How long have you been teaching English in South Korea?
I have been teaching in South Korea since November of 2010 for the EPIK program (English Program in Korea).
Please tell us about your job?
I have been teaching English at public middle and elementary schools since November of 2010. More than two years and three months now! Currently I am teaching at a public middle school in Gumi. My school has about a thousand students and I have about 25-30 students in each class that I teach. At my school I teach about 22 teaching hours per week along with my classroom prep time in my office. My school day Monday-Friday is 8:30-4:30. EPIK is very generous with vacation time. During winter vacation I get 10 days paid vacation and 8 days paid vacation in the summer. If you renew your contract (like I did) you will receive an extra two weeks of a paid renewal vacation. I always look forward to my winter and summer holidays to explore other Asian countries (Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau, and Thailand).
How did you find your job?
I found an opportunity to teach English in South Korea through Reach To Teach Recruiting online. The website for this recruiting program is very helpful and the recruiters helped guide me through my application process. If I had any questions regarding my visa, life in Korea, or anything at all, I could easily email my recruiter for help. There is no fee for a recruiter to place you in South Korea through Reach to Teach.
Does your school provide accommodations or pay for your travel expenses?
My current public middle school that I am working for provides me with a two room apartment that covers the rent. I am only responsible for basic utilities such as electricity, gas, and a monthly maintenance fee. The fees that I am responsible for each month in total are less than $100. Also, my school paid for my flight to Korea and when I finish my contract this August I will be given the money to cover my flight when I leave Korea. Very generous!
Is it necessary to have teaching certificates or training to find employment?
It is possible to be employed by public and private schools without a teaching certificate such as TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language). However, I recommend having a TEFL certificate because it is going to give you a strong core before actually teaching your first lesson. You will learn how to lesson plan, learn how to discipline the students, and so many other useful techniques to making your class fun!
Does your school provide a work visa?
Before I moved to South Korea more than two years ago I had to apply for my E-2 visa. My public school wasn’t responsible to help me apply for that because I am employed through EPIK (English Program in Korea) and they guided me through application and placement process. You can apply for your visa in person (as I did in NY) or send it through the mail to the Korean Embassy.
Is it possible to arrive without a work visa and find work?
There are so many teaching opportunities in South Korea in both public and private schools. In my opinion, it is better to come to Korea with a job already. It is so easy to apply for jobs online directly through EPIK, recruiting programs, and Dave’s ESL cafe. It is possible to arrive without a a visa and then look for a job but it is less stressful to arrive here with everything already sorted out! Applying to teach at a public school in Korea included many application steps such as the application itself, essay, preparing my documents, phone interviews, and applying for my E-2 visa but I preferred to arrive in Korea sorted out with my job that was followed by a five day orientation in Seoul.
What is South Korea like?
For English Teachers in South Korea, the quality of life is great! It’s very easy to meet other teachers from orientation and then meet up with them on the weekends if they live in other cities. The public transport is excellent (trains, buses, and subways) and cheap making it very easy to see all of the beautiful sights within the country. South Korea is seventy percent mountainous so as you can imagine there are plenty of hiking opportunities. I recommend Seorakan National Park in Gangwon-do province. South Korea has plenty of festivals to experience as well as many outdoor activities. I really enjoy Korean food even being a vegetarian. It is definitely a challenge to find a meal in a restaurant cooked without meat, but it is possible! When I came here I had never had a Korean meal in my life let alone knew absolutely nothing about the cuisine. Two days before leaving for Korea I had an emergency dental visit and my dentist explained that due to the monsoon in Korea that there was a “kimchi crisis”. In that moment I had no idea what kimchi was and I was leaving in two days!
What is your cost of living?
The cost of living for English Teachers is very low! The Korean government pays for English teachers’ rent and flight (roundtrip). We are responsible for utilities making it very easy to save money whether it be to pay off student loans, save money, or travel. On a monthly basis I pay about $7 for electricity, $30 for gas, $30 for my apartments monthly maintenance fee, and $40-70 for my cell phone bill. I took full advantage to pay off my student loans here!
Are there opportunities to earn income on the side?
For English Teachers in public schools with an E-2 visa it is illegal to work outside of our contracts. I haven’t worked on the side because it’s too risky and I wouldn’t want to get caught! Instead I enjoy volunteering at a local orphanage where I can tutor an elementary student one-on-one and help her with English. It is very rewarding to see her English improve as we practice writing, playing games, and sharing conversations.
Do you recommend South Korea for other English teachers?
I recommend coming to South Korea to anyone that wants to experience Asian culture. You have to come here with an open mind that includes trying Korean cuisine, learning to speak some Korean, and knowing that all things are subject to change such as classes being cancelled last minute or learning about a staff meal five minutes before going home for the day.
Everyone’s teaching experience here is going to be different. The students will be different in each school as well as your co teachers. I strongly recommend building a strong relationship with your co-teachers because they will help you with your contract. Be patient and learn to adapt! I recommend studying for your TEFL certification because that is going to help you out a lot in your classroom. You can study and receive your TEFL online after completing the tasks such as creating lesson plans. Also, if you are a recent college graduate looking to pay off your debt, South Korea is one of the highest paying countries for English teachers with an extremely low cost of living. This means that it is very easy to send money home each month to pay off your debts.
What advice would you offer for others thinking of teaching English abroad?
From my experience in the past two years living in South Korea I recommend that prospective teachers come here with an open mind. You might get placed in a rural town or a big city far from the new friends that you made in orientation. For my first year, I was placed rurally and it was very hard to not have what I had in America such as access to a swimming pool, coffee shops, a car, vegetarian restaurants, or a train station. I felt isolated but learned to build relationships with the three foreigners that were placed in the same village. It was a very humbling experience to learn about local culture. I visited my friends on the weekends and learned to really enjoy my time in the countryside.
Come to Korea with the intentions to grow, develop, and to be challenged! Korean people are so gracious and have shown me so much kindness in my rural placement as well as my current city through thoughtful actions such as sharing food and inviting me to a meal.
Alana in Korea Alana Bertozzi’s blog.