canadians might have difficulties, every university is different. Next you’re going to need a bachelor degree and that also has to be from an English speaking country.

Those are the basic qualifications. If you get an E2 visa, which is an English teacher visa, you’re also going to have to have a current, clean federal background check. Even though you’ll be teaching at a university, most employers will get you an E2 visa rather than the coveted E1 professor visa. For the E1, you’re going to have to have proof of two years teaching experience.

The more qualified you are, the better. If you’ve been to conferences, given workshops, been published, done a masters degree, completed a TEFL course (with at least 120 hours and 6 of teaching practice), written a thesis, then great. Keep in mind that more and more universities are asking for masters degrees and at least two years university experience. With Korea being flooded by English speakers who can’t get work back home, universities can afford to be picky. I’ve seen licensed teachers and people with PhDs working alongside with fresh off the boat graduates and they’re all working at public schools making about the same.

The main hiring season starts October 1st for a March 1st job. The academic year begins on March 1st here in Korea. The other hiring season is in the spring for a September 1st start. Right before the semester starts is another good time to look for jobs because some teachers decide to accept jobs elsewhere at the last minute. This means the university has to scramble to find a replacement. If you haven’t already scanned all your docs, then you should do that. Employers commonly ask for your CV (with photo), cover letter, degree, transcripts, certificates, passport, and reference letters.

Some university jobs are extremely competitive. Those in Seoul are usually more difficult to get than those outside of Seoul. That being said, some universities have two campuses and often pay up to 500,000 won a month (currently $435 US) extra for the teachers who are at the campus that is NOT in Seoul. Cost of living is lower outside of Seoul as well. Korea University, Hongik, and Yonsei university which are part of the SKY universities have campuses outside of Seoul. The SKY (Seoul National, Korea, Yonsei) universities, KAIST, Ewha, Hongik, and Sookmyung are pretty competitive positions, so if you’ve never taught in the Korean university system before it might be difficult to land a job there. However, you’ll never know unless you try.

Age and being outside of Korea will work against you. Most universities have a cutoff age of 50 or 55. Mine won’t hire teachers over the age of 45. If you can’t interview in country, some places won’t consider you. Some may do a Skype interview.

Some universities have a cap for how long you can teach there. Most are capped at 5 years because that’s when the pension contribution for employers goes up, though some are capped at 2 or 4 years.

Salaries vary as do hours. I’ve seen universities pay as little as 1.8 mil won ($1,566US) for 20 hours a week and up to 3.7 mil won ($3,219US) for 12 hours a week. Overtime is also nice and can vary between 20,000 won up to 50,000. I’ve taught a class that even paid 100,000. The great thing about universities is that you can get extra work at the university legally. From teaching other classes, to proofreading, editing, writing books, tutoring professors, teaching camps, or even voiceovers, there are lots of chances to pick up extra hours.

My contract calls for 15 class hours, which is 5 classes, and everything over that is overtime. I usually teach 8 classes and of those all are credit classes except one. Six classes meet twice a week and I teach the same lesson to each class, meaning I only have to prep two lessons a week. One class is a conversation class that meets four times a week and one class is a culture class that meets once a week. I’ve created the curriculum for the conversation class and culture class and have applied to teach a current events class next year as well. We have to keep 3 office hours a week, but that’s not too hard.

One thing that has to be said about university jobs is that admin is often hands-off in the sense that you are expected to be an experienced teacher and should know what you’re doing. So they’ll give you the book and tell you how many essays, papers, quizzes, and exams there should be and you’re expected to create a syllabus as well as the topics for the essays and papers and write the quizzes and finals.

As with any job in a foreign country, there are going to be cultural clashes. Keep in mind that losing face is a big deal in Korea, so it’s best to smile and nod, keep your head down, and do your own thing.

If you’re looking to get into the university system in Korea it’s usually difficult to land a plum job outright. What many teachers do is accept any university job, stay for a year or two, and then apply to better universities. Once you’re in the university system, you’re golden. Some teachers aim for the prestigious famous universities, others want few hours, or a high salary, or lots of vacation, or all of the above. Some of the best university jobs are at universities that few have heard of and that’s probably the reason why the job is so good.

Most universities advertise at and it might also be worth checking out The Chronicle,, and HigherEdJobs. There are still a couple months left during the main hiring season, so get your docs together and start applying.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas from Amsterdam

Merry Christmas to everyone around the globe. I hope the coming year let's you realize your dream of living abroad!

Snow in Amsterdam
Snow in Amsterdam (sadly, it's not really snowing here)
Photo by Tanya Hart

Friday, December 23, 2011

Finland Blue Card

Update, Feb 24, 2012: the Finnish EU Blue Card has been postponed a bit.

Great news for those interested in Finland. They'll be introducing the Finnish Blue Card in 2012. The requirements, though, are pretty steep.
  • The work requires special qualifications or expertise.
  • The applicant has a higher education degree and is committed to a work contract of at least one year for highly qualified employment.
  • The applicant is paid a gross salary of minimum EUR 4,832 per month. This is the salary threshold applicable in Finland in 2012 and reviewed annually.
  • The terms and conditions of employment comply with existing regulations and collective agreements.
  • The applicant fulfils the general requirements outlined in the Aliens Act for the granting of a residence permit. For example, the applicant must have a valid travel document (such as a passport), and must not be the subject of an entry ban.

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You may be a perfect candidate but still find that €4,832 threshold pretty difficult to reach. That's currently around $6,300US a month, or around $75K a year. The World Democracy Audit lists Finland as their number one country. For those of you who value and educated, socially conscious and peaceful society, it's hard to beat Finland.

Combine that with Finland's strong economy and a 6.2% unemployment rate and I would definitely say "check it out". Plus, 63% of the populace speaks English (probably even more in Helsinki), so if you're proficient in English, this will make life easier while you learn Finnish.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Apartment Hunting in Paris

We're in Paris for a few days looking for an apartment. Leila asked what I wanted to do with some spare time so naturally I said "Eiffel Tower". I haven't seen it since 1999 and I was looking forward to seeing it again. Fortunately, though cold, the weather was beautiful.

If you've never seen the Tower in person, it might be surprising to learn how large it is. I know I was certainly surprised the first time I saw it. The base in enormous.

As for the flat hunting, Leila, as is her wont, did a huge amount of research and already knew the flat we wanted. It's a lovely two-bedroom in Les Lilas just a few minutes away from my work. Finding something affordable that close is a huge stroke of luck. We have a bit of paperwork to handle today and, if all goes well  (there is still one tiny hitch we're trying to resolve) then we will have the place and move in the middle of January, about a month and a half earlier than we thought.

Interestingly, we'll be signing a three-year contract. That scared the heck out of me at first, but Leila explained that in France, it simply guarantees that the flat is ours for three years, but we can leave earlier if desired. It's not a "lease" in the sense of what I'm used to in the US.

After wanting to move here for decades, it's finally happening. Wow.

In other great news, Leila's birthday was yesterday, so this makes a lovely present for her.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Horrifying Amsterdam Traffic Accident

In lieu of a post today, here are a bunch of awful camera phone pics.

Terrible Dutch traffic accident
When our daughter is hungry, she's hungry.
My wife feeding her in the courtyard of the Grand-Place de Bruxelles
The architecture at the Grand-Place is amazing
Sometimes I can convince my wife
to smile for the camera
Our bored waiter in Brussels

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

French Guiana a Gateway to Europe?

My friend Michael R. sent me this fascinating story about French Guiana being a gateway to Europe.

French Guiana is a small area on the northwest coast of South America and is legally a d├ępartement d’outre-mer of France, or "overseas department". Legally it has the same status as any other French department.

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Were you to live and work there long enough and gain permanent residency, you should be able to move to France. Sadly, it doesn't appear any easier to "legally" emigrate there than to emigrate straight to France. Nonetheless, it's interesting to see the people will to do that in hopes of some day getting to Europe.

Of course, you could always go there illegally and marry a native. Then you just wait long enough and your spouse could apply for citizenship on your behalf.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Bad Time to Move to Europe?

(but I'll be damned if I could find it there)
If you're planning on emigrating to Europe, you might be concerned about the financial situation over here, so let's take a quick peek. We often speak of the PIIGS:
  • Portugal
  • Italy
  • Ireland
  • Greece
  • Spain
These are the countries whose economies are performing so poorly and whose debt is so out of control that they threaten to bring down the Euro. How bad is their debt? Well, according to the above infographic:

CountryDebt % of GDP

And the US? Try a projected 100% for 2011 (page 3, PDF), compared to 57.6% when Bush took office. If a country can't manage its debt, creditors get nervous. Most of Europe is doing better than the US in debt management and they're casting a nervous eye towards the US. If the US can't get her house in order, she threatens to take down the world economy, dependent as it is on US dollars.

Still, France is looking at losing her AAA credit rating and I routinely hear people ask "why move to Europe now?"

It's a tough question, but there are a few things to keep in mind. First, this is cyclical. All economies have ups and downs. It's unfortunate that world financial systems have been so poorly regulated that they've helped to collapse our economies (history will identify the causes of this financial crisis far easier than those of the Great Depression). It's also unfortunate that the problem is dragging on so long. Given that this happened relatively shortly after much of Europe switched to the Euro, it's fair to say that this is spectacularly bad timing. Of course, the Euro has always been rather poorly managed, but this is a serious crisis.

So should you reconsider your move to Europe? Maybe. Europe isn't worse off than the US, but as an immigrant, you won't be able to take advantage of many of the social services over here. European countries take care of their citizens when they're down on their luck, but as an immigrant, you won't have paid into the system and it's understandable that you won't get the same benefits. However, if you have a good position in a strong sector, Europe is still a fine choice.

The World is Round!

However, I keep telling people the world is round and they shouldn't forget that. Learn about other places! The main reason most people want to go to Europe is because that's what they know. But if you're worried about the economy, much of South America's economy is doing great!
China wows the world with double-digit economic growth, but Brazil has suddenly become the world's seventh largest economy, on its way to displace the U.K. as the sixth. Brazil's Gross Domestic Product grew 7.5% last year. Argentina's soared 9.2%. Others expanded just as fast. Paraguay's GDP climbed a stunning 15% and Uruguay's more than 8%.
From that same article: Brazil is on track to become the world's sixth largest economy, overtaking the UK and it's easy to emigrate to Uruguay. Don't overlook other great opportunities just because you've become fixated on one continent. It's a beautiful world out there!

Friday, December 9, 2011

More Americans plan to leave the US

First, we have this Zogby poll of 115,000 Americans showing that up to 20% of American households are considering living outside the US, at least part time. That article is four years old, but it turns out that Bob Adams, the gentleman whose company conducted the survey, is continuing to conduct surveys. As it turns out, the number of young people who want to leave the US has increased quite a bit.

One number is particularly striking to me:
Younger Americans seem even keener to look abroad, with 40 percent of those 18-24 expressing interest in foreign relocation, which is up from 15 percent two years ago.

Some of this is adventurism. Some of this is disenchantment with US politics. Some of this is fear for the US economic future. All of this is interesting. Something significant is happening, but unless Americans can figure out how to get out, there won't be much change. Still, it looks like I should be writing an "Expat Howto" book now, instead of another programming book.

You can read more at the American Wave web site. It has a lot of fascinating information.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

French Workplace Culture

Ubuntu-be Tshirt 2
Geek formal wear
Photo by Wouter Vandenneucker
When working at one company in the UK, I was surprised to find all of the geeks in slacks and nice shirts. Of course, I say "nice", but the truth is that they were long-sleeved, button-down shirts which invariably looked like they had been wadded up and stuffed in corner for a few weeks. In this case, the dress code definitely made things worse. When it was finally lifted, most of the geeks showed up in t-shirts and it was definitely an improvement. Geeks wear t-shirts. It's practically a requirement, but one that I ignore. Sometimes I stand out a bit because though I wear jeans, I do try to wear nice shirts.

I no longer stand out. My French colleagues actually give a damn about their appearance. They're geeks and some of them are damned good ones, but they're not wearing t-shirts. I thought maybe it was a dress code, but no, it's not. They're French.

The other odd aspect is walking in to the office and shaking hands with your colleagues. I wasn't surprised the first day when a couple of people shook my hand, but when they were shaking everyone else's hands and this happened on the second and third day, I realized that this is just the French way of doing things. It's going to take some getting used to, but already I'm enjoying the heck out of Paris.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Explaining America to Europeans

Here's an interesting experiment: the next time you're discussing politics with someone, try to do two things:

  • Assume they know nothing about the subject you're talking about
  • Try to be fair to all sides

For example, when a European asks me "why do Americans like guns?", there's a huge amount of background there and aside from a polite nod to the Second Amendment, I doubt there are many Americans who have an interest in politics who can either discuss the history and meaning of the Amendment or are willing to try to be fair in explaining the point of view of those who disagree with them on this topic.

As I'll be moving to France soon, I'm girding myself for the inevitable "defending the homeland" talks. The USA has a lot of problems but when all is said and done, it's a much nicer country than many people give it credit for. That being said, sometimes it gets really, really difficult for me to find any way to put a positive spin on some things. Witness the Republican presidential primary.

Presidential Debates for Morons
Photo by Mike Licht
In a upcoming Presidential debate where we have a Michelle Bachmann, who can most politely be described as as "odd", Herman Cain¹, a politically inexperienced businessman who won't allow Muslims in his cabinet or government because there's a "creeping intent" to introduce Sharia law into the US government, Rick Santorum, a homophobe who wants to let states criminalize gay sex and compares it to "man on dog" sex, we have Ron Paul being excluded from the same debate for his "extreme views." Seems he wants to end US foreign aid. That includes aid to Israel. I'm sure it's just a coincidence that the debate in question is hosted by a Jewish group which apparently doesn't see "man on dog" conversations as being extreme enough to exclude someone.

We have a later "Presidential Debate" being hosted by a real estate billionaire and reality TV star and the press worry that candidate John Huntsman is unelectable because ... drumroll please ... he acknowledges both climate change and evolution. Meanwhile, the front runner, Mitt Romney, perhaps the platonic ideal of Republican "family values", has never been entirely trusted for reasons I can't quite grasp (psst ... he's Mormon) and it now appears that Newt Gingrich, the thrice-married adulterer who led the charge against Clinton for his affair, may be anointed the standard bearer of this increasingly right-wing Christian party.

While I disagree with many of Ron Paul's views, shouldn't the voters be the people who decide whether or not someone is has "extreme views"? And honestly, Donald Trump hosting a debate? This is simply embarrassing. So much of US politics appears to be a dog and pony show while the need of the US people to have intelligent, informed discussion is simply being ignored.

So can someone tell me how to spin that in a way that doesn't make the US sound absolutely ridiculous? I can't figure it out.

1. I wrote this before Herman Cain announced he was quitting. Voters had no problem with his idiotic tax plan of the fact that he had no idea that China had nuclear weapons. It was the accusations of sexual impropriety which derailed his campaign.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Working in Paris

Azerty keyboard
Photo by Alexandre Duret-Lutz

Yesterday was my first day working in Paris and the company handed me a laptop ... with the operating system in French and an Azerty keyboard. I can deal with a French operating system, but after 30 years of a Qwerty keyboard, Azerty is very frustrating. It seems like a programmer's nightmare: you have to shift to type a number or even many of the most common punctuation symbols. I can see why it would be better for writing a letter in French, but that's about it.

I had dinner at a sushi restaurant last night and waitress heard my accent and seemed almost irritated when I refused to switch to English. I thought maybe it was physically impossible for her to smile until she saw that I left a small pourboire (tip) on the table. I should have left extra for the fruit flies.

I'll work in Paris again today and leaving tonight. No photos yet, but I should be traveling regularly to Paris over the next two to three months.

In other news; the Eiffel Tower is going to be turned into the world's largest planter. Hopefully I'll get to see it again before this happens.