Are the “Glory Days” of Teaching ESL in Korea Over?

Teaching ESL is a mixed bag depending on what country you target. In some countries it’s a refined, streamlined endeavor where employers seek qualified and experienced teachers and the government has mandatory guidelines as well. To obtain a work visa in a certain country, a government may actually require a teacher have a TESOL certification and/or a certain amount of experience.

In other countries, this isn’t always the case. In China, it’s a little bit of both it seems.

There were once days in places like Korea and Japan where anyone could roll off a plane and be offered a teaching job on their way to their hotel. Those days are over in some countries, and many others are following suit.

Take for instance some countries in SE Asia. There are few credentials a teacher really needs to have in order to secure a job. At the same time, there are SE Asian countries, like Vietnam, where a teacher must have a TESOL certification or at least a certain number of years teaching to secure a decent job and a work permit.

The “glory days” often refers to the time when it was easy to find a job for anyone who was from an English speaking country, and furthermore, if they looked the part of what that country deemed a native speaker to look like.

In many Asian countries, both East and Southeast, these two worlds still exist. Many times an employer will hire based on country of origin and appearance. However, these days are slowly and surely slipping away.

Along with lackadaisical and careless hiring practices came the backlash of behavior from teachers who were chosen for no other reason other than the fact that they were born (in a certain country). Governments are safeguarding their societies and children from these mishaps and one of the surest ways to do this is to thoroughly vet prospective teachers from the onset. This is a good thing for aspiring teachers, a bad thing for travelers or ex-cons looking for a ticket to sojourn in a certain location anytime they wish.

The glory days that are not over are those of job options. ESL is growing at an incredible rate across the globe and there is no better time than the present to get yourself credentialed and out on the road. If that’s what you desire to do, that is.

Korea, for example, will have teaching jobs farther than my own life will take me. It will likely change, but they will be there for a long time. Public school jobs are dwindling, but private sector opportunities continue to thrive. In fact, with the reduction in public school jobs, the private market will probably flourish even more eventually.

This is all good news for professional individuals. The days ahead are in your favor if you prepare yourself and put in the time.


  1. Good post. But the glory days were not always so glorious. Getting paid was sometimes an issue. The other scams , like not registering teachers for the medical system or pension plan, were far more common than today without much less protection.

  2. Avatar Harmony Bade says:

    Hiya, Tom. I think this article is really informative. I worry about the future and the likelyhood of me obtaining a job there later on… you see, I’m still a senior in highschool. I have been looking forward to when I get to teach there, and I’ve been preparing for it for years! However, I worry if the opportunity will still be there for me in about three years. What do you think?? Also, alongside the TESOL/TEFL certificate, a Bachelor’s degree is required, which is just fine… except, they never specify if it needs to be a degree in English or not. Do you think I will be able to get a Bachelor’s (or higher) in Music Education to accompany the certification?? I could always double major, but I would rather music. One more thing, do you think that after a few years of teaching English in Korea, one could be a music teacher there? I would much rather teach English in Korea than here in America. Sorry for asking so many questions, but I’ve been so curious. Thank you for all of your wonderful videos and advice.

    • Hi. Don’t worry about jobs being in Korea. There will be tons for a very long time. When you’re ready and you think you still want to teach abroad, there will be more options than you could ever imagine.

      All you need is a bachelor’s degree in any discipline. If you want to teach English for a certain subject, as you mentioned, then go that route. I would study what interests you, not for teaching in Korea. It’s fairly easy to land a job.

    • Just came here to say- I have a BA and an MA both in music. I’ve been teaching English for 4 years now in various countries, and now have one of the fabled Korean university teaching jobs. So you’ll be fine with music 🙂 I really recommend you get an accredited TESOL certification though, as it’ll benefit you SO much. Go for CELTA or CertTESOL if you’re serious about English teaching for a while, especially if you eventually want to go somewhere outside Korea.

      • University is such a great way to go. All that vacation time! I agree, getting the recognized TESOL is the way to go.

      • Long time lurker, first time commenting. I hope everyone had a good holiday!
        I love your delivery, Tom, and it gives me a realistic approach to teaching in Korea. I have 3 more semesters for my bachelors, so my goal is drawing near.
        I have been learning Korean for a little over ten years (off and on). Do they give a priority for those who know the language?

        Penni, I would love to hear some of your journey as a teacher! Congratulations on getting a university job!

        • Thank you very much. Most jobs do not require knowing how to speak Korean, but there are a few that do. It’s in your everyday life where knowing the language will really help.

  3. Nice article, except that you continually used the phrase ESL. We don’t teach ESL in Asia; at least most of us don’t. We teach EFL. The two are different.

Share Your Thoughts


Loading Facebook Comments ...