Teaching English in Korea

I've been waiting to publish an entry on teaching English in Korea, because I didn't want everyone to know how biased I am about teaching there, as opposed to other countries...but I can wait no longer. As you will know if you read previous entries, I taught English in Korea for 3 years. During those years I taught children, adults at a private academy and university students. In the following entry I'll talk about some things you should know about before choosing to go to Korea to teach English.

South Korea
South Korea is a highly-developed nation which takes pride in it's well-educated people, vibrant pop culture and art scene, and of course exporting cutting-edge technology like the latest smartphones to the rest of the world. Its beautifully  landscapes, long history, and small size make the country a great place for ESL teachers to be immersed a new culture and see the country easily. It’s a great place to live, meet other TEFL teachers, and get to know a brand new culture. In the 2000s, Korea was the go-to for English teaching jobs, however in recent years the number of jobs available has decreased slightly. Along the same lines, the requirements for teaching English in Korea has also increased, and most teachers are expected to have taken an English teacher training program like TEFL or CELTA. Also of note, Americans wishing to teach in Korea, must now have an FBI Criminal Background Check before schools can hire them.

Salaries / Benefits
The average salary in Korea is about 2,000,000 to 2,700,000 Korean Won per month, or $2300 to $3100 CAD. Salaries at universities tend to be higher than other places. Most schools will also a contract completion bonus of one months pay when you finish a year contract. If you plan to stay additional years at the same school, you should definitely ask for a raise.

Accommodations, 50% of Medical Insurance and Airfare to and from Korea, should be covered by your employer. If your potential employer is not willing to pay for these benefits, find a different school to work for. Most employers also provide their employees with some paid vacation time, but the amount of time will be different from employer to employer.

Types of Jobs
Private Schools (Hagwans)are privately owned and managed academies. They typically have classes of 5-15 kids, and you will be accompanied by several other foreign teachers at your school. You will typically teach students after their regular school hours, so a shift from 2pm - 9pm is quite normal. Many people find the work load is much larger than public schools, but in my case, I didn't find this to be the truth. I enjoyed have the autonomy to develop my own material, rather than using an outdated curriculum

Public Schools - are run by the government. The typically have 25 - 35 students in each class, and you may find yourself co-teaching a group of students with a Korean teacher. The typical working hours at a public school are 8:30am - 4:30pm (about 20 -25 hours in class). The salary for private schools is similar to private schools. Some things to consider when thinking about working at a public school are you will get more vacation time than someone who works at a private school and you may be the only foreigner working at a public school, as its common for a public school only hire one teacher to teach different grades.

In order to teach at a reputable school in Korea you should have:
-A passport from an English Speaking Country
-A bachelor degree (3+ years) from a university
-A 100+ hour TEFL certificate

How to Find a Teaching Job
- Using a private teacher recruiter - If you search the internet, there are hundreds of private recruiters online that can help you find a teaching job in Korea. For more information about this option, please check out an earlier blog entry I wrote called "How to find a recruiter you can trust."

- EPIK or GEPIKThese are two of the largest companies that find teachers for schools in Korea. Basically you give them your preference on where you want to teach and what ages, and they will try to find a job that matches your preferences. The nice thing about going with either of these companies is the will very likely put you in a reputable school and the contract that they offer is virtually the same as everyone else gets, so you know you won't get screwed over by your employer. To take a look at the typically contract that these companies offer click here

- Find your own jobAnother way to find teaching jobs is to search yourself. Websites like daveseslcafe.com list hundreds of teaching jobs that you can browse through. If you do choose to find a job yourself, try to do as much research as possible about the school and city before you apply for jobs.

What it's like to live in Korea
-Upon arrival - Get ready for culture shock, especially if you have never been to Asia before. Korea was unlike any place I had ever visited before For tips on how to deal with culture shock check out this blog entry

-The Korean People - When I first arrived in Korea I found the Korean people to be a bit cold and unfriendly. Everyone is very busy and always in a rush. Cultural expectations from your country do not always translate to Korean cultural expectations, which means they may think your actions are rude or vise versa. The thing is once you get to know someone from Korea, you will find them to be some of the friendliest people you will ever meet. Students are mostly very polite and helpful. Especially when teaching adults, as you will find that many of your students will want help you by showing you around the city or answer your questions. One thing you should be aware of though, is racism / sexism / homophobia are still prevalent in Korean culture, especially among the older generations. Don't be surprised if you receive unfair or discriminatory treatment just for being you (although being a foreigner also has its advantages in Korea as well). Also of note, is most younger people will know some English (especially in Seoul), but older generations and people living in the countryside tend to know less English.

-Food - For me, the food took some time to warm-up to, but now it's probably my favorite food in the world. In fact, when you return home to your country there is a good chance you'll find your food bland compared to the very flavorful (and spicy) Korean dishes. My advice with the food is just keep trying it....it will grow on you. Another great thing about Korean food is the cheap prices of restaurant food. Groceries (specifically produce) can be more expensive though

-Nightlife - The nightlife in Korea is unlike any country I have ever been to. Koreans love to drink alcohol and often to excess. Probably one of the reasons for this is the very low cost of alcohol in Korea. You will see people drunker in Korea (of all ages) than you would anywhere else. There are tons of bars, pubs, night clubs that you can go to. If you are not into drinking, there are movie theaters that show English movies, lots of night festivals, and a variety of other activities that you will only find in Korea.

-Expats - There are literally thousands of other expats in Korea teaching English. Some people will say "you should try to stay away from other foreigners in Korea, to get the real Korean experience," but I couldn't disagree more. In my three years in Korea, I met some of my best friends that I have ever had, and we traveled all over the country experiencing everything Korea has to offer. I found it was so easy to make friends there because so many people are going through the same experience as you are.

-The weather -  I really enjoyed the weather in Korea, as they have short (not too cold) winters and long summers. Mind you the July and August are super hot in Korea, but the Spring and Fall are fantastic. I remember wearing shorts in March in Korea and in November. One tidbit of advice: make sure your apartment has air conditioning....you will need it.

-North Korea - I've heard so many people tell me they would love to go to Korea but they're too worried about North Korea. Yes, these two countries are technically still at war with each other, but if you ask any South Korean or expat who has lived there if they are worried, and almost everyone will say no. The North has been threatening the South for decades with out anything substantial happening. Yes, they are a threat, but please please please do not let this stop you from teaching in Korea. 

There is so much I could tell you about Korea in a blog entry. These are just a few things you may want to consider. I'd love to hear from other people who are planning to go to Korea or have already been there.




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