So, you heard somewhere that Korea was the place to teach English now. You’d be right, sort of. Depending on what you want to get out of the experience, Korea could be the wrong place for you. Or, it could be that awesome year (or years) of your life that you look back on when you’re stuck at a nine-to-five with a mortgage, three little munchkins, and a non-existent sex life. It’s almost like going through college again, except you get to give the tests.
Motivations to consider, organized alphabetically:
- Being independent
- It’s something different
- Moving to a new country
- Work experience
Do you even like kids? Think about this one for a minute. You’ll be dealing with kids all day. The little ones need a lot of your attention. If the thought of ten 4 year olds in a classroom doesn’t scare you, then you are ready to start gathering your documents.
What documents you need:
- College diploma (from an accredited university)
- Valid passport (with at least one year until it expires)
- Criminal background check (it has to be a nationwide check)
- Any teaching related licenses or TEFOL/TESOL certifications
- Pictures of yourself
It is not necessary that you have a teaching or English degree, but it helps. Make sure you passport doesn’t expire any time soon. The FBI background check is more of a waiting game because once you send it off; there is no way to check on the status. *(If you are an American, college student graduating in May and want to come to Korea, go this website IMMEDIATELY and fill out the application form.)* It also takes a long time to arrive, but it will get there. If by chance, you happen to have a TEFOL/TESOL certificate or a teaching degree then by all means let your potential employers know that. If you don’t have either one, don’t bother stressing yourself out to get one or get talked into doing a course by your employer. You need pictures for your visa.
Hagwon, Public School, International School, or University?
First off, if you have a B.S. in a non-education related field and you want to live in Seoul your only option will be a hagwan. I work at a hagwan and a very nice one at that. No, my boss is not standing over me telling me I’m fired unless I say nice things about my school. I genuinely do enjoy working at my school. They paid for my flight to Korea, will give me a flight home after I complete my contract, pay my rent, and pay me on time every month. Your safest bet would be to apply directly to a company owned hagwan. There are also franchise owned hagwans and smaller one-location hagwans. I have heard horror stories about all types of schools (you can read some here: hagwan blacklist), but franchise and one-location schools are less reliable in terms of being paid on time, among other things. Here is a website that has tons of Korean job postings.
I have a few friends who work in public schools. They are very happy and have resigned. The deal with public schools is that you are the only foreigner at the school, the pay is less competitive than a hagwan, they place you where they need teachers, you pay for your ticket to Korea then get reimbursed later, and sometimes you might have to teach at two different schools. The advantages are: the vacation, they are legitimate schools and NOT businesses, and you get to experience a more authentic Korea.
To work at international schools and universities, you need a teaching degree, experience, a master’s degree, or any combination of the listed criteria. They are easier to get into if you have lived in Korea for at least a year, kept all your contracts, and know someone who can recommend you to work there.
Seoul, Incheon, Busan, Daegu, Jeju or the boonies?
Again, this depends on what you want to do while in Korea. Seoul is the second largest metropolitan population in the world. With that many people living in one place it’s hard not to find something you’re interested in. Seoul has three great club/bar neighborhoods. Incheon is apart of Seoul’s metro rail system. Busan is the second largest city in South Korea, has a pretty awesome underground music scene, and is right on the beach. Daegu’s population is about 2.5 million. Jeju is Korea’s version of Hawaii. It is home to Hallasan, South Korea’s tallest mountain. It’s where Koreans go on vacation. As for living out the country, you usually can expect a higher salary, but you’re stuck out in the middle of nowhere.
Do I need to learn Korean?
For the most part, NO! If you’re living in Seoul you don’t even have to know what Hangeul (written Korean) looks like. The subways are in Hangeul, English, and Mandarin Chinese. Most of the buses announce the stops in both Korean and English. The further you get away from Seoul or any of the large cities, you meet fewer people who speak English or that are willing to try to speak English. Either way, it takes about a day to memorize the alphabet.
If you have any questions please post them in the comments below and I’ll answer them.