It only took me 5 months, 15+ pages of applications, recommendation letters, essays, background checks, securing university documents, 2 trips to L.A., many trips to the San Diego County office, dealing with the FBI and the IRS, getting a visa, lots of stress and a lot of waiting….to finally get accepted to teach in a public school in Seoul, South Korea.
Yeah, what a breeze.
Back then I was preparing for the biggest move of my life. I wanted time to go by faster and I wanted to be in Korea as soon as possible, I wanted to see what was in store for the next year of my life. I closed my eyes and imagined neon lights, crowds of people, and motivated excited students ready to speak English. Little did I know the latter wouldn’t always be true.
Fast forward 16 months and I’m still happily here, but this doesn’t mean there weren’t rough patches. Being from a western culture and trying to adapt to an eastern culture, has more frustrations than some like myself can anticipate. However nowadays, the abnormalities of my life living in a foreign (and Asian) country are just normalities. The strange isn’t so strange because it’s part of a normal day. As of now, my move to Korea has changed me in ways I am not yet able to put into words. Still, moving here after college graduation was the best decision I could have made.
Though it is not necessarily hard to get a public school job in South Korea, as you can see from the above it takes some hard work, time, stress and patience. The requirements to teach in the country are pretty simple: be a native English speaker with a bachelor’s degree in any discipline, a TEFL or TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certificate if you want to teach in Seoul, and a clean criminal record. And if you are picky about where you want to be placed (like I was), it is basically a race to the finish to get all your documents in as soon as possible. In my opinion, it is a tedious and hellish process, but the hard work pays off and most people end up with a placement.
So Why South Korea?
For most people, including myself, there are a few good reasons. Firstly, for teaching English right out of college (and without a degree in education) South Korea pays the most. Korea (and the Korean government) have invested billions of dollars (some experts have estimated between $10-15 billion) on English education.
And I am definitely okay with taking a small percentage of that fortune.
Curious what all that money goes to?
Below is what an English teacher in Korea (accepted in 2011/2012) could expect from a one year teaching contract.
- Paid airfare to and from Korea (along with an entrance allowance to cover a few various expenses).
- A furnished single apartment.
- Paid vacation time (21 days for public school positions, excluding the many national holidays).
- Monthly salary generally between $1600-$2000+ depending on your qualifications and teaching experience.
- Some nationalities (Americans included) also receive a tax free income and a reimbursement of the pension.
- Among a few other things such as a settlement allowance, severance, 50% medical insurance etc.
Overall, it’s a pretty good deal for anyone who wants to travel, save some money and/or pay off some debts. The luxury of not paying rent, while keeping bills small, allow many people to do all of those things. And I forgot to mention one other thing, teaching in a Korean public school can be extremely easy. My classes are never particularly demanding, and I usually have a lot of free time at my desk. Actually, most of this blog has been completed during my work hours.
Times may be changing.
It hasn’t been that long since I got my placement in Korea, but already things are changing. Due to a few different factors, the ‘teaching in Korea bubble’ may be about to burst. Not only are more and more people trying to come to teach, the government has decided to accept less and less foreigners in public schools. In my opinion, this is an awful decision by the government, and will unfortunately make the process harder for those who want to come (along with weakening the English education programs. But that’s a whole different blog post.)
There is no reason to think teaching abroad is out of reach. I would encourage anyone who is confused about what to do after graduation, or tired of the same job, to consider teaching ESL here. Korea is a pleasant place to live, and I’ve found my lifestyle very comfortable.
Are you interested in teaching English in Korea?
1. Decide which route to take: Public schools or private schools
Public school positions are by far easier and worth the little amount less you will make per month. These positions are more secure, with reliable pay and vacation time. Like I stated above, these positions may become harder to get due to the recent government decisions. Private school positions, or “hagwons” can vary greatly in their quality of a work place, hours and pay. Do your research to figure out what is best for you. If choosing a hagwon, make sure you get in contact with current or previous employees to get real information about the work environment and hours.
2. Research the different areas of Korea.
Don’t let yourself get placed in a small village when you are a big city person. After researching different areas and cities, strictly specify where you want to work when applying. If you are really picky, start applying as early as possible.
3. Don’t always listen to what recruiters tell you.
Recruiters act as facilitators to place people in public and private school positions. These people get paid as soon as the person is successfully placed in a job. Though sometimes helpful and efficient, others can be untruthful, uncooperative and only in it for the money. If using a recruiter, make sure you research the answers they give you. For example, many recruiters tell applicants that there are no positions available in Seoul just so they can fill a placement elsewhere. Do your research to get the real story.
3. Make sure you are ready for a year commitment.
The only positions you will be able to find are year-long commitments. Breaking a contract usually means losing out on a few thousand dollars and reimbursement for your plane ticket home. Public school positions only start semi-annually ; February and August. Private school positions open up year-round.
4. Gather all the necessary paperwork as early as possible
The biggest pain of the process is getting your paperwork together. Some documents can take weeks to secure. Make sure you do this early, and do it right the first time. A minor mistake and mean a big dilemma.
5. Don’t be afraid to make the jump.
Many people have moved, and are moving to Korea now to teach English. Don’t be afraid to take the chance and do it. If you’re worried about being lonely, move to a big city where the expat community is bigger or take a placement in a public school where the chances to meet other teachers is greater.
For public school positions check out http://www.epik.kr/ “English Program in Korea”.
For more information on all things Korea: http://www.eatyourkimchi.com/korea-faq/
For private school/”hagwon” job listings: http://www.eslcafe.com/jobs/korea/