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How to Teach English in Korea
First things first...
The very first thing that you have to do when thinking about teaching English as a second language in Korea, is decide if Korea is the type of place that you want to live for a least a year, and if teaching English -- probably to children -- is the kind of work that you want to do. There are a number of considerations for any person considering this drastic life change for a year including but not limited to:
- your education -- you need a bachelor's degree in any discipline.
- your nationality -- you must be from Canada, the United States, Australia, New-Zealand, the United Kingdom or South Africa to qualify.
- your financial situation
- your openness to trying new things
- your tolerance of other cultures and their biases
- your ability to role with the punches and,
- your lifestyle
All these things play a substantial role in the quality of life you can expect in Korea and are discussed in more detail here: Teach English in Korea: Is it for me?
Next... Recruiters and E2 Visa Paperwork
Choose a good recruiter, and choose wisely. You can find helpful information about locating and choosing a good recruiter in this article about Recruiters.
Once you've sifted through all of the material that is available about choosing recruiters and you've picked the one that best suits your needs, the next step is to contact them and let them know that you're interested in a job. The majority of recruiters are very proactive and will pretty much run the process from here. They'll request some documents from you, tell you where to send them, set you up with a school and send you on your way. In the meantime, for you impatient or curious types out there, here's what to expect.
The first thing that your recruiter is probably going to do, is verify that you have all the necessary paperwork required for the E2 visa application process. Documents you will need include:
- A passport: Valid six months after the day you plan to leave Korea.
- Two transcripts: Sealed and stamped by your university in separate envelopes
- Your original diploma: Must be sent with visa application
- Criminal check (vulnerable sector check) with apostle stamp
- A health form: Can be printed from Korean Embassy's website.
A more comprehensive list is available at teachaway.com, which also includes links to download the forms you will need to print. It is worth noting that although very similar, requirements vary slightly from country to country, so you should contact your nearest Korean embassy for specific information, or ask your recruiter. Links for Korean embassies may be found here.
Once you've got your paperwork all worked out, and the recruiter is satisfied that you have a competitive application, he or she will set you up a with one or even a few job offers to consider. Look at each offer carefully and with a critical eye. Does each offer correspond with what you're looking for? Is the school located where you would like it to be? How large is the foreign staff at the school? The minimum benefits that you should expect from a job offer are:
- 2.0 - 2.2 million won/month salary
- Housing included -- or a monthly stipend to pay for housing you will find on your own.
- An easy commute, or within walking distance to the school
- Two weeks paid vacation
- Health Insurance -- paid 50% by the school
- Return airfare from your city of origin, provided upfront.
- Completion bonus: one month's salary after completion of a 12 month contract.
Not every school is going to be exactly the same, but they shouldn't deviate too far from this list one way or the other unless you have extenuating circumstances. You should expect to work around 30 hours a week, and there should also be things like sick days and bereavement leave.
Before you sign any contract however, do a little independent research on the school that you are considering. The school should offer you the email address of a current foreign teacher, either the person that you'll be replacing or someone else who works there. If they don't you should ask for it. Also, look up the school on Dave's ESL Cafe or another website where English teachers spend time. While the majority of schools are perfectly fine, some schools have bad business practices, encourage illegal behaviour, or have crooked management. Schools that have been blacklisted are to be avoided and are known to have done some pretty terrible stuff to their teachers including but not limited to:
- Terminating contracts for a contrived reason at the 11 month mark so they don't have to pay the completion bonus
- Paying salaries late or inconsistently
- Stealing money from teachers
- Withholding teacher Korean Registration Cards, and therefore important benefits like health insurance.
A website like Dave's can help you avoid these pitfalls. You have to beware though, because some people on websites like eslcafe.com are haters, who will give a bad review just for the sake of having something negative to say. You should also take into account that people are much more likely to complain than they are to praise any system, so take the complaining that you will find on that forum with a grain of salt. If you are lucky, you may find a blog of someone who is currently working at the school you are considering and who is having a good experience. Whatever you find, remember that there are plenty of good schools, and good situations out there if you just do the research.
Last, but not least... Wrapping it up, and what to bring.
So, you've decided that Korea is for you, you've chosen a recruiter, found, researched and accepted a school's offer of employment, and your visa is in the mail. By this time there's not a whole lot left to the process, and you're about to leave any day now. Congratulations! You're about to embark on the journey of a lifetime! Time to tie up loose ends at home, pack your bags, and -- in what seems like a lifetime, or mere seconds depending on the day, or even the hour -- head to the airport, and start your new life as an English teacher on the other side of the world. You're excited, and perhaps a little noxious just thinking about it, aren't you? Yeah, so are most people. You can check out the beginning of this blog if you're looking for someone to relate to as your friends and family are either freaking out, or telling you (with fear in their eyes -- they're being 'strong' for you ) that everything is going to be OK. They really just don't know what you're going through.
As your final days are coming to a close, and you're contemplating how tiny two suitcases is when you're moving your life, there are a few things that you really must make room for in your suitcase. Check out Teach English in Korea: What you Should Bring for more information on the essentials. As a brief summary, important items that you really can't get in Korea include but are not limited to:
- Western-Style Bedding
- Not-tiny clothing
- Power converters
- Tooth-paste and Shaving Cream
Equally if not more important are those little touches from home, that are going to make your apartment feel less like a box, or dorm room, and a better place to unwind at the end of the day. If you have the time and the motivation you should also consider getting small items such as pins or stickers that represent your state, province or country. Contact your local government representative, or the department of tourism. They are usually more than happy to give things like that away, and your children/students will really appreciate them more that you can imagine.
Ultimately, chill out, try not to stress and enjoy some time with your family and friends before you leave. Bring lots of pictures, and insist that everyone write you letters or emails under the threat of death, but don't leave part of yourself there. You deserve to live this experience to the fullest. Once you've arrived, drop back and leave a message to say how everything is going. I know that you'll have a great time!
Laura Berwick is an English teacher at a private English academy in Seoul, South Korea. For more information about her, or about living in Korea, please feel free to check out her blog available through her profile.