Teach English in South Korea

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If you're looking to put yourself outside of your comfort zone, save some money and grow as a person as well as a professional, teaching in South Korea provides a wonderful opportunity. With a culture almost completely opposite than that of a Western one, you will constantly be confronted by something completely new to you. Discover Buddhist temples hidden in the mystery of early morning mountain fog, walk through Seoul's bustling city sidewalks and neon-lit nights, and nod your head in respect to your boss in the morning and watch him dance while singing karaoke at night.

  • Peak Hiring Times: March and September
  • Average Monthly Salary: $1,800-2,000 USD
  • Save or Break Even? Save
  • Work Visa: Apply for E-2 visa through the school
Government Sponsored Programs:

Qualities like higher job security, lower actual teaching hours and excess paid vacation make working in a public school a bit more ideal. While these positions tend to be more competitive with slightly lower pay, your application will be made stronger by having a teaching certificate like a TESOL or TEFL. While some view being the only foreigner working at your school as a negative and some view it as a positive, public school provides the unique opportunity to truly immerse yourself into Korean culture. You'll work alongside a co-teacher, coordinating classroom instruction time and lesson plans. Public schools hire about six months before their start dates; the beginning of March and September. Pay starts at USD$1,800 - $2,000. The various government-sponsored programs are listed below:

SMOE
  • Located in Seoul
  • Start dates: End of February and end of August
  • Hire before arriving
  • Work hours: 22 hours of actual working hours, 40 work hours a week
  • Pay based on qualifications (A Bachelor's degree and sometimes one year of experience.)
  • Minimum qualification for pay starting at two million Korean Wong.
  • A currently valid elementary or secondary teachers certification.
  • A TESOL or TOFL or English teaching certificate comprised of 100 hours.
GEPIK
  • Located in the Gyeonggi Province--the area surrounding Seoul. You can usually take a bus/ taxi or subway to get into Seoul in about 45 minutes.
  • Start dates: End of February and end of August
  • Hire before arriving
  • Work hours: 22 hours of actual teaching, 40 hours a week
  • Pay based on qualifications ( Either a TESOL, TEFL or CELTA, a bachelor's degree in education, or master's degree, teacher certificate.)
  • Minimum qualifications for pay starting at 2.1 million Korean Won.
EPIK
  • Covers all other regions, preference given on first-come first-serve basis
  • Start dates: End of February and end of March
  • Hire before arriving
  • Work hours: 22 hours of actual teaching, 40 hours a week
  • Required to have TEFL/TESOL certification in order to teach, and minimum of 100 hours of prior teaching experience
  • Minimum qualifications for pay starting at 2 million Korean Won/month
TaLK
  • Must be a currently enrolled university or college student
  • Required to teach for a minimum of 6 months (can extend to a full year)
  • Teach English to elementary-aged children during after-school classes (15 hr/week)
  • Start dates: September for fall, or March for spring
  • Monthly stipend: 1.5 million Korean Won
Recruitment Companies:

It's pretty essential to go through a recruiter in order to secure your placement. Once you register on their website, they will send you information about job openings. They're a great resource for any questions you might have regarding the process. Some recommended recruitment companies are: Footprints Recruiting, Reach To Teach, and Adventure Teaching.

Universities:

Most people begin teaching at universities once they've taught in South Korea for at least a year and have made contacts. However, if you have a master's degree you qualify for teaching at the university level. Extremely low working hours and equal pay make working at universities very appealing. However, one discouraging detail about beginning at the university level is that you will need to find your own apartment, as--opposite from public or private school-- it is not provided for. You will also have to provide the key deposit--a deposit on average of about US$5,000 that is not provided by your school and will be returned to you at the end of your lease. Once arriving in South Korea, while you search for your apartment, you can stay in a Love Motel-- inexpensive motels tailored for couples and located all over the country. Apartments can be found by searching craigslist.

Private Lessons:

Under the conditions of your E-2 visa, you are not permitted to teach private lessons. However, this restriction rarely prevents foreigners from providing the service and stories of people getting caught providing private instruction read more like myths. The best way to get a private lesson is through friends who know of an opportunity. Also, you may be asked by a co-worker who knows someone looking for a private tutor. Make sure you trust whoever helps you to get a private as he or she can use it against you if you ever have a conflict. Teaching privately is not a big risk, but you should take precautions. Be discreet and always try to meet at the student's apartment.

Private Schools:

Because they are constantly hiring and tend to offer higher pay and shorter working hours, private schools, called hagwons are a good option for people looking to spend a year abroad and save as much money as possible. In contrast to public schools, many other foreigners work in hagwons, providing an easier transition into a new culture. Some beginner teachers welcome the fact that most hagwons have pre-prepared lesson plans, and some find it limits creativity and individuality in the classroom. While the working hours are shorter than public schools and start later in the day, typically after 1 p.m., you only get about ten days of vacation time and will inevitably find yourself looking longingly out of your classroom window at all the other people enjoying their public holiday.

However, if you like sleeping in and starting later in the day, higher pay and a less strenuous application process-- or if you're looking to get to South Korea quickly-- this option might be the best for you. If you choose to go with a hagwon, your best bet is to go with a larger, nationwide one like YBM, Pagoda or CDI. If you go with a smaller hagwon, remember that some are better than others and a little patience and research could make a world of difference in the quality of your experience. Starting pay at hagwons is about US $2000- US $2,200 with a work week of about 35 hours.

  • Hagwons will usually hire anyone with a college degree. The minimum salary is typically higher, usually 2.1-2.5 million Korean Won.
  • Typical work hours begin in the afternoon, because these are after-school specialized English Institution. Usually anywhere from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. with a typical workday consisting of 6 hours or more, depending on the school.
  • Hiring year round, usually through a recruiter.
When and Where to Look for Jobs:

Seoul and Busan provide the most popular settings for English teachers in South Korea. With its vibrant night life and trendy restaurants lining the streets busied by people of different ethnicities, the capital city, Seoul, offers the most eclectic mix of options in South Korea. A quieter city bordering the Sea of Japan, Busan--home to the popular vacation spot, Haeundae beach--is a bit more low-key and provides a nice compromise between busy and relaxed.

If you're taking this year to reflect in peace and quiet, consider Gyeongju, a small city with a big lotus pond and a rich historical heritage. No matter your taste, Korea has a multitude of options and teaching jobs everywhere in the country. Public schools typically hire at the start of their semester -- March 1st and September 1st -- and accept applications six months prior. Private institutes hire year round.

Working Visas in Korea:

Most foreigners working at public or private school qualify for the school-sponsored E-2 visa. The E-2 visa will give you permission to work in South Korea for a year with a single entry. For a fee, you can get your single entry status changed to multiple entries, allowing you the option to travel in and out of the country.

The first step to obtaining your E-2 visa is to first get a contract with an employer. Once you have begun that process, you will need to send away for your documents such as an apostilled copy of both your diploma and a required FBI criminal background check. If you want to speed up the process, it's okay to go ahead and send away for your background check before securing a contract.

To obtain an apostille--which is a government seal authenticating documents for use overseas-- you will need to take a copy of your diploma to the notary public found at your local bank. Bring your original diploma so that the copy can be confirmed and stamped. Once it has been notarized, you can send the copy off to be apostilled. If you're an American citizen, it must be apostilled in the state where the document was issued. For a list of locations, visit ESL Starter.

In order to increase the safety of Korean students and keep sexual predators out of the country, the South Korean government now requires an FBI background check. In order to complete the application, you will need to be fingerprinted at your local police station. If you're currently in Korea, you can be fingerprinted at the local Korean police station. You will need to mail these documents, along with a check for $18 US and a note asking for the documents to be officiated by providing a "signature from a Division Officer for the purpose of obtaining a Federal Apostille."

Once all of your documents are completed and sent to your employer and they receive confirmation of visa issuance, they will send it to you through the mail. When you receive the confirmation, you will need to either mail or deliver your passport to your local consulate in order to be stamped with your visa. It is a requirement that once you arrive in Korea, you have to undergo a medical check for TBPE, Cannabiniod and HIV. Once completed, your school will help you obtain a residency permit within 90 days. To learn more about Korean visas, visit VISA HQ.

Qualifications:

In order to get a teaching job in Korea, the minimum qualification is a bachelor's degree. Only native English speakers are highly considered. Though, if you want to increase your chances of working in a public school, or increase your salary in a private school, you will need to couple that diploma with a TEFL, TESOL or CELTA certificate. These courses are available online, but make sure they are approved by the program or school you are applying to. If you are an EPIK teacher, it is required to hold a TEFL/TESOL certification, as well as 100 hours of previous teaching experience.

Salary & Cost of Living:

In general, hagwons offer the most amount of money starting out--about US $2,000-- while public schools offer a lower starting salary--about US $1,800-$2,000. In public school, the pay tends to be more when you factor in the low amount of actual working hours. Public and private school will provide your housing. Typically it's a self-contained studio ranging from medium-sized to small. The apartments in Seoul tend to by the smallest but there is also much more to do in Seoul thus limiting the actual time spent in the apartment.

While hagwons used to always re-pay you for your flight by either giving you a stipend or converting the actual ticket cost, as competition gets tighter, they are providing this service less and less. Public schools will always re-pay your airfare with a stipend about US$1,000. Along with a US$250 settling allowance, they will deposit the stipend into your account before your first paycheck. Before you leave, they will deposit another US$1,000 into your account for your outbound plane ticket, no matter the destination.

Overall, the cost of living in South Korea is very cheap, but keep in mind that if you live in a bigger city, the cost can get a bit more expensive. However, since your apartment is paid for and all you have to take care of is your utilities and cell-phone bill, it's safe to say that nearly 80% of your paycheck is expendable. You can also supplement your paychecks by teaching private lessons with an hourly pay ranging from about US$20- $50. The most enticing part of the deal comes when you complete your contract as most contracts provide an extra month's bonus upon completion, meaning the last time you get paid, you actually get paid twice. Hello Southeast Asia. Or student loans.

Depending on how much you want to work and how frugal you are with your money, you can travel and save during your time in South Korea.

Classroom & Work Culture:

Upon discovering Korea for the first time, foreigners always seem baffled by the juxtaposition of a country so technologically advanced against the backdrop of a society with more traditional ways. Many equate social graces in South Korea to that of the United States during the 1950's. At the same time, with wireless connection abound and state-of-the art technology in the classroom, the country is not lacking in modern day conveniences.

This provides an interesting mix and a confused expatriate community trying to understand how it all coexists. And while there is so much to learn about Korean etiquette, it is essential to begin by understanding the importance of respecting your superiors and the Confucian principles that the society is founded on.

Remember that Korea can be many things at once. While you discover all the complexities of this fascinating culture, do so with respect. Nod your head in a slight bow to your superiors and show them you appreciate their help by bringing in doughnuts or coffee to your first day of work. Maybe you shutter at the idea of "sucking up," but it is very appreciated in this culture and will instantly get you recognized as being savvy.

There is always someone to go to with a complaint and going over that person can be viewed as disrespectful and may result in a bumpy beginning to your year. Also, it's a good idea to accept invitations from Korean co-workers to go out for dinner. It's polite and you will probably enjoy yourself and discover local gems in your new city.

Because Eastern culture is so different than that of Western culture, there is so much to learn in terms of etiquette. However, understanding the importance of respect will make the inevitable learning process fluid and fun. Once you become privy to Korean culture, it's very likely that you will come away having learned a great deal from this fascinating country that can be so many things at once, full of contradiction.


Contributed by Anne-Claire Siegert

With two years experience working in South Korea, Anne-Claire lived in both Busan and Seoul, traveling throughout the country and discovering new people and places. Among her many joys, she loves learning and writing about different cultures and experiences. Read about her adventures teaching English in South Korea and traveling throughout Southeast Asia on her blog, Well Traversed, or keep up with her on Twitter @welltraversed.

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