Wondering what's it like to teach English in South Korea? I was there once and now I am here to share my experience teaching there with you. 17 other teachers are also going to share their experiences which may help if you are looking for a review.

Korea was my second country to teach English in. I first started in Taiwan and then later taught in Korea and China.

In this post I'll talk about the culture, the environment, the teaching scene and share some video interviews with teachers in Korea. And at the end of this article you will find an FAQ and links to related post on teaching in Korea.

I'll also do some comparing to other Asian countries like China, Japan and Taiwan. I'll include some of my experience as well as some of the other teachers in Korea that I interviewed.

First let's take a look at...

17 teachers in Korea talk about their experiences living in South Korea as an English teacher  

I interviewed 17 teachers at Haeundae beach, Busan where I used to live. This place is crowded like crazy during summer vacation.

 

This is the teaching scene in Korea: requirements, salaries, etc.

  • Requirements: 4 year degree & native English speaker, plus preferences for experience, possibly TEFL certification, etc. More on the requirements to teach English in Korea
  • Job Market: Good, but public school job cuts
  • Average salary: 2.0-2.2 million Won ($1,700-1,900) a month
  • Cost of living: Medium, similar to Taiwan 
  • Housing: Free
  • Airfare: Often free and paid upfront
  • Teaching hours: 24-30 a week
    *These are averages expect differences between institutions

You knew about the financial benefits right?

Korea is one of the best paying countries in the world for ESL teachers (especially for beginners) when you add up the benefits although I think salaries in China have risen since I was last there in 2011.

Most positions in Korea include free housing, free airline tickets, severance pay, a good salary (close to $2000 a month), some schools (mostly public) offer a start up allowance and a pension for Americans and Canadians make this a great place to save money.

Learn more about the salaries for teachers in Korea.

Chances are you will teach kids

koreabridge

This graph was taken from what employers want (in Korea). Most jobs there are for teaching children. Teaching children is challenging and you need a certain skill set to do so well. This course (TEKA) provides specialized training for teaching children.

Instead of cheese you say "Kim Chiii"

Native to Korea, Koreans love their Kim Chi. You'll find hundreds of varieties here. Korean food is often spicy.

It's kinda conservative

Although it's changing like everywhere else and it's got a pop culture I'd say Korea is the most conservative of the four places in East Asia. You'll find a whole lot of churches here and roughly one third of the population is Christian.

Conformity?

Social conformity is more common in Asia. Yet, you might find Korea to not have much diversity in styles of fashion or self expression. The norm is the way. The pop icons set the tone and everyone else follows.

Mountains Busan

It's got great mountains

Korea is very mountainous. The highest mountain in South Korea is Hallasan 1,950 m (6,398 ft) and Baekdu in North Korea is 2,744 m (9,003 ft). Hiking opportunities are plentiful.

I hiked all over Busan. It was pretty easy to just go to a mountain and find a trail up it.

Need a boob job? Or a double eyelid?

Whoaa!

What?

Plastic surgery is the norm here. You'll find clinics all over. Even adolescent girls are getting "eye jobs". A double eyelid is highly desirable and considered beautiful. It is the most common form of plastic surgery here.

A Korean friend of mine estimated that at least 60% of females between the ages of 18 and 35 have received this kind of surgery.

Proud to be Korean

I think Korea is the most nationalistic of the four locations in East Asia.

It's got super fast internet

You'll find high speed internet here and good connectivity. It has ranked #1 in the world for it's internet speed.

Here's a little knick-Knack

If you go to Korea be sure to try out the "Jimjiban". It's a public like bathhouse where you can spend all day or all night soaking in hot tubs or relaxing on the heated floors. It's cheap too.

I spent like maybe 6 months staying in jimjibans in Busan between jobs. 

My experience

I lived in mostly Busan and Changwon for a total of three and a half years. I liked teaching many of the kids there and the financial situation was good. The benefits are good and I usually had nice places to live in. The environment is not as polluted as China and Taiwan, so I liked that too.

And I found it pretty easy to get out of the city and up into the mountains. Public transportation was good.

However, I wasn't a big fan of Korean culture as you might have noticed. It's best to live somewhere you are interested in vs. just going for the money.

Here's some good advice...

Sandra pic""Expect to work hard. I was a teacher beforehand, so I know there are a lot of extra hours involved. But when I was looking at the internet I found stuff like: make sure your apartment has a TV, make sure you get holidays. It is a teaching job, so if you are just out of university or you're taking a year out I would suggest that you take it seriously."

Sandra's advice

FAQ

See the FAQ here for answers to your questions or the related links below for more.

What are the programs to teach English in Korea?

New teachers will have two basic options: teaching in a public school or teaching in a hagwon. Some public school positions are done through government run programs, others recruiters and others are done privately. Learn more about teaching in a public school vs. a hawgon

Who will I teach?

You can teach whoever you like: adults, teens, elementary or kindergarten. There are different kinds of schools, but if you are not sure then chances are you will teach mostly children.

Can I teach English in Korea without a degree or if I am not a native speaker?

Not usually. You normally need those things to get a legal E-2 visa to work and live in Korea. If you have an associate's degree or are in your 3rd or 4th year of your bachelor's you can look into the TALK program.

Do I need to take a TEFL course to teach in Korea?

Not necessarily. Each school has different preferences. They are more often required in public schools if you don't have experience.

Getting a job is one matter and perhaps the one you are concerned with most now, however doing your job is a different matter and most schools provide little to no training.

Who are the best recruiters in Korea?

A recruiter is a middleman. It's best to focus on finding a good job and school (your end goal) vs. finding a good recruiter. ESLinsider can teach you how to find a good school.

Do I need experience to teach in Korea?

No. Teachers come and go. In fact most teachers only teach in Korea for a year or two max. While many schools prefer teachers with experience many schools will hire new teachers.

How do I get a visa to teach in Korea?

You will need to submit a number of documents such as your degree, passport, criminal background check, and other paperwork. Your employer will help you with some of these. Your visa is good for a year.

How many hours will I work?

It depends on the school. You will work 40 hours in a public school 8-4pm and typically around 30-35 in a hagwon. Hagwons tend to vary more depending on the hagwon type.

How many classes will I teach?

It depends on the school. Public school teachers tend to teach around 22 hours and in hagwons 30 hours, but every hagwon is different.

Do I need to be a "teacher" or interested in teaching?

You are not required to be a "licensed" teacher, but if you are at least not interested in learning about it you are not likely to have a very good experience.

Not everybody is a natural teacher, but everyone can improve.

How much will I get paid?

Every school is different, but see the link to salaries for teaching English in Korea. There you will also learn about the benefits such as housing, pension, severance, etc.

Do I get free airfare to Korea?

It depends on the school. You usually do in a hagwon (paid in advance), however in a public school you may have to py it upfront yourself.

How long are teaching contracts for?

They are for 12 months. The only short term contracts I have seen is with a program called TALK. They have an option for 6 months.

Do you have a co-teacher?

In a public school you normally have a co-teacher that you work with, but in a hagwon you usually don't work with a co-teacher.

Is it hard teaching in Korea?

I would say that it definitely can be difficult teaching in Korea.

How do I apply to teach English in Korea?

First make sure you fulfill the requirements

  1. Degree (copy of apostilled diploma)
  2. Native English speaker
  3. CBC (criminal background check)
  4. Transcripts for public school
  5. Good health (health check is required)
  6. Passport (w/ at least one year left on it)
  7. Passport photos (10)
  8. TEFL course certification (usually required for public school positions)

You normally need all of those things ready to go before any school or recruiter will consider hiring or even seriously talking to you. Those things take time to prepare, so start now if you really want to teach in Korea.

Related:

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