South Korea has successfully made itself one of the most attractive places in Asia for native English speakers to teach English abroad, with a remuneration package that includes free flights and free accommodation. Fortunately, for people who decide to work there, the initial incentive fronts many more reasons why Korea is such a great place to teach abroad. With only 30 percent of this mountainous country habitable, the scenery is breath-taking and the cities are busy. Koreans are proud of what they have created and, from the snow-covered mountains in winter, to the sunkissed beaches of summer, they are keen to showcase their home through friendliness, honesty, and sincerity.
A huge positive about South Korea is its internal accessibility. It is not a large country and boasts a fantastic transport system which means that whatever city or town you are posted to, you will not be isolated. However, if you are not satisfied with travelling to the best place and want to live in it, then the two largest cities are the ones to look at: Seoul, the capital city located in the northwest; and Busan, the second largest city, located on the southeastern tip of the Korean peninsula.
Seoul covers a vast area of the country and, consequently, has the most state schools and private academies. It’s busy and bustling and is perfect for foreigners who are eager to be immersed in all things bright and exciting.
Conversely, Seoul deviates from Korean culture like nowhere else in the country. It cannot be described as western, but it offers much more cross-country variation that anywhere in Korea; although great to visit, if you lived there permanently as an international teacher, your sense of Korea’s own culture may get lost among the shiny lights.
Busan, 200 miles away, has a much more relaxed attitude. Still a big metropolis with jobs everywhere, it has a much more chilled out, beach atmosphere than the capital. The stretches of white sand are beautiful and, as an inhabitant, you’d have the best knowledge of when to appreciate them the most.
Other great cities, with easy transport links and a lot going on in their own right, are Dageu, in the southeastern area and Daejeon in central Korea.
Villages deep in the Korean countryside have opportunities for foreign teachers to teach in South Korea too, but before you accept a school placement there research the area thoroughly and be completely sure that you’ll get the best out of your time there.
Education in South Korea is very important. State schools are often the bare minimum; extra hagwons that focus on specific subjects are big business.
Teaching English in South Korea is the primary objective, but this may be dressed up in other subjects, such as Maths, Science, Social Studies, Art, or Crafts. Private hagwons often run through textbook learning; state schools require more planning but there are many EFL forums out there to help with this.
The school year runs from March to February and there is a month off for state schools in winter and summer. However, hagwons still operate throughout the school holidays and, for private school teachers, vacation time is much less. It’s typical to receive two slots of five days during the working year. Public holidays are not guaranteed as a public holiday day in Korea and each one falls on the same date every year. Consequently, they can sometimes fall on a weekend.
At state schools, vacation time is much more plentiful although still not to the same extent as the kids. Most schools offer summer camps during the holidays that state school teachers have to run, and they are sometimes required to come into school during the holidays – a term known as “desk-warming”.
State school classroom teaching time ranges from four to six hours depending on what classes there are on what day. In a hagwon, you can teach for around six hours a day. The older the Korean child, the longer they are expected to study and hagwons open until late. There are teaching opportunities that offer hours of 2pm to 10pm or 3pm to 11pm, which a lot of westerners find to be an exciting difference from the typical 9am to 5pm block.
You will be expected to work hard in a Korean classroom. But you won’t be alone. Korean children are pushed to do well and, through hard work and determination, they very rarely fail.
Salaries & Costs
You can very quickly become a Korean millionaire as an English teacher with the exchange rate standing in the region of $1 USD to every 1,025₩, and a monthly wage hovering around the two million Won mark, an amount that should go up with every year that you spend teaching in South Korea.
This salary would allow a teacher to live a decent lifestyle, even if they had expenses to pay. But, with the school paying rent, this monthly money can give international teachers with even the slightest capacity of spending money wisely, the opportunity to live a life of relative luxury. Many teachers that teach in South Korea have the opportunity to combine four things that are simply not possible with the same amount in a Western country: travelling, saving, exploring South Korea, and enjoying a comfortable day-to-day existence.
Won stretches far in Korea for a westerner due to the combination of a healthy salary, the low-cost of living – particularly restaurant meals, utility bills, travel, and alcohol –three percent income tax (able to be claimed back for some nationalities: check with your employer) and very few monthly outgoings.
Look out for teaching jobs in South Korea that offer the following: free return flights (upon completion of your contract length), free accommodation, 50 percent medical insurance covered by your employer, and a bonus of an extra month’s wage at the end of your tenure.
As a country with, natural beauty, accessible summer and winter activities, a culture that likes a drink, and perfectly positioned for easy East Asian travel, there is no shortage of ways to make your money go further while teaching in South Korea.
Accommodation & Visas
Accommodation varies wildly from state school to hagwon and in city to city. What is certain is that it is free. Due to the lack of space throughout the country, South Korea has built up to accommodate its growing economy.
Apartment buildings range far and wide across city skylines and it’s likely that you’ll reside in one of those. International teachers are more than likely to get an apartment on the smaller side of appropriate than on the larger side. That is not to say the accommodation is impractical, and definitely not unlivable. But one of the biggest tips you can take on board is this: don’t go believing that you are owed luxury living. You can demand a clean, well-kept, well-located space with all the amenities for an easy life and no rent to pay. You will get that. And don’t forget what you would get at home for free: nothing.
To live and teach in South Korea you need an E-2 Teaching visa. It can be a long and complicated process and requires a lot of documents to confirm your validity. However, don’t be too overwhelmed when you see what you have to obtain. Thousands of people successfully gain access to teaching jobs in South Korea every day. Just work closely with your private school recruiter or state school recruiting organisation and have faith that it all eventually does get done.
Benefits & Challenges
South Korea is known as the “hermit country”. While it is an exceptionally friendly place, it is very insular in terms of its location and often its attitudes. As a foreign teacher, you are extremely valuable but you will always be a visitor. Consequently, the expat community is small and made up predominantly of ESL teachers. As a result, the camaraderie around the country between westerners is fantastic and incredibly welcoming. Equally, the demand for native English speakers is high, to fill the hundreds of english teaching jobs in South Korea.
Of course, there are schools out there that don’t follow the rules. Do your research well, go with an open mind, and, above all, enjoy it.