How long have you been teaching English in Korea?
Just over 10 months ago. My wife and I started in early March 2009.
How did you find your first teaching job?
On the internet. There are several websites (Dave’s ESL Cafe) dedicated to providing job postings for teachers from schools and recruiters.
We initially dealt with a recruiter who was helpful in explaining the process and helping us prepare all the paperwork, but we eventually found the school through another recruiter and negotiated a contract about 6 weeks before our departure.
How easy is it to find English teaching positions?
I found it very easy at the time. There were plenty of opportunities, but we were patient and interviewed with 15-20 different recruiters and schools before settling on our eventual destination. We received at least 10 offers but were very specific about salary, working conditions and location so we wanted to wait for the right fit.
I understand that it’s a little bit harder to find a good job as there’s been an influx of new teachers who are fleeing North America during the current economic downturn. Also, many of the current teachers here are opting to renew or extend their contracts instead of returning home to uncertain job prospects.
Is it necessary to have teaching certificates or training to find employment?
No, I have no formal training or teaching certificates. My wife is a certified teacher so it certainly helps and will garner a higher salary, but as long as you have university degree and your native tongue is English, most schools will give you consideration.
How did you get your first work visa?
The school arranged all of this for us. We had to go to the Korean consulate in Canada to finalize some paperwork and an informal interview, but most of it was just procedural. I recommend getting all of your documentation in order prior to beginning the job search so that there isn’t any delay once you find a school you’re comfortable with.
Is it possible for teachers to arrive without a work visa and look for a job?
I believe so. Sometimes schools hire teachers but can’t get all the Visa documentation finalized before the start of the school year. So they bring the Teacher to Korea on a tourist Visa and then once the work Visa is ready, they ship the teacher to Japan for 48 hours and bring them back in order for the work Visa to take effect. This is commonly referred to as a “Visa-run” and I know several people who have done it. The school pays for everything in the cases I’ve been privy to.
What is the cost of living in Korea?
In my experience, most schools will pay for your accommodation. I highly recommend asking for pictures and description of the dwelling and to speak or correspond with current teachers at the school to ensure that they are provided with appropriate living quarters.
The cost of living is actually quite cheap compared to North America. Most restaurants are dirt cheap compared to back home and there’s no shortage or eating options, especially in our neighbourhood.
It helps to live with someone else and share certain costs or being able to buy food in bulk without having it go bad, but I know certain individuals who are smart with their money and are able to live comfortably and still save money to send home for other expenses (student loans) and put into savings.
My wife and I have actually been able to able to live off just one of our salaries for the entire year and put the other salary in savings to use for our 3-month long trip at the end of our contract. We have been more frugal than we are accustomed to living back in North America but still go out to eat a couple times a week and enjoy at least one night out at the bar with friends during the week as well. Others aren’t as disciplined and live paycheck to paycheck but saving money is very possible.
Do you recommend Korea for other English teachers?
Yes. My expectations have been exceeded and I couldn’t be happier with the outcome of our experience. The students are very respectful for the most part and our working and living conditions have been favourable.
What do you love and hate about Korea?
I don’t really hate anything about it. Sometimes it can be frustrating not being able to communicate with strangers or being starred at on the subway, but these are small petty things that you have to expect coming in.
I like most of the food. I admire the pride and work ethic of the Korean people and their rise from virtual poverty as a nation. I like living in central Asian country that has allowed us to take trips to China, Japan, Taiwan and all over Korea for much much less than it would cost coming from North America.
I love the friends I’ve made with both the foreign and Korean people that I’ve met here and throughout our travels abroad. I love going to Korean baseball games for less than $5 and drinking beers that cost less than $2, not to mention being able to drink anywhere you want whenever you want.
Some of the public bathrooms can be pretty nasty and people have less regard for personal space here, but once again, petty differences that shouldn’t deter someone from the benefits of the overall experience.
What advice would you offer for others thinking of teaching English Abroad?
Do as much research as possible and familiarize yourself with Korean culture and etiquette prior to arrival. Don’t obsess and compare everything to how things are done back home. Be respectful of their cultural differences and embrace them as best you can.
With patience and the right attitude, you’ll have no problem getting comfortable and integrating yourself into their society.
How long to you plan on staying in Korea?
Two more months. We signed a one year contract and will be traveling for three months throughout Southeast Asia and Europe before returning home to Toronto in June 2010.
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