Monday, October 27, 2008

Ask a Korean! Wiki: Teaching Positions in Korea

Dear readers,

Here is another chance to help out one another.

Dear Korean,

I'd like to travel to Korea and live there for a period of time. Most people recommend becoming an English teacher as the best way to secure a job and income. The Google results are overwhelming. Do you have any suggestions? I'm not sure how to start researching the possibilities nor have a good criteria base to judge programs. Advice on useful skills or concepts to know before arriving in Korea is also appreciated, but that could be a long list. (Skills in addition to learning Korean and for teaching, perfecting my English).

Jenn K.

Dear Korean,

I'm thinking about moving and have read some of your responses to questions asked. Is it very difficult to find work in Korea? I've noticed several teaching jobs, all seem easily attainable with a certificate, offered on line. I have about $200k cash and I have a 4 year old son, full custody. Just need a change.....

Patrick E.

The Korean thought about responding to these questions himself, but given the readership of this blog, anything the Korean might have written would have been inadequate compared to what the readers of AaK! would be able to provide collectively.

So readers, let it rip. In addition to providing links and resources, any personalized advice would be most helpful. Bonus points for third person-speak.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


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  3. Teaching seem to be a crapshoot in Korea; likewise is the reputation of a career in education in other countries or North America.

    Hagwons seem to be very diverse: large and small, they offer different advantages. A large chain may provide a more stable job, while a smaller institute may be able to be more accommodating.

    Public schools are by far the most secure positions, and here it appears that one's credentials go the farthest. (Not including University positions, for which a certificate or more preferably an education/TESOL degree is best, offering generous benefits and vacation.)

    I know teachers who hate teaching in a public school and likewise teachers who feel abused in private institutions, but i also know happy teachers in both types of positions.

    Decide what hours you want to work. Decide whether you would prefer working with young children or adults. Decide how much freedom you desire in forming your curriculum.

    You may get lucky, you may not; but a move like this will require some sacrifices and some adjustments.

    Find several recruiters so you have multiple leads and choose someone to help you based on how informative and communicative they are with you.

    Do not pay ANYTHING for recruitment services: recruiters are paid by the schools for whom they hire.

    I am in my second year teaching here. For one hellish year I worked 10-12 hour days, often without breaks, with a terrible lunch, living in a subpar apartment for an institutions which was loathe to give sick days (until they saw the pallor in my face as a result of having been exposed to massive mold growth in my apartment). I was frequently miserable.

    I returned for a second year, this time at a public school, where the housing is quality, the hours are definite, and my roles are clearly defined with plenty of time to prepare for classes. It took a while to accept that there's little I can do to help my students (Korean middle schools short out students by ability, and my 'academic' high school is the lowest level, beneath it being technical and agricultural schools). So I've calmed down, settled in, and focus on the students I can help while trying to give an entertaining impression of English to lower-ability students in the hopes that they will be more motivated to incorporate English into their lives.

    Definitely research Korean education: it will be important to temper your ideals. The Korean system values different results than Western systems. You will not save anybody, but you just might be a wonderful presence in the life of a student for whom existence constitutes 13 hours school days, 5 hours of private instruction, and the remainder of their day spent on homework (by this point it's the early morning) before possibly catching 4 hours of sleep if they intend to pass their college entrance exam.

    On one hand I miss teaching kindergarten (which I taught my first year, along with mixed elementary ages in the afternoon and evening) because the children don't quite exist in this dreadful cycle yet and it shows in their affection and excitement about such basic things. I also miss teaching things like basic science, which I find interesting.

    However, with the few students I have now whose ability is higher, I can have much more interesting discussions, and comparing my public school life to my private hagwon life, I'm much happier, less stressed, and generally relaxed about the state of things.

    Remember that people with negative experience are often more likely to post on sites like Dave's ESL cafe, but they can have a point. Do remember that there's bad blood on both sides of this debate: totally incompetent and irresponsible teachers as well as corrupt and deceitful administrators.

    Just some thoughts...

    I will personally recommend my recruiter, whose English is competent and who communicated thoroughly with me through the hiring process. (For this most recent post.. I won't provide the information for my previous recruiter, who I came to know through a mutual friend.)

    Her name is Sylvia Jung and she can be reached at GEC (her recruitment company) at

    Try more than one recruiter, though, and don't put all your eggs in one basket. A good recruiter for one person may not work as well for another, so be prepared and don't get discouraged!

  4. I've actually thought about teaching english in Korea as a first post-graduation job. But when I noticed how horrendous my grammar was, I ultimately decided to forgo that endeavor and decided to take the corporate route.

    From my personal experience, its not a bag gig for someone who likes to travel, specially someone who is young and want to explore the world. From what I remember, they offered me a $27,000 yearly salary (net pay) along with free housing for a year.

    I would highly recommend for those who are interested in obtaining teacher positions in Korea to do a thorough research before you commit to a school. I've read numerous articles online that certain agencies does not follow through with their financial obligations. Most importantly, you would need to ask where and which school they would most likely to place you in -- they may put you somewhere in the rice paddies, and that would make your life a living hell!!!!

    I met numerous Ameircans that enjoy their teaching jobs in Korea. If I remember correctly, an American girl told me that she wishes she was Korean, because she feels like her soul is at peace in Korea!!!

    On the other hand, I met a few teachers from Canana that had a bad experience in Korea. They said that they wouldnt go back to Korea even if they offered them $50,000 salary. The canucks would not provide any details other than "it just didn't feel right"...

    I would do a thorough research before you make a final decision to teach in Korea. There are other asian countries that provide great benefits with moderate living accomodations. And Moving to a foreign country where similarities are almost none, will be very challenging at first. Then again, not many people get to say they lived and worked in a foreign country for a year!!!!

  5. wow, I'm not going into such detail, but I teach adults and it is AWESOME! The pay is good, the hours are great, the life is fantastic! I am based in Seoul.

    If you want more information, I will glady give you contacts etc.

    1. Hi Lauren. Im interested working in Korea as an ESL teacher. Im a teacher here in Philippines and I find it really hard to find a job in Korea for the reason that they only hire native speakers. I hope you can give me more details on this. Thank you.

  6. Lauren, I would like any info you could offer...

  7. i'm working for a school administrated by the seoul metro office of education and i really like it. i don't have to worry about getting paid on time. my apt is hella small (a lot of other teachers got lofts) but there's nothing sketchy about the neighborhood.

    i work at a vocational school and contrary to a.penguin's suggestion, my girls are in the upper academic percentile of students in seoul, so your situation is literally on a school-by-school basis. the classroom i work in is english village quality. you can check it out here:

    the majority of my girls are interested in learning and my coworkers are awesome. at the same time, i work a little bit harder than some of the teachers i know who are at sucky schools so i guess everything evens out.

    in my opinion, if you like teaching, and come with a mind to work (rather than seeing work as an impediment to drinking and one-night-stands) you should be a public school. can't speak for hagwons on that one.

    good luck.

  8. APE
    Email me on - I don't know how to find your email address.

  9. Kyung Bok business school looks fabulous.. and certainly doesn't qualify under the terms I stated which perhaps I should qualify further. First, Seoul is reputed to have the highest-performing students. I work in Gyeonggi Province, and none of my coworkers who have children send them to school outside of Seoul for this reason. However, positions in Seoul seem to be more competetive than positions in the provinces, hence the small financial incentives offered by programs like EPIK (English Program in Korea) to teachers willing to live outside of Seoul. The incentive is uaully small, between 100,00-300,000 won extra per month depending on the particulars. (I'm too disheartened by recent financial events to bother converting that into USD.. it's not good..)

    There are a variety of specialty schools which include business-oriented schools like Kyung Bok. There are schools which are designated Foreign Language schools, art schools, and so forth. What I meant by technical and agricultural high schools was specifically that: schools which train low-performing students with trade skills who do not expect to attend any college whatsoever and who will begin working immediately after graduation. A few friends work at these schools (also outside of Seoul, so I can't speak for SMOE, Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education) and while there are occasionally single classes of high ability students (who for example might be studying to be computer or software engineers) the majority of the student body is less.. focused.

    But yes, do you research. Certification helps, and so does experience, but lacking either or both will not stop you.

  10. The Korean also noticed that Dave's ESL Cafe and RateMyHagwon appear to be good resources, although he obviously does not have firsthand experience. Try Googling them.

  11. Patrick, since you've got a fair bit of money saved away, why not go to a country like Cambodia or Laos. Korea is great because it pays enough for those of us who need an income large enough to pay off loans, but there are plenty of teachers already here. A poorer country may not be able to pay you as much, but the cost of living would be lower so you could still live well there and they really need people who are willing and able to go.

    If you really want Korea, there are a million choices. The absolute first rule is this: talk to a foreign teacher who works there before you agree to anything. Recruiters and employers sometimes lie, so get opinions from workers and ex-workers. My company (Moonkkang) is one of the better hagwons in this area.

    Think about the kind of lifestyle you want first and use that to choose your job. Public school jobs and kindergartens are day jobs, so you have your nights free while hagwons are afternoon to night jobs. University positions can vary. Remember that most foreigners work in hagwons, so if you're on a different schedule, it may limit your social life.

    Also think about what kind of place you want. Seoul is a huge city kind of reminds me of New York or Tokyo. You can find much of what you'll want from back home. That includes more cost, crime and noise than elsewhere. My city, Daegu, is large but quieter and more conservative with less nightlife and access to foreign goods. I really like it though. Go to a rural area, and you may struggle to find things from home, but you may learn more.

  12. There are plenty of videos on youtube of english teachers explaining their daily lives in Korea.

    Try this one:

    She is very cute as well!

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  14. The Galbijim Wiki has pretty much the best one-stop guide to doing ESL in Korea, plus plenty of other good information on living there.

  15. Oh, and what's the deal with Patrick? I think if you have a four-year old son it's not such a good deal to pick up and move to another country unless it's necessary for your career, like you're in the military or foreign service or something.

  16. It's rather difficult to school a child in Korea. International schools have huge waiting lists and are rather sparse.

    I don't know about pre-school programs, but school age kids have a hard time getting an education here.

  17. Maybe the best way to start would be to teach at a summer - or winter - camp. This will give you a flavour of the country and it's people, and also of the conditions you will encounter.

    I taught at a summer camp in 2005 and had a great time, but the workload was a lot greater than I expected. 6 days a week from 09.00 to 16.00 with no break from the students except for a 2 minute changeover between each 1 hour lesson, (You are expected to eat lunch with your "home" class).

    I still managed to really enjoy myself despite the hours, and I wasn't phased because although my grammar is poor (in the UK and Australia we don't learn English as a set of rules, unlike the education systen in the USA tends to) I was teaching mainly younger immersion classes.

  18. I know teachers who hate teaching in a public school and likewise teachers who feel abused in private institutions, but i also know happy teachers in both types of positions
    Mold Certification


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