How long have you been teaching English in Korea?
Just about a year. I arrived here on Feb 22nd, 2011 and will be leaving in a little less than two weeks (Feb 17th, 2012).
Please tell us about your job?
I was placed in a public elementary school located in the North-Eastern part of Seoul city. I teach four 3rd grade classes, five 4th grade classes, six 5th grade classes and five 6th grade classes with a total of 20 English classes per week. I also teach a 2 hour “Club Activity” class every two weeks and a Teacher’s conversation class once a week.
I see each class only one time a week, and each class period is only 40 minutes long.
As a public school teacher, we are guaranteed 21 paid vacation days per year and 14 paid sick days. This is a pretty great deal, given the fact that a lot of private English institutes offer 2-3 paid sick days per year.
How did you find your job?
I went through an agency called Footprints Recruiting. I would highly recommend them to anyone interested in finding a teaching job in Korea. The other method of finding a public school teaching job here is applying directly to EPIK (English Program in Korea). EPIK finds and places all public school English teachers in Korea. The recruiting agencies out there are basically the intermediary between you and EPIK; you get the convenience of having an expert guide you along the application process (which I found to be extremely long and confusing!).
Does your school provide accommodations or pay for your travel expenses?
All schools, public or private, should have an apartment ready for you when you arrive to teach. If, for some reason, you need to move out of the school’s apartment your school should pay you a housing stipend every month for rent in a different place.
The schools will also pay for your flight to Korea. If you work at a public school in Seoul through SMOE (Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education- once you’re hired in Seoul after applying to EPIK, “SMOE” becomes the organization that you report to), you will also be given a $300 settlement allowance when you arrive.
Is it necessary to have teaching certificates or training to find employment?
If you want to work for a public school, getting your TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) is required. If you have previous teaching experience, your pay grade increases.
There are a lot of private English institutes, however, that do not require a TEFL or TESOL certification. For anyone interested in teaching English abroad, I do recommend getting one of the two just for your own benefit as a teacher.
Does your school provide a work visa?
All English teachers who have signed a contract with their school will be on an E-2 Visa or “Foreign Language Instructor Visa”. What this means is that as long as you are employed at a school, you can legally live and get paid in Korea without having to leave the country every 3 months like you would if you were on a Tourist Visa. Before you arrive in Korea you will have submitted your Visa documents to your recruiter or to EPIK so that your E-2 will be in effect once you arrive. The required documents are: Passport/passport copy, Visa application, employment contract, Self-health statement, Degree certificates, criminal background checks (both State and Federal), copy of your school’s registration number, Reference letters, sealed college transcripts, and color passport photos. The information can be found here.
Although an E-2 Visa makes it legal for you to work for your school, any side work outside of your school is illegal. For example, I am not legally allowed to teach any private tutoring classes.
Is it possible to arrive without a work visa and find work?
Yes. If you arrive on a Tourist Visa, you can find a job at a private school and then get your E-2 visa after signing your contract. I assume that if you want to find a public school job, you could theoretically apply to EPIK and/or SMOE (for Seoul) while traveling here…. But I’m not completely sure!
What is Korea like?
We LOVE Korea! We’re both huge fans of Korean food, so the fact that you can eat a lot of Korean food for so cheap here makes our lifestyle pretty awesome. Also, a lot of businesses and restaurants stay open 24 hours a day. You can order delivery at 4am where they bring you real plates, bowls, utensils that you just leave outside of your door when you’re done and they’ll come pick it up later. How genius is that???
Korean people are generally extremely friendly and hospitable, but there is an interesting cultural “gem” of Korea where the older Korean women are known to be tiny, pushy, rude, and extremely blunt. The word for them is “Ajumma” which is basically used to identify older women.
What is your cost of living?
Apartments in Korea require a huge deposit called “key money” in order for your monthly rent to be lower. Our key money was around $20,000 which made our monthly rent $500. We will be getting our key money back, of course.
Utilities are roughly $100 a month, which includes internet, gas and electricity.
Food and entertainment is very cheap here. A regular meal can cost anywhere from $3-$6 with an expensive meal being around $10. You can find really cheap bars in many places, but there are also a lot of nicer “lounge-y” type places with really expensive drinks.
Is it possible to save much money teaching English in Korea?
If you live alone, like most teachers in Korea, you can save hundreds of dollars a month. The average new public school teacher makes around $2,000 a month, which doesn’t seem like anything to us back at home but here in Korea that goes a LONG way. I know teachers who are currently (and successfully) paying off their student loans in large chunks.
Are there opportunities to earn income on the side?
On the E-2 Visa, it is illegal to earn money on the side, but that doesn’t mean that people don’t do it under the table. I personally do not earn extra money.
Do you recommend Korea for other English teachers?
From what I’ve learned throughout the past couple years of traveling and teaching, it seems like Korea is one of the best places to teach English. The quality of life is amazing; it’s comfortable and modern, so you don’t have to deal with much culture shock compared to other places. In terms of the students, I do think in many ways they are easy to teach. Young kids in Korea are very respectful of their elders and teachers, as the Korean culture really emphasizes it.
What advice would you offer for others thinking of teaching English in Korea?
Do it! More importantly, if you sign a one-year contract, plan on staying with that school for the entire year. There are many foreign teachers in Korea who quit midway through their contract because they don’t like it, and there are some foreign teachers here who give us a bad name by not coming to class prepared and teaching horrible lessons. I think it’s very important that if you make the commitment, keep your promise and do your very best at work. There is a stigma against us that Koreans sometimes can’t see past, and I think we can turn that around by having a stronger work ethic when we teach here.
Can you please provide some links to online resources for foreigners in Korea.
About the Interviewee.
Sharon Demant and her husband Jason are cofounders of Unanchor.com. Unanchor puts a new spin on the traditional travel guide. Don’t want to deal with the hassle of researching? Looking for a unique way to see a city? Unanchor self-guided tour itineraries give you the information to be your own tour guide. They are the perfect solution for the busy traveler. Sharon and Jason also blog on LifeAfterCubes.com and tweet @LifeAfterCubes as well.