If you’re new to TEFL, then also check out our introduction to teaching English abroad with TEFL article!
Teaching English in South East Asia or any foreign country is a great way to see the world. The most popular teaching destinations in Asia are China, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand and Korea . Teaching English in China, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand or Korea can be an amazing experience either you want to follow a teaching a career or not. You will learn so many things about yourself and you will have to deal with all kind of challenges away from home.
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However many countries will require some certification, whether it be TEFL, TOEFL, or CELTA. In South Korea, the only requirements are that a person be a native English speaker and have a college degree. This means that you could have graduated with any degree at all, not even an Education major, and they will accept you.
Take a leap.
When I first heard about teaching English in South Korea, I honestly was not even thinking it would happen. I had a few college friends that I knew either in Korea or had previously taught there, and at the time didn’t even have Asia on my list of places to travel in the near future. However, life throws curves when you least expect it, and one major curve was when a job I had moved three states away for, bottomed out before it ever began. That was the day I sent off for my criminal background check, as I knew this would be the longest part of the visa process and can take around 6 to 8 weeks.
Once I received my criminal background check (CBC) back from the FBI, I had to get an apostille, a type of notarization, which is another waiting process of a couple of weeks. All in all, it took me almost three months to get the correct paperwork and approval for the E-2 Work Visa. I had been directed by a friend to go through a certain recruiting agency that they had gone through. This is not necessarily needed but is pretty convenient as they go through the hassle of finding a school, giving you all the information you need for the application process, and share their experiences. Each recruiting company will want different things, but from my experience, I had to fill out their company application, send a copy of my resume/CV and passport, write a short essay, and create an introduction video about myself along with a still photo.
There are drawbacks to some of these recruiting companies that I ran into. The first was that once you are in Korea if you run into any problems with the school, they will not help you as it is their goal to get you there and that is all. Another is that they only have certain job postings to fill, and not always in the city you want. Even if things are set in place for a city you want, it is not always guaranteed.
For instance, I was originally set to be teaching at a school in Busan. At the time of getting my Visa, the US experienced an extended government shutdown, so the Busan school freaked out and withdrew their offer. I instead ended up in Daegu. There is a vast difference between Busan, being a sunny beach city sitting right on the ocean, and Daegu, the industrial and manufacturing city settling in a valley.
Each school is different in how it handles new teachers. I had heard of people arriving and having two weeks of training before ever setting foot inside a classroom and others who began teaching the very next day after they arrived. In my experience, once I arrived in Korea, I stayed the first week in Seoul for training then took the train to Daegu on Friday afternoon. After the intense week of training and getting over jet lag, I was not prepared for the crazy shuffle that was about to take place.
When I was offered a position in Daegu, I was told the school was in the downtown area and even given the location to look up on Google Maps. When I arrived on that Friday evening, I was taken to a site on the northern tip of Daegu, in an area that was far from where I was originally told. I’m usually a pretty “go with the flow” kind of person, which I chalk up to my prior experiences in travel, but this was not where I had signed on for a year to be at. I quickly learned that in Korea nothing is ever set in stone and that any plans that you may have thought you had or previously set in place are changed at whim. That was just something cultural I had to get over.
The Teaching Experience
Teaching the students I had was a lot of fun. In fact, I would say watching the growth and accomplishments of my students were some of the best parts of Korea. There are primarily two types of schools that you can teach at in Korea: public schools or hagwons (private academies usually taking place after the normal school day). At our hagwon, students would spend half of their lesson in an English teacher’s classroom and the other half in a Korean native teacher’s classroom.
This forced them to use English at all times when they were with me or one of the other English speaking teachers. Teaching in a hagwon also can allow for a more controlled classroom environment as classes can range from as little as two students or as large as 20 while in a public school, classes on average consist of 35 to 40 students. At a hagwon, like ours, teaching hours can range anywhere from 1 pm until 10 pm. More often than not, though, you will only actually teach about 5 to 6 of those hours, and can even be excused from work early or arrive later depending on schedules.
My normal day would always be to arrive at work by 1 in the afternoon and leave the school at 9. Now and then I would be off work as early as 8, but that was not always common, especially at the beginning. If you are not a night owl, then teaching at a public school may be a better option as they begin their day at 8 am with a normal work schedule. The pay system can vary as well between salary or hourly. The only potential problem with hourly is that only the hours you teach are counted as hours paid. They do not count the hours you are required to be at the school as time paid, even though you may be prepping for your class and doing other class related things. This is imperative to understand, as many people do not know about this before signing on.
Teaching in Korea is a great way to not only gain experience in teaching and public speaking but to be used as a gateway to explore Asia. During my vacation breaks, I would travel wherever I could manage to find the best deals on air tickets. Because my housing was taken care of through my school, I would always set aside half of my paycheck just for future travel. I spent a good amount of time, traveling throughout Southeast Asia after my contract ended, which I would have never done had I not spent time in Korea. So my final thoughts are: to those who enjoy traveling and seeing different cultures, take the opportunity to explore a culture and world vastly different from your own. It will not only give the opportunity to have many life changing experiences, but it will also give you insight into parts of the world that you have never seen. Who knows? Maybe it will ignite a new passion for travel, teaching, or something you never knew was there before.
Who knows? Maybe it will ignite a new passion for travel, teaching, or something you never knew was there before.
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About the Writer
Texas-born musician and avid movie watcher, Darrell is also co-founder and writer for the budget travel website Adoration 4 adventure. Darrell started traveling young on trips with his family. He has visited over 40 countries and lived in South Korea for a year. His dreams are to climb Mount Everest and cage dive with great white sharks. Follow his adventures on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.