Our life here looks a lot different from the one that I had in Texas. Korea has a lot of benefits for raising kids that we enjoy. Some have to do with the fact that it is population dense, some have to do with the preference of social welfare benefits among the people, some have to do with the culture of education, some probably have to do with the fact that the population is in decline. The benefits are multi-faceted as to the reasons that they exist—some due to culture, some due to social-political ideas, some due to population decline but nonetheless when compared to American life I find some benefits for our family.
Our family is still a young family and surely our needs and desires will change. We also have worked hard to be as Korean as possible. Every member of our family is fluent in Korean and we also have nationality so the benefits we enjoy are available to Koreans and foreigners but some prices will be different.
1. Early Education: My kids have attended daycare, preschool, and kindergarten. The education runs daily from 9 am until 4:30 pm. The education involves a mixed Montessori method, with about 20 to 26 students in a class. Snacks and meals included. Our kindergarten has its own garden, raised bunnies, and had its own little soccer field and indoor swimming pool for swimming lessons. All of the food comes from a local farm. There was a pretty good class in English instruction of phonics and reading which I think was helpful for my kids to get some English learning in at school. The rest of the classes were in Korean. Field trips almost every week. Buses to and from home are also available for an additional monthly fee of 20,000 won. The price for this daily kindergarten program was about 260,000 won (about 220 dollars) a month. The reason for this price is that early education centers are all subsidized by the government though they are privately owned. Non-Korean citizens can usually participate in the same programs for around 400,000 a month.
2. After-school programs—there are many afterschool programs in the academy area. Usually Taekwondo, hapkido, math, piano, art, computer, soccer, badminton, robotics, dance. The classes are run after school in the elementary for elementary students and also in academies (also known as hakwons) These can add up but I like how accessible they are for the students and are either walkable from home or school or there is a bus to pick them up. An example of a 5 day a week taekwondo program fee is about 110,000 won or about 100 dollars for the month. Other programs can range to be a bit more and some run by the elementary school quite a bit less. Other programs are run by the government and are free for families of two working parents, multiple children, and lower-income. This helps to fill the gap of the early school ending times. If you are looking for a program like this the websites are: www.afterschool.go.kr, www.icareinfo.go.kr)
3. Parks! My favorite thing about living here is the park system. For us, in our location, we live by a river that has quick access to mountains and lakes. The park system seems endless if you get on your bike and go. The waterways belong to the people in Korea. That means that you don’t have anyone saying “this part of the river is mine”. If you are on the river, it is set back and there is a park in front of it. This allows this cool park system to exist that runs along the rivers and connects cities together. Along with that, there is a bike road that runs through these cities. Off of the river and bike roads, you can find access to mountain parks for MTB or hiking, the bike roads also connect to lakes. I just enjoy riding these roads and exploring places with my kids. I enjoy that my kids can walk home from school through the park to home.
4. Lower crime---No drills about hiding in closets and backrooms for these kids. No metal detectors. There are a couple of security guards at the entrances of the school but it is pretty laid back. This also goes with the police culture in Korea. The police that patrols the area at the school also know my kids’ names and are really friendly to them. Security guards and police have this “I’m here to help” kind of vibe. One time I told my kid to behave because the policeman was there and the policeman told me back, “I’m not scary—I’m here to help if you need anything.” I liked that.
In addition to the lower crime, it should be noted that there is no D.A.R.E-like program. When I was in elementary school in Texas I remember being educated about what drugs are, what marijuana looks like, and to say “No.” There aren’t any programs about drugs here because drugs aren’t a thing here. Our kids receive education about the dangers of cigarette and e-cigarette smoking, however.
5. Bilingual—My kids are able to become bilingual and enjoy having the ability. The English come from my own efforts in homeschooling after kindergarten. This of course is a pro and a con. Not being able to speak Korean would have significant hindrances in daily life in Korea. That said, there are English schools for kindergarten and International schools. That said, my kids learned Korean through the regular school system. There are additional programs that reach out to kids with a foreign parents to help support their Korean learning skills. Through these programs, I have had a teacher come to my house for 4 hours a week to help prepare my older son for 1st grade in reading and math. The teacher was kind and a highly qualified Ph.D. candidate with whom I’m still friends. For my second son, I didn’t use the program. My second son got some extra help from his 1st-grade teacher after school for about an hour or so a week—but this program was aimed at kids, in general, to help with reading—not towards foreigners. In Korea, each area has a multicultural area that serves as a place that parents and children can go to get help learning the native language and culture. When my 1st son was a baby, there was a teacher that used to come to my house to teach me Korean because it was difficult for me to attend classes. She also just kind of helped me around the house talking about how to prepare rice in the rice cooker and that sort of thing. She was like a sister and we also would hang out sometimes outside of her hours of work with me. I think these kinds of programs attract some really nice people that really have it in their heart to be helpful to foreigners.
6. Shorter school days afford for more control over the education. While this is both a pro and a con. The school days are shorter than a typical American school that I attended growing up. The day begins are 8:20 to 9 am for elementary grades and will finish at lunchtime. Typically, between 12:30 and 1. This leaves a lot up to the choice of afterschool programs which are available at the school and do need to be paid extra for but work as electives for the kids. Parents and kids choose from a variety of private programs that do cost extra. That said, parents can use the government after-school programs—which are educational and fun and not just a daycare—to help fill their gaps as listed in (2).
Now for the super baby stuff:
7. Postpartum doulas—Through the government offices, parents can arrange to have a doula come to the home after the birth of the baby. These services are great because the person attending to the mother is trained in how to take care of a newborn and also helps with a variety of tasks around the house like caring for other children, cooking, laundry, and cleaning. This service is often offered for free for two weeks or for some households there is a fee that is partly subsidized with tax money. We have used this service for our children and the women are usually in their 50s and are very kind. For a one-month service of 9-5 care excluding weekends, we will pay 1,300,000. I feel great about the one-on-one family support that I can get at home and that the helper is trained and certified for caring for a newborn. This in-home doula service is fully subsidized for some families depending on income.
Other post-partum care centers—The “Joliwon”
Koreans are known for going to get their post-partum care at centers that are often attached to the hospital in a post-partum care center where the mom and baby are taken care of for usually 2 weeks—though this stay depends on how much is paid usually 2 million is the bare minimum for these services. These usually offer massages at extra cost and have newborn education classes. The baby usually rooms out in the nursery where the mom needs to go to feed the baby if she wants to breastfeed. The rooms are usually set at a warm temperature. Most moms that I have talked to enjoy these centers because it takes them completely out of the house and they don’t feel guilt-tripped or obligated to do any housework or cooking at home.
Now for some financial benefits. The incentives have increased for the year 2022 and will continue to increase—through these have come in the wake of tax increases in other areas, especially real estate. Nothing free, my dears! In a way, I guess the cash social benefits that come with having kids are right to take it out on the real estate taxes. No people would be pretty bad for the real estate market. Though I have no idea if that is how the funds are funneled—the program expansion for children came exactly after the rise in property taxes.
8. 3 Months maternity leave. This has always been available for as long as I have lived here and raised kids. It is 90 days leave from the day of the birth of the child, paid. No questions asked—you just get it as a matter of course from the workplace through your insurance.
9. Korean children are eligible for a monthly stipend. The total amount depends on your city in Korea but the new baseline is 300,000 won a month for a year to 18 months with additional benefits depending on the city. Sometimes an extra 100,000. This benefit is expected to increase to 500,000 later or if parents use a daycare the daycare is partially subsidized by the government. These monthly stipends are later extended to your choice of daycare or kindergarten. All children are eligible regardless of income level. The stipend helps keep the costs around 200,000 to 300,000 a month. The kindergartens and daycares operating as private entities mean that they work hard to attract their students. Overall, these private kindergartens have great facilities and a serious variety of programs. I love how most of them adapt some mix of Montessori learning. Koreans still think that the daycare and kindergarten programs should be completely free. While there are some programs that are operated by the government that are free, these tend to be more focused on play than on early education (I know I know play IS education—but parents want some level of phonemic awareness before beginning 1st grade)
10. Birth congratulation bonus of a minimum of 2,000,000 won since 2022—prior to that, it was around 500,000 depending on the number of children. These are eligible for all new babies. Some areas have more incentives because of the declining birthrate. I’ve read in the news of 4,000,000 to 30,000,000 won and more. Then again, it really depends on the city. But definitely a pretty interesting bonus there.
Overall, I think the safety and the quality of education for younger kids is a huge hit for me. I absolutely love Korean preschools and kindergarten and they are enjoying elementary school even in the midst of Covid-19. I love the schools for the programs, the healthy food, the all-day care, and the great teachers. As my kids have moved into elementary school, I’m happy that they enjoy school and have easy access to quality after-school programs. My kids look like they eat in a restaurant and café every day in the cafeteria. They often get a restaurant-style menu with some kind of great desserts like Dippin’ Dots or macarons. I don’t remember having ever been excited about school food!