South Korea is an amazing country and a perfect place to take a gap year. The food is spectacular, the nightlife is amongst the best in Asia, and the people are extremely nice and welcoming. Additionally, the cost of living is very affordable (compared to the U.S.), so you have the freedom to adventure more without burning a hole in your wallet. With so much to see and explore, there’s never a dull moment to living in Korea!
Photo Credit: Ellie Taylor
There are dozens of gap year opportunities that you can take in Korea. Whatever the job or opportunity may be, you will definitely have a life-changing experience of living in this country. The most popular reasons that people flock to Korea are teaching English, traveling, and to study the language.
Over the last decade or so, there has been a high demand for native English teachers in Korea. Unfortunately, many of the programs cut their budget last year, but it’s still very easy to find a gig if you search for it.
Teaching jobs can be found in all regions of Korea, and even in the tropical island of Jeju. The only qualifications are that you must have citizenship from an English speaking country, your post-secondary education must’ve been completed in English from an accredited university in an English-speaking country, and you must have a get TEFL certified.
If you have a bachelor’s degree in education, then you do not need to get TEFL certified (Teach English as a Foreign Language). The application process is quite simple, as there are many recruiters looking to hire you as their English teachers.
You can either get placed in a public school or a private school (called hagwons). Every teaching job is different (depending on the school), but all English teachers usually get their rent paid for, get exempt from taxes and get paid vacation.
It’s a really good gig if you want to save money, experience a culture, and travel around Asia for a year!
South Korea is emerging as one of Asia’s most popular destination for backpackers worldwide. Why? Korea is very affordable and close in proximity to other attractive countries like China, Japan, Taiwan and SE Asia.
The flights inbound and outbound to Korea are very cheap, as long as you book them a few months in advance. Because so many backpackers come through this country, almost all hostels cater to their needs (free wifi, free breakfast, good hospitality, affordable, etc.).
It’s also important to know that Korea is the most ‘connected’ country in the world when it comes to Internet and cell phone coverage. There is free wi-fi on every street corner!
The Korean language (known as Hangul) is a very common Asian language that foreigners study. It is widely considered as the easiest Asian language to learn for a few reasons. First, it has a phonetic alphabet with 14 consonants and 10 vowels. Every letter/vowel is always pronounced the same way and there are hardly any irregular verbs.
Once you can master reading and writing Hangul (it’s very easy), you are off to the races! The Korean government subsidizes language courses for foreigners, so they are very cheap (and sometimes free) to join.
Most Korean universities offer Hangul classes for foreigners and there are frequent foreigner meet-ups to practice speaking. You’d be surprised by how fast you can pick up Korea, even if you are just here for a few weeks!
There are many important ways to prepare for taking your gap year in Korea. First and foremost, you should familiarize yourself about South Korean history and culture. You don’t need to be an expert, but just be aware of the things happening around this country.
Put some effort into learning the language! As I mentioned before, you can easily learn how to read and write the entire Korean alphabet within 3 hours. Also, it’s a good idea to know the words for “please” and “thank you” before you arrive. Koreans really appreciate when you can say these basic words and they will acknowledge you when you put effort into learning their language.
Cost of Living
The cost of living in Korea is very affordable. Food, especially, is extremely cheap. For example: you can get a delicious bi-bim-bap (a classic Korean dish with mixed rice and veggies) for about $3 USD. It even comes with a few side dishes and soup! You can comfortably live in Korea with a monthly budget of $300 USD (not including rent).
Of course, it depends on how much you want to buy and how many beers you enjoy on the weekends, but $300 will absolutely cover all your transportation costs, meals and even some extra goods. If you want, you can work on the side to make some extra cash.
A good place to look is in Itawon (the foreigner district of Seoul) as they are always looking for native English speakers. You can also earn some good money by tutoring English for individual families.
Culture and Etiquette
Korean society is based on the hierarchy system of social status. When two Koreans meet each other, they subconsciously determine who has a higher status. Simply put, it is always man before woman and old before young. Therefore, the oldest Korean men are shown the utmost respect from anyone he interacts with.
Instead of shaking hands, everyone bows when they greet each other. It is just their way of saying hello. If you are a foreigner, you can get away without bowing, but Koreans will show their respect when you follow their customs. Other than that, just be polite, smile often and people will go out of their way to talk to you. It happens all the time!
Health and Safety
You do not need to worry too much about health and safety because they aren’t issues in Korea. Unlike other parts of Asia, there is no need to get shots prior to arriving for malaria or other diseases. Korea is very westernized and modern, and the health care system is flawless.
If you happen to get sick, they will take very good care of you at the hospital and it’s extremely cheap to get any medications. It’s actually so cheap, that people come from all over the world to get surgeries done in Korea.
All of the food is eatable and the water is drinkable. Additionally, crime literally does not exist in this country. Walking alone on the streets at night is very safe. You don’t even have to worry about petty theft like getting pick pocketed, etc. If you happen to lose you wallet, chances are that someone will return it to you with a smile on their face. It’s so safe here that policemen don’t even carry guns with them.