Teaching abroad is a great way to travel while funding it at the same time. At first, the research of where to go and how to get there can be completely overwhelming. There are so many resources online to help people teach abroad (especially in Korea), but sometimes it can be frustrating. What can you believe? What is current? What is reliable?
In the last few weeks, I’ve gotten a few inquires on teaching in Korea, and I’ve realized my last post on it was pretty basic. This is my final attempt to create a one-stop resource for people looking to come to South Korea.
Before I begin, my best advice: If this is something you really want to do. Just GO. Work hard, do your research, figure it out. It isn’t all sunshine and daises, but I don’t know one person who has actually regretted their time teaching in Korea, or abroad in general!
Below I will try my best to give you an accurate description of what you need to know and what to expect. In case you are curious, I applied for the 2011/2012 term starting in February for EPIK.
I will also address the first question that should be on your mind if you are interested in teaching here: public or private?
Public School Teaching Jobs:
SMOE (Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education) – In charge of public school teaching placements all over the Seoul metropolitan sprawl. Works together with EPIK for the applications and placements.
EPIK (English Program in Korea) – In charge of public school placements all around Korea (remember, including Seoul).
GEPIK – In charge of public school placements only in Gyeonggi-do (the province surrounding Seoul, but not including Seoul).
Benefits with EPIK (and SMOE) on top of your monthly salary (about 1.8-2.2 million won): can vary slightly according to city/province placement
- Entrance allowance of 1.3 million KRW to purchase a one-way ticket to Korea
- Free single housing (utilities not included)
- Settlement allowance of 300,000 KRW
- Exit allowance of 1.3 million KRW
- Renewal Bonus of 2.0 million KRW for re-signing
- Training in Korea (mandatory orientation upon arrival)
- One months salary severance pay upon completion of contract
- Paid vacation for 18-21 working days + national holidays
- 50% medical insurance and pension
- Tax exemption for first 2 years (excluding Canadians)
- American and Canadian teachers are entitled a lump sum return of their pension payments at the end of contract (%9 of salary from first year, about 6% the next year)
- Obviously all of the above. Americans are in the best situation as we are exempt from paying taxes and we also get our pension back at the end of the contract.
- The job is easy. Anyone not afraid to stand in front of a class can do this.
- Your contract states you teach 22 classes a week (between 3-5 a day)
- Most classes finish by 1pm
- You will always be paid, and most always on time
- Job security for the length of your contract
- Vacation time can equal about 2 weeks paid vacation every 6 months. You can’t choose your vacation time, but most public school teachers get vacation around the same time. (August and January/February)
- You teach in an actual public school (looks better on resumes)
- You may be the only foreign teacher in your school (can be boring/lonely if you can’t speak Korean and co-teachers don’t like speaking English)
- You must work the full 40 hours a week even if you have nothing to do. (Some may see this as a pro. I do, because I work on other tasks like blogging at my desk)
- Luck of the draw with specific school situation and location. You could get placed anywhere in Seoul, and even anywhere in Korea.
- You are not legally allowed to accept other jobs outside of your contract. If your school offers you extra classes, you can work them as long as your principal has approved it.
- Only married couples can be placed together in an apartment. If you apply with a friend, partner or sibling you will work at separate schools and be given separate apartments. You could be placed in the same city or province if you both get your first choice of placement. At the same time, even if you both get placed in Seoul, you could still be far away from each other. (You could possibly live an hour apart but still be working in the same city. That’s how big Seoul is). Note: This happens to a lot of people and everyone usually just meets in the middle on the weekends to hang out or go out.
- You can apply either directly through the above websites, or through a recruiter to “facilitate the process”. I used a recruiter and everything turned out fine, but it was sometimes a pain in the butt. I would go directly through EPIK, or GEPIK, as you, and no one else, will have control over your documents.
- The only intakes for these positions are in August and February.
- Apply as early as possible. I started applying in August, for a February start date. The earlier you can prepare, the better. Certain documents can be a pain to secure, and the location placements are first come first serve. I got my first choice, but I did things as quickly as possible. Start getting necessary documents, like the FBI check and apostilled degree (both of which are a pain and can be a slow process), as soon as you are committed to going.
- If you have the qualifications, and applied decently early, you WILL get placed somewhere.
- Most questions you have won’t be able to be answered until you know which school you are at (which will be the day you start work!). Even after that, things are still situational. Your school chooses your apartment. Your school chooses your vacation days. Most times, people end up with fine apartments and normal vacations days (same as everyone else).
- If you have something like a wedding during the year, or a strong desire to go home for Christmas, it is a crap shoot if you will get your wish. All depends on the generosity of your principal.
- Positions in middle and high schools have been cut all around Seoul. This means there are less jobs available overall. Apply early.
- You will meet more friends than you will know what to do with at orientation. Though everyone lives alone, you won’t be lonely.
- While many people fill their “deskwarming time” (time when you have no work or lesson planning but must stay at school until 5pm) with TV shows, reading, or Facebook, you could also easily accomplish other things. Take an online class, work on a blog, study Korean. With the extra time you will have, you can easily make it into accomplishing something productive.
Private School Teaching Jobs: Language Academies, after-school tutoring aka “hagwons”
Koreans love to educate their children all day long. Many students leave school and go straight to these afterchool academies to “further their education”. Teaching at these places, called hagwons, can also be a good way to teach and live in Korea. Though contracts differ depending on school, you should be provided with airfare, an apartment, medical, and a salary comparable (usually more) than in public schools. Though I am bias because I have only taught in public schools, I will still try and express everything I know about these positions from what I have heard from multiple friends.
How to apply:
You can apply to schools directly either by finding listings on places like Dave’s ESL Cafe or through a recruiter. Do not trust all recruiters! Some may tell you things such as “there are no placements in Seoul” or “this is the only job available right now” just because they want to place you somewhere specific to make extra money. Shop around for recruiters, and shop around for hagwons. You can also find listings for jobs by searching FB groups for specific cities. For example, the group “Ansan English Teachers” often has listings on school openings.
- You can choose which city you live in (for the most part). If you are strict and specify you will only accept hagwon positions in Seoul, and only in Seoul, you will definitely find a job sooner or later. (Recruiters might try and place you elsewhere, or stretch the truth about the location. Always do your own research!)
- You can work with your friend, sibling, girlfriend, boyfriend whoever. Just tell your recruiter or apply to job listings together. Some schools hire more than one teacher at once. You could also request to live together.
- You won’t be the only foreign teacher at your school. Hagwons usually have 3+ foreign teachers at the school. Sometimes all these foreign teachers will also live in the same apartment building.
- You might make a more money than a public school teacher.
- You could get to know your students better. You might see the same students multiple times per week, sometimes even every day. This allows for you to get to know them more than in public school.
- Hagwons are a business. It can go out of business. It could treat you badly. It could pay you late. It could be unorganized. Do your research. Contact current employees.
- You will work harder than public school teachers. While public school teachers may teach 4/5 classes a day, you might have 7-10. There is barely any free time. The time you are at work, you are teaching classes (sometimes back to back). Teaching these classes can be easy and this might make time go faster than sitting at a desk for some people.
- Less vacation. It is likely you will not have as much vacation time as public school teachers. One week in summer and one in winter might be about average. (Some schools will barely allow any).
- There is no one to protect you. If you find yourself in a shady school, there is no one to protect you if they decide to fire you and cancel your visa. Again, do your research! If you find a good school, chances of bad things happening are very slim.
- You might teach all ages. From kindergarten in the morning to high school in the evenings. It all depends on the school.
- Some hagwons are great. There are a lot of horror stories online, but they don’t happen often. Many people teaching in hagwons are perfectly happy (if not a bit more tired than others).
- You won’t have an orientation, but “be thrown into the job”. The other foreigners at the school will help you adjust.
- Most hagwon teachers bond with the other foreigners at their school and don’t have a problem meeting people.
What to know about teaching in Korea in general (private and public) :
- You must commit to a year contract. Don’t expect to find anything shorter.
- Teaching in Korea offers the one of the best packages of all ESL countries right now. For most of us, (considering the money, and hours, and accommodation) it can’t get better than this for teaching abroad.
- You can save money or spend it all. We get paid more than enough, but at the same time, there are many temptations to spend your money on. If you try hard, you can save, but don’t count on it for the first few months as you will have things to buy, places to visit and constant plans. This year (my second year), I save about 1 million won ($920) a month by focusing on a small budget almost daily. I go out only about 2-3 times a month, and only eat out with friends about once a week. I sometimes have to turn down plans, and I don’t go shopping. Of course, I buy things I need, eat well at home and also have a smartphone. Saving all depends on your spending (and drinking habits). At the same time, if you don’t need to save, you could go out as much as you want, take vacations around SE Asia on your vacation time, and not even touch your savings.
- Learn to read Korean as soon as you come. It isn’t hard and will help make life in Korea easier.
- Drugs are not acceptable in Korea, and could get you sent home. If you are getting your drug test for public schools and fail, your visa will be canceled and you will be sent home. If you are getting a drug test for your hagwon job, they will sometimes allow you to “try again” if you fail. All depends on the specific hagwon and their attitude towards you.
- The same goes for infectious diseases, like HIV. You will be tested and if you fail your visa can be cancelled.
- Do not list non-visible tattoos or piercing in your application. If they can’t see it, they don’t need to know. I wear my nose ring at school and no one tells me to take it out (my first 6 months I kept it out). Some people start showing their tattoos after a few months and nothing happens.
- Come to Korea knowing that eventually, some things will irritate you, sometimes even drive you crazy. Coming from a Western country and living in an Eastern can be difficult at times. Don’t let things get to you too much.
- Though Korea is advanced technologically, some social aspects are decades behind. Don’t expect education and opinions to be the same as you are used to. If you have dark skin or are overweight, you may have a more difficult time as Koreans aren’t used to foreigners (especially darker skinned foreigners) and they are also very concerned with physical appearance. This should not be a deterrent from coming!
- Now that I’ve told you the last few, disregard them. Come with an open mind. Appreciate the experience. The ‘teaching in Korea’ bubble might not last forever.
- Korvia: I used them. They were a hassle at times, and didn’t clarify some important information which led to a pain on my end, but it all worked out in the end.
- International TEFL TESOL Training (ITTT): I took the 120 hour online course.
- i-to-i: Another popular choice
- Lingua Edge: Has 50, 100 and 150 hour online courses
Other posts on teaching in Korea:
- Dave’s ESL Cafe Job listings and forum : Don’t trust all opinions in the forum.
- How to get an FBI check : Start early on this. It could take weeks. Make sure it is done correctly according to what your employer wants.
- How to get an apostille: Get a public notary first on the copy of your degree, then send or take it to be apostilled. Call your Secretary of State to make sure you do the process correctly depending on what state you are in.
- If you are in the process of graduating, there are ways to get around this by getting an official letter stating you WILL be graduating and when to hold the place of this. Then you must bring the apostilled copy with you to Korea. If you are short on time, there are companies that will handle this for you ASAP, but it costs around $100+.
- Lesson plans for textbooks in Korea
Other bloggers in Korea:
- Farsickness : From places to visit around Korea to the best neighborhoods to get food, a great blog about an expat in Korea.
- Living in Another Language: Beautiful from Amanda, part of a married duo who moved to Geoje to teach English.
- Waegook Tom : A great, and entertaining, resource for life, travel and food in Korea.
- Seoul Searching : Great articles on Seoul, food, cafes and so much more.
- grrrlTraveler : From banking tips, to getting the ‘magic straight’. A fantastic resource for a move here.
- Chincha?! : Everything you need to know about events going on around Korea.
- Mapping Words : A talent for narrating life in Korea. Also articles documenting the trials of learning Korean.
If you happen to have any other questions that aren’t addressed above, message me over twitter, Facebook or email 🙂