How to Land that Perfect Teaching Job in South Korea
You’re itching to move.. you’ve done some research on teaching in Asia, and now what?!
Make it happen!
Yes, packing up and moving life to Asia is a huge deal– but the internet makes starting a life before you even get there so easy. Here are some basic steps for landing your ideal teaching job in South Korea:
There are a few websites that cater to finding people jobs in Asia. They’ve got great connections and all of the following organizations send 1,000’s of people abroad every year and know all of the in’s, out’s, do’s, and don’ts.
- teachaway.com We both used teachaway when we moved to South Korea and we couldn’t have had a better experience. I had our recruiters number in my cellphone and called her daily buzzing with questions about the move, visas, documents, and certifications. They made everything so easy for us.
- footprintsrecruiting.com Many of our friends in South Korea went through this organization and had the same experience as we did with teachaway.
- TEFL.com This website posts lots of teaching jobs for South Korea, most of them are private schools.
The 2 happiest/craziest students I taught! So much fun.
2. Public or Private?
The other big decision you have to make is whether you want to work in public or private schools. Most of my friends and Rhys and I both worked in public schools. I highly recommend public schools, but I did have friends who worked privately and really enjoyed it too. However, public schools give you TONS of support and you have the backings from the government so you can be assured you will always have a job and will always have that beautiful paycheck on time every month. I’ve heard horror stories about some ESL teachers at private schools. From pay being delayed, to schools closing unannounced, and so on. Your wage is slightly higher with private schools by a few $100 a month, but you will be required to work weekends and week nights. Public schools have a gravy 9-5, Monday-Friday work week.
As for me, my experience working for public schools goes like this: I went directly though a program called EPIK. (English Programs in Korea) It is government-funded and has been running for the last 8 or so years. The EPIK program requires a native English teacher in every single school across South Korea. They give you roughly $2,600 for both of your flights (regardless of how much your flight is, this what you get. My flights were $900 each, so I got some extra money!) Upon completion of your year contract you will get an extra month’s pay, and when we arrived we were each handed $300 straight away for ‘settling’ into our apartments. Plus, our apartment was paid for by my school, so Rhys’s school gave him his monthly rent in cash ($400) and that was used for our groceries and electric bills. The money never stops flowing. It’s awesome.
I worked with 5 or 6 other Korean teachers who taught English at my middle school. Most of them spoke English, some of them didn’t, but they became mothers to me. Always looking over my shoulder, making sure I was alright and making sure I was loving life in their country. In every class there is a Korean teacher who is supposed to be there to translate and discipline for you. Most of mine were so helpful, some of them sucked and didn’t do a thing and that’s when students would start running across desk tops and playing baseball while I was teaching (but that’s an entirely different post to write!)
With public schools you also have the option to make more money when school finishes by teaching after-school English class. ALWAYS do this! It is so easy, pays $20 an hour, and you still get home in time to unwind and eat dinner. I had friends who decided to take 3 hours of afterschool every evening and their monthly salaries sky rocketed. I took the additional hour and was more than happy with that. If you want it to be, Korea can be an absolute gold mine. It depends on how much you want to work and how much you want to play.
The school I worked at, Samho Middle School
3. The Language Barrier
I always get asked, “But.. but.. how did you teach English in Korea if you speak NO KOREAN?!” The schools don’t want you to know Korean. You are there for the kids to learn English, so when they are being little brats, you should tell them they are being little brats in English. They’ve got to learn one way or another. Plus, you have a Korean teacher in the class with you who can save you if the class really has no idea what is going on, which for me was always.
Life in Korea can be very challenging with the language barrier. I lived in the smallest of the 6 major cities with just over 1,000,000 people in Ulsan and NO ONE spoke English. However, if you live in Seoul or Busan you will find tons of helpful Koreans who speak English and would love to assist you when your standing on the street with big eyes, lost, and confused. By the end of my time in Ulsan, I could read Korean and knew all of the important things to make life easy. Cab directions, food/menu, and travel related phrases. Even with no knowledge of the language you’ll get by and you’ll be fine. In EVERY city there is an AMAZING tourist hotline that you can dial. It takes you straight to a Korean woman who is there to assist hopeless foreigners. I called that poor lady everyday the first month I was there, if a cab driver was lost and I couldn’t tell him where to go, if I needed a doctor… anything! The hotline is SUPER helpful, and created to boost tourism in Korea, so use it! The number is 1330. Dial the area code for the city and then 1330. Dialing the tourist hotline in Seoul would be, 1-1330.
Soju ALWAYS helps break the language barrier!
4. Teaching Qualifications
It seems to good to be true, but you do not need any teaching qualifications in South Korea or Japan. You only need a college diploma! Aside from the Middle East, Korea and Japan are the two places that pay ESL teachers the highest wages and you don’t even need a CELTA or TEFL to do it! However, I think things may be getting a little more competitive and I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a teacher TEFL qualification soon. It’s simply to good to be true to not require one for ESL teachers. However, if you have any qualifications you will make more money. Rhys and I ran out of time and didn’t have a chance to get an online TEFL before we moved because of our backpacking trip through South East Asia. Most of our friends spent $100 and got an easy-to-do online TEFL. I had friends not bother with the actual course material and simply take the 9 hour online TEFL test and pass. It’s not hard, and you will make an extra few $100 a month. If you have any teacher qualifications from home you will make well over $2,000/month. Same goes for CELTA/TEFL certificate, or if you were an English major in college. I had no extra qualifications and earned roughly $1,700/month without adding in my additional afterschool or private lessons I taught. It is easy to save a ton of money when you have no apartment expenses too! Expect to save $15,000-$20,000 dollars, depending on your exact wage and the number of trips you take while you are in Korea. I told you it was an absolute gold mine!
Apartments in Korea are pretty small. Most people live in big apartment buildings, especially in the cities. You will rarely every see a house. Rhys and I got extremely lucky and landed a SWEET apartment. It wasn’t big compared to apartments at home, but for Korea standards it was huge. Some of our friends lived in dingy studio apartments with one giant room for everything, but everyone made their apartments homey and by the end leaving our little nooks was much harder than anyone thought it would be. Advice: If your school provides you with housing (public schools always do) and you find the apartment is simply unacceptable, tell them, stand up for yourself and your school will assist you with apartment hunting. I know of 2 separate occasions with teachers who complained and demanded to move and ended up finding great places. Don’t settle for shit!
Our Apartment in Ulsan, we lived on the 2nd floor– I miss it!
I hope I covered most questions about the big move to South Korea. If you have ANY others, please ask, I know I bothered so many people by bombarding them and their websites with questions. So don’t hesitate, and just buy the damn ticket! That’s the hardest part, than it’s over and you can focus on moving and paperwork. It is one of the best decisions I ever made [moving to Korea], and writing this post has me searching for answers as to why I even left!