Korea is not a country that attracts many tourists from
the Western world. Most non-Koreans that you meet there
will be English teachers or part of the US Military based
around Seoul. As such, you might find yourself in a place
where you are the only non-Korean for miles. This can be
rewarding but daunting.
Korea is one of the biggest TEFL employers in the world
and certainly amongst the best paying.
The cities are big and busy and resemble cities from Europe
or the US. But they are surrounded by rice fields and it
is still possible to see a lot of traditional life continuing
around the internet cafes and karaoke rooms.
Salary and hours
Most hagwons (language schools) will contract you to work
either thirty hours or thirty lessons- prospective teachers
should be careful of the wording of contracts as thirty
hours at forty five minutes an hour means forty classes.
The salary is good. Tax is usually between 3- 5% and most
schools’ starting is 1.8- 2.2 million won (about a
thousand pounds). You will often be paid in cash, with a
large bundle of 10,000 won notes being handed to you at
the end of the month.
On completion of a 12 month contract, the school is obliged
to give you an extra month’s salary as a bonus.
Type of teaching
Most people teach children in private language
schools after school. It is also possible to find work in
government schools and universities though. If you are in
a big city you might be teaching more adult learners though
this will require a split shift- usually before and after
normal office hours.
You might be expected to teach kindergarten so it is worth
remembering to specify ages when applying for jobs. Also,
due to the way that Korean people count their age, people
will actually be one or two years younger than the age they
give- eg: a 5 year old could only be three or four years
Schools will usually provide accommodation. This
could be in an apartment or in a one-room studio. The school
will usually pay the rent and should deal with any problems
with the landlord. You will be responsible for the bills-
ask your school how often these have to be paid and how
you will know. In an apartment block, the bill is often
just taped to your door and you have to take it to the bank
to pay it.
You will usually live near the school but taxis and buses
are very cheap too.
Start of school year/ best time to look for work
If you are looking for work in a state school or university
then you have to look at certain times of the year. Universities
often recruit twice a year- in the summer and around Easter.
If you want to work for a private school then you can start
You will need either your original degree certificate
or a notarised copy and your university transcripts (available
from most universities if you ask for them).
Your school will either buy your plane ticket and send
it to you, or you will buy it and it will be reimbursed
after you have worked for a certain amount of time.
You cannot get a Korean working visa in Korea. So if you
have time you can get your school to arrange the paperwork
for you and you can take it to the Korean embassy in your
country. Or you can go to Korea on a tourist visa and your
school will pay for you to go on a visa run to Japan- usually
just for a day though they can be persuaded to let you stay
over a weekend. The school will pay for the ticket to Japan
though nothing else.
Korean food is spicy and people will expect it
to be too much for you and be amazed if you manage to eat
it. They may also be fascinated at your ability to use chopsticks.
The typical food is kimchi- spicy pickled cabbage- which
is eaten with pretty much every meal.
There shouldn’t be any problems with attitudes to
women- though you may suspect that at times your male counterpart
is more favoured than you.
You should be forgiven most cultural ‘indiscretions’
simply for being a foreigner though it is worth remembering
to take your shoes off every time you enter someone’s
home and in some restaurants (look around and see what the
locals are doing).
The Korean alphabet is phonetic and can be learnt in under
an hour. And it is worth learning it if only so you can
read a menu. Public transport is usually signposted in English.
Planet Guide - South Korea