Teaching in South Korea is popular amongst ex-pats wanting to travel more whilst also saving money. Beyond a teaching position in South Korea, you’ll find out why so many people are drawn to teaching English as a second language in South Korea. In this post will I’ll be discussing whether teaching in South Korea is worth it but also things you’ll have to consider.
10 Reasons Why You Should Teach in South Korea
Why Teach English in South Korea? I always get asked this question on social media so I’ll be diving into detail about my personal thoughts on life abroad in Korea as an English teacher.
I often get asked why I choose South Korea to work abroad. Here are my top 10 reasons for choosing South Korea to teach English as a foreign language.
I studied human geography in university and I’ve always been obsessed with learning and immersing myself in different cultures. After researching and hearing amazing things from friends and colleagues I settled on South Korea as a place to work and live. From its rich history, unique language, and stunning landscapes I was interested in immersing myself in the culture by navigating life as a foreign resident and exploring the culture authentically with the locals.
As part of my work, I’ve been lucky to go on immersion field trips with my students. Note that not every school will invite the NET (Native English Teacher) on field trips but if you are, you are very lucky. Not only don’t I have to prepare for classes on these days but I’ll get to experience the trips with the students. Nothing beats, feeling like a kid again in your 20s. One of my highlights from teaching at my school was a field trip to see North Korea. It’s one of the most surreal experiences saying that I was able to see the place but also learn from local experts and my colleagues.
I won’t lie I have gotten swept up in the whole K-wave craze. I’m not a huge superfan and you won’t find me constantly investing my time following the latest updates from KPOP groups. I am however very intrigued with the fascination by a lot of people on KPOP culture. For me personally, I started watching a lot of Korean shows and became fascinated with the language. I always heard how relatively easy it was to start learning Korean compared to some other languages and I’ve always wanted to speak another language. Before I moved to South Korea I self-studied Korean and got tutoring lessons online 2 months before. It’s an amazing feeling to be able to communicate in a different language.
Education System & Students
During my research on countries to teach abroad, I stumbled across how seriously South Korea takes its education. For example, high school seniors in South Korea hold an annual university entrance exam known as the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT). The importance of these exams is held so highly that the country even grounds all planes on the day and delays military drills. The reason? Concern over disrupting the student’s concentration during the test. This was just one reflection of how seriously education is valued in South Korea. With this in mind, I wanted to work in a place where education was highly valued for the students and how I could make a difference in the students learning.
Low Cost of Living
When I was researching I found that in Asian countries there is a low cost of living which gives teachers the ability to save between 30 to 50% of their salary. This was really appealing to me and I’m sure to many other people because you’ll be able to save money for savings and room for treating yourself to traveling and shopping. For example, during my winter vacation, I was able to save for a 10-day trip to Japan.
Generous Packages (Flights & Accommodation)
Offers to teach in each country will vary in terms of benefits. When compared to other countries South Korea was appealing to me because it offered benefits including paid vacation time, housing, reimbursed airfare, and national health insurance. These were huge pluses for me in order for me to maximize my savings whilst abroad. The benefits of working in South Korea will also differ depending on whether you’re working at a private or public school. Whilst both offer free housing and flight reimbursements. Private schools (hagwons) typically offer a higher salary however the work hours and workload are highly likely to be more intensive.
If you didn’t know, my university studies lie in urban planning and I’ve always been a strong supporter of accessibility to affordable public transport. Therefore a big factor in choosing a place to live is being able to travel in the country with relative ease. If you’re similar to me, you’ll love South Korea’s reliable and fast public transport. From the sleek and efficient subway systems, affordable taxis, and widespread bus network. You’ll fall in love with how easy it is to travel within the cities, and across the country for an affordable price. This makes traveling within the country relatively affordable but a fun experience navigating the public transport network.
I have always been a foodie and love trying different foods from different cultures. If you ever travel or move to South Korea you’ll be treated to local delicacies from any city you visit delighting your taste palettes. It gets even better. The food in Korea is so affordable for its portions. Since living in South Korea, I’ve found a lot of local eateries that are so cheap compared to my home country. You won’t have to worry about treating yourself to eating out from the local restaurants, street food, and cafes.
Public Open Space
Ever since the global pandemic hit and with widespread lockdowns more people have realized the importance of accessing public green spaces in their lives. Personally, I have always loved going for walks whether it’s along the beach or my local parks to wind down my day. I was also surprised to hear from my American friends how a lot of them don’t go for walks in their local neighborhoods. Why, you ask? America is largely urban-sprawled and heavily car-reliant. Not a lot of neighborhoods integrate sidewalks and there is a widespread issue of gun violence in America. It’s shocking to hear how people can’t even feel safe going for a walk in their local area. Isn’t this sad to read? I don’t think I ever realized how lucky I was to feel ‘safe’ to just go for a walk in my local neighborhood without this fear.
In South Korea, you’ll find numerous spots of greenery from parks, gardens, streams, walking trails, and more to escape the urban bustling atmosphere. It’s also one of the great activities to do for free in South Korea. A great option for traveling on a budget and there is so much to do in open spaces from cycling, picnics, or just free exploring.
Staying Up Late
If you’re in the main cities you’ll be treated to a lot of places staying up really late. In fact, many crowds can be found out until the early hours of the morning. In South Korea, you’ll find many restaurants, cafes, arcades, shopping centers, and more buzzing with activity throughout the night. You’ll be able to explore after work hours by yourself or with friends. This is a great opportunity for anyone to experience no matter where you’re coming from.
You’ll Get To Explore More
Besides being able to save money for traveling within South Korea. For those interested, Korea is a great home base for your future travels particularly for neighboring Asian countries. Especially if you’re from America, you’ll find flights to countries like Japan can be very affordable compared to flying from your home country if you book well in advance. I’ve heard from a lot of other TEFL teachers how great it has been using South Korea as a home base to save money so they could travel to countries such as the Philippines, Thailand, Japan, Bali, and many more.
You’ll just have to make sure that you set aside money for your travels and that you plan well in advance. If you don’t book more than months in advance a lot of accommodation and flights can be expensive but also booked out!
How to Teach English in South Korea
To become qualified to find a job teaching English in South Korea, you will need a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) and a university degree. To find a TEFL position it is also expected that you are native in English. Looking for more information on the requirements to teach English in South Korea? Find out here.
10 Things You Need to Know About Teaching in South Korea
Before you get excited about moving to South Korea. It’s important to understand both sides of living abroad. Namely the downsides to living abroad as a foreign resident in South Korea. I’ll be going through the personal challenges that I’ve encountered as an expat from navigating the work culture, teaching, personal circumstances, and more.
1. It’s Not A Quick Way to Earn Lots of Money
Teaching in South Korea does offer an opportunity to save money. However, this depends on your personal circumstances. For example, if you choose to frequently travel, eat out, and shop while you’re in South Korea, you definitely won’t get rich. Most educational institutes provide TEFL teachers with around $10,000 to $30,000+ a year. However, this depends on the exchange rate and the country. However, if you manage to save your earnings frugally you’ll be able to set aside a little bit of money over time.
2. You’re Not On An Endless Paid Vacation
You’d be surprised how many ex-pats don’t realise before and when they are in South Korea that teaching in South Korea requires a lot of work. It might be obvious but it is worth stating. Beyond having the freedom to explore a new part of the world, this is only possible in your free time outside of work and when you have the financial capacity to do so. Depending on your educational employer you may require to work outside of hours and if you don’t finish all your teaching work (grading, preparing teaching materials, lesson planning, etc.) you’ll have to spend your free time preparing these tasks.
At private schools (hagwons) in Korea, the working hours can be unpredictable. There are schools that operate over the weekend or even until 10 pm during the week. These schools require teachers to work these different time slots. It’s not common for a new teacher at a hagwon to get the less desirable teaching time slots. When you’re interviewing for a position at a hagwon it is important you ask your future employer about the working hours and also check what is stated in your contract.
If you are looking for an opportunity to travel full-time then this position is not for you.
3. It’s Not All Glamorous
When you move to a new country there are a range of challenges to navigating a new country. This makes it even harder with English not the first spoken language in South Korea. Beyond leaving your safety network, your culture, and your way of life. You will have to navigate all the administration matters alone that come with moving abroad where you might not speak the language or understand the customs. For example, this involves health care, setting up a phone number, setting up a bank account, processing your identification documentation, etc.
You might be thinking, that your employer might help you with this. However, I’d like to highlight that this is not always the case. Not all schools will help you with these administrative matters. Additionally, you’ll have to remember that setting up these administration tasks will require a decent start-up fund.
4. It’s a Teaching Job & You Will Work With Kids
Before I started teaching I didn’t realise how much work is required to be a teacher. Add the language barrier in South Korea, teaching and looking after the kids in Korea is a different story. You will need to be patient and constantly be upbeat. Sometimes you’ll be required to deal with moments where the students misbehave, your lessons not running as planned, or miscommunication happening with your coworkers (or worse – with the parents). Most people also forget that being a teacher is more than just teaching. It involves lots of behind-the-scenes tasks like lesson planning and depending on your school you’ll get extra tasks. This may include running school camps, grading, running tests, and more.
5. Support Yourself
Whilst teaching English abroad isn’t a job where you can expect to save loads of money. It is a great opportunity that will cover your basic costs of living. Depending on your ability to manage your personal finances. You’ll find in many Asian countries the cost of lowing will provide teachers the ability to save a decent amount in savings. Beyond money, you’ll also be gaining valuable professional experience not everyone can say they have. If you never studied abroad or volunteered abroad, teaching English overseas adds to your professional experience on your resume. It reflects your resilience, adaptability, and independence as a potential employee to future employers.
6. You’re On Your Own
It is inevitable to experience loneliness when you move abroad. You may feel lonely because your loved ones from back home don’t understand how this cross-cultural experience has changed you. You may also miss your friends, and aspects of your home culture that you enjoyed the most. It will be important for you to be kind to yourself and remind yourself that it will take time to re-adjust to life in a new country. Most importantly, remind yourself of the reasons why you chose to pursue this opportunity in the first place. For me, it was the realisation that teaching abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I personally didn’t want to look back on life wishing I did a lot of things but rather remembering all the experiences I did.
7. Be Open-Minded & Adaptable
At first, when you move to a new country you will go through the honeymoon stage of being in awe of everything about Korea’s culture. From the different foods, the landscape, and the local people. However, following this stage is when the culture shock sets in. You’ll start to become irritated by cultural misunderstandings you have been encountering and feel disoriented from not knowing how to behave. Your students are likely to behave differently than you anticipated. Their behavior will be normative of what is expected in Korean culture, but your expectations will likely differ. At this point, you will start to miss your friends, family, and your favourite foods. In some cases, this may lead to a negative view of the country, the job, and your colleagues.
After this honeymoon stage, you will experience homesickness and start to miss the little things from your own home country. It will be important at this stage to remind yourself why you decided to take this adventure. Focus on the amazing things you’ll be able to do in this position.
8. Language Barrier
I knew there was going to be a language barrier before even going to South Korea. I even prepared myself by studying and getting tutoring lessons in Korean for about 2 months before my move. However, nothing will ever prepare you for that anxiety and stress of truly living and navigating a foreign country as a foreign resident. From navigating simple tasks like going grocery shopping, and paying your bills to more complicated administrative tasks like setting up your bank account, and organizing your taxes. It is a whole new layer of stress that will make or break you.
9. You Will Be Left Behind
It’s great that you’ll be going on an adventure of a lifetime. However, the flip side is that you’ll be leaving all your loved ones behind. You will miss out on important events with family and friends from birthdays and weddings. You will also realize that everyone has moved on with their lives and sometimes they won’t understand where you are coming from. There will be times when you won’t tell family or friends about tough times because you don’t want them to worry or simply because they won’t understand your situation.
10. It is an Exciting & Stressful Journey
Teaching English in South Korea is a rollercoaster journey. You will experience ups and downs but it is worth it in the end.
I won’t lie. I’ve had some of the greatest experiences during my time in South Korea. I’ve traveled to so many places I never even considered and met some amazing people. From the adorable students, my work colleagues, and friends from around the globe. But I’ve also had my struggles with the job. I’ve struggled to teach some students who misbehave and don’t respect me. I’ve had to take work home outside of my hours because there is a lot of preparation involved in teaching. Navigating the language barrier is also overwhelming and can be stressful. Not all public schools in South Korea have teachers that speak English well. You also won’t know what is going on at your school, or frankly, you will be the last one to know about anything. From last-minute schedule changes to canceled classes, camps, etc.
What made it worth it for me
- I met so many amazing people on a similar life journey as me. Instead of pursuing the 9 to 5 life. A lot of people wanted to travel more, experience a different culture, make those once in a lifetime connections, etc.
- I had the opportunity to experience Korean culture locally and authentically. From learning the language, navigating the work hierarchy, going on field trips with the students, and more!
- I got to travel so much in South Korea and nearby countries. If you save money from your earnings you can take trips on your vacation.
- It helped me decide if I wanted to pursue a career in teaching or working with children in the future. From my personal experience, I will definitely not be pursuing teaching as a career.
Frequently Asked Questions About Teaching in South Korea
I often get asked these questions on social media about teaching in South Korea. In this section, I’ll be sharing my personal recommendations, advice, and thoughts on the process of becoming qualified to teach in South Korea, applying for jobs, and more.
If you’re interested in teaching in South Korea, find out the requirements to teach in this post.
What is TEFL?
TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language, or English language instruction for non-native speakers. It is also commonly known as teaching ESL (English as a Second Language), English Language Teaching (ELT), and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).
Is TEFL a reputable industry?
TEFL is a field of study and certification that allows people to teach English as a foreign language online or abroad. TESOL/TEFL represents one of the fastest-growing educational sectors globally. There are many working opportunities for teaching English abroad to both fluent and native English speakers who earn their TESOL/TEFL certification.
Which TEFL Course is Best For Teaching in Korea?
It is essential to choose a reputable TEFL course provider that is accredited by a recognised organisation, and offers comprehensive training and job search guidance. Most people make the mistake of choosing the most affordable option online. It is important to ensure that the TEFL course you select meets the standards and requirements of reputable employers and schools. You must make sure the TEFL certification course meets international standards and includes the following elements.
TEFL International Standards
- Instruction is provided by experienced university-level instructors;
- The curriculum is accredited by a recognised, independent accrediting body;
- 6 to 20 hours of live practice teaching with ESL (English Second Language) students;
- A minimum of 100 hours of academic coursework.
Which TEFL Course do you recommend?
A TEFL certification course can either be undertaken full-time for 4 weeks, or part-time (11 weeks) in an online TEFL course setting. I chose the part-time course with International TEFL Academy (ITA).
Why did you choose ITA’s TEFL Course?
Lifetime Job Search Guidance
Not all TEFL provides offer lifetime job search assistance with access to resources, guidance, and expertise for finding and interviewing for jobs to teach abroad. Many people don’t realise how much time, planning, and research go into landing a good quality teaching job placement. With International TEFL Academy you’ll get expert assistance in applying for jobs, reviewing your contracts, and more.
Beyond just getting access to job boards and helpful information for applying for jobs. ITA has full-time Student Affairs Advisors to assist TEFL graduates in finding paid work teaching English online or overseas. In fact, every ITA graduate is assigned a Student Affairs advisor that will work with you one-on-one throughout your job search. For example, the job search advisor can help you with everything from assisting you with your cover letter, and resume, to coaching you on the interview process and helping you evaluate job offers and contracts. If you’re planning on working at a hagwon in South Korea it is important to thoroughly review your work contract before accepting it. You’ll need to look for red flags in your work contract and ITA can help review this for you.
Other Highlights of ITA’s Lifetime Job Search Guidance:
- Job Search Guidance For Life. ITA offers lifetime job search guidance which is helpful if you plan on teaching English for longer than one year. Maybe you want to country-hop from different countries?
- ESL Worldwide School Directory. ITA sends a directory of over thousands of schools globally categorised by country and city so you can directly contact them for employment opportunities. ITA also highlights preferred employers who have been employed by previous ITA graduates. This is great because you won’t be responsible for independently researching jobs online. You can trust that the recommended employers are reputable and there’s less research involved for you!
- Job Search Guidance Manual. You’ll get a 500+ page manual that includes all the relevant information for job markets globally. It’s broken down by different countries so you can find information about visa procedures, international job boards, and more!
TEFL or TESOL Accreditation
This TEFL course meets international standards and has been externally monitored and approved for accreditation by TQUK. TQUK is an officially Awarding Organisation that is recognised and regulated by Ofqual, the British Government organisation responsible for monitoring and maintaining educational standards for professional certifications in the United Kingdom.
Alumni Community, Networking, and Support
When you join with ITA you’ll have access to resources for networking to meet other ITA students and graduates. This is a great way to connect with other people interested in working in the same country as you or if you want any insider tips or recommendations from previous or current TEFL teachers from ITA. For example, one of the resources includes ITA’s Country-Specific Facebook Groups. Joining these Facebook groups will allow you to connect with ITA and current TEFL teachers. These groups are often used for connecting with TEFL teachers, sharing travel tips, asking questions, finding roommates, and more.
Includes Hands-On Live Practice Teaching (Practicum)
To complete a TEFL certification course, International TEFL Academy offers you to complete 20 hours of practicum. These practicum hours allow you to gain first-hand experience working with real ESL students, from an actual classroom setting, or tutoring a non-native speaker privately. International TEFL Academy also helped me organise my practicum hours online during the COVID pandemic. Having teaching experience will benefit you in the long run by giving you an advantage over other applicants in TEFL jobs. In South Korea, this is very beneficial as you will have better odds in your success in securing a position with a preferred location as well as negotiating your salary (for hagwons).
Can I Teach English Abroad Without Any Teaching Experience?
You don’t need teaching credentials to teach English abroad. For many educational institutions a degree in education, prior work or teaching experience, or a degree is not required. Often having a TEFL certification is often only what is required to work as an English teacher in schools.
What Requirements Do I Need to Teach in South Korea?
To teach in South Korea you’ll need certain educational qualifications, an E-2 Visa, and documents. For more information read here.
What Work Visa Do You Need to Teach in South Korea?
To work in South Korea as an English Teacher all Korean educational institutes will need to have you provide an E2 Teaching Visa. An E2 Visa can be applied at your consulate in your country or any other country.
When Can I Apply for a Teaching Job in South Korea?
You can find professional teaching jobs year-round in South Korea. However, you’ll need to consider the time it will take in order to become qualified to teach and the process of applying for a job. Applying for a teaching job at a public school or private school (hagwon) will involve different timelines.
How Much Do You Earn as an English Teacher in South Korea?
The average English teacher teaches 25 to 30 hours per week (this is not including additional work outside teaching hours) and has the ability to save between $1,200 to $1,600 USD per month. For your move to South Korea, it is recommended you bring about $1,000 to $2,000 with you to South Korea to comfortably get settled before earning your first paycheck.
How Long is the Work Contract for an English Teacher in South Korea?
The typical teaching contract in Korea is one year long with the ability to extend your contract. Whether your contract is extended depends on multiple factors. For example, if your employer wishes to extend your working contract and you decide you want to stay longer. Note that you will only be sponsored for a one-year work visa by your Korean employer. You will be responsible for renewing your E-2 Visa if you plan on staying longer than one year.
Is Teaching English in South Korea Worth It?
This will ultimately depend on whether you are up for the task of the challenges and joys that teaching abroad will offer. For me, despite all the bumps in the journey it was well worth it. I’ve connected with lots of people that I call lifetime friends, immersed myself in the local culture, and found myself in some interesting places. I know when I look back in life I won’t remember all the downs I had during my time abroad. From having a breakdown in my office because my students wouldn’t listen. To missing my family and friends back home.
I’ll remember all the things I did where I truly gained invaluable life experiences and moments. Like my students running up to me and asking me to play with them or chat. Discovering places with people that share similar interests – traveling more and most importantly being okay with not having everything figured out in your 20s. If you put yourself out there you can find a community of people to welcome you. You just have to take the first step and they’ll meet you halfway. I promise.
So remember to consider all the downs and ups of this experience. It isn’t an easy decision, but the hardest decisions are always well worth the risk.
“And then there is the most dangerous risk of all – the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.”— randy komisar
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Want to travel to South Korea in 2024?
Want to travel to Korea but not as a teacher? I’m inviting you to travel with me! The best part, everything is planned for you and you’ll get to meet other like-minded travelers!
Read more about the group trip here.