How to Teach English Abroad (South Korea)

David King is a young adventurer seeking to make the most of his dollars abroad.  After completing his degree in Economics, he worked for a consulting company for just a year and a half before the travel bug enticed him to leave.  After teaching English for a year in South Korea he is traveling and documenting his experiences as a free lance writer.  He is currently backpacking through South America, studying Spanish, and indulging in the local cuisines for a fraction of the normal cost.  David takes his time in each location he visits to get a feel for the city, people, and lifestyle.

Image borrowed from internationalliving.com.

Image borrowed from internationalliving.com.

In this post I will outline all of the requirements and steps that need to be taken to teach English abroad.  If you are wondering why this should interest you, perhaps you missed my last post about why you should teach abroad.  One of last week’s readers pointed out that teaching abroad is not for everyone.  I fully agree with that and the previous article should be taken more as “why you should consider teaching abroad.”  Obviously moving to a new country and teaching children has its up and downs.  If you venture on with an open mind and an open heart however, you will have a splendid time!

Since I taught in South Korea, this post will talk specifically about how to secure employment in Korea although many of these points can be applied to any country in Asia.

First it’s important to decipher the difference between public schools and private schools (academies referred to as “Hagwons” (학원) in Korean).  Both are equally respectable methods of employment in my opinion with differences that will suit different people better.  Public schools don’t hire foreign teachers directly but rather one applies through the English Program in Korea (EPIK) that is run by the Office of Education.  Private schools can hire directly and hire year round.  Although the documentation required for each is essentially the same, where you start looking for positions will depend on which you choose.  Let’s take a look at the aspects of each and what you can expect:

Public Schools (EPIK):

  1. Work hours are Monday – Friday 8:30am – 4:30pm
  2. Two hiring periods – one starting in February and one starting in August
  3. Pay structure is rigid and commensurate with experience and qualifications
    1. First year pay with a bachelors degree and a TEFL certificate is 2.1 million won per month + free housing in your own studio apartment
  4. 18 paid vacation days per year + all Korean holidays
  5. There is a provision for sick days but Korean culture looks down upon using sick leave
  6. 22 class periods are taught per week leaving you with 18 remaining hours per week for preparation and any other school work
    1. You create all of your own lesson plans.  Sometimes in collaboration with your co-teacher, often times not
  7. All of your classes will be accompanied with a bi-lingual Korean co-teacher
  8. Class size ranges based on whether you are an Elementary, Middle, or High School teacher
    1. Elementary – 24 students, Middle – 30-34 students, High – 32-38 students

 Private Schools:

  1. Work hours vary but the majority will be afternoon/evening hoursMonday – Friday 2:30pm – 9:30pm is not an uncommon schedule
  2. Positions will be available year round
  3. First time teachers with a bachelor’s degree and a TEFL certificate can expect the same benefits of 2.1 million won per month + housing
    1. There do exist a handful of academies that pay substantially more, especially if it is a high school exam prep school
    2. These schools expect you to have a degree from a highly recognized university (Ivy League caliber) or really high SAT scores
  4. 10 paid vacation days per year + the same amount of Korean holidays but often on different days
    1. Often private school teachers must work on national holidays because when kids don’t have school, they go to academy (sadly).
    2. You will get a vacation day on some other arbitrary day
  5. It’s possible to teach more than 30 classes per week.  The curriculum is already created and chosen for you.
    1. Due to this, much less time is spent idle and/or preparing
  6. All your classes will be taught alone.  There is no co-teacher to help you in a private school
  7. Class size will be much smaller than in public schools
  8. Often classes will range from 12-18 students

Prerequisites for Employment:

  • Have a passport from an English speaking country (Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States of America)
  • Completed a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited university
  • Have a 100+ Hours TEFL Certificate
    • This is sometimes not necessary but not having one will highly reduce your chances of getting hired

If you don’t have a TEFL certificate, don’t panic.  This can be obtained online for $190 at (www.teflonline.net).  I have heard an in-person TEFL class and certificate looks better and is worth more on your resume but it’s very expensive and difficult for someone already working.  The online TEFL will suffice.  If you use the teflonline program, I recommend completing the course with a tutor.  Your tutor will ensure you are submitting quality work and really grasping all scenarios and topics.  Don’t underestimate how long this course will take you to finish.  You are allotted 6 months to finish and I used the whole time period.  If you are working full time it’s hard to commit time to it every week.

Application Procedures:

If you have decided that the public school option is the right move for you, it is mandatory to work through a recruiter.  A recruiter will be your best friend in this process and you will need to rely on them to steer you through a lot of ambiguity.  For this reason, shop around through various recruiters and find someone who you like and trust.  I recommend using a recruiter for private schools as well because of how helpful they will be ensuring all of your documents are prepared.  Your recruiter should be responsive and helpful at every turn.  I specifically used www.gone2korea.com and had no issues at all with my recruiter, Kirk.  My good friend used www.Korvia.com and she had a good experience as well.  Apply to a couple, do your preliminary interview, and decide whom you will move forward with.  Once you have “passed” a preliminary interview with a specific recruiter, voice your preferences for jobs, i.e. public or private schools, desired location, salary expectations.  If you are looking for a job in a public school, you will need to begin this process of applying no later than 6 months before.  If you hope to start work in February, you need to start applying, obtaining your TEFL, and verifying other required documents no later than August.  If you are looking for work in a private school, work can be found much faster and year round however your employment is contingent on having all of the required documents ready.  And without further a due….

Required Documentation:

 

  1. Completed Application form
    1. This will be provided to you by your recruiter
  2. An Apostilled Copy of your Bachelor’s degree diploma
    1. The process for this varies by state and country.  Here is an example of the requirements in California.
  3. Original Sealed Transcripts (x2)
  4. An Apostilled National Level Criminal Background Check (CRC)
    1. This must be recent up to 6 months before starting employment.  In other words, do not get your criminal record check before August.  This also takes awhile to get back and you need to have it Apostilled so this should be done ideally in August but no later than mid September.
  5. Two Letters of Recommendation from an Academic or Professional reference
  6. Copy of Passport Photo Page
  7. Two copies of all the above documents are necessary

That’s all there is to it folks.  If you have the prerequisites for hire, start by finding a recruiter you like and the rest will fall in to place.  My greatest piece of advice is to start early.  While securing employment isn’t rocket science, the process takes a long time.  Completing your TEFL certificate and obtaining all of your documents will require a bit of effort.  I hope you can reference this breakdown and guide in the future to remind yourself it’s achievable!  Good luck and I’m wishing you all the best.

 

Bonus Financial Section:

For those curious as to how wise, financially, teaching abroad is I offer you a breakdown of the numbers.

Money Flow Korean Won
Gross Monthly Income 2,100,000
Pension Contribution* 94,500
Health Insurance 75,000
School Lunches + Fees 70,000
Utilities (Gas, Water, TV, Internet, Electricity) 80,000
Cell Phone (Non contract, own phone) 25,000
Net Monthly Income 1,755,500

 

Remember your employer will provide you with free housing.  Your housing will be walking distance to your school.  The expenses listed above should be your only fixed monthly expenses.  After all of your fixed expenses your only remaining variable expenses are food, entertainment, and transportation.  Thankfully all of these things are relatively cheaper in Korea than the Western English speaking country you will be coming from.  On average you should be able to enjoy yourself in Korea for 1,000,000 won per month.  That leaves us with 755,500 won per month in savings.  Multiple that by 12 and we have 9,066,000 won or, by today’s exchange rate, about $8,730.  But wait, there’s more.

*Let’s not forget the pension we’ve been putting money into for the past year at a rate of 4.5% of our paycheck.  In addition, your school will match your contributions 100% to leave you with another 2,268,000 won or $2,184.

On top of this, you will receive a 2,100,000 won contract completion bonus (one extra month’s salary) and a 1,300,000 flight allowance upon completion of your contract.  Another $3,274.

Total potential savings in one year: $14,188.  Chances are however that you aren’t going home with $14,000 in your pocket.  I used my summer and winter vacations to take some lovely vacations and I’m sure you will do the same.  Happy travels!

Comments

  1. Great post, David. Thank you.

  2. I have been reading a lot lately about EPIK being scaled back significantly. Of course I don’t think this is the case at all with hagwons. I think there may be some questions regarding the real success of the EPIK program. And there are some recruiters saying that there are no openings in Busan, for example, as it seems to be a very popular location and teachers tend to extend their stay there. Regardless, I must say that I’m very intrigued with the idea of teaching. I studied Korean many years ago and would love to have the opportunity to improve my language skills. I’m studying for a masters in intercultural studies now, but part of me wants to drop what I doing and go. Thanks for the great write up.

    • David King says:

      Hey Bart. Sorry for the late reply. Actually I believe you are correct. I’ve heard some of the same things with regards to cut backs in the EPIK program. I believe they are phasing out all high school positions in the next few years. I don’t think this erases the possibility of finding a position through EPIK but it will certainly be more competitive. Also, with regards to the private schools, I can’t see any scaling back in the near future and those jobs should continue to be plentiful. Since it sounds like you already have some interest in Korean language and culture, I think it would be a great move for you. I wish you the best of luck and let me know if you have any questions in the future or along the way. Cheers!

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