So you think you want to be an English teacher in Korea, but you still have a lot of questions and no one to answer them? Living abroad can be extremely rewarding, but the process to get there is uncertain and full of surprises.
Since I’ve been getting a lot of questions about this subject, I decided to put together a list of the ones I think are most important to help you reach your goal of teaching English in Korea. Here is your comprehensive list of answers to your frequently asked questions about teaching abroad.
I’m about five months into my contract and I still have a ways to go, but being here has already shaped up to be one of the best experiences of my life. I’ll be adding to this throughout the rest of my time here, so if you have any questions I haven’t yet answered, go ahead and shoot me an e-mail to Neysha (dot) Bauer (at) Gmail (dot) Com.
Q1. How long is the program that you work for? 6 Months or 1 Year?
I came to Korea through the English Program in Korea (EPIK), which is a yearlong commitment. There are options available for shorter commitments, usually through after school programs, so I definitely recommend you ask your recruiter. However, most programs will require you to sign for at least a year.
Q2. What is your typical day like? Working hours?
Most EPIK teachers work from 8:30am – 4:30pm. I work for a Global Education Center, so my hours are from 8:30am – 5:30pm. As a new recruit, you can’t really choose what type of school you’re placed at so your hours really depend on wherever you teach.
If you are applying for a Hagwon, you may have more options and the chance to choose the type of program you want, since you’re applying for individual institutions. I have friends who work at Hagwons and don’t start teaching until 1:00pm in the afternoon, so they don’t have to be there until then. Others teach in the mornings and then head home early. Others work much longer, more strenuous hours. Really talk to your recruiter and tell them what you want.
Q3. What city are you located in?
I’m located in Daegu, the fourth largest city in South Korea next to Seoul, Busan and Incheon. It’s located about 45 minutes from Busan and two hours from Seoul through the KTX (the fast train). By bus it would normally take me two hours to get to Busan, and four hours to get to Seoul. The nice thing about this city is that it’s very centrally located. It’s also known for having a very tight knit expat community. I can certainly vouch for the fact that I’ve met a ton of great friends here who I think will be in my life long after leaving Korea.
Q4. What cities would you recommend after being there?
I think this is a really personal question and depends on the type of person you are. I’ll be writing an update on how to choose the best city for you, with love and hate stories from real expats living in Korea. Stay tuned!
Q5. Did you go through a recruiter and is there a specific one you would recommend?
Yes! I went through an awesome recruiting company that I still keep in contact with today – Reach to Teach. They’re great, plus they help fill positions all over Asia, not just South Korea. They work with EPIK and they work with Hagwons all around the country. They’re definitely one of the top choices, in my opinion.
I also have a friend who went through Adventure Teaching and worked for the Avalon program (one of the biggest Hagwon programs in Korea). His advice to me was
“…they were good. They gave me support and instructions the whole way through the process. They also had someone there waiting to pick me up and take me to my new school. I had a good experience with them.”
This is awesome advice because many Hagwons don’t wait for you at the airport and it’s up to you to find your way to your new home. Great job Adventure Teaching!
Q6. Should I apply for EPIK (public school program) or a Hagwon/Avalon (private school program)?
If you’re super serious about coming to Korea and doing as much research as I did during the beginning stages of the process, you’ve probably run into the Eat Your Kimchi YouTube channel. If you haven’t, go there now! They have great resources for current and future English teachers in Korea. There is one little thing that’s changed, though… the private school program. Although I work for a public school through EPIK, I strongly suggest considering a private school program as well.
Not only is EPIK making MAJOR budget cuts this year (2015), and becoming more stringent on the application process, Hagwons are also not as bad as previous expats made them out to be. That’s not to say that they didn’t used to be as bad as they said they were, and it’s also not to say that there aren’t some that are still really awful. However, if there’s anything I’ve learned in Korea it’s that you have absolutely no say about your situation; you can only control your attitude towards it.
Basically, the public school jobs do continue to be the most sought after. EPIK teachers receive summer and winter holidays and we are able to have more free time during our days (depending on where you work). However, the vast majority of teachers work at Hagwons. According to my friend who worked for Avalon,
“ Hagwons can definitely be good and bad, but the worst part is that they are run as a company first and a school second, so they don’t always have the students best interest at heart. That said, they have lots of support, resources, training and conventions.”
You should also know that if you’re American, your options are not limited to these two choices. You may want to look into the Fullbright program run by the American-Korean Educational Commission.
Q7. Application process: Did you already have your TEFL training completed prior to applying? I was thinking of completing the certification online if I need to, but I didn’t know if they looked down on coursework done online.
I’ve received variations of this question, and I really think it’s best to speak with a recruiter and find out what qualifications you really need for the program you want. It will save you from spending unnecessary money and time on something the school might not even require.
I completed my Teaching English as a Foreign Language Certificate (TEFL) with the International TEFL Academy. They are highly recommended, and I personally think I made the right choice. I finished a 200 hour certification consisting of: 180 hours of coursework and 20 hours of practicum. I started applying for EPIK before finishing my certificate, which is completely acceptable. They only require for your certificate to be complete a month before you leave for Korea. I’m not sure about the requirements for Hagwons, but most run under the same stipulations.
You should also know that I paid a significant amount of money for my certificate, and there are companies online that do it for much cheaper. I’m not sure how qualified those institutions are, though, so be careful. I’ve seen Groupons and other things for TEFL’s and CELTA’s, etc… and sometimes they seem sketchy. Plus, they usually don’t offer a practicum section, which is very valuable.
I’ll update soon on the differences between the TEFL, CELTA and TESOL. I found it really difficult to find information on what would be best for Korea, specifically, so I’ll do my best to put together the information I know.
Q8. Background check: Did you just go to a local police office and request a background check?
In order to complete a background check, you’ll need to go to your local Sherriff’s office and request to be finger printed. It typically costs $10 and it’s really quick, as long as there are minimal lines. It took about 10 minutes during my lunch break one afternoon, and they gentleman working that day was kind enough to give me two so that I could keep one for my records.
As far as the actual background check goes, this is just 1 step in the process. After you have your finger print card, you’ll need to fill out this form and ship it all to:
[highlight]FBI CJIS Division – Summary Request 1000 Custer Hollow Road Clarksburg, West Virginia 26306[/highlight]
Make sure you haven’t missed any steps by speaking with your recruiter, or checking Reach to Teaches very comprehensive guide to completing your EPIK application. You will also find information for those of you who are not American as regulations are different depending on which country’s passport you hold. This FBI background check information also applies for English teachers applying to Hagwons.
Q9. E-2 Visa – Should I already apply for visa before applying for placement job, or is that something that EPIK will help me with?
Definitely do not apply for a Visa yet. There is no way you will be accepted for a Visa if you have not received a contract from an institution in Korea, because there’s no one to vouch for you or sponsor it. What you’ll want to do is start getting the paperwork necessary for your visa read. This includes everything from your background check, to your diploma, and your signed contract. Stay put for now and keep working with your recruiter.
Q10. The EPIK website said that they pay for airfare. I didn’t know if this was dependent on if you completed a 6 month or 1 year program? Did they pay for your airfare to South Korea? Return Flight?
EPIK, as well as most Hagwons, pays for airfare and entrance allowance. EPIK gives you $1,300, no matter what the cost of your flight was, and the allowance is 300,00WON (A little less than $300USD).
On your way home, you’ll be receiving a severance (equivalent to one month’s pay), a pension, and your flight money of $1,300 again. You should be leaving Korea with a little less than $5,000 USD, not including any money you saved while living here. After five months I’ve been able to save about $3,000 USD.
Q11. The website also said that they pay for your housing. Do they help you find housing? Do you live by yourself or did you find roommates?
This was actually a big question I had before moving to Korea because I moved here with one of my best friends from college. Of course we had envisioned the possibility of living together and being able to give each other the moral support needed when you’re a million miles from everything you know and love.
The answer is, YES, they do pay for your housing. That’s what makes this program so great; it’s one of the main reasons expat English teachers in Korea are able to save as much money as they do. You have to do absolutely no work to find housing; it’s here waiting for you when you arrive. However, unless you’re married, they will only provide individual apartments. Chances are that you and whoever else you know will be placed in very different areas of your city, or even Korea. My friend, Lauren, and I live about a 30 minute bus ride from each other.
If you do decide that you absolutely have to live with a roommate, you have the option of receiving a stipend every month for your housing. Then you’ll be free to find housing on your own, but beware: most landlords don’t speak English. Also, rent is very different here. People do not buy or own houses, they simply give a very large sum as a deposit (think $10,000 USD), and then pay a small amount of rent each month. Strange, I know.
Q12. How much Korean did you speak/understand before you went? (I am nervous about this).
I didn’t know ANY Korean before I came. I knew so little Korean that I would have never been able to distinguish the differences between any Asian languages, like Mandarin vs. Korean. Now I know how to read basic Hangul, order at a restaurant, say hello and goodbye, and even introduce myself. These, plus a few extra key phrases, are the main parts of the language I’d say you need to know.
It’s really easy to teach yourself how to read Hangul. Just follow this guide on How to Learn to Read Korean in 15 Minutes. Full disclosure: it will most likely take you much longer than 15 minutes, but as soon as it clicks, you’ll never forget how!
You’ll also pick up some things from your kids. EPIK offers a really great (and FREE) program to help you learn Korean, usually during the Fall semester. My teacher was really amazing, kind, and supportive.
Q13. If something were to happen that I need to return home permanently or for a short stay, would this be something that would be feasible?
In the EPIK contract there is a clause stating that you would have the opportunity to go home if something were to happen to an immediate family member, meaning a parent or sibling. I don’t believe this covers the death of a grandparent or any other relative, and of course it does not cover close friends.
In case of a serious emergency, there are certain events that would allow you to break your EPIK contract without a penalty (although, I’m not sure if this includes financial). I met a few people during orientation who were coming back for a second time after terminating their contracts for family reasons.
In short, yes, this would be something feasible if the unthinkable were to happen. Personally, if something happened to a close family member or a very good friend of mine (who might as well be family), I probably wouldn’t care about the repercussions. I’d pack my bags and be out of here the next day.
Q14. Were you able to meet a community of young adults doing the same program? If so, how did you meet them?
I certainly was! I continue to meet new and interesting people every day. You can read more about that here.