First of all, what is it? ESL stands for English as a Second Language, and is for people whom English is not their first language. Obviously as a teacher you’d be teaching the very young, teens, and even adults English.
Korea holds a very special place in ESL destinations…and that’s because it remains one of the highest paid locations in the world. It’s no secret that being an ESL teacher can be quite lucrative…especially for a newly graduated college student.
Nine times out of ten, most academies and schools will pay not only for your housing needs, but for your flight ticket over, and most of your teaching materials. This is why the opportunity to save money is so great.
How much could a person make? The average starting salary is around $2,000 per month. I wouldn’t be shocked if you could get a little more, but that’s at least a good starting point as to what to expect.
If you plan on staying more than one year (I highly recommend this), its quite easy to double that salary and work half as less (yes, experience goes a long way!). The second year lets you be a bit more selective and picky about what school you’d like to teach at, as well as gives you the power to ask for a little bit more pay. This is due to the fact that the school doesn’t have to pay for airfare to Korea, because you’re already there!
Now that I’ve caught your attention (money talks eh?)….
What is required to be an ESL teacher in Korea? First of all? A Bachelor’s Degree. I’ve heard stories and rumors about people getting jobs without a degree…but I couldn’t even imagine them being true, that’s one of the first questions they ask on the application form, and you have to send a copy of your transcripts and degree to your perspective school.
Does it matter what your degree is in? Absolutely not! I have two degrees: one in Sociology, the other in Music Theatre. Derik has a degree in Business Administration. Derik’s degree has been useful in his second year, it allowed him to get a job with DSME Shipbuilding as a Business English teacher.
Second? A clean FBI Background Check. That means no criminal record folks. Koreans are quite picky about this stuff…and trust me, they can be. If you are seriously thinking about being an ESL teacher, I’d apply for a backround check right away. It can take weeks and even months to get it. It took me longer to get that back than it did my passport renewed. If I remember correctly, maybe 9 weeks?
How do you get a background check? You can either go to your local courthouse or police station. I remember being a little freaked out at first to get mine done…because you’re fingerprinted and everything. Thankfully the lady that was working in the office told me that she sees at least 5 people a week for this exact thing. I think the cost varies among states, but I believe ours (in Portland, OR) cost about 30 dollars each.
The third thing required for employment would be a Passport. No duh…right? Trust me, this little book can be quickly forgotten in the paperwork process. Just do a quick check and make sure yours doesn’t expire anytime soon…and make sure you have the right last name on your passport! I completely forgot to get mine changed after getting married…and I’m so glad I double checked it before we began applying for our first job.
Letters of recommendation are always a must when it comes to a new job, and Korea is no acceptation! I’d get at least two letters to keep you on the safe side.
The final thing (but not required by all schools) would be to get a TESOL Certification. This is basically a course (taken in a class or online) that ‘certifies’ you to be able to teach English around the world. Both Derik and myself do not have a TESOL, but I’ve been thinking about getting one…just in case we decide to travel and teach somewhere else someday.
Each academy/school has their own personal requirements and things you need to send to them, but they will let you know what and when you need to do that. The things I listed above are the general requirements among most, if not all, schools in Korea.
So what is teaching like? My first year I was blessed to be able to teach at a very reputable academy. I had great co-workers, a good director, and an excellent school owner. The academy was very organized and structured, and was a great place to start off our new Korean way of living.
I taught students age 5-13, all at various levels of English. I taught about 8 classes a day, each at 40 minutes per class. I was given an hour lunch break, and 10 minutes break between classes.
Teaching itself was a piece of cake. I was given books and workbooks to complete with the students, and they all revolved around basic English and vocabulary. It wasn’t hard to get accustomed to teaching at all (this is coming from someone who had absolutely no teaching experience)!
As far as vacations go, I was given all national holidays off (PAID), as well as two weeks vacation (one in the summer and one in the winter). It really was a great deal, seeing as how Korea has quite a few public holidays! I remember even having a five day weekend and a few three day weekends. Can’t beat that! And vacationing to other countries? Especially tropical ones? What’s better than that?!
My second year is quite a bit different. I teach at a few different academies- at which all have different teaching arrangements. I do however work less hours per day, have more vacation days, and teach using various materials…some mine and my academy’s.
I still love it though, and it sure does beat a 9-5 job!
But…is it safe in South Korea? To be honest? I’ve never felt safer. I know I’ve mentioned the fact that there’s little to no crime here…but it’s true. I can leave my car running, parked illegally on the side of the road, while I run into the bank…and know it’ll still be there when I come out. I don’t have to worry about locking my doors at night, because I know that the ipod sitting in my driver’s seat will still be there.
I’m not saying that things don’t ever happen here…it’s just very rare that it does.
How hard is it to get accustomed to the culture? For the most part, Koreans are very inviting when it comes to foreigners in their country. There are tons of English subtitles on everything (much like spanish back in the States), and even if there isn’t there’s always bound to be someone around that speaks a little English. Koreans are very helpful when it comes to a foreigner in need, if really appreciated that about this country!
Driving is ridiculous, but I promise you get used to it. That brings another point, driving is not always necessary in Korea. The public transportation here is really easy to figure out, cheap, and efficient!
Food-wise? It’s quite a bit different, but also depends on where you live in Korea. In the more rural locations, food is going to be a bit more traditional: fish, seafood, rice, kimchi, soup, fruits, veggies, and chicken. In the more urbanized locations, you can find all sorts of foreign food…restaurants and world food stores! I’m quite lucky to live in Geoje…I can find Turkish, Italian, Mexican, Thai, and of course, Mcdonalds all within 10 minutes from each other.
Ok, now you’re thinking…”That sound’s great Amanda, how do I get started?” This is where it gets a little tricky. You can go one of two ways. The first way would be through a recruiting agency. The two most popular and used agencies that I’ve heard of for teaching ESL in South Korea are Footprints and EPIK.
From what I’ve seen and heard, EPIK is a more formal recruiting agency, and deals more with public schooling. A lot of their jobs (if not most) require the TESOL cert…and the process is a lot more selective. Be prepared for that!
Footprints is a little more ‘first-timer’ friendly, and has quite the selection when it comes to jobs. I’ve known a couple folks that have gotten jobs using Footprints.
The second way (and most hassle-free) to get a job is to go directly through a school or someone that is currently teaching in Korea. Schools save a lot of money cutting out the ‘middle man,’ so if they hear through a reputable source that there’s a prospective teacher looking for a job, they’re very willing to look into your application! This is how Derik and I got our first job in Korea. Also, the teachers who recommended us received a bonus (lucky them).
Overall, even though the process may seem daunting, it’s worth it. You have to come into this job with a lot of patience and flexibility…as well as an understanding that you’re dealing a foreign country job application, and not one you may be familiar with.
Derik and I are so blessed to have been given the opportunity to come out and teach. I would highly recommend ESL teaching to anyone…especially newlyweds! It gives you the opportunity to really get to know your spouse, as well as rely on them in a way you wouldn’t if you lived back ‘home’ where you’re comfortable.
I’m hoping this post may have answered any questions you have about teaching in Korea, but if not, please email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. I would be more than happy to help you out!
Happy job hunting and safe journeys!