Teaching in Korea: A Guide for New English Teachers
Please note: The following information is based on my own experiences in Korea thus far. At the time of writing this article, I’m two and a half months into my contract working at a public high school in Seoul, Korea.
Have you ever thought about teaching English in another country? Deciding to board a plane and relocating to another country is a huge decision, for so much preparation is required before departing. You need to consider the pros and cons of teaching in Korea (or elsewhere in the world).
First things first, you will be immersing yourself in a new culture, complete with its own expectations and own version of normal. And, don't forget language! In the case of Korea, appearance is of the utmost importance. Plastic surgery clinics are popping up in areas in and around Seoul. So, if you move to a big city like Seoul, you will need to keep up a professional appearance. Expect to dress as a professional teacher would in North America-- if not more professionally. It is not uncommon to spot English teachers in suits holding a briefcase. For myself, I packed my best pants and shirts, but carry around a backpack to help with the daily commute. Not every teacher will have the luxury of having a school within walking distance. And, furthermore, teachers will often not find out which public school they will be placed at until they arrive in Korea. My first day of school was Monday... I learned where my school would be the day before.
You do not need a teaching degree or certificate to teach, although it can help you find a job. While I teach in a public school, some people choose to teach in hagwons, or private academies. The working hours at these schools usually start later, as students attend public schools in the morning. At my public school, I am the only foreign teacher, so I am able to learn more about the culture. However, if you want more contact with foreigners, consider working at a hagwon, for they typically employ more than one foreign teacher. Keep in mind, however, the public school teachers typically get more paid vacation than teachers at hagwons (normally 21 vs 10 days). Of course, you would need to review your contract to know the exact details.
While teaching in Korea has been personally rewarding so far-- I had many adventures which have tested me both mentally and physically-- Korea is not necessarily the place to save money. Don’t get me wrong. You can save some money, but do not expect to bring home heaps of mulla. While schools usually pay for rent, you still need to buy food (cheap unless you get placed in a more expensive area... which I did), pay utility bills (electricity is expensive, and gas can take a bite out of your hard-earned cash if you forget to turn off the water heater after taking a shower... luckily haven’t done that...yet) and transportation costs (especially if you need to commute daily). And, if you are larger than the typical Korean size, which the majority of North Americans are, your money will get sucked out of your pockets at the department stores, Itaewon (“foreign central” in Seoul by the US Army Base) and the few store chains that carry western sizes, namely Forever21 and H&M.
Before moving to South Korea to teach English, there are some things you should consider. First, you should teach English abroad because you enjoy it, not because there are no other jobs out there. As a teacher in a high school, I know the job isn’t always easy. While some public school teachers I know have been lucky enough to have a position with plenty of desk-warming time, my school has kept me busy with planning lessons from scratch, administering and marking exams, as well as teaching after-school classes and correcting other teachers‘ work. After all, I am the only native speaker at the school. The job will most definitely be rewarding, but not necessarily easy if that’s what you were hoping for. I am here for the experience, while I have met some people here for a fun time... Just know what you are getting yourself into before signing on the dotted line.
Second, Korea will change you. I have climbed the highest mountain in South Korea already (Halla-san on Jeju Island), tried paragliding and ziplining, and even archery. It has been a positive journey of self-discovery so far. If you’re up for a challenge-- professionally, personally, mentally-- Korea may be for you.
About Me: I am a certified teacher in Canada. At the time of writing this article, I have been in Korea for only 2 and a half months.
Please leave your comments and questions below. I would love to hear from you.
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