So, you’re thinking about teaching English in South Korea. Great! Now what?
The process for finding and securing a teaching job in Korea can be confusing, stressful and daunting. So, I’ve written this post in hopes that it will help aspiring teachers to make better informed decisions and feel more prepared before making the exciting, big move to South Korea.
Let’s talk credentials! What will you need to teach English in Korea?
- A Bachelor’s degree in any field from a recognized college or university
- Be a citizen of a country where English is the primary language
To get a TEFL or to not get a TEFL?
Most schools and programs prefer that you hold either a TEFL, TESOL, or CELTA. Some regions of Korea require that you have one of these certificates, with part of the training having been completed in-class.
So, to get a TEFL? My suggestion, yes. Having this certificate will open up options as to where you can teach, increase your salary (if working for the public school system), and better prepare you for teaching, of course! I completed both a 150-hour online TEFL certificate and a 20-hour in-class TEFL certificate prior to moving to Korea.
To use a recruiter or not?
When applying for teaching jobs in certain countries abroad through a recruitment agency, you will be paying them for their services. When using a recruiter for teaching jobs in South Korea, this is not the case. In fact, they are being paid by the school or program to find successful candidates to fill their teaching positions.
I would personally recommend using a reputable recruitment agency to help you stay organized, meet deadlines and to act as a communicator between you and your future school or program. I used Canadian Connection – a recruitment agency based in Toronto, Canada. Don’t let the name fool you, they don’t only serve Canadians! I contact them whenever I have any questions or concerns about my contract or just general, quirky Korean life!
I have posted the names for alternative recruitment agencies at the end of the post.
Teaching Program Options
There are two different school systems in Korea: public schools and private academies (hagwons).
The public school system in Korea offers jobs through regional programs. These regional programs hire new teachers through direct online applications and recruitment agencies. Contract start dates differ by program, but usually take place in August, February and April. The main regional programs include:
- All across Korea: EPIK (English Program in Korea)
- Seoul area: SMOE (Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education)
- Jeollanam province: JLP (Jeollanamdo Language Program)
- Gyeonggi province: GEPIK (Gyeonggi English Program in Korea)
- Gyeongsang province: GOE (Gyeongnam Office of Education)
A 9:00-5:00 (sometimes 8:30-4:30), 40-hour work week. Of these 40 hours, you are actually only contracted to teach 22 of them. Which, leaves the remaining 18 hours for “deskwarming” – time designated for lesson planning, taking BuzzFeed quizzes, practicing yoga, watching cat videos on YouTube, and napping.
With any public school program, you can be placed anywhere within that region. Depending on how rural your school is located within that region, your class sizes can vary drastically. My friends teaching in larger cities teach up to thirty students, whereas my smallest class comprises one, single student.
Because my placement is so rural, I teach at a main school and three additional travel schools. I really enjoy my situation. Each day, I am at a different school, seeing fresh faces everyday, teaching various age groups and skill levels. This makes my weeks pass by very quickly. I’m also given an increase in my salary of ₩150,000, as I teach at more than three schools, which is tacked onto my monthly paycheque. The perks of rural placements!
- One year in duration.
- Free, furnished apartment. Goodbye expensive Toronto (and everywhere else in North America) housing! You are only responsible for your monthly utilities – which, are insignificant compared to living anywhere in the Western world.
- Comfortable monthly salary. Beginning from ₩1.8 million to ₩2.3 million, depending on your credentials. For complete information about starting pay scales visit EPIK’s website here (which are standard across almost all public school programs).
- Paid vacation. 24 days winter vacation, 8 days summer vacation, and all national holidays.
- Reimbursement of airfare. Allowance of ₩1.3 million to reimburse the cost of your flight to Korea. In my case, my flight cost less than this amount, but I still received the full amount. An additional ₩1.3 million is provided at the end of your contract to cover the cost of your flight back home.
- Settlement allowance. Extra money! ₩300,000 to help with initial startup costs (coffee maker, bedding, dishes and cutlery, a major grocery haul and whatever else you want or need).
- Contract renewal bonus equivalent to one month’s salary.
- Job security and assurance of payment. You will be employed by a provincial Office of Education and can contact them if there are any conflicts with your school.
- Vacation time galore! During the school’s winter holidays, you are given 24 days paid vacation and 8 during the school’s summer holidays. Depending on the school, winter vacation typically takes places late January through until the beginning of March and summer vacation typically takes place late July through until mid-August.
- Orientation. A mandatory orientation that will better prepare you for the next year of your new, quirky Korean life. During orientation, you will meet a handful of other new teachers, just as terrified and excited as you! My orientation with JLP had 85 new teachers. In comparison, EPIK (the largest public school program) hosts orientations consisting of a couple hundred people. I’m so happy to have had an orientation, as I developed a network of new friends all over my province. This has given me an excuse to travel and explore the province extensively!
- No choice of where you will live in your program’s region. Yup! This is probably the biggest sacrifice you will make by choosing to teach in the public school program – not finding out where you will be living for the next year of your life, until maybe a month before you leave for Korea. You can specify on your application your top location choices, but there is no guarantee you will be placed there.
- You are the only foreign English teacher. Most likely, you will be the only foreigner at your school, sometimes even in your whole town (I’m lucky to have 10 other foreigners in my town).
- The level of English is low. It may even be a lot lower than you expected, especially if you are teaching in a rural area. This can make teaching slightly more challenging.
- No choice of what grade level you will teach. Can be placed in either an elementary, middle, or high school, or a combination of any of these.
Other Things To Note
- The only intakes for these positions take place in February and August (and April with JLP). February is the first semester of the school year and August is the second. I arrived in Korea in August and began teaching the second half of the school’s curriculum.
- Class sizes vary significantly. I teach small classes ranging from one, single student to nine students total. Some of my friends teach large class sizes with an average of thirty students.
- There are opportunities to make extra money teaching online programs, after school programs, language camps and Saturday classes.
A not-so-traditional job with a not-so-traditional 40(ish)-hour work week.
Hagwons are private businesses that serve either as a main school for students during the day or an after-school evening program. Typically, you will be teaching back-to-back classes and will have very few office hours. People who teach at hagwons often work more than a 40-hour work week (which they are compensated for, of course). However, there are loads of options to teach only part-time hours.
- One year in duration.
- Free, furnished apartment.
- Comfortable monthly salary. Salaries vary by school, weekly hours worked, and by level of experience. Typically, a starting salary will be between ₩2.1 million to ₩2.2 million. If you have additional credentials or previous teaching experience, you may be able to find a position with a higher starting salary in your first year of teaching in Korea.
- Paid vacation. Hagwons generally provide less vacation time than public schools, with the average amount being 10 days. However, this all depends on the school. There are definitely opportunities to find schools that provide more vacation time than this.
- Reimbursement of airfare. Unlike public schools, hagwons typically only reimburse the actual amount of the flight (this can be advantageous if your flight was more expensive) or will book the flight on your behalf.
- Contract renewal bonus equivalent to one month’s salary.
- Choose where you live! Whether you apply directly to a school or through a recruiter, you have the option to choose where you will be spending the next year of your life. Seoul, anyone?!
- Potential for higher salary. With no fixed pay scale like public schools, you may be able to land yourself a higher starting salary with the right resume! Usually, there are also plenty of opportunities to receive overtime pay.
- The level of English is usually high. This can make teaching easier and more fun!
- Working with other foreigners. More often than not, you will not be the only foreigner at your school. Hagwons often have multiple foreign teachers employed at the same time, which can make the big move to Korea a little more comforting.
- Lack of job security. You will be working for a business, not a government-run program. There is no assurance in the honouring of the signed contract. That being said, for the most part hagwons are great (I have several friends who loved the hagwons they taught at). But, make sure you do your research before! Some hagwons have become “blacklisted” due to non-payment to their teachers. Going through a recruiter can minimize these concerns.
- No orientation. You will be expected to start work immediately – with a little jet lag. Luckily, you will have the support of the other foreign teachers at the school.
- Lack of vacation time.
Other Things To Note
- The intakes for these positions take place throughout the year.
- Class sizes are generally small.
- Can teach any grade level from kindergarten all the way through to high school.
So, which one should you work for?
Well, that depends on what kind of person you are and what is most important to you.
How flexible are you? How easy is it for you to adapt to a new environment? Are you an extremely social person? Or, do you prefer quality you-time? Do you want more vacation time to travel throughout Asia? Or, would you rather choose where you will be living for the next year of your life? Do you want to teach a specific age group and skill level? These are questions you will have to ask yourself.
Choosing what kind of school you want to teach at is one of the most stressful parts of choosing to teach English in South Korea. But, I promise that once you’ve made a decision, the rest of the process becomes a whole lot easier!