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Applying to Teach English in South Korea
Applying to teach English in South Korea can be a very stressful process. First, it is important to decide which type of school you would like to work in. There are public schools and private schools (called hagwons). If you are coming for the experience and to save money, then private schools may be perfect for you. You are usually paid more as a beginner than in public schools. If you are coming to save a little money and also travel as much as you can in Korea and other parts of Asia, then public schools would be the right choice.
Since being here and meeting a lot of different people whom are in different working situations than I am, I would definitely say that choosing a public school was the right way to go. The stories that I have heard are that many private schools pile on the classes each week and do not provide you with much time, at work, to lesson plan. I have also heard that their curriculum is varied and not well prepared. Public school teachers are required 22 teaching hours per week (you are paid overtime if you teach more than that) and I have heard of some private school teachers having 30 or more classes. To me, that's too many. How can you provide quality instruction if you are not given sufficient time to plan for each lesson. Another area to consider is that public school teachers get a minimum of 18 days vacation between summer and winter as well as all of the national holidays off. Private school teachers get 10 days vacation (I believe that depends on the school - some get less) along with the national holidays.
After choosing which type of school you would like to work at, you have to decide which level would be your preference: elementary, middle, or high school. I chose elementary school because I had experience working with younger children and I also hold a teacher's license in elementary education. Elementary school classes are 40 minutes long. In your contract it will state how many "hours" per week you are required to teach. For example, my contract states that I am required to teach 22 hours per week. Well, hours means classes (not full hours). So, if I teach 22 "hours" per week, I'm actually teaching 22 "classes" per week at 40 minutes per class. It's a pretty nice deal. Our lessons are about "How's the Weather?", "I Went to the Zoo", "Can You Join Us?", "Where is York Street?", etc. The books contain key words and sentences for the students to learn for each lesson. Middle school classes are 45 minutes long. There are books to follow but you can also do some of your own teaching. High school classes are 50 minutes long. I've been told that the books are boring and leave room for a lot of your own teaching.
You then have to decide how you will apply. When I first looked into doing this, I was originally working with www.footprintsrecruiting.com. From the little that I did work with them, I could tell that they were very organized and willing to help. Be careful about going through another recruiter. I personally believe that if the website is not a quality website and they are not prompt about getting back to you or their conversation skills are lacking, don't use them. While working with FootPrints I came across another agency that seemed promising. I did not think their website was very good but I figured "why not?". So, I proceeded with their application process and was asked to pay $500 to go towards visa fees. So, I did it. BIG MISTAKE. Because I had been working with two recruitment agencies, it backfired. This new agency - after I paid them mind you - told me that my application was denied because of a duplicate application going through to EPIK (the government program that hires English teachers in Korea). Then, the went on to tell me that I could not have my money back because it was non-refundable even though on their website it "GUARANTEES" you a job in Korea if you worked with them. So, even though their part of the deal didn't hold up, they said I still couldn't have my money back. Needless to say I went through the credit card agency and put up a fight. I did, thankfully, wind up getting my money back. Not without a dispute from them of course. So, my advice is to either go through a clearly legitimate recruitment agency or you can go through epik.go.kr and apply directly.
On the EPIK application they ask you to write down your top 5 choices of locations you would like to be placed in. My top 5 starting from first choice to last was Busan, Incheon, Daegu, Ulsan, and Daejeon. I ended up in Busan and am extremely happy that this was my first choice. If Seoul is your first choice (the largest city in South Korea) then EPIK will have you complete and different application form. For all of the other metropolitan cities, you have another application form. Busan is the second largest city in South Korea and it has 5 beaches. If you look up Haeundae Beach, Gwangalli Beach, and Songjeong Beach, those are 3 of the 5 beaches in Busan. Seomyeon is the main downtown area of the city. There is plenty to do here and there are a lot of foreigners here, so it is a great place to live. Daegu is a smaller city about an hour and a half away from Busan. You can take a speed train (the fastest & more expensive one is called the KTX) from any city to one another. I know many people that were placed in Daegu and like it very much. I have also heard that there is an army base there. I have been to Daegu once and I thought it seemed like a great area. There were many English signs around the downtown area and it just had a very friendly feel to it. I saw many foreigners while I was there as well. I have not been to Incheon, Ulsan, or Daejoen yet so I can't tell you much. I don't know anyone in those areas either. All I can tell you is that Incheon is just outside of Seoul, Ulsan is just north of Busan, and Daejoen is closer to the center of South Korea.
The next part of the process can be a huge pain. Along with your application to EPIK, you have to submit a new passport picture, 2 letters of recommendation, an official transcript, an apostilled recent FBI background check, and an apostilled bachelor's degree. Sounds simple enough? Not quite. The FBI check can take up to 3 months just to get back so you must apply for it as soon as you think you will be applying to do this but keep in mind that it must have been issued within the last 6 months, it cannot be older than that. This requires you to get your fingerprints taken at a local police station (you can print out the fingerprint card on the FBI website). You may have to pay for that process which I know I had to (It cost me around $23). You can find the address to send it off on the FBI website as well. By the way, make sure you request the "Sign and Seal" for your background check. You cannot get it notarized without it. I made the mistake of sending in my fingerprints without requesting the "Sign and Seal" and when I received my background check I found out I had to send it in all over again just to get the "Sign and Seal" in order to get it notarized and apostilled. What a frustrating process. Moving on. You must also submit 2 letters of recommendation that have been written by a previous/current supervisor of some kind. They will not accept letters written by friends or family members. Each letter should be written on the companies/schools/etc. letterhead. I was told at the time it had to be written on letterhead but if you check EPIK's website it says "if possible". The supervisor's full name, e-mail address, and phone number must also be included on the letter. I had mine sent back due to lack of an e-mail address. In the letter the applicant's full name must be stated along with the writer's relationship to you, how long you worked there, what your roles were, and your strengths and weakness at that job and how it would apply to you becoming an English teacher. EPIK requires you to send them an official transcript for each degree. If you are nto aware of what an official transcript is, it is a transcript that you receive directly from the school. Normally, the transcripts come in an envelope that has a seal over the back of where it is to be opened. You must NOT open it. It must be sent with an unbroken seal. Now, EPIK alone only requires 1 copy but when you go to apply for your visa, you might be asked to submit one at that office, too. I was. So, to be safe, you should order two official transcripts from school and keep them unopened. By the way, if you attended more than one college for a specific degree and all credits are not shown on 1 transcript, then you must order a transcript from each school. Now, when you go to get everything apostilled (the copy of your degree and your FBI check), you must first get them notarized. I had to drive an hour away to go to the County Clerk to get it notarized because after it is notarized, the notary has to be "authenticated", and then you can finally get it apostilled. In order to kill 2 birds with 1 stone, I went to the place that "authenticates" notary signatures, got it notarized there, and was able to have the same person authenticate it. After that, you can get the apostille done at your Secretary of State office. Be sure to bring your original degree with you and call ahead or look online to find out what any charges might be before you begin this process. You should be sure to do this before every step of gathering the documents necessary for this entire application process. I was only allowed to use cash at the police station for fingerprinting.
Now, you have finally finished the application process. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me. Good luck! :)
If you want to do some more reading on the application process, you can go to www.epik.go.kr
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