Make that liberal arts degree finally work for you! Come join the best and brightest of a generation and teach English in South Korea!
All you need is a college degree, a passport from a first-world English speaking country, the willingness to adapt to a foreign culture.. and a pulse.
In this time of economic uncertainty, teaching English as a second language abroad has suddenly become an attractive career option, or at least something to do while waiting for a dream job to materialize.
And what better place to teach ESL than South Korea – “The Land of the Morning Calm” – which is one of Asia’s strongest economies?
Koreans are crazy about learning English. They recognize that it’s the only way to economically move their country forward. And they’re willing to pay top dollar – or won – to learn.
The salaries, along with the relatively low cost of living, make Korea one of the most attractive options for teaching in Asia.
But before learning to like kimchi and jumping on that next plane to Seoul, take a look at the three main types of teaching jobs that are available to foreigners over here:
Hakwon is the Korean word for “academy.”
You can’t throw a soju bottle without hitting a language hakwon in this country, and it’s likely the first place you’ll end up teaching.
English Hakwons mainly cater to kindergartners and elementary kids, though there are also some for adults.
The hours can be long and the erratic changes in curriculum maddening, but they’ll pay for your round trip airfare to and from your country, provide you with an apartment, and give you a contract completion bonus equal to one-month’s pay.
It’s not uncommon for someone to sock away between $10,000 and $20,000 (USD) after a one-year stint at a hakwon – perfect for paying off your student loans or financing a backpacking trip around the world.
Just know this: Hakwon’s are businesses first and educational institutes second.
The academy directors will always have their eyes on the bottom line. Start losing too many students or garnering complaints from the notoriously fickle mothers, and it could mean the end of your job.
Also, like Korean barbecue restaurants, the quality of these academies varies immensely.
Some hagwons have modern facilities and provide you with a nice, new apartment, while others are dilapidated, lacking heat and/or air conditioning.
The apartment provided by bad schools is invariably as small and nasty as the school itself.
Beware of sketchy hagwon directors!
The majority of teachers have a decent experience working in hagwons, but there are some greedy, psychotic, and downright evil directors operating on the peninsula.
Horror stories abound of teachers being paid late or not being paid at all, having to live in roach-infested hovels, being cheated out of bonuses or airfare – generally being shat upon and jerked around.
Just know that in this case Korean law IS on your side, but the best thing to do is to check out your school before you sign the contract. Talk to other teachers and read any feedback you can find on the net.
2. Public Schools
In recent years there has been a big push to place native speakers in the Korean public school system, mainly through what’s called EPIK (English Program in Korea).
Public school gigs are definitely a step up from hagwons. The hours are better, the pay’s decent, and you are usually guaranteed at least two weeks paid vacation per year, though this often translates into much more.
EPIK also gives you a housing allowance and end-of-contract bonus. There is the opportunity (or requirement, often) to work “camps” over the schools’ winter and summer vacation periods.
These are intensive English courses, for which you are paid extra, of course. It’s a good way to pad your salary.
Beware of boredom!
Many public schools require you to come into the office all day during their vacation periods, whether you have classes or not.
Consider this paid time to hone your writing skills or delve deeper into the raging hell mouth that is facebook.
3. Universities and Colleges
These are the holy grails of Korean ESL gigs, and also the most difficult to get.
Generally, universities want at least three solid years of English teaching experience, or both a masters degree and experience.
Jobs are often landed through reference: like the rest of the world, it’s not necessarily what you know, it’s who you know.
Universities generally like new hires to be ushered in by someone they already trust.
Why all the fuss?
University jobs usually require about 12 hours of classes each week, and provide you with at least 2 months of paid vacation a year, the dream job of a habitual traveler.
Some schools give you 3 or 4 months of vacation time. There are also plenty of opportunities to pick up extra classes which, of course, translate into more money.
Beware of complacency!
Aside from the fact that some universities don’t give you an end-of-contract bonus, you’ll find yourself so spoiled by the job conditions that the thought of returning home and actually having to work for a living might make you want to remove your own eyes with a spoon.
Many teachers earn a lot of extra money teaching private lessons to Koreans in their homes or by moonlighting at other schools.
Know that this practice is strictly illegal. In Korea, you are only allowed to work at the school that sponsors your visa.
If caught, you will be fined and possibly deported, though this doesn’t stop many teachers from dipping into this huge well of cash.
The best way to find any of the jobs described above is to contact a recruiter.
Good luck, and as the Koreans say: Fighting!
Teaching ESL Job Resources In South Korea
If you’re interested in teaching English in Asia, here are some Matador articles to check out:
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Chris Tharp lives in Busan, South Korea, where he teaches English at a college. His award-winning writing has appeared on various travel sites around the web. He hates mayonnaise and any of its sister sauces.