Thinking about teaching in Korea? Stop! Stop until you do one thing. You must understand right now that your Korean language teaching adventure can be a wonderful experience or a total nightmare, AND you must understand that which experience you get is largely controllable by you–right now! What do I mean? I mean that if you let other people make decisions for you you’ll get what’s best for them, not what’s best for you!
For example, you can tell a recruiter that you want to teach grade 6 in Busan in the evenings and that you want private housing, but, to be totally honest, most of these people don’t really care what you want. They care about filling available positions as quickly as possible, so they can get their commission and move on.
Earn money teaching English abroad – i-to-i paid teaching jobs
So, they’ll listen to what you say, and then call you back and tell you that they have a great new position that’s perfect for you–teaching kindergarden, in Seoul, in the mornings, with shared housing!
So, before doing anything else, understand right now that you are in control of your own experience. If you are offered a job you don’t like, don’t take it! There are lots of jobs, and waiting for the one you want will make or break your experience teaching in Korea. Of course, before you can do that, you have to figure out what it is that you want! There are three important decisions you have to make before applying for jobs in Korea.
Where in Korea do you want to teach?
Most teachers want to live in Seoul–and for good reason. Seoul is a spectacular city! …so much so that I can’t even begin to explain it in this post. I’ll just give you the basics.
First of all, there are lots of other English speaking foreigners in Seoul, which means you’ll have no problems making friends, shopping, getting food, etc.
Is that what you want? Do you want to travel all the way to Korea and then hang out at Taco Bell in Itaewon with other Americans, Canadians, Brits, Australians, and South Africans? If you do, don’t feel bad.
Lot’s of people teach in Korea for lots of different reasons. If you’re going there to save money and pay off student loans, and you’re not particularly interested in an authentic Korean living experience, just go to Seoul–or Busan.
Busan is a lot smaller than Seoul, but there are still lots of things to do there, and lots of other Westerners to do them with. Plus there’s the beach! Buson has great beaches of its own, and it is close to lots of other great beaches, like Goje Island.
So, if you want a big city experience, definitely go to Seoul–you’ll love it! If you want a biggish city experience, but would also love to enjoy the beach on the weekends, go to Busan.
Do you want a more authentic Korean teaching experience? Are you excited about learning the Korean language? Can you make friends with the locals? Do you enjoy spending some time alone, just wandering around exploring? If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, you may want to take a job in a more rural area.
There are lots of them, so you’ll have your pick of the lot. In this case, think about geography. Do you love mountain trails? If so, get a job in a mountain town. There are lots of them, and the trekking in Korea is outstanding! Of course, you can also choose a place near the ocean. Korea isn’t tropical, but it has some very cool beach/fishing towns–you can even head down to Jeju Island, which is quite an interesting, but rather rural, place.
Lastly, you can live in an area surrounding Seoul, for example Namyang Ju (in Gyungi Do). I lived there myself for a year. I lived in a small, quiet town, but I could easily hop on a bus and be in downtown Seoul in an hour. I later moved into the city, Haebongchon/Itaewon, and was much happier, but I know many people who prefer to live on the outskirts of town.
So, your first thing to do is decide where in Korean you want to teach.
What Kind of Korean teaching job do you want?
There are several types of teaching jobs in Korea. The first, and most common, type of job is a hagwon job. In case you don’t know, hagwons are after-school tutoring centers. Korean kids finish school and then head to hagwons to study some more, usually between the hours of 4 and 10 o’clock. Is a hagwon job for you?
The best thing about teaching in a hagwon is the schedule. You typically work between the hours of 4 and 9, which means you have all day off–every day. Plus, you don’t finish so late that you can’t go out and see your friends after work. Of course, schedules differ, some having the dreaded split shifts, where you work both in the early morning and the late afternoon! Avoid these if you can!
Note: there are adult hagwons and these oftentimes require you to work split shifts. Some think it’s worth it because you get to teach adults instead of children. Others would prefer to teach adults, but just can’t bear the schedule–make your own choice here! I’ve done both and… …well, it’s a tough schedule, but I really loved teaching Korean adults. Work was both fun and entertaining. I can’t really say that about teaching classrooms full of Korean kids!
The main downside to teaching in a hagwon is that you never really know what kind of job your walking into. Hagwons are, first and foremost, money making enterprises. This means that you work for a Korean business owner, which can sometimes be difficult. I worked in hagwon that was owned by one of the worst human beings I have ever met. I worked for a different hagwon and had a boss who was kind, generous, fun to work with, and very productive. The long and short of it…if you’re going to teach in a hagwon, do your research (see below).
You can also teach in Korean public schools.
With these jobs, you actually work for the Korean government. There are still good and bad bosses, but, generally speaking, things are a lot less volatile than what you’ll find in the hagwon industry. The hours you work are standard school hours. Your pay is standard government pay. Your vacation is standard government vacation. In short, these jobs offer very middle of the road, stable positions that don’t come with many outrageous surprises. Like hagwon jobs, these teaching positions are available everywhere in Korea. If you want to teach in the public school system, check out EPIC and GEPIC.
Do you have a master’s degree and some teaching experience at home or in another country?
If so, you can teach in a Korean university. These are great jobs that typically offer low teaching hours, good pay, and lots of vacation time. Of course, as with everything else in Korea, you really have to do your research. Some university jobs come with a bunch of extra work in addition to your regular teaching load. For example, many schools require you to teach at English camps run by the university. These are usually after school, on weekends, or during the winter and summer breaks.
Sometimes they are for university students, but oftentimes they are for-profit enterprises designed for teaching children. Fortunately, while annoying, these camps are typically considered to be overtime, and you will receive extra pay. Another thing to check up on is the housing. Is it on-campus, or off. On-campus, dormitory style housing offers you very little privacy, and it is avoided by most experienced teachers.
Some Useful Tips for Teaching in Korea
People often ask me how to get a job with the highest salary. My answer is that if you are a new teacher don’t worry about it too much. Why? Because jobs for new teachers in Korea pay about the same, unlike, for example, in China, where salaries vary widely for positions that are essentially the same. Right now, you need to be more concerned about location and type of job. Later, after you get some experience, you can try to get into some of the more well-known establishments that pay more.
In case you don’t know, all jobs (with the exception of “after school” positions, which you should definitely stay away from as a newbie) in Korea come with free housing. Managers and recruiters always tell you that your housing is fantastic. Sometimes they are telling the truth. Other times they are not quite being so honest. I’ve been offered some great housing and some dark dirty dungeons! The best thing to do when considering a position is to ask for some pictures of your apartment. Be polite, but firm.
If you’ve been offered a job, it’s because the school or hagwon’s current teacher is leaving. It’s a good idea to find out why. The easiest way to do this is to talk to the outgoing teacher, or to the other foreign teachers who work there. Sometimes the departing teacher has happily completed his or her contract and is now going back home. Other times, he or she is leaving due to poor working conditions. You’ll want to get a feel for the situation before accepting a job at this particular school.
Get yourself a TEFL certificate
Some people don’t get TEFL certificates because they are not absolutely necessary for getting a job. There are several reasons why you shouldn’t be one of those people.
1. Taking a 120 Hour Online TEFL Course gets you a higher salary (TEFL certificates always pay for themselves).
2. Teaching in Korea has become very popular, and much more competitive (getting certified improves your chances of getting the job you want).
3. Most importantly, the training is very helpful, especially for those who are not education majors. I got certified after my first year of teaching, and I’m glad I did. I acquired many important skills that made my life as a teacher much easier–and made me a better teacher. If you’re unsure you can try this Online TEFL course – free trial
1. Realize right now that whether you have a good or bad experience teaching in Korea depends on your planning and your willingness to hold out for the position you want–not the one that some recruiter says you should take!
2. Decide where you want to live. Want to live in Seoul with all the other expats? Don’t go anywhere else! Want to be in a big city, but love the beach? Go to Busan. Want a more authentic Korean teaching experience? Take a rural job near a great mountain or beach, or take a position just outside of Seoul.
3. Decide what kind of job you want. Want to have your days free? Get a hagwon job. Want the safety and security of a government job? Teach in a public school. Want to teach adults? Go for it! Got the credentials to land a university job, they’re there for you! Decide what you want and don’t accept anything else!
4. Do your research. Some schools are great, others terrible. Some housing is hot, some like dungeons! Schedules very widely! Do the proper research and you’ll get a good job. Don’t do your research and you’ll be the one to get stuck with an undesirable positions–recruiters must fill ALL positions!
5. Get certified with at least a 120 Hour Online TEFL Course
Have any questions? If so, just ask them in the comments section below.
Best of luck with your Korean teaching adventure!
Korean alphabet chart with audio
esl Cafe (great place to find jobs)
Work n play (more good jobs)
Great Life Planning Article (Step 1 is “go teach in Korea”)