Next Chapter: Teaching English in South Korea
Teaching English in South Korea
Well, it’s about that time again. I’m working through a checklist marking off items like “sell car”; “apply for visa”; “study language”; “file taxes”; “book flight”; and “print/organize documents”. You know what that means?! It sounds like it’s time for another long-term trip. Only this time on my checklist there are also points like “review teaching material” and “complete online pre-training”. Yes. It’s time to announce my next big adventure and new experience. In just ten days I will begin teaching English in South Korea!
Teaching abroad has been something I’ve considered since college. In the last three years I’ve bounced around in both jobs and location. Finally, the point in my life has come where teaching abroad for one year plays into my plan perfectly.
Last spring I decided to pursue this goal. I felt ready to take on a more challenging role than just working temporary jobs and bartending. As much as I love traveling and hopping around to different places whenever I please, I do feel my desire to stay in one place for a longer time is growing. I also want a solid work experience I can be proud of and can refer to when I speak with possible future employers. Teaching English abroad is my happy medium between the travel life and the professional life.
International work experience is always invaluable; But teaching is a way in which I feel I can have a positive impact. This is also an opportunity for myself to grow personally and professionally.
About the Job
I will be teaching through a program called, “EPIK” (English Program in Korea). It is sponsored by the Korean Ministry of Education. As a government employee, I will be working in a Korean public school. My contract is for one year (end of February 2017-end of February 2018) with an orientation/training for about one week in Korea before my contract begins.
EPIK has placed me with the MOE (Metropolitan Office of Education) of Daejeon. Daejeon is located about 1-hour by high-speed train from Seoul with a population of approximately 1.5 million. It is the fifth largest metropolitan city in South Korea.
I requested Daejeon because I felt like it was the perfect-sized city. I knew Seoul would be too overwhelming for me (I read that it’s about the same population as New York City, but in ten times less the amount of space). However, it’s definitely still big enough to have plenty of things to see and do! It’s also in the center of the country so when I do want to venture out and explore I don’t have to travel too far.
I won’t know the specific school I will be teaching at until the end of the orientation in Korea, nor the age level of my students. It’s a little nerve-wracking not knowing, but I’m just trying to go with the flow.
I will be working with a Korean co-teacher helping him or her conduct his or her English class. It is possible I will work at more than one school and will have more than one co-teacher. However, this is another bit of information I will not know until I get there.
I chose to teach English in South Korea, specifically, because of the benefits the program offers. The Republic of Korea is one of the most popular destinations to teach English because of this aspect. EPIK provides its teachers with:
- Free furnished housing
- Settlement allowance
- Entrance/Exit Allowance of 1,300,000 KRW (roughly $1,100) to pay for my flight entering and exiting Korea and other travel-related fees. Paid once at the start of the contract and once at the end of the contract.
- Severance pay for teachers who successfully complete their contract (equal to one month’s pay)
- Medical insurance- 50% contribution from my employer, 50% deducted from my monthly paycheck (approximately 2.95%)
- Tax-exempt income for the first 2 years *this varies depending on which country you are a citizen*
- 13-15 national holidays
- 18 paid vacation days
- 50% pension plan which can be given back to me in a lump-sum when I leave Korea *Again, varies by citizenship*
- Competitive pay ranging from 1.8-2.7 million KRW (about $1,500-$2,300) per month depending on education and experience. This is one of the highest salaries for English teachers teaching abroad.
South Korea was also appealing to me because of its unique blend of modernization and traditionalism. I’m interested in learning more about its culture, and using South Korea as a base to travel around Asia during my vacation days and after my contract is completed.
I should also add a side note about another important aspect as to why I chose South Korea. The Republic of Korea also offers a Working Holiday Visa to French citizens for one year. This means my boyfriend and I can live and work in the same country without much visa-related hassle!
The basic requirements needed to teach English in South Korea are:
- Be a citizen of a country where English is the primary language
- Have a good command of the English language
- Hold a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited university
- Be mentally and physically healthy
- Have the ability and willingness to adapt to Korean culture and life
- Be no more than 62 years of age
However, teaching in English in South Korea has become more and more competitive over the years. With that being said it’s highly recommended to complete a course and obtain a TEFL/TESOL/CELTA certificate if your Bachelor’s degree is not in Education. In addition, it’s even better to take one of these courses that have an in-class component.
Since my Bachelor’s degree is not in Education and I do not have any significant teaching experience I decided to invest in a TEFL course. I completed a 120-hour online plus a 20-hour in-class TEFL certification. This not only made my application more competitive amongst other applicants, but also taught me valuable teaching skills and gave me more confidence. This extra mile also bumped me up on the pay scale as well.
Let’s clear some stuff up…
I have had a lot of confusion about South Korea.
“Why on Earth would you want to go there”?!
“I bet a lot of people don’t want to go work there. It’s kind of like a third-world country. You will get in easily”.
“You’ll probably be teaching in a one-room school house”.
I’ve noticed several people (at least in small town, Midwest America where I’m from) still think of the Republic of Korea (or more commonly called, “South Korea”) as a developing country. However, this is most certainly not the case. The Korean War was over half a century ago. Since then, South Korea has become famed for its incredible ascent from being one of the poorest countries in the world to a high-income, developed country in just one generation.
Basic South Korean Background Information
In fact, South Korea is the 11th largest world economy¹, right behind Canada. Its two largest companies and major exports are Samsung and Hyundai². South Korea is rich, innovative and technologically advanced. It’s a developed, highly urban state in East Asia with a population of approximately 50.9 million³. According to Foreign Affairs in “Six Markets to Watch: South Korea” by Marcus Noland,
“Fifty years ago the country was poorer than Bolivia and Mozambique; today, it is richer than New Zealand and Spain, with a per capita income of almost $23,000♦. For 50 years, South Korea’s economy has grown by an average of seven percent annually”♥.
South Korea has been a member of the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development) for twenty years♣. It is also the first former aid recipient to join OECD as a donor♠. Its economic growth is strongly due to the state’s prioritization of education in the past decades. South Korea now ranks #7 in the world in math and reading and #11 in the world in science, according to the OECD’s 2015 PISA Average Scores◊. Compare this to the United States which didn’t even make the top ten (#40, #24, #25-respectively).
Before I turn this into a full-blown essay, these are just a few facts about South Korea.
Time to do this thing!
Finally, I am looking forward to learning more about Korea’s history and extensive culture. This will be my first time in Asia. I’m trying to go into it with an open mind, and have no expectations. Furthermore, I know it will be challenging to be a teacher. Since I have very little past experience, I assume the first couple of months will be rough. The thought of standing in front of a classroom of students staring at me is daunting to say the least. Yet, that is another reason I want to do this. I need to do this for the challenge. I don’t think life was meant to be lived comfortably.
¹CNN Money. (2016). World’s Largest Economies. International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database, October 2016. Retrieved from http://money.cnn.com/news/economy/world_economies_gdp/
²Economy Watch. (2013). Forbes Global 2000: South Korea’s Largest Companies. Forbes Global 2000. Retrieved from http://www.economywatch.com/companies/forbes-list/south-korea.html
³Central Intelligence Agency. (2016). Korea, South: People and Society. The World Factbook. Retrieved from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ks.html
♦Data from 2014. Per capita income is now at $37,900 according to CIA World Factbook
♥Foreign Affairs. (2014). Six Markets to Watch: South Korea. Retrieved from https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/south-korea/2013-12-06/six-markets-watch-south-korea
♣OECD Observer. (2016). The OECD and Korea: Celebrating a Milestone. OECD. Retrieved from http://oecdobserver.org/news/fullstory.php/aid/5645/The_OECD_and_Korea:_Celebrating_a_milestone.html
♠The Hankyoreh. (2009). S. Korea become first former aid recipient to join OECD Development Assistance Committee. The Hankyoreh Media Company. Retrieved from http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_international/389918.html
◊Business Insider. (2016). The latest ranking of top countries in math, reading, and science is out- and the US didn’t crack the top 10. OECD 2015 PISA Average Scores. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/pisa-worldwide-ranking-of-math-science-reading-skills-2016-12