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Do you really want to teach English in Korea? (Part I: Q & A)

my korean students

My Korean elementary students with EPIK

Well deciding to teach English abroad can feel like ordering a mail order bride. You’ve got a description and a list of hopeful expectations; yet you can’t see what you’ve got until the day arrives. How will you know what you asked for will be what you wanted? Honestly, sometimes even when you’ve crossed over to seeing your prize, things can still seem a bit veiled; but at least you’ve tackled the biggest hurdle… making it happen!

Recently friends and readers have asked me about my experiences in the ESL classroom and how they can teach English abroad too. I’ve decided to make it a three part series. This is general Q&A I’ve gotten.

 

How did you find your teaching job in Korea?

I found the EPIK program through a recruiting agency and because I wanted a guide through the process.  A recruiting agency’s  job is to get you into the front door of your country and to your program. Thus, it’s important to go with a reputable agency and one you feel can give you the support you need. Also, recruiting agencies usually get a finder’s fee from the employer, so you needn’t worry about them snatching a commission off your salary or charging you for their services.

My agency, Teach Away, not only walked me through the application process, but even orchestrated a chat conference and online orientation to answer questions before our leave. Furthermore, they sent a representative to greet us when we arrived in Korea. But alas, even your recruiter won’t know the specifics of your placement or the actual working conditions of your school and apartment.

Footprints Recruiting (impressive website content), Reach to Teach are just some of the more popular recruiting agencies that fellow EPIKers have come through.
Teach Abroad has a comprehensive site that lists agencies for the country you’re interested in (sister company to Transitions Abroad).

 

Do you have an option of which countries you’d like to teach in?

Of course. Western agencies can list a handful of countries for you to choose from. You can choose to apply for any country. Each country will have it’s own standard requirements and contract salary and benefits.

However, depending on the program, you may not always have control over your placement and whether you’ll get a city or rural location.

If you have your heart set on a specific location, it’s best  to speak to your recruiter, voice your concern and be open-minded.

 

Do you need to have majored in Education at your university  to apply?

No, though a college degree in Education or additional credentials, such as TEFL certification is ideal and will boost your salary. Master’s degrees (in any field) are also a help. But basically, as long as you have a college diploma and you did fairly well in school, you’re good to go.

 

Do you need to speak the language of the country you teach in?

While speaking the country’s language will improve your quality of life in the country, it’s not mandatory, especially in Korea. You’re being brought over to teach English through immersion. Mostly employers in Korea don’t want you to speak Korean for the simple fact, students may not feel as driven to learn.

 

How long is your contract?

Generally, the contract and work visa is a year. Some programs and schools offer renewal or extensions if want to keep you on.

 

Was the EPIK program a very competitive or difficult process (like the JET program in Japan)?

No, when I applied it wasn’t competitive.  My entire process took about three months. Although these days it’s changing, as more people look to teaching abroad as a way to grow an income and follow their dreams for travel.

Korea does not ask for TEFL certification, as some countries do.  But it is becoming more stringent in it’s requirements for authentic documents and a clean criminal background.

My process with EPIK (a government program)  took five steps:

1 )   Submit my application of interest to my recruiting agency
2)   Interview with recruiter
3)   Submit my application packet (i.e. application, medical survey, college transcripts, apostille degrees and apostille state background check)
4)   Interview with EPIK
5)   Receiving my work contract and filing for my work visa

For applications for private school/hagwon or university jobs, the process might just start at #3.  You’ll need to bring your original diplomas with you to Korea for additional verification.

Update as of 2011:  Korea now requires an apostille FBI criminal background check in the place of a state criminal background check.  The Korean government is cracking-down on the legitimacy of applicants and their said degrees and criminal statuses.

For more about How to apostille documents & get your FBI background check, click here.

 Next:   Do you really want to teach English in Korea? (Part II: Public vs Private schools)

 

“Do You Really Want to Teach in Korea ”  Series:

•  What is my class schedule & how do I work with co-teachers?
•  My Schedule: A Day in a Life of an ESL Teacher
•  How and Why did I choose to teach in Korea?
•  What’s English Summer camp?
•  How to Apostille Documents (Teaching English in Korea)

• Do you really want to teach English in Korea? (Q & A)
• Do you really want to teach English in Korea? (Public vs Private schools)
• Surviving a university job interview in Korea

For more, click here:

Want to teach English in Korea, why teach in Korea


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Article by Christine Kaaloa

Christine is a solo traveler, blogger and YouTube vlogger, who shares travel advice, trip planning and survival tips and tricks on how to travel alone as a woman, live and work in South Korea and to follow your passion for travel.
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15 Comments

  1. Mariah says:

    Hello, I have an associates degree in Korean& Korean Lit., am I able to take part in this program? Thank you! ^^

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @Mariah: That has nothing to do with the requirements for teaching in Korea. Depending on the program you choose, the main requirement is just being a native English speaker and from a native English speaking country. =) For an associates degree, you might need to look into one of the other programs like Talk, etc.. I believe EPIK and hagwons require at least a BA. Good luck!

  2. Park says:

    Hi Christine,

    I also want to be an English teacher overseas in Hong kong or Shang Hai? What do you recommand for me to do? I have heard if you have a TEFL certifcation, it would be easier to get a job. I am not a native English speaker, I am originally Chinese-Dutch (would that be a problem). I like your website a lot. It seems like your enjoying a lot. I hope you can help me.

    Cheers.

    • Thanks for writing, Park!

      You can search for jobs in China and Hong Kong on http://www.eslcafe.com and research the requirements. There are also recruiters like Teach Away, Footprints Recuiting, etc.. that are hooked into programs already and will walk you through the process.

      It’s ideal to have graduated college and to have a TEFL.

      Equivalents to a TEFL might be a major in English, Teaching or an Master graduate degree. It really depends on the school, but basically, if you’re committed to teaching abroad, a TEFL is like a second passport.

      I am not a native English speaker, I am originally Chinese-Dutch (would that be a problem).

      Being Chinese-Dutch isn’t a problem. Not being a native English speaker or from an native English speaking country, may be. I don’t know your country nationality, so I can’t advise. It’s best that you fly it by a recruiter (if you choose to find one) or the school you wish you teach at. The idea of being given a sponsored working visa from another country is that you’re highly proficient in something a country national isn’t… thus, the reason they ask specifically for native English speakers. Not sure about Hong Kong though, as they are a British colony…

      Anyways, this is what you might want to look into. I always believe there are situations which may make exceptions, but you’ll need to decide if it’s worth the effort.

      Hope this was of help and I wish you luck, Park!

  3. Jeff says:

    Teaching English in Korea is not all “sunshine” and anyone even considering it should read artciles like this one from Time Magazine a2 months ago. Take a look at the comments, too. This will give you an idea about how foreign teachers are really treated in South Korea. http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2039281,00.html

    • @Jeff: Thanks for your comment Jeff. Yes! I’ve heard about the discrimination the media and government stresses on the situation, more than experienced the negative aspects of it. On my end, I’ve only seen Koreans go out of their way to treat the foreigner well. My doctors, for instance, don’t charge me for my appointments because I am a foreigner… Pros and cons to the “waygook” situation.

      Thanks for the article link– it’s definitely helpful for those incoming to get a dose of what they face… and yet, I believe one shouldn’t look as these things too hard. Discrimination is a battle everywhere. If you applied for a gov job in the U.S., you’d have to take a drug test. The military, I believe, you’d prob have to take an HIV test too? As westerners, we believe in individual freedom, we are “anti-discrimination” and we push for our rights. We forget– Korea is not our country to change; it has it’s own government system, its ways of doing things… and its prejudice.

      HIV tests– while I think it’s wrong to discriminate, I do believe in the protection of children in general. FBI background criminal checks vs. the standard police ones seems extreme– it’s a friggin bitch but ok, but I get it. Crimes against children are all too common these days; if I were a parent, I’d be more at ease with additional precautions. The Korean society from what I’ve observed of it, is unfathomably trusting on one hand. I don’t think they experience nearly as much crime or theft as the U.S. which can make them vulnerable to outside influence. We leave our bags or purses unattended in a shopping cart or at a restaurant and if we came back 20 minutes later, it’d still be there! Korea is safer in comparison to other places I’ve lived or visited.

      It all boils down to– how badly do you need or want this job? If we find a bad marriage, we can leave. Do you really want to teach English in Korea? Your choice.

  4. 3gyupsal says:

    I’d recommend the job for people with somewhat useless liberal arts degrees, it beats working in a box factory.

  5. Great start to a large and complex topic. What I think trips most people up when applying for the EPIK program is the application process. It’s a test of patience trying to wade through the Korean bureaucracy, but the job itself is worth it. Much better working conditions than most private hogwons, although the pay is not as good.

    We did a comprehensive look at the EPIK, GEPIK, and SMOE programs in Korea awhile back. http://www.goteachabroad.com/teach-abroad-blog/teaching-english-in-korea-comparing-epik-gepik-and-smoe-programs/923, but it’s great to see other people tackling the topic as well!

    Cheers,
    Andrew

    • @Andrew: Yes, your article has already been linked to my 2nd post. :-) Thanks for your comment.

      EPIK’s application process really isn’t so different from Japan’s JET program (a very reputable age old program stll around), but both require some paperwork. I didn’t find it too hard though but doing that stuff abroad is a different story. It does take patience.

      Currently EPIK is the largest and most accessible program for first-time folks to sign up with. GEPIK & SMOE are very special programs that require slightly different considerations and have recently been meeting with NET buzz words on Korea cutting back on them.

  6. Gray says:

    Great information, Christine. I’m always curious how people land these types of gigs, what the process is like, etc. It DOES seem a little like a mail-order bride thing in terms of taking a chance on a new life on a different continent, sight unseen. Takes a lot of courage.

  7. Nice start to an important topic – it’s definitely the sort of thing that’s hard to find decent answers to around the internet.

    If you’re looking for a bit of guidance with a side of humor, I recently put together a ten-question quiz called “Should you teach English in Korea?” (http://chrisinsouthkorea.blogspot.com/2010/10/should-you-teach-english-in-korea-10.html). It asks more about your attitudes towards things you’d experience in Korea (or elsewhere, for that matter).

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