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Considering Teaching ESL in Korea? Some Answers to Questions.

October 13, 2010

This job is not for everyone. But it’s worth considering. I’ve had a few friends recently ask me about teaching, so I’ve made a post with what I believe are helpful links to anything I skimped on.

Why did you pick South Korea?

Korea was the first option I came across via my university recruiters. As I looked to other places to teach, I noticed that Korea’s probably the best place to save money and my non-English or teaching degree would be viable in Korea. Saving money is especially important to me as I was able to pay off my student loans during my stay here and still be able to travel.

Why teaching? I’m looking to studying family or school counseling and wanted experience that I simply couldn’t get back home with a business degree and background in marketing. I’ve always liked teaching and playing with kids and the job seemed like and is currently a perfect fit.

How did you apply?

I went through Pegasus Recruiting – they were nice enough but I’d recommend Footprints Recruiting. I know a lot of other teachers here who went through them and had a far more stream-lined application experience than I had. Anyway, I was offered the chance to teach at an academy (academies have a rolling hiring schedule) but read too many negative experiences  and decided to go with public school. The application process is more bureacratic but worth the end result.

What was the application process like?

Tedious, grueling, discouraging. I’m convinced that the process is meant to weed out people who don’t really want to be here. There are a lot of phone calls, applications emailed and snail mailed back and forth (which gets a bit expensive) and a whole lot of waiting. I started the application process in May of 2009 which lasted right up until a a week before I was set to fly here for orientation.

I heard a great phrase that foreigners tend to apply to getting anything done in Korea: “Hurry up and wait” This means that Koreans will expect everything right away but feel little pressure to give feedback or results in a timely manner. I literally did not know that I had a secure job until I arrived in Korea – there were people EN ROUTE who were getting their applications denied. It was a harrowing ordeal. It’s really the hardest part because after you deal with that, dealing with Hurry Up and Wait in small bits on a daily basis just isn’t that frustrating.

Why public school? I work for SMOE – Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education

Let me just say, afterschool programs and academies pay more and offer a great schedule for night owls like myself. I actually chose less money and 9 to 5 because I didn’t want to risk working in a system that might not pay me if attendence is low or where I might get stiffed on airfare and vacation days (I think public school gives way more vacay days)  I was also determined to work afterschool programs when I arrived so that I could have more money to spend on my vacations.

If I really thought academies were the better deal, I would have done it for my second year here. In general I’ve found that many teachers in academies try to move over to public school. My guess is that the teachers at the good academies tend to stay and the ones at the terrible ones make up most of the job openings.

Do you like your job?

Yes, everyday. It’s as challenging as I make it and it’s damned interesting. Even on the worst days, I’ve probably almost died laughing at least once.  At the same time, I do often manage classes of 30 to 40 students who are tired, angry, annoyed, intimidated or whatever. Some classes make me want to just cry afterwards while most tend to lift my spirits. Having a good Korean English teacher to work with makes all the difference. Great co-teachers can guide and discipline the students which makes my job a lot easier.

The trickiest part is motivating students who spend their entire day and night in school. In general, students tend to pay attention in their after school programs and slack off in public school. This happens because the afterschool program teaches far ahead in the textbook which leaves smart kids in my class bored and slow kids more confused than ever. Games, music, culture lessons and acting as the student work well as quick tangents from the lessons while making students feel at ease. I love how my creativity in this and everything else directly affects the students’ moods  and motivation. Hearing them used new words and phrases I taught is also a bit of an ego boost.

How can you save money?

I’m not even sure of this myself although I happen to know that I’m good at it. I save just over half my pay a month and managed to spend over a week in Bali, take a long weekend to Singapore, travel across Korea a few times, buy a brand new laptop and DSLR camera and tons of other stuff that make me happy here. Buying Korean helps save money on food and clothes. Just being able to walk to school everyday saves me around $30 a month I guess. I’d say the easiest way to lose track of money is going out often – drinks in bars can add up fast and you have to pay a premium for western food and establishments.

Since I’ve paid off my loan, I’ve been spending more on stuff and seeing how quickly shopping at H&M and going to a fitness club drains my bank account. But I made more money last year with four afterschool classes…this year I have none due to a new system at the school. It is what it is.

Do you miss your family?

Of course but knowing my family and friends are in good health keeps me from worrying about them too much. Things like Skype and callnig cards are certainly an option but the time difference tends to make communication this way difficult.

I hope I can add to this as I get more questions.

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