Teach English in Korea, Interview with Simon and Martina Stawski

Teach English Abroad

Teach English in Korea EatYourKimchi.com

How long have you been teaching English in Korea?

We’ve been teaching in Korea now for a year and a half.

Have you taught English in other countries?

We taught English in two high schools and one elementary school in Canada. This was during our practicum for our Bachelor’s of Education. It was much different than what we teach now, because here we’re teaching the basics of conversation while there we worked with students who already knew English, and were already conversationally competent. So, apart from the obvious proficiency difference, the biggest differences are the class sizes here (40, compared to roughly 26 in Canada) and the lesson planning prep time. Here I’ll make two lessons, one for every grade, and teach them for a week, which adds up to two lesson plans a week, essentially. Back in Canada, we had to make two to three different lesson plans PER DAY! It was intense. We’d stay up until 3AM every night trying to make decent lessons. So the workload is much lighter here, and the quality of sleep is muuuuuuch greater.

How did you find your first teaching job?

We attended a presentation during a workshop day for teachers while at Teacher’s College. Different representatives from different districts came by to give presentations to prospective teachers, and among them was a small recruiting agency. We listened to this recruiting agency talk about teaching in Korea. We spoke with them for a bit after the presentation, and then got job offers immediately. It was a very bizarre experience.

How easy is it to find English teaching positions?

Well, for us it was exceptionally easy. Step 1) Sit through a presentation. Step 2) Talk to the presenters afterwards. Step 3) Get offered a job. I can’t say what it will be like for others, because we haven’t really looked for any other positions since. We were placed in two good schools and we haven’t thought about finding jobs elsewhere. We have looked into this for other people, though, since we get many emails about how to become a teacher in Korea. And so we made a video, which we call “How to Become a Teacher in Korea,” in which we outline the difference between public schools and after school programs, as well as what recruiting agency you should go through. Essentially, we suggest that you teach in Public schools, and that you go through Korvia Consulting.

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

It’s not necessary, but it’s very, VERY helpful. You’ll have your “Teacher Voice” which will do you a world of good in a class full of 40 students, and you’ll also have a better sense of how to prepare lessons. Many schools – from what I’ve heard – will simply put you in your class and say “teach!” and the experience can be overwhelming if you haven’t had teaching experience beforehand.

How did you get your first work visa?

We got it through our recruiters. They told us to fill out some paperwork and mail it to them. We did as we were told and, voila! Visa in hand. Getting the paperwork done was a bit of a hassle, because we had to get criminal record checks, notarized copies of our degrees, have an interview at the Korean Consulate in Toronto, have a health check in Canada and then another in Korea after we arrived. What makes this process a bit easier is that your recruiter should give you a checklist of things you need, so you won’t have to do the research yourself. Just complete the list and you’re good.

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

I’m not too sure about that, so I don’t want to give a definite answer about this. I know of someone who was between jobs in Korea for a couple of months, and surely his Visa must have expired by then, so I’d assume it’s possible to be in Korea without a Visa, then find a job and get a Visa for it afterwards.

What is the cost of living in Korea?

God! So cheap! Our rent is covered by our schools (and our place is totally awesome as well!). Taxis cost us an average of 5 bucks or so. The subway starts at 90 cents and charges you for distance, but the most we’ve ever paid (for a two hour subway ride) was something like a buck fifty! Can you believe it! Compare this to the TTC we’re used to in Toronto, which is charging something close to three bucks! Absurd! Otherwise, we can eat for anywhere from 2 bucks if we’re feeling cheap or 20 bucks if we’re feeling lavish. The only things that are more expensive, we’ve found, is fruit and clothing. Watermelons can set you back 12 bucks. Yes. 12 bucks. They are the most delicious watermelons I’ve ever tasted, though, so quality over quantity wins out here. Also, clothing is more expensive. Levis jeans will set you back over 100 bucks. I’m not joking.

How much money can the average teacher expect to save?

That really depends on your saving habits, but it is definitely very easy to save money here. We live very comfortably, eat out every day, take the taxis whenever we want to, and still send back half of our paycheques. I think our situation might be a bit misleading, though: I’m sure if we could fit into the clothing here, we’d be sending back a lot less. We really like Korea’s fashion sense, but we both don’t really fit into Korean clothes. It’s heartbreaking, but good for saving money.

Do you recommend Korea for other English teachers?

I highly, highly recommend Korea for other English teachers. We love it here. We’re staying another year, as soon as our contracts expire in June. Teaching presents different challenges than what we were used to as teachers in Canada, but it’s still a lot less work (did I mention I don’t have to mark any homework or tests? Yeah: no homework or tests). As well, since we were teachers in Canada, teaching English is a very useful experience for us if we ever go back. Since Canada has a very high immigration population, I feel like we can much better understand the students in Canada who are struggling because of the language, and I feel like we will be better teachers for them now as a result.

What do you love and hate about Korea?

This isn’t something that I hate about Korea as much as I find it a bit disappointing: as a teacher in Canada, I was able to communicate with my students much better, to joke with them more. Here, I can’t speak with my students as much as I’d like to. There’s a big bridge between us. The more I pick up on Korean the smaller that bridge will become, but right now the ability to joke with my students is something I sorely miss. As for the stuff I love, the list is huge, but I think my number one choice is the streetfood. I have no clue how we will be able to go on without it.

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

I think it depends on how long you have before your planned teaching stint. If you want to go in a few years, and want to prepare yourself for it in the meanwhile, I think the best things you can do is a) pick up some teaching experience and b) learn the language beforehand. I think that would make things much easier for you. If you don’t have the time to put into getting teaching experience, I’d still suggest learning the language. It’s something I kinda regret not putting enough effort into beforehand.

How long to you plan on staying in Korea?

We still don’t know. When our contracts expire in June we plan on re-signing with our schools, so that means we’re here for at least another year and a half. What started out as “oh, we’ll teach for a year and then go back” has now become a three-year plan. Maybe more. Who knows. What we do know is that we’re enjoying our time in Korea far more than we ever imagined we would, and we have far more reasons to stay here than to leave.

EatYourKimchi Simon and Martina’s Blog
Follow EatYourKimchi on Twitter
Simon and Martina on YouTube
Eat-Your-Kimchi on Facebook

More Information on Teaching English in Korea
English Teaching Jobs in Korea