Why teach English in Korea?
Teaching in South Korea just makes sense: generous packages (oftentimes including flights and accommodations), comfortable take home pay (including a little extra for adventures and savings), and the chance to live abroad and enrich a child's life?
All signs point to 예 — "Yes!"
Teaching in South Korea is popular amongst expats wanting to try their hand at a new profession in a new country or undertake their everyday profession surrounded by a new culture.
Close your eyes and imagine a capital city where you could leave your camera in a busy bar and when you return three weeks later, your camera will still be waiting for you, along with some cheeky pictures taken by the local bar staff. Imagine a place where you could leave your backpack on a bus and when you realize in a taxi later, have the taxi driver offer to personally go back to the bus station, and not only pick up your backpack, but keep it until the end of the day — not to mention meet you back at the bus station some eight hours later to return your belongings. Imagine a place where supermarkets and electrical stores leave millions worth of stock outside their shop, untied and unattended, and not one thing is taken. A place where you could leave your house key on top of an arcade game and find it untouched when you return for it later that day.
And that's just the trust factor. We haven't even gotten to the other fun stuff — like Koreans' incredible work ethic, pristine natural areas, spicy carnivore-friendly cuisine. This peninsula packs a punch, so it's actually not too hard to answer the question: "Why teach in South Korea?"
Top benefits of teaching English in South Korea
Open your eyes, put away your cynicism, and come to South Korea; the following are ten reasons to teach in South Korea.
Koreans are just down-to-earth nice. If you need help, they’ll help you. If you’ve lost something, they’ll find it for you. If you’re a loyal restaurant-goer or bakery customer, they’ll give you something for free. If you miss your bus or train, they’ll refund your ticket.
Koreans are proud of their country and their ideals, and they want to show them off to foreigners. They are very obedient people and very keen to follow the rules, which are positive things for the many ill-prepared, initially-overwhelmed foreigners that travel to South Korea.
2. Cheap To Live
The majority of things in South Korea are extremely cheap: restaurants, bars, alcohol, taxis, buses, subways, electricity, hostels, and clothes, if you shop in the right places. Most experiences, outdoor or indoor, are all extremely affordable.
The only things that are expensive are those that have been imported, such as fruits and vegetables, cheese, butter,.....and Samsung. For a country with one of the world’s largest technology companies at its core, surprisingly, the residents don’t get any discount benefits.
3. Free Accommodation
As part of most South Korean teaching packages, native English-speaking employees are provided with free accommodation. There is a wide selection of properties that people are placed in, depending on the city and the public or private school of employment. Accommodation also varies by whether you are travelling single or as a couple. Housing ranges from sizable two-bedroom separate kitchen apartments, to smaller one-bedroom places with mini kitchen areas, to studio spaces that have a feel of university dormitories about them.
Wherever it is that foreign teachers stay the main advantage is, for as long as you are working at Korea ESL jobs, you will not pay rent, and that is one huge financial weight lifted — and one of our personal favorite responses to "Why teach English in Korea?"
4. The Foreigner Culture
On the list of multicultural countries, South Korea does not rank very highly. Koreans are ancient people; one of the few populations in the world who can trace a continuous time and presence on the same territory for thousands of years. Throughout history, this has led to the depiction of Korea as the ‘Hermit Kingdom’, a country ultimately Korean in its spirit, ideology and people. While other aspects of Korean culture, such as technology and education, have developed with rapid speed and tenaciousness, multiculturalism has not. As a teacher, this lack of cultural diversity is not something that creates antagonism from the locals (see friendliness).
As foreign minorities living in a small country and sharing similar employment experiences, those that come to South Korea to teach will find a very close-knit, accepting foreign community unlike any you are likely to find in your home country. In most cities, there are social media groups for expat teachers to join and meet their fellow educators, something that is hugely reassuring and helpful if you travel to a country on your own. In addition, there are also nationwide groups that organize trips and activities tailored towards foreigner teachers. These companies offer experiences up and down the country on a regular basis and the trips are a great way to meet new friends or catch up with friends from past excursions. Whatever foreign teachers choose to do, they’ll find it hard to be alone in South Korea.
5. Variety of Outdoor Activities
Korea’s seasonal climate means that the country literally has it all when it comes to outdoor activities. The winter temperature drops down to -20 Celsius, which necessitates numerous layers of clothing but also provides big and small resorts for skiing and snowboarding. South Korea is hosting the 2018 Winter Olympics and participating ski resorts are getting well prepared for the eyes of the world to descend.
Equally, when it’s hot in Korea, it is hot. As the temperature rises up to the 30s the summer activities abound, including water skiing, white water rafting, paragliding, bungee jumping and many more.
To add to this great diversity of outdoor fun, Korea is a small country so whatever you want to do in whatever place you want to do it, everything’s only a cheap bus ride away.
6. Private Partying
Koreans like to party in quiet groups and, while this may be a break from normality for a lot of foreigners, the private singing rooms and private DVD rooms that can be found on almost every corner of every city are a cultural must-do. At least if you can’t sing, it will only be your friends that can hear you.
7. Stunning Scenery
Korea as a place to look at is quite a juxtaposition. As a consequence of its mountainous terrain, only 30 percent of the country is actually inhabitable. This means that in populated areas Korea has built upwards to accommodate its many needs. Apartments, coffee shops, convenience stores, restaurants, screen golf zones, and private academies are all built in to the sky. The resulting skyline is not particularly picturesque. Fortunately, the 70 percent that hasn’t been dominated by a ‘build as much as you possibly can’ philosophy is absolutely beautiful.
Korea has 20 national parks that are incredible gems of natural wonder. Mother Nature’s best work stuns as far as the eye can see across acres and acres of green space, gently rolling up and down the stunning peaks. Hiking is a very popular pastime in Korea and it’s easy to see why; the locals play to the strength of their country and what a strength the mountains are. If you don’t have an expensive, designer hiking kit like all Koreans do for their strolls up mountain sides don’t worry; you might get some funny looks because you’re not ‘geared up’, but you’ll easily be able to appreciate the spectacular landscape from some of the less taxing climbs.
8. Big Cities
Conversely, if trees aren’t your thing, Korea’s big cities have everything else that you might want. Up in the North, the capital Seoul is alive with perpetual happenings and it has the deviation from Korean culture that foreigners need every once in awhile. Much more variety exists in Seoul than in the rest of the country, especially in the foreign food district, Itaewon, and in the music and party district of Hongdae.
In the South there’s Busan, the second biggest city in Korea with an entirely different atmosphere. Lying on the Southeastern tip of Korea, the beaches are beautiful and best viewed in Spring or Autumn to avoid the mad rush of Summer sunbathers and to get the best views of the East Sea.
The third largest metropolitan area is Daegu, well-known for its strong links to Buddhism and many temples. It also showcases a lot of festivals and sports, providing one of the best nights out in the country.
9. Attitude Towards Education
Whatever school you choose to teach Korea ESL jobs, a public school or a private academy, and at any age, Korean children are pushed hard to achieve. This comes from an attitude of complete reverence towards education and an emphasis placed on the importance of English as a tool for improving your future prospects. Whether you agree with their methods or the intense style of Korean education, the positive thing as an English Teacher is the respect that is given to a teacher and the subject matter.
[Keep reading: 5 best places for teaching English in Korea]
10. Sociable Eating and Drinking
Koreans love to share: big pizzas, small pizzas, barbecue, pasta meals for one, alcohol, dried fish snacks, fruit, and chocolate. Everything. Once you realize they eat in small portions, their love of sharing becomes your love of sharing too!
A Few FAQs on Korea ESL Jobs
As your resource for all things meaningful travel, we want to set the record straight about how to make your experience teaching in South Korea as smooth and awesome as possible.
How much do English teachers make in Korea?
It ultimately depends on the type of teaching environment that you find yourself in. For instance, English teaching jobs at universities in Korea will pay more handsomely than if you work at a public school. Hagwons, private English schools, also offer competitive pay. Regardless of your placement, you can expect to take home between $1000-$3000 per month.
What are the best programs for teaching English in Korea?
This is a toughie. The best programs for teaching English in Korea will depend largely on your goals, needs, and program requirements. Just because a teaching company in the middle-of-nowhere, Korea has great reviews doesn't mean it's a good fit for your city-lovin'-self. Take into account many factors before selecting a program — yes, be sure to read those teaching English in Korea reviews, and yes, ask past teachers for advice. Read blogs. Send inquiries. Here's a shortlist of top-rated programs to get you started:
- TravelBud — 37 reviews, 9.24 rating
- CIEE — 160 reviews, 9.04 rating
- Travel & Teach Recruiting — 14 reviews, 10.0 rating
- Greenheart Travel — 43 reviews, 9.49 rating
Do I need a degree to teach English in Korea?
Yes — one of the determining requirements to teach English in Korea is holding a bachelors degree from an accredited institution. Beyond this, you will also need to have citizenship from a native English speaking country, i.e. the United States, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, or South Africa. You'll also have a background check, and, depending on the school placement, need teaching experience or a TEFL certificate (hint: keep reading).
Should I have a TEFL for teaching in Korea?
Positions in most public schools and universities will require that you've earned a TEFL certificate in advance. The good news? You can do these online, in Korea before your teaching placement, or, truly, anywhere around the world. If you choose to go the route of teaching English in Korea without a TEFL certificate, prepare for a tougher job search and less generous stipends.
Why do YOU want to teach EFL in Korea?
Teaching English in Korea has both professional and personal — not to mention monetary — gains. Teaching abroad is a stepping stone into any field, a great first job out of college, and a productive career break. The benefits of teaching English in South Korea cannot be sung enough. So bibambap your way East — you won't regret it!