I’ve decided to start a short little series of posts about teaching in South Korea. I realize that this might not be everyone’s cup of tea and for many of the folks who frequent this blog, irrelevant. I can safely assume that many of you have never been to Korea and probably have little desire to do so, but the videos I have made for You Tube about teaching in South Korea still tend to be some of my most popular. I can assume from the number of people who watch them and leave comment, both good and bad, that there is a definite interest in the topic.
For my regular readers who have no interest in the topic, have no fear. These posts will be made over the next few weeks or maybe months, but the majority of posts here will still be about life in Japan and more specifically, Kobe.
Why Become a Teacher Overseas?
I suppose one of the first questions one must ask before making the immense commitment of moving their life to the other side of the world for a year or more is; “Why do I want to become a teacher in another country?” I suppose there is a different story for everyone out there considering this job choice. There seem to be some common themes though:
1. I just finished university and have no idea what I want to do with my life so I think I’ll become an ESL teacher.
2. I just finished university and want to put life on hold because the real world is scary and I don’t want to face it yet.
3. I owe a lot of money and with only a generic B.A., this is the best way I can think of to pay off the debts relatively fast.
4. I have a desire to travel and broaden my horizons.
5. I already have a great job, but am feeling burnt out and need a change.
6. I have a legitimate interest in the country I’m interested in heading to.
7. I just finished a long term relationship and it ended horribly. I just need to get away from that entire scene.
Of course there are a variety of different reasons why folks head to places like Korea to teach, but in my years there, these seemed like some common reoccurring themes.
Do Your Research
One of the first pieces of advice I give anyone thinking of becoming a teacher in South Korea is, “Do your research!” I can’t stress this one enough. Most of the information you are looking for is just a quick Google search away as well. All of the basic FAQ’s out there are answered on blogs, in You Tube videos and on forums. I will tell you however, before ever posing a question to a blogger or You Tube video maker, attempt to find the information yourself. If through research, you can’t find the answer to your question; then shoot a question out to someone in the interwebs. I say this because on an almost daily basis, I am peppered with questions on You Tube that the writer could have very easily found the answer through a quick Google search.
I am also going to suggest avoiding internet forums. Forums tend to be filled with some pretty bitter and angry people. They seem to lurk around these dark internet places for endless hours, waiting to pounce on “newbs.” They are normally anything but helpful. I always get a kick out of the hosts of the Seoulpodcast who refer to the forums on ESL Café as a big circle jerk. I suppose that can give you an idea that they aren’t always the best source of information. I will however suggest, skimming through them and reading some of the posts already made. Some of the information may be useful.
Teaching in Korea is a Real Job
No matter where I lived in South Korea and no matter how many teachers I met, there was one thing I realized. Many people “working” over there, in no way take their jobs seriously. Remember, this is a real job. Even if you haven’t had a “serious” job working in a company in your native country you must remember that the school that hired you, invested a lot of money in you. They had to get your visa, fly you abroad, put you up in an apartment and pay you! You should treat this teaching job the same way you would treat a teaching job in your hometown or city. In most cases, the more professional you are, the better you will be treated by your employer, coworkers and students.
Of course, this isn’t always the case in Korea. It is not uncommon for teachers to be treated like crap by schools. In some cases, schools treat teachers like cattle who are there only to serve them and make profit for them. They treat you with little or no respect. If you get the vibe that a school you are interested in seems a little too impersonal or “heartless”, you’d better look for a different place to work.
To sum this little point up, act professionally. Don’t come to class in the morning stinking like booze, don’t complain about unpaid preparation work (welcome to the life of every teacher in every country), show up well before your classes start, dress well and try to “play ball”.
If you would like to work in Korea to pay off debts or start a nest egg, you’ve made a good choice. If you are planning on making lots of money, that probably won’t happen. For some strange reason, probably Korea’s questionable media, Koreans tend to think that English teachers make a lot of money. Many Koreans even think that English teachers are rich! This is laughable. Even with free rent, free airfare and bonus (something all Korean employees get as well), you are still only pulling in a lower to average middle class salary in a country such as Canada or the United States.
Another problem, if you are planning to stay in Korea for a few years or more, is that wages tend not to increase. Wages for Korea now are pretty much the same as they were when I first went there in 2002. A school teacher in a country like Canada though, would receive raises of several thousand dollars a year until their salary capped out.
As a young and single person, the salary in Korea is great. If you are expecting to support a family though, it is good, but that’s about it. Of course, some people who have been there for years have found ways to turn a very high profit, but they aren’t the norm. Again, I have no idea why many Koreans think otherwise.
Long story short, going to Korea is a great move for many people. Sometimes it can be a bad experience for people as well. Once arriving, you’ll soon realize that there is an element of Korean society who is not very impressed with foreigners coming to their country; that aside though, most people are very warm. If you do your research before you come, your chances of finding a job or location that suits will drastically improve. Also, act professionally and treat the culture with respect. You are not better than others because you come from Canada, England, the Unites States, etc. You are just different.