Teach Abroad

What You Need to Know Before Teaching Abroad in South Korea

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Fabio Tardim
Topic Expert

Fabio is a freelance writer and has spent time teaching abroad in South Korea.

What You Need to Know Before Teaching Abroad in South Korea

You’re thinking about teaching abroad. Is South Korea is a possible destination? Or perhaps you have already made your decision and soon you will land in Seoul. Either way -- or if you are still considering your options --, the good news is that South Korea is a great destination for English teachers. Every year thousands of foreigners get a job as an ESL teacher in Korea and the reasons for that is simply that it probably has the best teaching positions in Asia.

The idea of moving to a distant country with a different language and culture can be both exciting and terrifying. Be sure, though, that wherever you get your job there will always be other native speaker teachers around and they are always willing to help newcomers. Teaching in South Korea is a great chance to enjoy your independence, have a valuable working experience, explore all corners of Asia in your vacation time, and also save some money.

Most articles here in Go Overseas will tackle the differences between public and private institutions and all that you need to know to find yourself a job. Below is a list of things for those preparing to teach in South Korea. This is not a comprehensive list of what to know before teaching in South Korea, but rather a few tips and advice on things you will probably wish you knew once you arrive.

North Korea is Not That Scary

Anything said or done by North Korea is usually perceived as the utmost threatening situation, especially outside Asia.

Truth is that there is a great disparity between words and actions, and South Koreans have seen it happening year after year for roughly 60 years now. Yes, we should never downplay the possibility of a conflict, but the reality is that it is extremely unlikely to happen. Besides: South Koreans are much more concerned about the economy and their education. As a teacher in South Korea, you’ll quickly acclimatize to your northern neighbors and focus on providing a good education and enjoying your new home country.

Try to Learn Korean… At Least a Little

This is one of the things I wish I knew before I started teaching in South Korea, so I’m here to give you the advice I never received.

English speakers are on the rise and South Korea has improved a lot, but English is nowhere near a second language in South Korea, even in major cities like Seoul. It goes a long way to be able to speak a few sentences and handle the basics of Korean. The alphabet is pretty intuitive and easy to start with, and if you can only read Korean, that is a great skill to have as most signs won’t be in English. This will help you in a variety of situations, from navigating public transit to get to your school or exploring further afield on your weekends.

Yes, You Need Your TEFL Certification

You should definitely consider a TEFL certification when getting ready to teach in South Korea. It is an important qualification that many schools (both public and private) expect teachers to have.

It’s also worth mentioning that having your TEFL certification will give you a wider range of choices and options as you navigate the teaching job market. It will help you in negotiations and snagging one of those coveted high-paying teaching jobs in South Korea and will open doors to some of the best teaching opportunities.

Read more about the qualifications you need to teach in South Korea.

Korean Students are the Best Students

What You Need to Know Before Teaching Abroad in South Korea: Korean Students are the Best

Maybe I’m biased, but after teaching for two years, I feel confident that South Korean students are among the best in the world. Whether you teach Kindergarten or High School, they are very studious, dedicated and respectful. They make teaching enjoyable, especially for new teachers who are still working to build confidence.

Obviously, you may have problems with some of them, after all, they are just kids and some are a little bit unruly. However, I find it in my experience and that of most people I know, that Korean students are more engaged, considerate and focused. That is particularly true in small cities and towns. Either way, most students will be eager to talk to you, to get to know more about your culture and share their own as well. Take advantage of this and you won’t regret getting to know your students better.

Related: What It's Like Teaching Different-Aged Students in South Korea

Tips on Lesson Planning

For many teachers South Korea will provide their first experience as an ESL teacher and lesson planning may seem daunting and challenging. This is true for all new teachers in any country, but luckily I’ve learned a few tips to help you have a smooth transition.

When getting ready to teach in South Korea, bookmark your teaching resources online. There are hundreds of lesson plans online, PowerPoint presentations and ideas that you can get for free. Some are inspired in textbooks that you may as well be using. Either way, you can just download the material and twist it a little bit for your needs, sometimes improve it or just change it in a way that you think is more appropriate.

Another pro-tip I’ve learned is to bring a few simple games that you think may work with both small groups (10+) and big groups of students (20+). You never know when you may run out of lesson material and a game will come in handy.

Prep Your Smartphone for Success

Many people think “oh, it’s Asia, electronics will be cheap!” It turns out the opposite is true in South Korea, to the disappointment of many new teachers who arrive thinking they’ll snag a super cheap iPhone fresh off the shelf.

Instead, bring your phone from home, and make sure it’s unlocked so you can use a local SIM card. South Korean phone providers offer cheap monthly options and you’ll be able to get set up with a few helpful apps from your first day. To get you started, be sure to check out Kakao, and other apps in the family like Kakao Taxi (for car-sharing) and Kakao Navi (which gives directions and is handy when exploring your new city.

Based on my experience, these are a few of the helpful tips I wish I had known before teaching in South Korea.

The only other thing you need to bring is your enthusiasm and an open-mind. It’s not an exaggeration to say that you will be acting a little bit as ambassador of your country to your students and co-workers. A lot will undoubtedly be lost in translation, but at the end of day most teachers have a great experience. I hope you, like me, will too!