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Quiz: Should You Teach Abroad in China, Japan, or South Korea?

Should You Teach Abroad in China, Japan, or South Korea?

So you know you want to teach abroad in East Asia. The salaries are high, the culture is fascinating and there are tons of jobs to choose from. But now what?

China, South Korea, Japan... there are too many options to choose from! While they may all seem similar at first, there are some big differences between the jobs and lifestyles available in these three countries.

Should you teach in China, Japan, or South Korea? Which one is right for you? Take our quiz to find out!

Now That You Have Your Results… What's the Difference Teaching in China, Japan, or South Korea?

On the outside, all three countries seem pretty similar, but there are five major differences that you need to be aware of when making your decision.

1. Saving Money
Differences in Asian Countries: Saving Money

Overall, South Korea is the best place to save money teaching abroad, with China following not too far behind. While South Korea has a much higher salary, the cost of living there is higher as well.

In Japan, the cost of living can vary wildly depending on where you teach abroad. If you apply through the JET program, you'll have the same salary no matter where you teach. This means you'll save significantly more working on a tiny island than you might living in Tokyo.

2. Western Amenities and English Language

On the whole, Japan and South Korea have significantly more Western amenities than China, especially if you stray outside of Beijing and Shanghai. In Japan and Korea, you'll find plenty of Western food, and in big cities like Tokyo, you can even attend concerts from huge international stars! By comparison, in Ningbo, China, the best Western food I could find was McDonalds.

South Koreans tend to be the most comfortable with spoken English, while Japanese people are much more reserved; it may be difficult to find people willing to speak English with you outside of the classroom.

While Chinese students learn English throughout their whole education experience, the emphasis is on preparing for the college entrance exam, which doesn't have a speaking component. Because of this, it's pretty hard to get around China without speaking at least a little Chinese, but thankfully, Chinese is one of the best languages to learn!

3. Visa Requirements
Differences in Asian Countries: Visa Requirements

Japan is by far the hardest place to find a job teaching English. The JET program is notoriously exclusive, so if you're rejected, the recommended way to finding a job is to just show up and ask around. This is great, but the startup costs can be a bit prohibitive to some.

On the other hand, South Korea and China are very easy places to find jobs teaching English. While both require native speakers with college degrees, China's extremely high demand for English teachers has forced many schools to bend the rules. Therefore, if you don't have a degree or you're not a native speaker, China is by far your best bet.

4. Cleanliness and Rules

This won't come as a shock to many of you, but Japan is extremely clean and practically crime-free. One of my friends once joked that you could leave a stack of money on a table and come back an hour later to find it neatly organized, waiting for you. However, some people find Japan's rules a bit restrictive, like its policy of absolute silence on subway trains.

China, on the other hand, is the wild west of East Asia. Whether it's traffic signals or copyright infringement, rules were made to be broken in China. It definitely isn't too clean either. Don't be surprised if you see people spitting, littering, or leaving mounds of trash next to a tiny bin. Also, don't even get me started on the pollution! Hey...it's an adventure, right?

Finally, Korea falls somewhere in the middle. South Koreans have an intricate system of hierarchy and politeness is key, but you can expect to see rowdy drunks of all ages around the bars at night!

5. Travel, History and Culture
Differences in Asian Countries: Travel, History and Culture

If you want beautiful temples, relaxing spas, and ancient cities right at your fingertips, Japan is the country for you. With Japan's high speed rail network, you can explore the country easily on your weekends and short holiday breaks. You can even take a quick flight to one of Japan's islands for a little tropical vacation!

While Korea has plenty of temples and small cities to explore, the history and travel options are a bit limited compared to Japan. However, if you're interested in pop culture, Korea has a vibrant K-pop scene that rivals Japan's subcultures, and the shopping is unbeatable!

Compared to Japan and Korea, China is immensely large. Some cities like Beijing are steeped in history and culture with sites like the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Temple of Heaven, Great Wall, Summer Palace and more. Modern cities like Shanghai are surrounded by smaller cities and water towns you can easily visit for a weekend. If you really want to get off the beaten path, take a trip to Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu, Tibet, or Xinjiang! Trust me, you'll probably want to spend the whole summer after your contract ends just traveling around the country.

Photo of Richelle Gamlam

Traveler, blogger and serial expat, Richelle has been living and working in China for the last four years. From high school English teacher to college admissions consultant, Richelle has tried her hand at many different jobs in China. She spends all of her vacation days traveling Asia off the beaten path, and in her spare time, she loves to scuba dive, salsa dance and try weird foods no one else will eat. For more of Richelle's crazy misadventures, check out her blog Adventures Around Asia.

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