About the Red Dragon Diaries

tom-gates-limAn economic fallout and personal hardship helped guide my decision to travel abroad to teach English in South Korea for a year starting in 2011.

I’m still at it. So much for the Gap Year cliché.

A desire to share my experiences and an unforeseen support from followers of this blog and my YouTube channel gave birth to whatever this, my social venue about life teaching abroad, is today.

tom-gates-red-dragon-diaries-beginningThe Red Dragon Diaries was conceived in, well, a pair of swim trunks. The bright red shorts caused my dear friend to brand me “the Red Dragon” after many a beach volleyball outing. As each new blog post was created it became a diary of sorts for both readers and me. It’s just how things happen in life.

To all my cyberspace friends who share and enrich my time as I teach English abroad – thank you.

These are the Red Dragon Diaries. As much yours as they are mine.

Ponder. Decide. Take massive action.


  1. Tom- Your journals/adventures are much appreciated. I just landed in Seoul last night, and will be teaching in Uijeongbu. I found your videos and posts to be helpful, and I too am blogging/vlogging (video blogging?) for my friends/family back home.

    If you're ever up this way I'd love to meet you, and hopefully some day soon I can travel to Busan. At this point, I'm still trying to figure out what time a coffee shop opens up around here. I have a feeling I might be an early riser.

    Thanks so much.

  2. Congratulations! It has begun! I wish you all the best. I looked at your blog and you seem like you'll do just fine and have the right attitude to make your experience a great one.

    In my area, coffee shops don't open like back home. It's more of a social thing, but I also don't have Starbucks near me so they may open. Maybe in Seoul it will be different.

    My roommate from college lives in Seoul and I will need to go to Seoul for clothes someday. When I do go, I'll give you a shout.

    All the best.


  3. So you're on your 2nd contract. How much longer do you think you'll stay in Korea? Ever think of trying another city? Or perhaps make Korea your permanent home?
    I lived in Seoul for several years and after being back in my motherland for almost 2…I'm thinking a move back to the ROK, and Busan specifically, is in order.

  4. Yes I'm on my second contract now. I'm not sure how long I'll stay. I wasn't sure when I first came here that I'd even stay for two. It's a great lifestyle and a very rewarding way to live. I've considered other countries but I think I'll be in Busan for a while. It has everything – mountains, city, beaches, etc. You should come back!

  5. How do I contact you in a not so public manner? I actually want to teach in Busan, and I too have a background in Judo.

  6. Great to hear from you. You can reach me best through my Facebook page.


  7. I don't use fb or twitter.
    We can just communicate here.
    I'm choosing Busan because though
    it is the second largest city, it isn't
    as polluted and congested as Seoul.
    I am an avid rock climber, and after
    some minor research last night, I concluded
    that Busan is relatively close to some climbing
    areas, so that is major win.

    I'm not planning on using a recruiter to find
    a teaching position, but all the videos I have
    come across, the teacher used a recruiter.
    Frankly, I just don't want to pay someone
    to do something I can do, even if it might
    be frustrating at times. Any comments
    on that?

    by the way, just so you know where I am in
    the process of going to S. Korea:
    Waiting on my TEFL cert. – fully completed
    the requirements almost two wks ago.
    Need to request my FBI background today.

    Thanks in advance, and I understand if you
    delete this reply- it is lengthy.

  8. Recruiters are paid by the employer, so you wouldn't have to worry about that. For hagwon jobs, you may not need a recruiter so you should be ok. For EPIK, unless things have changed, you are likely going to need a recruiter. A lot has changed in EPIK since I arrived, so it's entirely possible that you don't need to use a recruiter anymore.

    All the best in your endeavors coming here. If you make it here to Busan, please let me know. I can help you find a good judo school!

  9. Does your Korean bank allow you to transfer as much money to the US as you wish, or do they have a policy against that? ….been doing some reading, and some banks allow only sixty percent of your salary or total yearly income (don't remember) to be transferred. However, some banks have no policy regarding money transfering in this respect.

  10. Mine does. But maybe some others don't if you've heard of that. I don't see why you wouldn't be able to transfer as much as you want.

  11. Do you ever get back to the States? Is there an opportunity to do this between your contract? If so, what is it like to come back after spending so much time in another culture? Do you find that there is a reverse culture shock?

  12. I think I ogiginally put this under a string of replies- Do you ever get back to the States? Is there an opportunity to do this between your contract? If so, what is it like to come back after spending so much time in another culture? Do you find that there is a reverse culture shock?

    Also, it sounds like you are able to travel on your time off. Do you find that you have the time you want to do that and is that because you have more vacation than you would if you were working in a private scenario?

  13. I do have the opportunity to go back, but I just haven't yet. I think being older and having lived on my own for so many years removed any homesickness that may occur. I'm sure there will be an adjustment if I went back home. I've been away for a year and a half now which is a good chunk of time.

    I went to Tokyo once instead, and this break I will go to Seoul and the DMZ. There is definitely plenty of time for travelling, be it small or large trips.

  14. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Hi Tom. Love your blog and videos.
    I wasn't sure how to contact you with a question and originally did so through the comment section of your youtube page, oops.
    I am wondering how realistic you think it would be for someone to take online classes while teaching in Korea? I saw on this blog that you are planning on getting an online teaching cert. and you may continue onto a Masters degree. I am planning on starting a completely online graduate program in Aug. 2013 and then continuing with the courses while in Korea starting in Feb. 2013.
    I am currently 31 and worked full time while getting my bachelors degree, so self discipline is not an issue for me, my question is more related to time, schedules, and available (or reliable) technology to complete the classes. Since you are about to start something similar, just wondering what your thoughts are.

  15. Avatar Anonymous says:

    sorry… Feb. 2014 is the new plan, not 2013.

  16. Having a master's is going to open up many opportunities for you around the world. Studying online here in Korea is a very viable choice. You have a lot of free time and not much stress from the job. I think you'll be fine.

    I'm going to start first with a teaching certification because it really opens doors for teaching opportunities in Malaysia, the Middle East, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

    Good luck with it all. Sounds like you have a great attitude for it all.


  17. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Hello Tom,

    I came across your blog and video and found them very informational. What would be your advice for any first time travelers to Japan? I'm going to be staying there for 2 weeks and trying to figure out the best way to use my time.

    I saw your video on your trip to Kodokan, looked like a great experience. I have been practicing judo (or at least trying) for 2-3 years. Would it be a smart move to try to practice at the Kodokan? How would one exactly go about practicing at Kodokan for a day or two? Do you have to contact them beforehand or would it be proper to go there on the day of? Did you do warm-ups and then receive instruction, or was it straight up randori? Any insight, suggestions or advice would be totally appreciated…



  18. Since I only visited that one time – the best thing I can say is bring enough money for transportation and food. Japan's larger cities are quite expensive.

    They have many different types and levels of training at the Kodokan. They even have seminars for kata and all the techniques as well. I warmed up on my own because I did randori with the university pros. I'm sure the regular classes have formal warm ups. heck out the website for all the information.

    I would absolutely recommend you go there just to be part of it. It's truly an amazing place and will make you appreciate judo that much more.

    Good luck!

  19. Hi Tom, I am researching South Korea for a new adventure. I currently live in Prague, CZ and am ready for a new journey. I am from Texas originally and moved abroad to see the world. I received my TEFL last year, but got a "corporate" job here in Prague instead. Anyway, your videos and blog are helping me tremendously, even though I'm a bit nervous and apprehensive to move to South Korea. So, thanks for the information and I hope you continue to educate non-Korea dwellers!
    p.s. You're hot. 🙂

  20. I'm glad this is helpful and I hope you do make it here to Korea some day. Thank you for the compliment! Made my day…

  21. Hello Mr Gates,

    Thank you so much for your informative blog and youtube videos.

    I just arrived in Busan one month ago and plan on leaving in 5 months (2 month stay extended to 6 months). Do you think it is worth my time to look for English teaching positions in schools/hagwons or just do private lessons considering my short stay?

    Thanks for your time


  22. That's great that you can stay here for long. If you put the feelers out I'm sure you'll find people looking for personal tutors. You can also check Dave's ESL for the best leads on hagwons and such. Though as you build relationships, you'll find more opportunities arise.

  23. Thanks for your quick response! Keep up the great work!

  24. Really enjoyed watching a couple of your videos. I am a Canadian photographer and filmmaker presently in Portugal. I am interested in possibly coming to teach. What skills should i have.

  25. Avatar Anonymous says:


    what's the ESL market for native English speakers of Asian background (ABC, CBC, BBC, etc)? Is it based on ability, experience, or having the right look?


  26. Great question that many people have. I answered it in this vlog from my YouTube channel.

  27. Hi Thomas,

    I recently discovered your blog and have enjoyed it and learned a lot. I haven't been able to find a site where someone tells me about the cell phone service of that country (like will a GSM sim card work over there?) and what kind of electrical outlet is used in So. Korea. When we lived there 33 years ago, I can remember needing a converter of some kind, but try as I might, I can't remember if the plug was any different than the ones we have here in the States.

    Keep up your great postings. If (WHEN) I get a teaching job in that country, I hope to start a blog as well. Mine will be more geared to the baby boomers trying something new.

    Thanks for any feedback and help you can provide!


  28. Wow – you have to be brave and very adventurous to do this long ago. Even pre-Internet days! What did you do without Facebook? LOL. Thank you for the compliments and encouragement. I think there are many baby boomers who would love to make this leap. Your blog would definitely have a place. Tom

  29. Hi Tom- Your blogs & videos are very educative. Your students are very lucky to have. Keep doing the great stuff…

  30. Thanks so much.

  31. Hello Tom,
    What process did you follow in obtaining your teaching certificate?

  32. Hi,

    I am going through the TeacheReady program at the University of West Florida. Here's the link:

    Has been great so far. Close to finishing, but now need to study for the state exams. Ugh!!

  33. Hi Tom
    I'm preparing a book on maritime museums. I asked the new museum in Busan to send me some press photos but they have not replied so far. I found very nice photos on your page. Can I use them and, if so, can you send me some in Hi Res (exterior and interior) ? You will be mentioned as the author and I can send you a book by mail once it is ready.
    Best regards
    Antwerp, Belgium

  34. No problem. I think you can save them right from the blog post. Give that a try and if they don't turn out right, let me know which ones you like and I can send.

  35. …I just wanted to come out of lurking to say how much I really like your blog!!…I’m planning on moving to Korea (hopefully with EPIK) after my time in Spain, so your site’s been really informative for me!!…

    • Thank you so much! I really appreciate that. I’m glad my site’s been helpful for you. I envy you being in Spain. I would love to go there someday, even just for a vacation. If you have teaching experience abroad and you apply early enough, I don’t see why you can’t get into EPIK. You should also get onto the Star Teacher’s Facebook page where they post numerous jobs weekly for hagwons, business English, and GEPIK positions that are being fulfilled directly through the school. Check it out.

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