Teach English in Korea, Interview with David Deubelbeiss

Teach English Abroad

David Deubelbeiss is a teacher, writer and runner. He is an educator with over 17 years experience teaching ESL / EFL. He has taught and presented in Korea, Canada, France, the Czech Republic, Ukraine and Russia. and specializes in Web 2.0 and using technology in the classroom. Currently, he is giving professional development courses within the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education. He is an avid creator of instructional materials and shares his resources through his online community EFL Classroom 2.0 – a professional development site with thousands of members. Also, find many of his ideas for teaching on Teaching Recipes. He shares the simple teaching philosophy of inspiring both teachers and learners, believing “when one teaches, two learn”.

Teach English in Korea with David Deubelbeiss
Teach English in Korea with David Deubelbeiss

How long have you been teaching English in Korea?

4 years today! I’m presently the head teacher trainer, training both foreign and Korean teachers in the world’s largest school board, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education.

How did you find your first teaching job?

I went out to Vancouver to get a job “in paradise” after finishing teacher’s college in Ontario. However, it was the summer of 92 and they were in the middle of a teacher’s strike. While out and about, I met a retired couple who had started a school in Karlovy Vary, the Czech Republic so I decided, “why not?”.

How easy is it to find teaching jobs?

It depends. These days generally, native English speakers ARE in demand as teachers but conditions vary. National visa policies, salary levels, credential requirements, economic conditions, and local demands (accents/nationalities, age, education) all are pertinent factors. People around the world want to learn English and see it as a way to upward mobility and economic opportunity. However, as time goes by, demand will decrease. The internet will offer more opportunities to learn English online through self-learning and access. Travel will be more available so students will in greater numbers be able to travel and learn in English speaking countries. Most importantly, there will be a larger pool of non-native speaking teachers, fluent enough to teach well in many developing nations. All this will decrease demand for teachers in 5-10 years. See David Graddol’s excellent online book, “English Next” for lots more information about this.

I recommend a recent Radio Canada Int. interview with Ben Glickman from Footprints Recruiting who talks about the present dearth of teaching jobs as so many recent graduates are clamoring for teaching jobs overseas.

Is it necessary to have teaching certificates or training to find employment?

No, it isn’t but it can be helpful. Employers always like credentials. However, I’m of the school that teachers are born, not accredited. Meaning, the most important thing is the person and their emotional and intellectual qualities. Only upon that, can one “make” a teacher.

How did you get your first work visa?

It was in the Czech Rep. and taken care of by the employer. Compared to Korea though (and they complain here!), it was still a lot of work on my part in terms of documents and paperwork. I even had to check into the police station every month my first year there!

Is it possible for teachers to arrive without a work visa and look for a job?

In Korea, this is possible but I personally don’t recommend it. A visa in Korea is offered through one’s employer. If you arrive without a work visa (on a tourist visa), you will have to fly out of the country after finding a job and do what is called a “visa run”. The usual run is Osaka, the closest foreign Korean embassy. From there, your visa is processed, usually within a few days. However, I advise teachers to avoid the perils of this (unless having previously worked in Korea and knowing the ropes) and work with a reputable recruiter or employer to first secure an offer of employment and then get the visa before flying to Korea. And one big “caveat emptor” for teachers – never, never, never pay for a company or employer to get you a visa!!!!!! You are that which is valuable and there is no need to pay a cent. If they ask, run for the hills.

What is the cost of living in Korea?

Generally, employment in Korea comes with accommodation or an accommodation allowance. So without paying for this, expenses are low. Utilities are very reasonable, also cell phone costs. Eating out is very cheap but groceries are quite a bit more expensive, especially if you like to buy foreign goods. Local bars are fairly cheap if you stick to domestic stuff.

Taxes are very low and your net pay will only be 5-10% of your gross. Teachers also get one month’s pay severance for every year worked and many nationalities also get their pension payments in cash when they leave Korea (and what their employer paid in matching payments).

How much money can the average teacher expect to save?

Expenses can be quite low and teachers can save 40-70% of their take home pay, depending on how they live. However, if you want a lot of the same things as back home, you’ll save a lot less. Travel often out of Korea and that will cut into savings also.

What is the typical number of teaching hours per week?

Public school teachers typically work 18-22 hours / week. However, they also get a lot of downtime from cancelled classes in many cases. If you work at a “hagwon”, what we might call a private language school or “cram school”, you will work considerably more hours 28-36 and usually a split shift.

How many weeks of holidays per year can teachers expect?

Teachers in public schools can expect 14 -21 days paid holiday + national holidays (but if they fall on a weekend, you are out of luck!). If you renew a contract you get an additional amount of paid holiday (usually 10 working days). Those in private language schools get considerably less paid holidays, usually only 10 working days.

Did your employer provide you with medical Insurance?

Employers in Korea are obliged to pay their employee’s medical insurance. It usually isn’t a significant amount and covers very basic things. Those working in Korea get a health booklet which they present when getting medical treatment. Teachers will have to pay something out of pocket for any major tests / exams / treatment.

There have been many cases of private language schools not paying this, but deducting it from the teacher’s salary. I advise all teachers to check with the Korean health and pension offices after their first month, to ensure that their employers are indeed meeting their contractual obligations.

Do you recommend Korea for other English teachers?

I recommend travel and teaching to anyone! It really is a special career – you broaden your own horizons, help others and get to make the world a bit more of a “smaller” and more understanding place. Working in the countryside of Korea can be a challenge but all in all, if the teacher brings a flexible and open mind set, “seeing the glass half full” – they will succeed and be the better for it.

I’ve grown a lot while here in Korea. Both professionally and personally. Lots of hiking and outdoors stuff – Korea is 75% mountainous. The country “works” much like Switzerland and the people hard working – if not to the extreme. There is a great expat culture here and unlike many of the places I’ve taught – it isn’t too “rough” a deal. Check out the “Korea” area on EFL Classroom 2.0 – lots of great videos and materials collected there.

Korea is also one of the few countries where teachers can save money in addition to having money to travel around. It also has significant opportunity for those who want to pursue ELT (English Language Teaching) as a career – both in the form of graduate courses and university and teacher training positions.

What advice would you offer for others thinking of teaching English Abroad?

Great question! Here they are in a nutshell

#1 Ask yourself – Do I have a plan B?

What I mean is that teachers should have some basic savings before venturing abroad. 99% of the time, you don’t need this nest egg (usually a couple months salary in the bank) but “stuff happens” and teachers should be prepared and have the means to get themselves home or pay for unplanned expenses.

#2 Ask yourself – Can I live without all my usual “support” and “stuff”?

Teaching abroad means adapting to a different lifestyle. Sometimes not significantly but there will be things you won’t have or be able to get. There will be times when there isn’t someone there for you. There will be times when you are “culture shocked”. Can you live with that and most importantly, grow from that?

#3 Ask yourself – Do I enjoy people, really enjoy helping others and working closely with people?

That’s what teaching is ALL about – relationships. Language is a social artifice and it works because people are “into” people. If you are going to be teaching hours every day – make sure for the most part, you enjoy helping people. Just being able to do a good job for the money won’t suffice or get you to the finish line when far from home. You gotta love you do. Teaching at its most ideal, I believe, is a calling, a vocation. Teaching overseas a wonderful vocation!


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