Today I am interviewing Kristin, a good friend of mine from Canada. We met in Australia and stayed in touch ever since. Kristin has worked as an English teacher in South Korea in the past and will share the experience with us.

Why did you decide to be a teacher in South Korea?

I had been planning to work abroad for a year since I started University. I participated in a few different student exchange programs (to France, Germany and Mexico) and I was eager to keep travelling and experiencing other cultures. Also, I knew I was going to have student debt after I graduated, and thought that teaching ESL overseas would be a great way to balance my desire for travel with my need to pay off my student loans.

Were there other opportunities you thought about before you made your decision? Like fx Au Pair, Work and Holiday etc?

I also considered doing a Working Holiday in Australia. I settled on Korea because I thought it would be easier to save money with a stable job.

Did you interview with many schools?

I interviewed a few times before I found the right job. Originally, I was hired by an agency that was going to place me in a private school. However, one month before I planned to fly to Korea, they informed me that they had ‘over-hired’ so my job would be post-poned for another three months. I didn’t want to be in limbo for three months, so I quickly started looking for a another job. I was then offered one at a school where they were planning to fire a teacher, and wanted to secure an alternate candidate before the termination. I didn’t feel comfortable accepting a job someone was about to get fired from, so I kept looking. And that was when I finally found the job I was going to stick with.

Was the accommodation arranged by the school or did u have to organise it yourself?

The accommodation was arranged by the school, and it was a very short walk from the school. The rent was paid for by the school, but we were responsible for our gas bill (heating.)

What was challenging during the process of finding the job?

It was a little stressful, because there were hundreds of jobs, some of which sounded a little bit sketchy if you read the job description carefully and consider the facts. I always asked if I could speak to the school’s current or past teachers to make sure it was a positive work environment.

Are there websites/agencies you can recommend to find a job? What is the pay like?

There are two different streams: public school and private school (hagwon.) The public school system tends to have lower pay, but the hours are shorter, and there is more vacation time. Hagwons tend to pay a little more, but make sure you look at the hours – they are often longer, and there is very little vacation time, also the hours can sometimes be outside of regular working hours (1 or 2pm until 9 or 10pm.) In most cases, your pay is based on your qualifications; both public and private schools offer a higher pay to someone who has a degree and experience in teaching.
Some good websites to find private school jobs in Korea are: www.eslcafe.com, and http://koreabridge.net/jobsThe agency that found my job was RBI Korea, you will find postings from them on both of these websites.  To work in a public school, you apply to EPIK (English Program in Korea.)

What are the differences between the school system in Canada and Korea?

Quite a few; for one, students tend to spend longer hours in school in Korea. Many attend a hagwon (private school) after their regular school day. There were hagwons for many different subjects people would want their children to specialize in; science, math, tae-kwon-do, art, and English. The school I worked at was an English hagwon. Sometimes I would go for walks at night, and see older children leaving their hagwons at 10pm in their school uniforms.

What were your challenges as a teacher? 

I heard that the adjustment to teaching in Korea is tougher for certified teachers than it is for someone who is just doing a gap year (as I was, at the time.) The roles and expectations of an ESL teacher will be different from what you’re used to from school teacher at home. Overall, even as someone with no prior teaching experience, my biggest challenges were: communication barrier between myself and the students, their parents and my bosses, not having the same respect as a Korean teacher, the long hours I worked (9am – 6pm) with few breaks, no ‘sick’ days (sick days were written in the contract, but the school made it difficult to use them).

Did you travel a lot?

I went to Japan over Christmas break with a friend, and visited Beijing over Lunar New Year. I also travelled quite a bit around Korea, seeing places I never knew existed. One of the most interesting places we saw was the DMZ, which is the militarized boarder between North Korea and South Korea.

Was it easy to make friends?

Very easy!  There were so many English teachers living in Busan from all English-speaking countries. There were Meetup and Couchsurfing events, and even tour companies that ran organized trips especially for foreigners in Korea. There were several bars, a lively nightlife and foreigner hang-outs. Making connections was easy, because everyone was in the same boat already, being new to Korea and working similar jobs.

Would you recommend this experience?

Yes! It was one of the most memorable years of my life that I will always cherish. Research the area, and the school before signing a contract. As long as you find a well-established school private school, or a public school, you should have stable work for the year and be able to make lots of exciting memories during that time.

About author View all posts

Mel

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *