How was teaching English in Korea?
When I was tutoring English in University the majority of my students were from South Korea. They encouraged me to consider trying teaching English after I finished my degree and the idea really grew on me over time. In hindsight, it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life. I’ve had really good experiences in Korea and I now consider it my home away from home. I’ve found over time that my skills as a teacher have improved and I’ve always found the students to be a joy to teach. Korea has a lot to offer in terms of culture, food and interesting destinations to explore.
How did you find your job?
I would HIGHLY recommend using Work N Play Consulting. They’re a first class organization and I’ve had excellent placements with them. They’re very efficient, courteous and professional. As an example, I arrived late at night for one of my contracts and they put me up in a nice apartment for the evening. The following day, I was met in the morning by my recruiter who coordinated the rest of my journey. They followed up several times throughout the year to make sure everything was going well for me at my school.
How did you evaluate your employer to know that it was a good school?
I did a very poor job of evaluating my first employer and I paid a price for it in terms of working and living conditions. My other two contracts were much better. I take into consideration a lot of factors, but the two I find most important are a high retention rate and age of an institution or school. I would never accept a contract where a teacher was leaving on bad terms or if a private school has only been existence for several years. The best way to find out is to insist that you speak with present and former teachers before signing the contract. Teaching in the Korean Public school system is entirely different. Those placements are far more professional and the chances of having terrible working conditions are far less likely given that it is a government program.
Did your school make it easy to get settled in Korea?
LOL! My first employer was brutal. They forgot what day I was supposed to arrive and when I landed in Incheon International Airport I spent hours trying to find my contact person who would take me to my apartment. To make things even worse my apartment was actually not ‘really’ an apartment. It was a temporary housing structure on top of a roof. I suffered immensely during the brutally cold winters and stifling summers that first year. I wouldn’t do that situation (particular contract) over again for all the money in the world. My other two jobs were far more reliable in those areas.
Can you recommend some of the better schools to work for?
I would suggest working in the public school programs: EPIK (English Program in Korea), GEPIK (Gyeongi English Program in Korea) or SMOE (Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education). These are essentially the same program but with different jurisdictions. SMOE deals with teachers working only in Seoul. GEPIK is for teachers in the surrounding provincial area just outside of Seoul that includes many urban and rural placements. Finally, EPIK is the organization that places teachers in every other place in Korea outside of SMOE and GEPIK. The benefits of working in the public system are guaranteed contracts, decent salary, reduced teaching hours and extended paid holidays.
Can you change employers easily if working conditions are not as promised?
Unfortunately, this is by far the least appealing aspect of working in South Korea. Changing employers is extremely difficult. In certain cases you can press for a release letter which would allow you to change your Visa to another employer; however, the chances of getting this are often slim to none – especially if you’re in conflict with your school. Typically, one is forced to leave the country and return with another Visa for a different school. However, the advantage of teaching in Korea, compared to other countries in Asia are a higher salary, free apartment and airfare reimbursement. These characteristics alone make Korea a very popular country for expat teachers irrespective of the very rigid Visa conditions.
What are the requirements to teach in Korea?
The basic minimum requirements to teach in Korea are a University Degree (any major) from Canada, America, Ireland, UK, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa. Although one is qualified for many jobs with only a degree, I highly advise obtaining a TESOL or TEFL certificate. The benefits include an advantage of beating out competition for highly sought after jobs and guarantee of a higher monthly salary. Within just a few months, considering salary alone, one can pay off the cost of the certificate.
Is it possible to arrive in Korea without a job and still find employment?
Unfortunately, it is not possible to legally arrive in Korea and obtain a working Visa while in country. Korea probably has one of the strictest Visa requirements of any country in Asia for ESL teachers. There is a lot of paperwork and documents that need to be processed before you even arrive. Furthermore, one is limited to a specific contract and school, as determined by the contract. It’s not possible to suddenly change jobs until your contract expires which makes it necessary for one to do plenty of research before signing on.
What city did you teach in?
I’ve taught in three different areas in Korea: Seoul, Bundang and Daejeon. My first teaching contract was in Seoul and I was thrilled to be living there at the time. I really wasn’t very concerned with saving money during that initial contract and the opportunities for night life and entertainment were plentiful. My second stint was in Bundang (a satellite city) just outside of Seoul that is known as the second most affluent area in South Korea. I really enjoyed living there because it offered a more laid back pace of life during the weekdays and I was only 20-30 minutes away from Seoul which I frequently visited on the weekend. My third contract in Korea was in Daejeon and I had an entirely different mentality this time around. I purposely selected a city that was a reasonable distance away from Seoul because I had the clear intention of saving money for backpacking. I found myself picking up a lot of overtime hours, working extra pay camps and saving as hard as I could. My efforts really paid off because just that one year of teaching allowed me to fund a nearly two year backpacking journey afterwards.
What is the quality of life of an English teacher in Korea?
The quality of a life for an English teacher is generally very high provided they’ve secured a reputable job. A typical contract includes return airfare, a free apartment, severance bonuses and low tax rate. A teacher is typically left with a lot of disposable income after payday. If a teacher is frugal and lives like a local, there is a potential to save between 50-75% of their salary each month. Overall, in larger cities there is a vibrant expat community with plenty of opportunities to enjoy a variety of different activities. One of the true highlights of living in Korea is the diverse cuisine. Some of my favourite dishes are as spicy as any I’ve tried in Asia.
What are the typical salaries for English teachers in Korea in US dollars?
The average salary for a starting teacher would be anywhere between $1700 to $2200 per month with a free apartment, depending on experience, qualifications and the level which one is teaching (private, public, university). For more experienced teachers the average salary would be between $2100 to $2500. Finally, for those who are working at a prestigious university, large company or doing research or development the sky is the limit. I’ve heard of individuals pulling in between $5000 to 10,000 but this is very rare and only for those who have advanced qualifications such as a Masters degree and lots of experience teaching in Korea.
Would you teach English again?
I would definitely teach English overseas again. I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to experience a new culture, travel and save money. Unlike backpacking, it offers one the opportunity to feel as though they are part of the local community. The one tip I would suggest is to carefully research your potential school before signing any contract. Although there are excellent schools, the ESL industry is also rife with dodgy operators who have little concern for the welfare of their teachers or students.
If you were to go back to Korea, what would you do different?
That’s a tough question to answer. I think some of the worst experiences I’ve had in Korea have provided for great lessons; however, with that being said, if I could redo a few things I would most certainly have been more diligent researching my initial few jobs. At the time, I was just excited to have the offer and opportunity to go overseas. Had I been more selective I could have got on with more reputable institutes that provided better working conditions and salary. Overall though, it’s very easy to say this in hindsight and I think my mistakes were quite common for somebody fresh out of university.
Samuel Jeffery is the wizard behind the curtain pulling the strings of Nomadic Samuel – Travel Site a travel blog featuring photos, videos & quirky travel stories along with photography tips, interviews, esl tips, reviews and general travel advice. Additionally, Samuel runs other travel related sites: Smiling Faces Travel Photos , Travel Photography Tips , Teach English Travel Overseas & How to Make Money Travel Blogging. One can get in touch with Samuel by following him on his Facebook Fan Page , Twitter, Youtube & Google + .
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