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Teaching English in South Korea – what is it REALLY like?

I am closing in on my one year mark teaching English in South Korea.  It’s mid June (2012) now, and the contract year will end in August (2012).  While I’ve been here, I’ve tried to capture many of the moments on camera, video, YouTube, Facebook, blog, etc for friends, family and the virtual world to enjoy.  However, it’s impossible to get it all.  It’s also impossible to really convey the true experience in terms of my actual, real life.  Day to day.  Good weather, bad weather.  Ups and downs.  All the in betweens that can’t come across in a video or picture.  A lot of people are like I was before I came here.  Wondering what to expect.  Will they love it, hate it?  Want to get back on the plane.  Everyone receives the experience differently.

Here is how my first year was.

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A New, Exciting, EXOTIC Experience of a Lifetime!

When I finally decided to take a hiatus from life back in the USA and teach English abroad I was super excited.  I watched every video on YouTube about the experience.  Apartment videos, people visiting this and that exotic place, exciting outings with friends, etc.  I couldn’t wait to go.  Maybe you’re in the same boat right now.

Logo HorizontalThen I arrived.  I’m there!  “Why did I do this?” was one of the first questions on heavy rotation in my head the first week.  “This is not like the pamphlet” was another.  Like many people, it was slow going at first.  Everything is different.  Everyone is Korean.  EVERYONE!  Hey, it’s Korea.

After a couple weeks of settling into my apartment, school, and new environment, the jitters all disappeared.  I mean that – for me they just disappeared.  I do have to let you know that I am half Korean so I was accustomed to the food and the smells that may otherwise shock someone from a place, say, like New Hampshire…wait, I am from New Hampshire!  I also lived in NYC for 8 years and along with having many Korean friends came doing very Korean things.  All this means, the “culture shock” aspect of it all was really not present for me.  It may be for you, and likely will.

So here I am, settled in, no culture shock – is South Korea really a New, Exciting, and Exotic experience?  Yes.  It really is.

Is it like the videos and pictures I perused on the internet before coming?  Yes, and no.  What it really is, is Korea.  

It’s on the other side of the globe from home.  Because I ate kimchi growing up doesn’t mean I knew everything about Korea.  In fact, I really didn’t know much.

The first thing I did was get out and about whenever possible.  I did many of the things that I read about online like visiting temples, watching festivals and shopping at outdoor markets.  I joined a judo club right near my apartment which really helped me feel a sense of comfort as it gave me a place to let go of some stress and make new friends in an all familiar environment.  Literally though, those things are just the tip of the iceberg.

What is Different?

The coast of the island I live on

Everything is different.  The building designs, furnishings in the buildings, what people find stylish, social interactions, social hierarchies, body communications, stores, food types, prices (some things are very cheap in comparison to back home, some are more expensive – like razors and shaving cream).

Life for most foreigners will be turned upside down which is why many revert back to socializing with foreigner groups.  I do think it’s a good idea to have your foreign friends to bring you back home every once in a while.  At the same time though, I think it’s important to push yourself into seeing Korea while you have the opportunity.  Try to be a Korean for a year!

Daily Life

300_150_1Daily life revolves around your job Monday thru Friday.  And for teaching ESL in Korea, that’s a GOOD thing.  I like to stress that I get to work with students who are on the forefront of education globally.  These are the strongest students in the world.  If you keep an open mind, refrain from being frustrated, and look carefully, you can begin to see why.  The educational system in South Korea is of critical nature to the government.  They do not cut corners.  They do not take it lightly.  And I am part of it.  A small role, yes, but I’m here seeing and experiencing it.

Daily life is just that – it’s LIFE.  I get up in the morning, drink a cup of coffee, flick on the computer to check Facebook and email, shower, shave, down a protein shake and go to work.  Come home from work and either go to judo practice or work on my videos and blogs.  Download a movie, watch it, go to bed.  It’s a vicious cycle!  But there you have it.  It doesn’t matter where I am, or where you will be in life, your daily routine is your daily routine.

In between, I find time to go to fun and exciting places, meet with friends, go to the beach, hike, volunteer, etc, but essentially I am living my life as I would back home…just in a Korean storyline.

It’s life.  I just happen to enjoy trying to live it while I’m here.

Lots and Lots of Free Time

I think this is more important than most people give credit to.  The amount of free time I have is immense.  I personally feel it is the free time that makes or breaks the experience teaching abroad.  What a person does with their free time shapes who they really are, how they view life, and what they will take from this experience.

My judo instructor

I get home each day at 4:45 PM.  Since I don’t need to wake up until 7:00 AM and I can only sleep 5 hours max each clip should tell you how much free time I have on my hands.  Three times a week I walk to judo class, but the entire effort lasts only 1.5 hours.  Finding ways to fill free time is very important.  I can’t stress it enough.  Gone are the days for me when I got home at 7:00 or 8:00 PM and tried to figure out what chores needed to be done before getting to bed in time for the 6:00 AM buzzer.

There is also vacation.  Teachers get a summer and winter break.  Though 2-3 weeks of that time are spent teaching camp in the morning, there are the remaining 2-3 weeks for traveling, checking out other cities, going home to see family and friends, or whatever you’d like.

Make the most of your free time.

To Bring It Home

As you read this blog, watch videos (here is my YouTube Channel), talk to recruiters and past expats, you’ll begin to build a picture of what you think teaching in South Korea will be like.  It may be just as you picture it, it may be different, it may shock the life out of you.  All that depends on you.

I can confidently say for everyone it will surely be these things…

o  Eye opening
o  It will stretch your character
o  You’ll learn to appreciate your life as it happens inside another culture
o  You WILL learn more about yourself

I hope to see you here someday.  Or maybe in another country!

All the best.

Tom


Comments

  1. I like your blog, I have not watched many of the videos but I like the writing and what I get from your approach to life and life in Korea particularly. I added your blog to my blogroll on my not-yet-functioning blog. If for some reason you wish me to remove it let me know.

  2. Jesse,

    Thanks so much for adding me to your blogroll! I'm glad sharing my experiences has some value for future teachers. Best of luck with your blog!

    Tom

  3. Nice blog- where can one buy protein shakes from in northern Seoul??

  4. Thanks Jack. I actually purchase my protein powder, and many other items, from iHerb.com. It's an organic product site with so many options. Shipping is very fast and cheap.

  5. Hi Tom,

    I really have enjoyed your blog and have watched some of your youtube vids that have also been informative. I wil be interviewing for a position with BMCOE for this coming Feb. 2013 and like you am very excited. But at the back of my mind there are some doubts like; what will be expected of me in a public school? I have my TESL Canada certification but have little experience teaching elementary/middle school; how much preparation will be needed for lesson plans per class? Will there be one lesson plan to draw on throughout the days classes or different ones for different classes? I guess the nerves are talking and I just want to be successful in a profession which I enjoy.
    Thanks for you thoughts and this great blog site. Judo sounds great (I am a triathlete, but have always been curious). Maybe I'll see you out there some day! Cheers, Mike T from Canada, Courtice, Ontario!

  6. That's really great news. I hope you make it into the program.
    Each school is slightly different but by and large lessons should be fun and engaging for the students. You'll probably be looked to less for your grammar knowledge than your ability to have lessons that are fun and create a desire for the students to speak English. But don't even sweat it. It's not nearly as complicated as you could imagine. You can always use Waygook.org and grab some lessons there. Creating a lesson shouldn't take more than an hour or two once you get the hang of it. It's not a difficult job at all – at least as far as lessons are concerned. It's more about having fun and making students want to be in your class which has nothing to do with grammar or anything like that.
    You can always try martial arts here – there are so many to choose from. If marathons and triathlons are your thing, you should be able to do those too depending on where you are placed.
    All the best!
    Tom

  7. This post of your has been very helpful to me. I've been wanting to teach English for a long time, especially in SK because of the great money and awesome food and cool people. But I've never been to Asia, and although I spent a semester studying abroad and know all about daily life in another country I was worried Asia would be a bit of a stretch for me. But now I'm more confident that I'm making the right choice, so thanks for that!

  8. I really love that your blog was not pessimistic. You found ways to turn any negatives into positives, and that's so much nicer than hearing, "Gosh, Korea sucks. Here's why." I just got a job with EPIK, and I should be heading over next February. Can I ask what you are doing now?

  9. Thanks so much. Unfortunately not everyone has the same experience. The truth is, if you can't find a way to shine a good light on some of the annoying things in life – you're DOOMED!

    Congratulations on coming here. All the best with you time here. Make the most of it.

    I'm still in Korea in my second year. I don't plan on quitting any time soon, unless of course if they kick me out. There are so many other opportunities to teach abroad in other countries as well.

    Good luck!

  10. Hi Tom,

    I will soon be a high school graduate and I plan to attend a four year university to get a bachelors degree (Most likely graduating in 2017). If I wanted to teach English in South Korea or other Asian countries by the time I complete my education, would you recommend pursuing a major in English? I have heard some schools require only a BA in any field, but would having it in English put me in an advantage? Also, in the long-term, teaching for years abroad may be a possibility and as such, could you give me some advice on how to fund this type of lifestyle?

  11. I think it's great that you have a goal in mind already. Most young people your age don't. Kudos! I would recommend studying what you think you would enjoy. If it's English, than go with that. Overall, if you find someday that you like teaching English abroad, then an English degree will help you get into better paying opportunities in general, especially a master's. For general programs that are not particular about what discipline you study (Japan, Korea) it won't really matter. However, countries like China, Taiwan, Malaysia, and the Middle East seem to look for English degrees (bachelors and masters at times) and/or teaching certifications from back home.

    If you teach abroad, you will have many chances to save money so you'll have the chance to travel during down time – which is a lot.

    All the best!

    Tom

  12. Hi Tom,

    I fell in love with Korea because of the dramas, songs and culture. I would like to experience it and I also have a MBA. I read your blog about teaching English can you tell me h ow to get started?

    Thanks

  13. With an MBA you will have opportunities to teach business courses at universities here as well. Looks good for you.

    I did a video on how to go through the process. I think it'll be a helpful start for you. Let me know how it goes.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ykCHONJi5wA

  14. Hello Tom,
    I teach English in Thailand and i will be visiting S.Korea in February,2013 during my holiday.
    Can you pls confirm to me maybe i can get a job with visiting visa till i return back to thailand (like 3months).
    Regards
    Tee

  15. That's really difficult for me to say. My advice would be to contact a recruiter and to scour the job board on Dave's ESL Cafe. If there is something out there, it will be on that board.

    Thanks,

    Tom

  16. Hey Tom, I really like your blog! Thanks for the share! I have a Korea blog too but it's focus is definitely more on funny stories and less specific like yours. I think that it is nice of you (not to mention important) to share your experiences and stories with others. Advice = good! If you're interested in ridiculous stories you can check out my blog at:

    http://www.katherinecarlson.com

    Seriously though, great work! I will definitely keep reading!!!!!

  17. Question for you Tee, what makes you want to move to Korea over Thailand? I've heard it's pretty amazing there and I was thinking of getting my CELTA certification there and either working in Thailand or Taiwan. The money should be around the same as here in Korea as far as I've been told. What do you think? You can see a bit about my experiences in Korea as well if it will help. My blog is http://www.katherinecarlson.com I work for Chungdahm and I absolutely love it. The kids are well behaved for the most part and I really enjoy my work. Although, if you're only going to be here for 3 months you won't be able to work for a Hagwon so I would suggest trying to do some private tutoring. It would have to be under the table though because you'd just have a travel visa. Just a thought!

  18. Great reply here Tom. I feel likewise. There are certainly some bad things that happen at my Hagwon and I could sit and dwell on those or I could look on the bright side. A) I have a job that pays well and I can save. B) I'm able to see another part of the world. C) The kids are great. Yes, I am overworked but it's worth it for how I feel after these kids treat me with respect and get excited when they finally understand something! Why be miserable and dwell on the negative when you can be happy and find the silver lining in life!?

  19. I didn't know the money was similar to Korea. I would love Thailand. If you know of any recruiters dealing with Thailand opportunities, let me know. Many people would appreciate that info.

    I checked out your great blog. Keep it going! I like the clean layout.

    Thanks so much!

  20. Great to read a blog that is so useful and forthcoming with advice and information. Thoughtful insights and great writing. Keep it up!

  21. Thanks so much!

  22. Your post on current affairs in korea is really different and It bee new to found a post on live news in online for particular place.

    South Korea things

  23. Hi Tom, you're so right about everything! Being half Korean certainly helps… I myself am all Korean, genetically that is, but I was also raised in the U.S. so might even be more twinkie than you. Anyway, are you still in Korea? I just landed on your blog like 2 minutes ago so I haven't really poked around yet.

    The Korean
    http://www.askthekorean.com

  24. Ok Tom, I confess that part of my motivation is to do a little SEO and get my link in your comment box! Hope you don't mind if I try the link thing again.

    Anyway, if you're still in Korea, and if you're in Seoul, hit me up and I'll buy you a beer!

    The Korean (aka Michael)
    Ask The Korean

  25. No problem – spam away! lol. I've read your blog before actually, early on. You always refer to yourself in third person or something, right?

    I'm still in Korea at the moment, but I'm not sure how much longer since the public school program is dwindling. If I make it to Seoul again, I'll let you know for sure. Thanks for commenting.

    Tom

  26. Tom,

    What agency did you use to teach abroad? I am going to graduate shortly and I am looking into doing this.

    Thanks,
    Brandon

  27. Tom,

    What do you mean by the public school program is dwindling? Are the stopping the teaching abroad thing?

  28. The EPIK program is shrinking. Seoul cut nearly 50% of all teaching jobs last year and it looks like Busan is following suit. Very unfortunate since it is a great program. Many other countries are expanding though so no worries.

  29. I used a recruiter called I Love ESL. They did a great job. You could contact them or try a larger outfit like Teachaway or Footprints Recruiting.

  30. Thank you for your rapid reply. I will not graduate until 2017, but I really wanted to go to Korea to teach English. I feel it would be a fantastic experience. I am saddened that they are shrinking the program. I have even started taking Korean as a second language at my college.

    As an added bonus, I love eSports and more of the big name players are from Korea, this would be an extra intensive for me.

  31. I don't know if this will have any impact or not, but I plan on getting my degree in Elementary Education.

  32. Don't get discouraged because that's just the public schools. The private academies, or hagwons, will, pick up the slack and flourish. Parents want foreign teachers very much, so the hagwon market will pick up the slack. You'll be able to come to Korea no problem.

  33. You'll find that a degree in Education will take you far teaching abroad. Go for it!

  34. Hey Tom,

    I'm looking to get back in teaching English abroad. I taught English as a volunteer in Chile last year for 7 months under E.O.D after graduation so I have some experience. My bachelors is in History, but I don't have a TEFL certificate. Would you recommend getting one? I've been trying to choose between Japan and Korea for sometime now. JET is a program that has interested me. What program did you use in Korea?

  35. Hi. A TEFL certification is always going to be helpful. I would recommend getting it done in-class and not online, if possible. I'm currently in Korea through the EPIK program. The program is in the process of being reduced, but JET appears to be expanding from what I've read. There are always opportunities with universities and private academies as well.

  36. Howdy Tom!
    I will be teaching in South Korea next year, and I am super excited. I have been teaching in Texas for 15 years and am excited to live in another country. Have any great tips to share? What are the essentials that I MUST bring with me?
    Thanks!
    Angela

  37. Congratulations! It's going to be different teaching here I suspect.

    Here's a vlog I did on what to bring and what to leave behind.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A37AiTHR6EU

    Good luck!

  38. This is great to read. Many of my students (I am a TESOL Course trainer) ask me what locations are best, I personally have never taught in Korea or Thailand, but I'll have to point them over to this blog!

  39. Hi Tom!!! I really want to travel abroad and teach english in South Korea, but I just got out of high school. Are there still opportunities for me to travel abroad? Please say yes!!

  40. Yes! Of course. Not only Korea, but many countries are getting into the game in a big way. When you're ready you'll have many options. Good luck.

  41. Great post about it's like. I've been in Suwon for almost three weeks and for the first few days I was definitely like "What the hell did I get myself into?" hahaha But now everything is good. I'm enjoying it.

  42. Anonymous says:

    I have a Master of Education doing research but is in Leadership, Policy & Change from Monash Unversity Melbourne but a Degree in IT, I have only taught multimedia art in primary & secondary school for 2 years and piano music in a private music school on weekends. I am wondering whether I am eligible to teach English in South Korea? I am really interested to teach in South Korea & Japan, please advise me. Thank you very much for your time, From: Christine Lim See Yin, (I am a Chinese living in Singapore, have gone through the English education learning process from kindergarten, primary to university).

  43. Anonymous says:

    I have a Master of Education doing research but is in Leadership, Policy & Change from Monash Unversity Melbourne and a Degree in IT, I have only taught multimedia art in primary & secondary school for 2 years and piano music in a private music school on weekends. I am wondering whether I am eligible to teach English in South Korea? I am really interested to teach in South Korea & Japan, please advise me. Thank you very much for your time, From: Christine Lim See Yin, (I am a Chinese living in Singapore, have gone through the English education learning process from kindergarten, primary to university).

  44. I think you are more than qualified to teach anywhere in Korea. With your qualifications, I would suggest looking into Malaysia as they have an ESL program with varying levels and positions where your experience and education may be a great fit. If I had your resume I would definitely look into it! But Korea is great too.

  45. I know the feeling. But once you work out the kinks it will grow on you and feel like home. Good luck!

  46. Anonymous says:

    Hi Thomas, Thank you for your advise 🙂 I am thinking of applying to teach in Korea, Seoul, beginning next year, really want to live and experience life there, as I have travelled Japan and Pusan before, hm.. am wondering how to start my application and where to begin? – Cheers* Christine Lim See Yin (Singaporean Chinese)

  47. I would say contact a good recruiter like Footprints or Teachaway. Also go to the EPIK website and find out about the application process there.

  48. Anonymous says:

    Really enjoyed the blog Thomas. Are there any companies that maybe you went with or other companies you have heard about that you would recommend I apply to? Or even any companies I should avoid applying to?
    Thanks.

  49. Thank you. You can try contacting Teach Away or Footprints Recruiting. That's who I usually go with when I have questions. You can also try contacting EPIK directly. Maybe try their Facebook page.

    https://www.facebook.com/EPIKprogram

  50. Anonymous says:

    Hi Tom,

    I really love your blog and youtube videos — probably the most helpful out there! Anyway, I'm applying to teach in Korea this year and am really excited, however,the only thing I am slightly apprehensive about it is the alcohol culture. From what I've read, it's the same as in western countries but teachers are often taken out on staff dinners and expected to join in on the drinking. I don't drink for religious reasons and have absolutely no problem being around people who do, but I find that declining it is often perceived as rude or strange. Can you comment on this? Do you think it will really be that big of an issue for me or has what I've read about it blown it out of proportion? I would greatly appreciate any insight or commentary you have on this. Thanks so much!

  51. Not an issue at all. Just let them know you don't drink and that should be it. They will understand. It's just coworkers, regular people going to work each day – like back home. In the end they will respect you more for it.

  52. Anonymous says:

    Tom,

    What would you suggest for someone going into an interview for an English teaching position?
    Thanks.

  53. Maybe give this a look and see if it helps any. You can always PM me with more questions, but I think this will be what you're looking for.

    http://www.reddragondiaries.com/2012/10/teach-english-in-korea-6-tips-for.html

  54. Hey! I'm an MA TESOL grad looking into teaching English in S.Korea and your blog and videos have been a huge help…to put it lightly. I'm in the process of looking through recruiters/cities that would be a good fit and whether to wait till March for EPIK to start back up or go private… any suggestions or previous blog posts on the subject? I am NOT looking for a Seoul… I feel like I'd lose my mind in that craziness. Basically I want a place with an awesome expat community but easy access to nature and "traditional" Korea… I am a big hiker and Korea seems like an amazing place for that. Thanks for your blogs and videos; you are really helping me out!

  55. That sounds great. I think you would like either Busan or Gwang Ju. They have city amenities but access to outdoors life as well. Seoul doesn't have the beach and it's so vast in area, I'm sure it can feel like you just can't get away from it all.

  56. really enjoy your website. one of the more informative blogs on korea. i’m seriously thinking about teaching in sk starting in april.

    however, i do have one concern. i was wondering if you had any thoughts/opinions/information on the impact of the fukushima disaster in relation to korea? is there info on it in korea? is it a concern for you? what is the general consensus of most koreans? most of the info i can find online suggests most of it is blowing my way (i live in LA), but what about going west towards korea?

    i’ve read articles saying that koreans are avoiding fish from japan. have you noticed that?

    thanks! (sorry for being a downer).

    • That’s definitely a valid concern. I know South Korea has cut off much of the seafood from Japan, but otherwise I haven’t heard anything from the locals. SK is very close so if there was an issue, Busan (my city) would be one of the first affected I’m sure. I wouldn’t worry about it too much though. You can always go to other cities in Korea farther from Busan. Or even other countries in Asia as ESL is growing rapidly these days. Good luck!

      • Wayne McKenzie says:

        My name is Wayne and I love watching your videos on teaching English in South Korea. I plan on going there to teach English one day soon. They are very informative and I respect you for telling it like it is.

  57. Hi,

    I really enjoyed your blog and i’m just looking.for a bit of advice.

    I have 2 years experienxe teaching in China and 6 months experience teaching in Brazil. I also have a TEFL cert but NO degree…

    After the world cup i want to come back to Asia and Korea is one of my top places to go.

    Will i be able to teacher there on experience and TEFL alone, without a degree?
    If yes, what visa will i be eligible for? I get 90 days on arrival, will i have to exit and reenter eveey 90 days as all the others seem to require a bachelors.

    Any info you have would be great,
    Thanks,
    Jody

    • Hi, Jody.

      I want to teach in Brazil someday! It’s just hard to find reputable jobs there. Someday I’ll really look into it.

      I think it would be difficult to find something in Korea without a degree. Everything I’ve ever heard of requires one, and requirements are only becoming more difficult. How far away are you from getting a bachelor’s? It may be worth your while to complete one while you’re teaching abroad and kill two birds.

      All the best,

      Tom

  58. Hey Tom,

    Great blog, it’s very refreshing to read about positive experiences.

    For the past couple years I’ve been curious about going overseas to teach, and lately I’ve been considering it a bit more. I’m a bit nervous to take the plunge, though. I have a bachelor’s in physics, spent some time in grad school working on a master’s in applied physics, and am now finishing up my master’s in mechanical engineering. I was a TA in grad school (where I taught undergrad physics courses), and right now I coach 7th/8th grade lacrosse (I played four years in college) which is teaching related (ish). Do you think this background would be suitable? I have one semester left of grad school and I have the option to finish my class online. Do you think there’s enough time and/or internet bandwidth to watch lectures and do homework (I assume the answer is ‘yes’, but I figured I should check. I had a friend in London who had very limited bandwidth at her flat).

    Have you heard of anyone travelling to South Korea with a pet? I ask because I own a cat and I’d rather not give her up if at all possible.

    Thanks,
    Tom

    • If you wrap up your master’s in ME, you will have many opportunities in many countries to teach math/physics/etc at university level. No worries on whether or not you can find something. My advice would be to keep a close pulse on as many job posting boards and recruiters as possible. This will help you build a good barometer for what you are really looking for, what’s available, and what feels like a good or bad opportunity. They all sound good, but over time you’ll learn to weed out the sheisty ones. You have nothing but opportunities ahead.

  59. Hi Tom,

    I’ve seen quite a few of your Youtube videos, read some of your blogs and they certainly do give a great insight into teaching English abroad in South Korea.

    I’m turning 28 next year and finishing up my Bachelors degree in Criminal Justice, while I had ideas for other career paths, I’ve been thinking about teaching English abroad. Like many others I am nervous to take this huge step not knowing what to expect, however another part of me is totally willing to take this journey.

    Could you give me some advice on how I should begin my quest to teach out there and would my Bachelors in Criminal Justice be fine, I know it’s been mentioned any field with a 4 year degree is fine, but just double checking!

    Thanks!

    • Tim – I think it’s great that you’re considering the option. The truth of the matter is that today there are endless directions you could go in with teaching ESL. It all depends on how serious you are and what your goals are. There are so many countries that have opportunities for teaching, you just need to narrow down where you’d like to consider. Korea is always a good option because nearly all teaching spots offer a free apartment. When you think the time is right, you can send me your resume and I can forward it on to my recruiting associate in Gangnam to get you started. I think you’ll have many options to choose from. The biggest hurdle is deciding to take the leap or not. Second biggest is actually taking the leap!

  60. Keanu Edwards says:

    Dear Tom

    I very much enjoyed watching your videos about teaching in South Korea and have become VERY interested in pursuing this.

    I am currently 20, and living in the United States, but my Visa situation here expires very soon. I was born in the UK and graduated Secondary School there at the age of 16 before coming to the USA, graduating High School at 18, and then doing a year and a half of general college credits at a community college here.

    Unfortunately, things didn’t work out, and I will be going back to England, losing the stewardship of my parents.

    After learning about the experience of teaching English in South Korea from watching videos and reading blogs, I think this is what I want to do with my life. So, my plan is to take out a student loan in the UK and get a bachelors degree in English, as well as doing 100 hours of TEFL course, hopefully much of it in a classroom as I know that is preferred.

    Now, I expect to be 24/25 when I have my degree, and then I want to apply to go to South Korea and teach at a public school.

    I wanted to inquire with you about a few things.

    1) Do you think the market will still be good in 4 years time? I know 2005 was really the golden age for this stuff, but from what I have heard the pay and opportunity is still good, and I think my resume will be very attractive to a prospective agency and employer. Obviously I don’t want to spend money going down this road if when I’m 24, the jobs are all gone!

    2) As far as I can tell, South Korea gives automatic citizenship to anyone who has stayed in the country for 5 years or more. I have heard people renew their contracts very easily after the year is up if they want to. Is it possible that I could do this for 5 years and get citizenship in South Korea?

    I am really eager to do this, it sounds like a great opportunity to experience the world and help kids learn. I’m an energetic white male with a very good grasp of the language (struggling author actually, haha), so I really think I could be a good candidate for this. Can you maybe give me some advice, it would be much appreciated.

    Thank you

    Keanu

    • Keanu,

      The job market is not shrinking at all. it is changing and the public sector is pulling back and dismantling some. That said, things may change in the future and the jobs may come back. Even so, this means there will be an uptick with private schools picking up the slack so there’s no worries there. What has changed are the requirements of teachers since 2005. In those days it was far easier to find a job. Less people new about teaching abroad so the pool of applicants was less than today. That makes it easier for employers to ask of more from prospective teachers. If you have a bachelor’s degree and a TESOL you should be good for the majority of jobs in Korea.

      I don’t know about the citizenship after 5 years. I’d venture to say it’s probably not true, but I’d be interested to find out.

      You should have no problem finding a teaching job when you’re ready to go.

  61. Julianna Blaskie says:

    Hello, Tom!
    First off, I want to say that your blog and videos are really cool! (My older sister showed them to me.)
    I’m taking Korean language class at my school, and I really want to teach English in Korea!
    I’m still in highschool (I’ll be graduating in 2016), and I was wondering if you have any recommendations for what majors or minors that I should take (because I am still but a wee little Jedi XD). Also, what programs to teach with?( I’ve heard of EPIK and some other ones)
    And are plane rides scary?! O.O
    Thank you very much!

    • Hi there. I’m so glad your sister showed you my site. Make sure you tell her thank you!
      I always tell people to study what they feel led to study. If it’s English or English-related then that’s great. I’m not sure I would recommend someone taking a major just for teaching abroad. You just need to have a bachelor’s degree in most cases to qualify, so you will be just fine.
      There are many ways to teach in Korea, but they break down into public and private schools. Public would be EPIK, GEPIK, GOE, etc. They are government jobs with the respective offices of education. Private schools vary from regular after school academies, to Poly schools, and international schools. There is also the whole world of university jobs where you typically should have a master’s degree.

      I hope this was helpful. All the best in your future endeavors!

  62. Alex Taillie says:

    I was wondering if it was hard to find a job being Korean? I was born in Korea but was adopted as an infant and had read on some websites that some schools and parents want their children to learn English from someone who looks the part? Have you experienced anything like that?

    • I think it really depends on the situation entirely. For public schools, it doesn’t matter. Meaning EPIK, GOE, etc. For hagwons, it may be a little tough for non-white applicants (though not unheard of or impossible). For private tutoring, I personally have had parents throw their kids at me and argue over me. Since I don’t tutor it meant nothing, but if I was like many other teachers who do – I’m pretty confident I could double my income. Ah, those tax and immigration laws! lol

  63. April Nguyen says:

    Hi Tom,

    So I am currently a university student and will be done hopefully by 2017, and I am thinking about traveling to teach, but I have a one major issues that is holding me back. That is, I am afraid of heading to Korea alone and having to do everything on the fly. I understand this would be a great life experience, but having a buddy would be nice, can I ask how you over came this? Also if I do end up traveling abroad to Korea is it hard to learn Korean, or get by if you dont know any Korean?

    Thank you

    April

    • April,

      It does take a brave soul to jump ship from comfort and live in a very different culture like Korea. It won’t be easy, but you’ll be able to do it. You’ll meet many friends here no problem. Just join a few of the billions of the Korea-related Facebook groups and you’ll be fine in no time.

      Depending on where you end up, some cities offer free Korean language courses to foreigners. If you study and stay with it you’ll learn a lot.

      Go for it.

  64. I am graduating high school soon and I am planning to study Korean. I really want to go there and visit, and a part of me really wants to teach english as well. Your blog is really helpful for me because it gives me some insight into what I could experience.

    I’m from the States and I look very very European. I heard that Koreans will stare at you if you don’t look like a Korean, is this true? That’s an interesting notion to me.

    Is it important to know Korean to teach English? Obviously I couldn’t live there without some knowledge, right?

    Final question, if I were to go the hagwon route, and were paid like 2.3 million won, would that be sufficient to live off of?

    • Thank you, I’m glad my blog is useful to you.

      Yes, you will get stared at. You’ll get used to it and it’s not usually ill-intentioned.

      No, you don’t need to know how to speak Korean for teaching. That said, it will REALLY come in handy for day-to-day life.

      Yes, you’ll be able to save a good chunk of money teaching in Korea with that salary if they also give you an apt – which they do in Korea.

  65. Hi! Thanks for writing this blog, very informative! I’m looking to connect with someone more about the initial steps of going to S. Korea for work. I am an RN working in the USA looking to go abroad.

    • I’ll help if I can. I think it’s great that you’re thinking of taking a leap into the unknown. The best way to contact me is through my Facebook page.

  66. Fabiola Chavez says:

    HI Tom,

    I’m going to graduate with my bachelors in English in May 2016 and I really wan to head over to Korea by August a least. I was wondering, did you get TEFL certified through a program? Did you do the online course or in person course? If you did go through a program did they help you get the job in Korea or was that all up to you? My apologies for so many questions, I just want to know what the process looks like or if these many different programs are actually helpful. I’m really excited about doing it soon!

    Hope to hear from you soon!

    • With a degree in English you should have access to any teaching job abroad. You can also get a TESOL if you’d like to. I did mine completely online. I’ll be talking about it more in my newsletter coming out in the next few days. You can sign up at the bottom of any of the posts on my site or through the popup. Hope this was helpful.

  67. Thanks so much. yes, it’s a little old now – can’t believe how the time has flown.

  68. Thank you for the share!

Trackbacks

  1. […] Red Dragon Diaries – An older blog, but it has some great information on how to teach English in Korea […]

  2. […] Teaching English in South Korea – what is it REALLY like? – … if you find someday that you like teaching English … After learning about the experience of teaching English in South Korea from watching videos and … […]

  3. […] Teaching English in South Korea – what is it REALLY like? Tom Gates describes his first year in Korea as a new, exciting, exotic experience of a lifetime. […]

  4. […] Teaching English in South Korea – what is it REALLY like? – I am closing in on my one year mark teaching English in South Korea. It’s mid June (2012) now, and the contract year will end in August (2012). […]

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