A Quick Guide to Teaching English in Korea

Teach English in South Korea

If you seek teaching opportunities abroad that combine a great international experience with an opportunity to make & save good money, South Korea will be hard to beat. With a population of 50 million crowded into a landmass the size of Indiana, South Korea is relatively small by the standards of East Asia yet it represents one of the largest and most lucrative job markets in the world for teaching English abroad.

English teachers in South Korea can typically expect to receive benefits like free housing and a salary that enables most to save $1000 a month after expenses. In addition, English teachers get to experience life in the one of the most dynamic & modern societies on earth that combines thousands of years of history & culture with ultra-cosmopolitan cities like Seoul & Busan. Tack on benefits like paid vacation and easy proximity to other countries in Asia and you can see why Korea has become one of the most popular countries for teaching English in Asia.

What types of English teaching jobs are there in South Korea?

Foreign English teachers in South Korea almost always work under contract, which is usually agreed to and signed in advance of the teacher’s arrival in Korea.

Public School Jobs

There are a several major government programs that recruit several thousands qualified native English speakers each year to teach grade school & high schools students in public schools. EPIK (all of Korea, except for metropolitan Seoul), GEPIK (suburban Seoul area), and SMOE (within the Seoul city limits). Public school opportunities are highly coveted and the application process is competitive and lasts several months. Applications are due at least 6 months in advance and there are typically 2 main start dates in the fall & the spring.

Private School Jobs

The majority of English teachers in South Korea work at private language schools and academies, famously known as hagwons. Private language schools & academies often provide supplementary English classes to children or adults after usual school or business hours.

Here are just some of the differences between working in a public school compared to a private language school:

  1. Public school programs typically recruit & hire twice a year; different private schools are hiring year-round.
  2. In public school programs, accepted applicants are placed in a school; for jobs in private schools, you can typically choose which specific jobs in specific schools you interview for and accept.
  3. In many cases – though not always – you will work with a group of foreign teachers at a private language school (some people like this because it is easier to meet other English speakers). In public schools, there is often only foreign teacher, or a small handful.
  4. Salaries tend to be slightly higher (see below) at private schools (hogwans), but teachers receive less vacation and typically work slightly longer hours than teachers in public schools
  5. In public schools, teachers can expect to work a typical school day. Many private schools provide classes after the school day or work day, so many teachers work primarily in the afternoon and evening.

Other opportunities to teach English in South Korea

Many English teachers in South Korea will take on side jobs giving private lessons. This is a great way to make extra money and meet locals one-on-one. Be aware, however, that your visa may not technically grant you permission to work independently and some school directors prefer that their teachers not give private lessons, so be discreet or discuss the matter with your boss upfront.

Also, teachers with several years of experience can sometimes get a job teaching at a university, which is preferred because pay is good and hours are fewer. In addition, some teachers will find gigs teaching English in the corporate sphere.

What are typical salaries and benefits if you teach English in South Korea?

Certainly, the great pay and benefits are big draws if you teach English in South Korea. Because almost every teacher receives free housing and earns a good salary, even first-time English teachers in South Korea are typically able to save $1,000 a month after expenses and sometimes even more. This makes Korea a great teaching destination for those with student loans or other financial obligations, or if you just want to save a good chunk of change for extended travel after your contract.

Salaries will vary based on the job and your level of experience and credentials, but you won’t encounter the big variations in salaries that is common in China or even Thailand.

Monthly Salaries teaching English in Korea:

Public Schools

  • First-year teachers: 1.8 – 2.0 million KRW (approximately $1,600 – $1,800 USD) per month.
  • Experienced teachers: 2.0 – 2.7 million KRW ($1,800 – $2,400 USD) per month.

Private Schools

  • First-year teachers: 2.0-2.1 million KRW ($1,800 – $1,900 USD) per month.
  • Experienced: 2.1-3.0 million KRW ( $1,900 – $2,750 USD) per month.

Other benefits: access to national health insurance (most teachers pay the equivalent of $25 a month), end of contract bonus (typically one month’s pay), paid vacation (2-6 weeks plus national holidays – this will depend on the school).

What do I need to teach English in South Korea?

  • 4-year degree (exception is TALK program for college students that requires 60 hours of college credit)
  • Citizenship from USA, Canada, UK, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand or South Korea.
  • Native English speaker
  • Clean criminal background (FBI Background Check is required for Americans)
  • TEFL Certification is not technically required for all jobs, but if you want to qualify for good jobs at good schools in desirable locations, it is key. Besides, you owe it to yourself and to your students to possess basic teaching skills in areas like lesson planning & classroom management.

Applying & Interviewing for Teaching Positions in South Korea

Whether you’re looking to teach English in public schools or private academies, you will almost always interview and apply for positions in advance from home. Many schools use recruiters to interview and hire teachers. Very often you can expect to interview for jobs over Skype (or some other video conference) or the phone. Once you agree to a contract, you will need to interview and apply for a visa at the nearest South Korean consulate in your country. Typically, your school and/or recruiter will assist you with this process in terms of providing any necessary documents (like proof of employment). Most contracts are 12 months with an option to renew.

What’s life like as an English Teacher in South Korea?

Teaching English in South Korea offers a lot more than just a good paycheck and a free apartment. Cities like Seoul and Busan are highly cosmopolitan & modern metropolitan centers offering world class shopping, dining & nightlife. Korea’s technology and infrastructure are literally among the most modern in the world. With large expatriate populations, including thousands of English teachers, it is typically quite easy to make English-speaking friends and your Korean colleagues, friends and students will be welcoming and eager to introduce you to Korean culture and cuisine. Almost certainly within days – if not hours – of your arrival, you can expect your colleagues to take you out for an introductory evening of Korean barbecue, karaoke and soju (the national spirit). Koreans are known for their hardworking & disciplined disposition but few people enjoy life as much either. Eating, drinking, sports, music, enjoying the outdoors – these are all common passions for most Koreans.

Certainly one perk of teaching English in South Korea is travel. Despite its pint-sized stature, South Korea offers a stunning array beautiful nature and diverse topography ranging from sub-tropical islands to grand mountain ranges (the resort city of PyeongChang will host the 2018 Winter Olympiad). With thousands of years of history and culture, you will never run out of festivals to attend or ancient pagodas to visit. In addition, fantastic destinations like Japan & China are easy plane rides away and during extended holidays, you will probably find yourself backpacking through Thailand, scuba diving in the Philippines or exploring other regional highlights like Vietnam, Cambodia & Malaysia.

Final Takeaways

The key to getting started is to enroll in a high quality TEFL certification course so that you can gain the skills and qualification you need to get hired. Also, do as much research as possible. Check out videos on Youtube, visit the websites of recruiters and read blogs of others like yourself who are teaching in South Korea – a quick Google search will reveal hundreds.

John Bentley

John Bentley

John Bentley is a Senior Admissions Advisor and Content Manager at Chicago-based International TEFL Academy, which certifies more than 4,000 people a year to teach English abroad. A native Californian, John grew up in Cairo, Egypt & has traveled to more than 50 countries. During his student days at Harvard, John wrote for the famous Let’s Go! travel guides and he has worked in the fields of international journalism, education and travel ever since.

Related

Teacher training courses in South Korea
teaching jobs in South Korea
English language schools in South Korea
Ask a question about South Korea in the forum

60 comments and teachers' experiences of South Korea

Note - Some of these experiences were shared before the article above was written

  1. Anonymous

    South Korea is a challenging place to live and work because of the language barrier. One year is a good enough period for you to learn and understand the teaching style here. I don’t recommend this country if you are into serious teaching. South Korea is for those who just want to have fun and for those who have no prior teaching experience. There is plenty of work.

  2. Kille-chick

    If you are coming to South Korea, make sure you will be living somewhere along the Seoul subway line. I’m stuck out in the middle of nowhere and bored senseless most of the time! Also try to get a job in a public school or a university. A lot of Hogwons are really dodgy. After 6 months my boss has only just started paying my pension, I still don’t have medical insurance and I frequently have to remind him to actually pay me!

  3. Sean

    Everyone’s experience is different. My best advice is to ask plenty of questions. Find out about everything. Many of our teachers have found themselves in sub-standard housing (bugs, mold, no heat, no hot water, etc.) Don’t be afraid to find out what your whole situation will be like before you go. It is important that you have a good living situation. Be careful, as my recruiter told me not to ask questions as it was considered rude. Don’t follow this advice. Even a co-worker here who has been here for over nine years says plainly: Ask questions!! If you don’t, you open yourself to a lot of problems. It’s equally important to find out as much as you can about your work situation. The school I work at has a manager who is only interested in making money for the school. This includes giving low grades to students (even if it’s not deserved) in an effort to prevent students from leaving the academy. He also has a definite bias against foreign teachers, feeling they don’t work as hard or as efficiently as our Korean counterparts. Our staff is about half and half. Our manager also pushes quantity over quality. In other words, he doesn’t care as much about the students learning the material as he does about them getting through the book. I’m a former Peace Corps volunteer, I’ve had considerable experience living and working abroad. My experience in Korea (from a work standpoint) was not very satisfactory. I hope your experience will be better and that this bit of advice will help you.

  4. Anonymous

    There will be a lot of things that might faze you when you first come to South Korea. A year here will definitely toughen you up! You should get to grips with the alphabet early because even though you might not be able to speak or understand Korean, if you can read, it helps a lot. A lot of the words are ‘Konglish’ which means English words phonetically translated into Korean so if you can sound out a word you’ll probably be able to understand what it means. The most important advice I can give is to check stuff out fully before you commit to a job here. Aim for a school with a good rep, good holidays, a boss who can speak English etc. Research the school and you’ll probably find something on the internet about your area. Post any questions on forum websites. There are a lot of dodgy places here that are just interested in making money so watch your back. Get things in writing like promises to pay bonuses or flight money. It also pays to get a job at a university if you can get one. The pay is maybe not as good but it works out much better for holidays and overtime rate. And you don’t have to do crappy extra things like market days and speech contests. Good luck!

  5. Anonymous

    Living in Korea is hard especially if like me you are not in what I call a “foreigner friendly” place. I live and work in rural South Korea up near the DMZ and the people here are very warm and welcoming. However, the administration doesn’t know how to deal with the needs of a foreigner, especially with regards to living conditions. The Korean culture and professional behaviour are very different from what one experiences in many Western countries. My advice is to not judge them on your own value system. This I find greatly reduces the frustration levels one feels. Also if possible try and find work in either a public school or university, though the money may be less there is more job stability. Doing your homework about your employer and being aware of the possible pitfalls can greatly reduce your chance of running into problems in Korea. Enjoy the opportunities this country can offer though. Good Luck.

  6. Anonymous

    Working in a public or government school is alright, but be careful accepting a position with a private school, hagwon. There’s a saying among hagwon owners in S Korea, “If I could make more money selling kimchi…” English schools are big business here. They don’t all necessarily have the interests of the students, or teachers, at heart. I would suggest getting references from previous teachers, and have everything in writing. Contact the embassy as soon as you arrive.

  7. Kenneth

    Well, I have been teaching in Korea for about 4 years now. I have had good moments and bad. I have taught at private schools and in companies. I suggest teaching adults but I was lucky I guess, because some people say that they don’t like to teach adults so it’s mostly up to you. Right now I am teaching in a public school. I have a co-teacher but I do most of the teaching, the only problem is most of the books at public schools are written in Korean which brings up a problem with making lessons. If anyone knows some good ways to handle large groups of students and some handy lessons that would be great.

  8. Anonymous

    I haven’t been teaching long here in South Korea but my impression of the country, the people and the schools so far is excellent. Both my husband and I are teaching in public schools, which are not only well organised, but very welcoming and helpful to new teachers as well. People have helped me out with so many things so far and I have found the whole process of getting here and settling in to be really smooth. I have heard that there are a lot of problems with private language academy owners and poor conditions for teachers. In this case I would thoroughly recommend getting a job in a public school.

  9. Anonymous

    I have been in Busan for 7 weeks after leaving a very boring and unsatisfying job in London. I am working in a public elementary school and from what I’ve heard from other people working in the academies I am extremely lucky. The academies give less time off and my school is actually closed for normal lessons for 12 weeks per year. With this in mind I will be doing a winter camp which I will be paid extra on top of my normal salary. This is one of the perks of being in a public school. If you decide to come here be prepared for the initial culture shock but don’t be put off by it. The people are really friendly most of the time and very willing to help in any way they can. Money for teaching is low compared to England but the cost of living here is so cheap. The beauty of working in Korea is that you can do all the things you want to do and still have money left at the end of the month to save. Now is definitely time to come here with the schools paying for your flights and accommodation for a year, I don’t think anywhere else in the world does that but feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. Overall I would say if you’re not happy doing what you’re doing now go for it!

  10. TW

    Korea is the best place to make money while teaching ESL. Unfortunately I see so many people here squander all of their money on drinking and partying every night of the week. You don’t have to party to have a good time in Korea. You can travel for very cheap, dine at good restaurants for prices a little better than US prices. Advice on picking a good school: Talk to one of the foreign teachers who already teach at your school. Get a VERY GOOD account of all aspects of daily teaching life that will be important to you, such as do you get paid on time, do you work a split shift (pain in the @$$), is there anything to do outside of work, are you close to public transportation, how is the residence? My school provided me a very comfortable residence and it’s very clean, my boss cares about her employees and takes care of us all whenever something goes wrong. In return, we have to be flexible with her. We stay late some nights, maybe once a month I’m at work from 9 am to 6 pm, then a school function til 8:30 pm then mandatory staff dinner and beers together until 11 pm. You have to be willing to scratch their back. A lot of schools and employers take advantage of foreigners. A lot of residences are terrible. But a lot of employers want to make this as easy as possible for you because that means making it easy for themselves, too, so do your homework and find a good school. Don’t rely on blacklists, etc. Talk to someone who works there. Talk to the person you are going to replace. If your potential school won’t provide you with that contact, move on. There are too many jobs available here to put up with that kind of nonsense. It’s SO WORTH IT to teach here.

  11. Lei

    Yes, the E2 visa is strict. You even have to take an HIV test, this is just wrong, would they ask tourists to do this?

  12. Sarah

    Ladies, my South Korean employer let me know that I didn’t dress conservatively enough (and that just means a v-neck sweater!). Be sure to pack some non-questionable clothes, especially if you’re not a small person. Korean sizes tend to be too small for some westerners, and you certainly need to think about bra and shoe sizes.

  13. Bummed in Korea

    Many of these people have said to ask questions before coming. Bare in mind that you will not get a straight answer. Koreans will do whatever it takes to get what they want. If they want you they will promise the world to you, only upon you arrival you will see not a single percentage of what was told holds true. I was told that my school had 6 other foreign teachers and we all would be living in the same apartment complex. However, not only did my school not have 6 other foreign teachers, I was the only and the first. I’m not going to say anything for my living arrangements, hey it’s a roof over my head, but it isn’t even close to the pictures they sent me. Don’t believe what people say about the pay, they will not pay you what they promise you. They won’t even pay you what it says in the contract you sign. There are so many loop holes along with no legal repercussions. My advice, if you aren’t going to be teaching in a Seoul public school, don’t go, find another country.

  14. Brandon

    I’ve been in Gwangju for 180 days today, and am ready to return home to the USA. My schools are good and my pay is regular; I have never had issue with those… it is my neighbors. I live in a very decent flat, but it is populated by Koreans who are all attempting to emulate the hard-partying frat lifestyle that I am told is actually very common here – stomping and screaming and careening around literally at all hours of the night. Between February and March I literally slept less than 2 hours a night, and became susceptible to hallucination. When I ask local police or my co-teachers for assistance, they ask around the building and report back to me that “[all of the other residents] say there is no problem,” and just walk away! Nope, can’t be the loud, drunk, inconsiderate locals… must be the foreign guy! Again, my school environment is generally ok, my pay has never been slighted and I live in a nice place, but am simply unable to function because of a lack of rest and no assistance for to acquire any. I will likely be returning home in a month or so as a consequence.

  15. Anonymous

    If you’re a recent university graduate, Korea is a great place to teach. You can pay off student loans, and still live a comfortable lifestyle. Hagwon’s (private academies) are extremely sketchy, and I would advise you to accept a position at your local McDonald’s before working at a private institute. As for the public school system, it can be worthwhile if you plan on only staying in Korea for a couple of years. It’s a shame that Korea’s public school system offers no real incentives for serious or qualified teachers. As you gain more experience and become more qualified, (ie: CELTA, TESOL, B.Ed, M.A etc..) the opportunities to find teaching jobs where the benefits are commensurate with one’s experience and qualifications are few and far between. Even with a teacher’s certificate and 10 years of ESL experience, you’ll almost never make more than 3 million won a month ($30 000 USD per year). If you do happen to make more than this, be sure to expect long working hours, very basic accommodation, and very little vacation time. Pretty insulting if you ask me (especially considering the fact that Korean “English teachers”, most of whom can barely speak 3 words of English, can expect to make about 5 million won per month with the exact same experience and qualifications. All in all, Korea’s a great place to teach for people who want to gain ESL experience, pay off student loans and party like a rock star. For those who are looking for a real teaching career, I’d suggest that you look for employment elsewhere.

  16. Anonymous

    I spent 18 months teaching in S Korea. It was my first teaching assignment outside the USA. Most of the children were wonderful. There is a language barrier outside areas like Seoul. Korean food is the norm (tasty but way too spicy). If you are anything but a small built foreigner then clothes and shoes will be a challenge to find. I have found that there are countries better than Korea to teach in. The food is way too spicy, the women not too friendly, and the cultural barriers too apparent. Of course there are exceptions, but they are the EXCEPTIONS!

  17. Sharron

    I have worked at both public schools, hagwons and at universities in Korea. Hagwons are the ones with the least amount of job security and continually look for ways to cut corners especially with their foreign staff. I have found that if a dispute occurs that the foreigner is usually painted as the bad guy irrespective of the issue. Public school has a certain amount of job security, but in saying that it is a year-by-year thing, if the school doesn’t get enough funding or the student numbers decrease then the likelihood is that you will lose your job. There is no such thing as a career for a foreign English Teacher in Korea, it is a year-by-year process. The only way you can make a career is by marrying a Korean and opening your own hagwon, but even that has its pitfalls. I would seriously recommend any first timers in Korea to thoroughly research any prospective hagwons before making the commitment of coming here. Public school and Universities are a lot more secure and generally follow the contract, even though the governing language is Korean.

  18. Natalie

    Working in Korea has drained my spirit and my health, my mental energy. I no longer have the will to keep going here. I’ve fallen under the worst spells of depression here. There’s a constant aggression in Korean society, lots of pushing and shoving, no personal space. Every time I get on a bus, or a cafe I feel like there are lots of loud, and inconsiderate people pushing to be first. In my workplace I have experienced this passive aggressive hostility, not being told it’s a holiday and finding an empty school, events and picture day being told to me the morning of – and many more instances. I’m leaving in a month and I’m so overwhelmed with all the stress here. I won’t have as money saved as I thought, and the social life here is horrible. The only options are going to the “noraebangs” (singing rooms), PC rooms, drink yourself silly, and drink some more. It’s not easy to meet people here, as the people here are very cold and unfriendly and unapproachable. Even if you manage to strike up a conversation it’s AWKWARD as hell. I’ve gotten lots of weird looks, and attitude, but I will admit there are some really cool and friendly Koreans, but it’s not that often that I meet someone who exudes warmth.

    The only reason I managed to get through my time here was that I found a boyfriend. But having friends? The ones I did make they left once their contract finished up! Be careful when you come hear, think about it, and realize it’s another dimension, and world out here. The weather is oppressively cold, it’s been 7 straight months of freezing, horrible temperatures. It never lets up summers are muggy, humid, cloudy from the dust (?) be prepared air quality is horrible. Health wise I lost motivation to be active, you might gain some weight if you’re not careful. Vegetables and fruits are expensive, unless you like eating pickled vegetables. Don’t come here if you’re expecting to run away from your problems back in your home country whether it’s economic, or personal problems. I see lots of foreign teachers walking around who look completely on edge and stressed, and are at the brink.

  19. Ervas

    I’ve only been here a month and already I want to quit. Hagwons just want to use you and will never help you. I came for the experience and not really for the money plus I stupidly believed everything my recruiter told me. So my working experience sucks and so does the money. My living experience is so-so (lol). My experience of teaching and working in South Korea is completely negative. I wish I had done more research before I came but I think most of what you learn you learn in Korea.

    On the flip side, Daejeon, where I live, is an interesting city and experiencing another culture is always rewarding and helps to build character etc. But having a shitty job and expending a lot of energy on getting your Hagwon to give you what they promised can quickly destroy any good feelings you may have towards where you live. My advice. Either find another country to teach in or research as much as you can before you come. And always get everything in writing and ask to speak to one of the foreign teachers already working there. Simply put…ask…ask and ask and don’t stop asking until they give you and answer or until you decide they aren’t going to give you an answer!

    AND OF PARAMOUNT IMPORTANCE…

    Don’t come for anything less than say 2.3 million won. It’s not worth it if you do.

  20. Pak Cho Dan

    Go public. My experience (thus far) has been at a hagwon. I know dozens of people at other hagwons and public schools, and those at public schools are generally happier. My sentiment (that is shared with many other teachers) is that I hate my job, but I love Korea. Korean people are fairly friendly and the culture reminds me a lot of the south. The food is delicious. People respect their elders (though foreigners are exempt no matter how old). Walk around during the day and you will find yourself surrounded by women. They never work. It is just baby after baby and pedicure after brunch after haircut. The women are constantly recovering from some sort of plastic surgery to look like the people you probably will be leaving behind. Don’t get me wrong, Korean women are gorgeous, but they are completely vain.

    Additionally, DO make sure you are close to the subway. There is nothing worse than spending time in the sticks. Tall stacks of singing rooms, pc rooms, chicken diners, pizza shops, gyms, and cafes (rarely with coffee) — none of which are interesting or house interesting people. Outside of university areas, no one speaks English. Even after studying English for years, most people can’t or won’t (usually won’t) speak English. They are so ashamed to speak English that they won’t even give you directions unless you beg. Humiliating, but Koreans beg like crazy. At first I thought it was just my students, but when I go out and meet people, they ALWAYS ask how much money I make or have and want me to buy them food.

    Now for the worst part: the school…

    I work at a private academy. The students take a placement test which without fail places them in the wrong class. Two students might be on the same level, but one has been studying for four years longer (and is basically slow and stupid). Highly motivated students are washed out by noisy, obnoxious, and disrespectful ones. I started teaching my second day. I had 6 classes. I was handed a book and told, “Teach this.” Some of my co-teachers cannot even speak enough English to tell me what they want me to do: “5 time” and a cryptic piece of paper is all I get. Students usually fall into 3 categories: (1) young, excited, and perfect, (2) disrespectful, or (3) exhausted. In the afternoon, I am usually babysitting tired middle schoolers. Anyone who has a basic understanding of psychology knows that children (i.e. little versions of people) respond to incentives. First of all, most hagwons have no grades. I won’t even go into how insane this is, but I’ll stop by saying grades are a motivator. I made up a few games, but only one or two were any good. My co-teachers did not give me any suggestions on how to keep the young students interested yet learning. Other foreign teachers were infinitely more helpful on the subject. Candy and stars (to earn candy) are sometimes decent incentives, but unless you are willing to have a half a dozen kids latch on to you or shove their book in your face every time you give out stars or candy, don’t do it. I usually give candy to my older students because if you look them in the eyes and strongly say no, they will stop begging.

    Homework is a joke. One of my teachers asks that I assign homework three times a week. Each day, one or two students comes to school with their homework done. I always tell the co-teacher who did and who did not do their homework and some days she chews them out in Korean (the only way to get a handful of homework sheets). There is an inexhaustible supply of whines from the students. I know that I am following horrible teachers because all of my students expect from day one to play hangman after 10 minutes. I shake my head and try my hardest to compete with hangman while helping them learn. What I cannot figure out is why my director insists on making me feel like I am a failure and I could lose my job at any moment. I replaced TWO very bad foreign teachers, but he still uses intimidation to get me to work as hard as possible.

    The culture of Korea is well worth taking note of and the people are generally friendly. There is plenty to do on Saturday night in Seoul. My recommendation, however, is that you insist on teaching at a public school (day work). DO NOT be the only teacher. You may think you can handle it (and you probably can), but it is not worth leaving all of your friends to spend half of your weeknights alone. You will get NO help from your Korean co-teachers and have to rely on the internet for entertainment, knowledge, communication, etc. and live an utterly sedentary lifestyle.

  21. Sam

    Yes living in another culture is hard, what made you think it wouldn’t be? So you had some bad experiences. Why would you fill this post with scaremongering rubbish advising people against coming? Surely you must realise that your solely negative views on South Korea are the minority? Did you think that everything was going to be a bed of roses, your co teachers or other members of staff carrying you through like you were the most important and best thing that’s happened to them and the school? Just because your high and mighty expectations were dashed you have no right to spew opinionated bile in order to deny people the experience you clearly craved and didn’t get because of a mixture of bad luck and not knowing how to effectively navigate sticky situations through applying common sense.

    Let’s be clear. You are not important. You are an employee, that is all. Not a superstar, not the best thing since sliced bread, a regular (bottom ranking) foreigner, somebody who might be seen as a hindrance if you do not understand Korean, somebody who may need looking after (a hassle in their already busy and stressful lives).

    This is not a bad thing depending on how you deal with it, but it seems many of you were deluded in what your status would be when you applied for the work, that you would sweep in and everyone will fall at your feet. Did you think about first impressions? Did you bring a gift for your employer and staff? Even small tokens go a long way. I doubt the thought crossed your mind though.

    Build bridges as soon as you arrive. Research the culture not just the job. A lot of the comments made in previous posts lack any sympathy or understanding of Korean culture, if you do your homework things won’t be so tough. Remember you are in their culture so be mindful to respect it and adapt to it, even gestures towards making the effort, even if you make a mistake, are seen as an effort made and are greatly appreciated, rather than being completely ignorant of them. Somethings you may dislike or not agree with. Some advice. Swallow your pride, attitude, opinions and preconceptions and go with the flow. It makes things so much easy than fighting it, which in turn will make you miserable (such as some of the people posting in this thread)

    So you had trouble making friends? My guess is you didn’t try hard enough, you expected friends to come to you instead of being proactive and getting out there. I am particularly annoyed by the xenophobic comments made by people in this thread that are bordering on the outright racist, clustering a whole nation of people through their own warped vision and pathetically self absorbed outlook on life… Vincent, I’m looking at you mate, you sound like a dislikeable individual, childish, bemoaning and incredibly petty. I can understand frustration at your school, if it’s all true it sounds horrible, but I have had horrible jobs back home, constantly abused and frustrated by members of staff and customers but it’s work, you find the positive aspects of it and do not dwell on the negatives, your work should not dictate your life. You sound like a dweller. A massive dweller. Dwellers shouldn’t be listened to, they should be ignored. And to the comment made about the food being too spicy, a comment made to deter people from working in South Korea, I say you are an idiot. It’s not too spicy it’s too spicy for you, not everyone else just you, it’s an opinion not a fact and in no way helpful.

    Please do not be put off by all these people fractured and distorted experiences, it’s just a view, their view point and how they have interpreted certain situations – it is not concrete. I’m working in a public school in Masan and yes certain aspects have been very hard. Making friends is a tricky one, what you need to do is find a common interest (music/film etc) use the internet and find people. This is what I have done and it has worked a treat. You really need to put yourself out there, it is very easy to find yourself sitting at home alone, feeling sorry for yourself, thinking why haven’t I made any friends. Remember you came out here on your own, there isn’t anybody waiting for you, you need to go and find them!

  22. Paul

    Thanks Sam! I am “between careers” and figured a year in Korea might be a great experience. After reading all these negative posts u was having second thoughts. I’ve actually been there (3 times!) but only for short stays, though enough to get some idea of the kind of hardships that one could face out there. Seriously though, these posters really make it sound like an oppressive 3rd world dictatorship, which it wasn’t by any standards. Koreans I met were great for the most part, loved meeting foreigners and went (often overwhelmingly) out of their way to make me feel welcome. That’s of course once they know you. It does sound a bit like some of the posters here were expecting special treatment or something? Having said all that though, I know enough about the place to believe that doing your homework and finding a good employer will make a HUGE difference.

    PS you sound British? I’m Irish. Kind of hoping to find the odd Irish and Brit knocking about… might soften the culture shock a bit when I’m getting homesick :)

  23. Rowdy

    I lived in South Korea a few years back in a city called Ulsan and I’d have to agree with a lot of the negative stuff I’ve read here, even though I was lucky in that I could sort of pass as a Korean (half white and half Native American). Of course this caused problems of a different sort.

    For example I was with a male friend (from New Zealand) shopping at a department store in downtown Ulsan when out of the blue a Korean man started yelling at my friend and then tried to pick a fight with him. Neither me or my friend could speak Korean and didn’t know what his problem was. The Korean man only stopped when I tried to calm my friend down and the Korean guy heard me speak. I now know it was because he thought I was a Korean woman out with a foreigner, something strongly looked down upon I guess.

    Overall I found South Koreans extremely passive aggressive and totally adverse to being honest. They will lie all the time but as I understand it now, it’s done to keep things running smoothly in the moment. Only later do you realize you need to learn to read between the lines or be prepared to get the cold shoulder (or stink eye) and have no clue what it’s about until you’re pulled into a room and chewed out.

    The children are adorable though and really want to learn (except the exhausted ones who try to sleep in class).

  24. Paddy

    Hmmm, I see strange and shocking views here. I am wondering am I in the right country. I’m in a public school and I know I’ve been here a short while but I’ve been helped every step of the way. Yes i agree i will have shit days but I didn’t think it was this bad. Yes, private schools, I have heard, are bad but I can’t find any problems bar the bus drivers they are crazy. Sorry for you guys who seem to have hit a bad note maybe i was one of a small lucky few by the sounds of it.

  25. Meg

    I agree with the so-called “negative” posters. We are not negative, we are just observant. I am sick of the racism I deal with on a daily basis. I’m sick of the passive-aggression of the teachers I work with. Overall, my apartment isn’t bad (but I hear that’s rare), and the director himself is nice enough, except that he takes pictures of me when I’m not looking with his phone, and doesn’t mind his own business…oh and makes fun of me for every non-Korean thing I do.

    I do all right with the children, although I teach directly from a book (God forbid I do something that’s not directly from the book). I am the only foreign teacher at my hagwon, and the Korean teachers are just assholes to me. Everything I do is wrong (except my teaching, my teaching is “excellent”… what the hell else should matter?), from keeping my door open or shut, from being too hard on the kids to not being hard enough, they constantly contradict themselves with insults.

    Overall, if you have a really thick skin, and left a very shitty situation at home, Korea will not seem that bad. Otherwise, really really really think it through…a year is a long time…longer than you realize. Just pick another country.

  26. Need help

    I’m not on here to give advice but instead looking for some guidance. You guys seem to be pretty active on this blog I thought i’d throw out some questions. I have had a few interviews over the last few weeks and I got rejected first because of my ethnicity and then due to religion (Bizarre, I know!!!) I mean this itself has been quite discouraging but then yesterday my recruiter called and said I got a job offer in Chang-dong, Seoul for a private school: Plus Academy. Has anyone heard about it? Not sure if I should go for it, any thoughts? suggestions? Anything would be helpful at this point. Thanks!

  27. Matt

    South Korea was great for me for my year teaching there. Private schools get almost NO vacation during the year, which can be very hard, but the classes were very good and the students were well behaved, hard-working, and fun. The public schools get more vacation but the classes can be harder to manage and seem to have less serious curriculum (I did not teach public, that is just what I have gathered from talking to others). Either way, I have talked to people who loved both of them. The country is good. It has great festivals, great transportation, and lots of stuff to do. Keep an eye on travel groups and the tourist websites for lots of stuff all the time. Many foreigners love it and don’t want to leave after a year. I can’t blame em’; life is easy there. =)

  28. Hannah

    Geez. I’m about to go public with my own bad experience in South Korea. Generally, I try to keep it in and put on a smiling face.

    I’ve taught in South Korea before. This is my fourth year. I have my MA degree. My first year was at a hagwon, my second two at a university, and my fourth was at a hagwon. I stupidly thought that taking another hagwon position after being at a uni would be a great experience–a chance to teach children again and to whip my butt into gear after cushy uni positions of 12-16 teaching hours a week. Wrong. It’s been a nightmare. The curriculum is a disaster. We use American textbooks and it’s a reading/writing based curriculum. No—I repeat—no ESL certified instructor would ever recommend such a boring curriculum for elementary and middle school kids. As a result, they’ve been less than engaged in the classroom setting. On top of it, the director has been generally unpleasant and unsupportive. Like other posters on here, I’ve received contradictory comments from her regarding my teaching, including that I was “too nice to the kids” and yet “too severe.” What I found to be the most offensive, as well as the most persistent, was when she’s said that “You purpose here is not to educate students. The Korean teachers do that. Your purpose here is to entertain students.” What makes this whole situation extremely difficult is the fact that, without order in the classroom, students descend into chaos. In my worst classes, students swear at me in Korean and have taken out their exacto blades to pretend-stab each other. When this occurs, I establish order. And of course, the kids complain that I’m no fun when they’re not allowed to swear and defile the classroom. The kids know what’s going on, and the milk the situation. When I tried to catch kids attention and get them to stop shooting pieces of lead onto the ceiling (using a contraption made from their lead dispenser and glue) one student actually had the nerve to say to me, “Teacher, we pay money to be here. Why? We should have fun.” It just feels like a no-win situation between keeping the kids happy so they won’t complain to their parents and making sure the classroom is safe and learning is occurring.

    After six months of intense anxiety over the situation, I gave my resignation. I would have pulled a midnight run and had considered it, but she had all my references and my job history, and I was afraid she’d call them all to complain I’d left high and dry. Although my contract stated that I needed to only give 30 days notice, she demanded 60 days, a step down from the 90 day demand. She threatened to contact my recruiter unless I did. The implicit threat was that the recruiter would attempt to make me pay their recruitment fee (a thousand dollars), even though my contract stated nothing of that nature.

    As it is now, I’m counting down the final days–I have five more weeks. It’s been a hellish experience and I can only hope my director honors her agreement to pay me my final paycheck in cash, especially since I’m leaving the country two days after I finish, and legally cannot fight for my paycheck once I’m outside of the country.

    In short, if I knew what I knew now about hagwons, I never would have taken the job. I believe much of my trouble had to do with the fact that her hagwon is struggling financially. I also found out that if hagwon directors want to screw you out of money, it’s very easy for them to do so, and it can be very hard to seek redress.

    I was fortunate with my first hagwon–it was run extremely well and the administration was supportive. AND THE CURRICULUM WAS TOP NOTCH. They had great textbooks and resources for me to use at my convenience. I’ve found out the hard way that teaching really sucks when you’re deprived of those things.

    I can’t tell you how happy I will be when it’s finally over.

  29. Lisa

    My experience in Korea was FANTASTIC! I can’t believe how many people have written here that teaching in Korea is awful! I worked at a private Hogwon (just outside Seoul) and my co-workers and bosses were always respectful, paid me on time (even in advance if when I asked a couple times), and were always very reasonable and always fair. I worked hard and had fairly long hours 10-7 but showed up at 9:30, and it was tiring but rewarding.

    Some people have posted comments like “don’t come to teach in Korea”, “it’s awful and they won’t pay you on time” meanwhile these people state they worked at one school…there are bad schools out there just like there are bad managers in Western countries!!! Take everything people on here write with a grain of salt. I’m TESOL certified and actually teach TESOL courses, and have worked in other Asian countries too. Living in Asia is not for everything and I think some of the people on here have just not adjusted well in Asia.

    Before signing a contract talk to teachers at the school and listen to what they have to say. Not all schools are bad, in fact, there are many great opportunities out there!

    P.S. it is not hard to meet in Korea at all!!! There are great programs such as “Adventure Korea” that organize big trips every month. I would say it was definitely easier to meet people and make friends in Korea than in Japan! Be open-minded and enjoy the country! It’s a beautiful one and the people can be the most amazing people you’ve ever met as long as YOU are respectful of their culture.

  30. Olivia

    My partner and I worked in a well known hagwon in Gwangju for three months. We worked our tails off teaching 8 lessons in a row, then a one hour private every day. Coming home exhausted to a cramped apartment that we both shared. After 3 months we were fired without much explanation because a couple of parents complained (we were teaching over 100 kids each week). I still consider this a good academy because we were paid, and they gave us a release letter and I didn’t come on this forum to complain. Rather to express how surprised I am.

    We are now working in a public school near the DMZ. The people here are so friendly, work is so relaxed and easy going. I am actually being paid more money for working less hours. Also we now get to live in a proper apartment which is warm and has 2 spare rooms. The faculty have also been very nice taking us out for lots of meals.

    I guess it just goes to show, that there are good academies and there are bad academies. You hear the horror stories, but it doesn’t mean that all schools in Korea are bad. Public schools are safer and generally treat teachers a lot better than hagwons which are just there to make money.

  31. Runner

    Koreans are great in general and you ought to come here with a open heart and mind… Complaining about Korean society and work conditions ultimately leads no-where and in the end, you’re not a slave – if miserable just go home! One shouldn’t see teaching English here as a career choice. This is a one or two year life experiment at best…I’ve been here for three years and while my experiences have been mostly good – I’m now at a point where I can see that while teaching English in Korea can be very exciting and interesting – it’s ultimately a dead end job for about 95% of the foreigners living here. Hogwans are a joke. Increasingly they are becoming more “corporate”…insisting on teaching boring standardized lesson plans that leave any “real teacher” feeling more like a cold and impersonal robot. Students are bored because most want to “make a good relationship with a foreigner,” while teachers are beholden the heartless, stringent ways of “the system.”

    Public schools are a little better in that you get more money, vacation days and often a better apartment – but you’ll be teaching classes of 40 to 50 kids with mixed levels…also you’ll most likely have zero help from your co-teacher. You’ll also most likely have no books or workbooks – which basically means you’ll be reduced to circus clown status – always running around acting like a fool – trying to get the students to notice you – In a public school you might be the only foreigner so you’ll be seen a freak by everyone – students and teachers alike…you will NEVER be treated as an equal to the other Korean teachers. Partly, because – well – honestly YOU’RE NOT! Are you a licensed teacher? Do you have credentials of any kind? – So basically most Korean teachers think that you even being in the classroom at all is unethical and at the very least unprofessional…I can’t say that I disagree with them totally…but still the second class treatment with all the ‘secrets’ and occasional outright lies is a little much. By the way “co-teacher” in Korea really means “back-stabbing – totally vindictive -crazy bitch spy.” – you think I’m kidding??

    My advice to newbies is to ask questions before signing a contract…ask everything to the point where you feel like you’re being ridiculous and rude. Talk to other foreigners at the school before making any decisions. On the phone, always ask – ‘so what’s the worst part of teaching at your school?’ ‘what really sucks about it?’ If you get any attitude or avoidance about a question like this – you can assume it’s a hellish nightmare of a place…steer clear.

  32. Phil

    I came to a small struggling Hogwon in Daejeon. The director was a housewife who devoted her life to raising 5 kids, and sending each to America. She however can barely speak English and the culture circumstances are similar to other negative postings. My living situation is a bit shabby, but tolerable, and she certainly wants to focus on her own interests and not mine. But I came on a 5 month contract with my fingers crossed, ready to tough it out no matter the circumstance. I even help solicit new students for them in front of the public schools. I have freedom to teach and entertain kids pretty much as I want, and often need to tell her “no”, and demand action against unruly kids. And I do. I’ve never taught, but teach as I see fit with the materials that are available. I figured out how to get here without a recruiter, and can care less about minor hassles. With this attitude, things are great, people are great, and the experience is great.

  33. Stash

    I worked at hogwans (private schools) for over 4 years in Korea. I experienced the good and the bad. What most people fail to understand is that Korea is a society of extremes. It is either black or white/good or bad. There is no gray area. Your experience will be overwhelmingly great or miserably poor. I have experienced both. I once worked for a small country school that went through a staff change and in the toilet overnight. I have just as many bad stories of horrid magnitude as anyone else. My advice to anyone is work ONLY 1 year. DO NOT under any circumstance sign a new contract at a school you have worked at for a year. Schools are always afraid that you might pull a “midnight run” during your first year. They will treat you well until you sign the contract for the second year. Then they start treating you like crap because they know you are in it for the long haul. And you will never be a part of Korean culture. Women will hang around you but it’s only because they want free English lessons and it’s”chic” to be seen with a foreigner. You will soon realize that you aren’t any better than one of those ridiculous looking pink poodles they drag around on a leash.

  34. Ken

    From my view, as a individual who trained and received a degree to teach, specifically ESL. I am disappointed at the job prospects in Korea, among other countries. The concept that you will earn a decent wage is not true. According to the other major nations your not making much. In fact a barista working full time at Starbucks in the US will make more than you. If you just want a place to stay, a little pocket change and save A LITTLE. Then teach in Korea. (For a decent position, with no dependents and no rent, saving anything under 10k in a year isn’t saving much. That’s walmart money.) (Not to mention the difficulties of switching jobs if you are unhappy.)

    From a strictly monetary point of view, as an option work and make money. If your willing to work hard and delicate you time. There are other jobs out there.

    As for the social interactions. I have lived in other Asian countries and I am no stranger to xenophobia. Keep in mind that any exclusion you experience should be expected. You don’t speak their language, your mannerism are most likely obscure and irritating to the teachers. They are there to work, not make you feel good and welcome. They see a new foreign teacher almost every 6 months to a year. Your not special.

    That being said. Experiences from two different schools has been abhorrent. As a person you worked in a professional setting. Being belittled and disrespected is not acceptable in a decent workplace. And you will commonly experience this. From being excluded from all school activities and information to finding your contract details of vacation times and other parts to be untrue. If you want anything done, you will have to wait for someone to take care of it, since most likely you will not be able to do it on your own. At least not very well.

    My advice in the social department: Be aggressive. If you need help or need anything most likely you will have to do everything short of tugging on someones ear to get things done. There have been times where I have had to physically nudge teachers out of their chair. And always double check. It’s a wild gamble whether someone will follow through or if they are just saying “yes” because, A: they don’t want to. or B: they don’t understand you.

    I don’t believe I will return here unless it is as a college professor with an acceptable pay grade.

  35. Matt

    I’ve worked here for nearly two years and I love it. I’m writing this from my dinky little place in Gwangju at 10:45pm on the first day of summer. The kids are sweet (most of them) and it’s an easy lifestyle that sees you handsomely paid–considering you get your place and your flight paid for. So my advice, come here with an open mind and an adaptable personality and you’ll do fine.

  36. Anonymous

    I had a fantastic time in South Korea. I was in a smallish city in the south of the country. I adored my time there. However, in large part this was due to me being VERY lucky with the hagwon job I got. My boss and colleagues were incredibly helpful and professional. The teachers were backed up over troublesome students. We were paid on time, and our apartments were small, but well-maintained.

    As I said, I was lucky. I had plenty of friends working in hagwons who had crappy jobs and crappy bosses. Even so, they still loved their time in Jinju. Yes, there were plenty of Korean customs that made no sense to us, and there were times when we were clearly being discriminated against because we were foreign. BUT… I didn’t go to Korea to have the same experiences I do here in the West. I went to Korea precisely because it is a different culture. I went with no expectations, so I was never disappointed.

    I generally found the locals to be helpful and friendly. Yeah, the spitting was fricking disgusting, the trash everywhere too. Yeah, getting told to shush by ajummas because my friends and I were talking too loudly was a pain in the arse… but so what? shut up, or tlak more loudly. You can get away with a lot of stuff if you’re a waygookin. There are more advantages than disadvantages, at least in my experience. The locals would try to help you if you looked lost or got stuck at cashpoints, etc. We often got discounts at places simply because we were foreign. If we brought new people to certain restaurants and bars, we’d get free stuff for introducing new customers. And if ever we made a faux pas, or did something wrong, then the “I’m sorry, I’m a stupid waygook’ would go a long way.

    I would say that if you’re thinking about teaching in Korea, research carefully. Ask your prospective employer for a current NET’s email address, so you can talk to them. Look for city pages on Facebook – often the foreigner community has its own group. Use these to find out about schools, the city, etc. Don’t expect to be treated like a king or queen. People may complain about how they can be treated as second-class citizens – but how are immigrants treated in your own country? Much the same, in general – and remember, not everyone will treat you that way. Try to find out about Korean customs and etiquette before you go. You won’t get it right all the time, but at least be aware of what is considered polite or rude. And finally, learn to read Hangeul. You may not understand the content, but just knowing you can read it is very comforting in those first few shell-shocked weeks.

    Above all, have no expectations, and you won’t be disappointed. Korea is a wonderful, contradictory, frustrating, amazing place.

  37. Lili

    I do NOT advise you come to South Korea, they hold up a facade that they are a developed clean and progressive nation, just look at the k-dramas and music videos showing pristine high streets, modern spotless houses and a generally upbeat lifestyle. I spent a year here teaching near Busan. I am a girl in her mid 20’s from the UK, in my time here I was not only emotionally and verbally abused by my director each day. I was given kids to deal with who had no place in a classroom with other kids (violent, aggressive, sullen and some with learning difficulties who had no extra support) The school was cheap and stingy- do not put me off as a bad story, everyone will tell you how they cut costs by pirating activities from websites and publishing them and selling them for mass profit, ripping songs and audio from youtube and selling it as a comprehensive CD… it goes on.

    My life in school was hell, but day to day life in Korea was even worse. It was practically every day that i was harassed by leery old men asking me if I were “Russian” because in Korea there are underage Russian prostitutes EVERYWHERE, seriously brothel posters line the streets wherever you go. A taxi driver once drove me to a side street and started shoving money into my hand again asking me if I were Russian and I had to jump out of the vehicle and run away. I was indecently exposed to several times by perverts who lurk about bus stops at all hours. I was physically dragged into a nightclub by three Korean guys and shoved into a room with a bunch of dirty old businessmen who had paid them to bring them a foreigner girl. I would look up in cafes minding my own business and see people take photos of me with their phones- maybe that sounds “charming” but it makes you so paranoid.

    Culturally too it is so backwards, there is strong racism and xenophobia, a really childish contempt towards the Japanese, adultery is rife, and domestic violence is tolerated to an appalling extent. I was once on a subway train in Busan and a boyfriend seized his girlfriend by the hair ans cracked her hard across the face four times. There were mums and kids… businessmen… university students on the train and nobody did a thing.

    They despise creativity, a kids mother complained about me because my homework paper was too decorated (with some fruit clip art…?)

    They love homogeny. There is a lot of debt because they HAVE to have the up to date gadgets and clothing or they fear being outcast.

    The free airfare and housing is tempting but it is not worth it! As a “foreigner” you have no rights, you will be mocked and abused by those around to, lied to and exploited. I still wake up having nightmares from my experiences.

  38. Andrew

    I was working in a small middle school in Gangwon Province. There were ten sick days provided for in my contract.

    Three months in, I contracted a bad case of pink-eye (conjunctivitis) despite my best cautious efforts to avoid it. This happens a lot among the kids because of bathroom sanitation: only cold water, no paper towels (or only one cloth towel which all kids share and is left there for a week or so), little or no toilet paper.

    Pink eye is VERY contagious. The Korean doctor who examined me told my school that I could not resume teaching until the infection cleared up, and this took a full two weeks. All of the teachers saw my eyes yet accused me of being “lazy” by not working. I was still paid, however.

    Shortly after I returned to the classroom, a female co-teacher in another school I worked at (who was the most upset at my absence those two weeks) suddenly accused me in front of class of cussing in the cafeteria two months previously, before I had to deal with the pink eye. Every time I started to teach, she interrupted and said “why you cuss?” VERY unprofessional, and she had been a teacher for 25 years!

    Since I was getting nowhere, I told her she could teach the class that day, and I would wait to discuss the matter calmly with her away from the students. Then I left the classroom, and she slammed the door behind me.

    She complained about me, called me “lazy” and more, and needless to say, my contract did not get renewed.

    Koreans, even middle-aged, can be extremely childish if they don’t get what they want, and they NEVER apologize to a Westerner, probably not to each other either. That face-saving element of their culture causes a lot of this.

    Unless you are what they really seek (preferences are female over male, Canadian over American and BOTH over other nationalities, slim over heavy, blond over brown hair), in short, what THEY think the stereotypical English teacher should look like, don’t go. You are in for a lot of emotional pain.

    Two years after I left that job, I came back to the places where I’d taught, and the Korean supervisor of education for that district refused to even speak to me and acted like a total prick. They don’t forgive either, but I had nothing to be forgiven for.

  39. Jin

    umm, Korea- a wonderfully warm fun experience with the flip side of crazy-adventurous STRESSFUL work environments while other schools are decent. Depending on where you land it’s a dime a dozen. Fantastic if you can understand the culture and OK if you can handle some long hours. I found Seoul to be expensive it was hard to save. Other areas are better to save but seem to lack infrastructure.

  40. Charles

    I’ve been teaching English in Korea for over three years — one year in a hakwon and the past two in a public school. It’s been an interesting experience for the most part. There have been good moments and bad, but I would say it’s been positive for the most part.

    I’ve enjoyed working at the public school more than the hakwon. The pay is about the same but the benefits are better at the public school. I’m a gyopo (Korean-American) which presented a different kind of a challenge. Many people, even my co-workers at school sometimes think I’m one of them. They would start speaking to me in Korean and oftentimes greet me in Korean. Apparently they assume I understand everything they say. I would say my Korean is decent, not great. But I try not to use it at school for obvious reasons. I definitely want them to understand that I’m a native English teacher. which I am I don’t mind being different as long as they treat me with respect. But what’s weird is that there are times when I feel like I’m being treated like one of them instead of like a foreigner. I guess that comes with the territory.

    I grew up in the US so my understanding of the Korean culture was limited. But what little I knew was helpful. What really helped my transition to Korea was having a Korean girlfriend. I knew her for two years prior to my relocation. I was looking for a change, wanted some experience teaching, and get in touch with my Korean roots while being closer to my girlfriend. In the end, it wasn’t a difficult decision. I ended up marrying my girlfriend during my first year in Korea. In fact, we’re expecting our first child any day now. I’m excited and looking forward to being a daddy (except maybe when I have to change diapers and stuff). Having a partner who is a lot more familiar with the language and culture here definitely is a plus. I’ve learned a great deal from her, and likewise, she’d tell you she’s learned a lot from me. So it’s been a great give and take, but we’ve had our ups and downs like any couple in the first few years. Teaching in Korea has been an adventure and a great learning experience for me. I just renewed my contract for the second time, so I’ll be here for another year but we’ll see after that. I definitely think you should do your homework before making the move. And think carefully whether you really want to teach English in a country that might be vastly different from yours. If you decide to come, do so with an open mind and plenty of patience because not every thing might go your way.

  41. The Canadian

    My 2 cents… Some people come to Korea and have a fantastic time…some people come to Korea and have an alright time…some people come to Korea and have a terrible time. Korean culture IS very different from Western Culture, and much of what has been discussed in the previous posts is no doubt true to a certain extent. That being said, everyone’s experience WILL be different. You are in a much better position to succeed if you do a lot of research prior to your departure. They’re are so many things to take into consideration prior to your departure. Public or Private? Big city or small? The number of foreign teachers at your school? The schools reputation? Just remember this, my experience in Korea was at best, OK. That being said, If I could go back I would not change a thing about my time over there. My boss WAS a maniac, we worked up to TEN classes a day, the kids were disrespectful to almost ALL the foreign teachers, but that is seeing only one side of the coin. I was exposed and learned a great deal about another culture. I met some incredible friends. I was able to travel abroad to Thailand, Cambodia, etc. In short, for better or for worse I had a once in lifetime opportunity and did all that I could to make the best of the situation. It was without a doubt, and still remains, despite the bullshit, one of the best times in my life. So don’t worry about what others have to say, decide based on how you feel, because going abroad is not necessarily for everyone, then again, you’ll never know unless you try…hint hint

  42. Varius

    I came with an open mind. I worked the day I got off the plane even though I was exhausted and had been promised weeks of training. I was payed on time but my contract was broken constantly. I was told I’d teach less than 30 classes a week. I teach in the 40’s now. They lie about everything. They lie because it suits them and there’s nothing you can do about it. You can have it in black and white written down and they’ll tell you it was a mistake or a mistranslation. They’re the most irrational frustrating people I’ve ever met in my life. Childish doesn’t even begin to describe it. They screw you over for money any chance they get, they treat you like a slave.

  43. Anonymous

    I’ve actually been looking at this site to get ideas about working in other countries so I wanted to compare what people are saying about South Korea and feel I must have my say.

    I’ve been living here in Korea (in Busan) for nearly 2 years so have a little experience in giving feedback on working and living here. I agree you MUST be really careful if you work for a private institute as they have a reputation of ripping teachers off (some are good however). Public school is better because you have some kind of back up but it really depends on your school and co workers. My first year was hell but mainly because I didn’t have nice co teachers, I was living in a cupboard and I was reluctant to “settle my mind” into the fact Korea was my home or at least for the next 2 or so years. Once you embrace that Korea is your home and live in the moment and not think in the past i.e. about home; it’ll be so much easier to live here.

    This year I still work for EPIK but actually live in a real apartment, good area, great co workers and I really enjoy my job. I mainly have Koreans as friends so it’s pretty easy to make local friends here. It has all mod cons, lots of western influence, and foreigner friendly information. Yes English still isn’t spoken widely but you can still get by and Korean isn’t impossible to learn. You can’t get home brands so easily but they are starting to come in and even western clothes size choices are getting better.

    Korea is rapidly changing but culturally still a little set in its way. The thing that most annoys me about here is the cultural habits such as not wanting to give negative information so they lie to protect your feelings. This is especially bad both in work and personal life as how do you build trust? Also manners are an issue, they believe if you haven’t been formally introduced you are a “none person”. This means that an innocent walk down the street, casual shopping spree or taking the bus turns into a rugby tackling match. Be prepared to be pushed and shoved without a care in the world, it’s just normal to do that here. Also if you’re at a bank in the middle of an important transaction, don’t mind if someone just cuts in and starts giving the clerk their own business to deal with, it’s just normal to do that here. I do sometime get totally shocked though when some says excuse me when passing, or sorry if they bumped into me.. there is occasional hope.

    Basically to me, surviving in Korea means this: Be respectful, don’t forget yourself and who you are, go with the flow, live in the moment. Don’t dwell on things too much. Many people come here to travel and earn a little money. WRONG! Remember you are here because of a job offer so work hard and then play afterwards. We foreigners have got a bad reputation mainly from the poor behaviour of passed teachers. If you want to get healthy, save some money, get some teaching experience, have a job, travel to exotic destinations during your holidays, lose weight, try new things like water sports or something then Korea is a good place to do that.

  44. Anonymous

    “Your purpose here is not to educate students. The Korean teachers do that. Your purpose here is to entertain students.”

    That’s about it. People will say Korea is a “mixed bag”. They are right. The public is both friendly and not friendly. Your apartment will either have no problems, or a few (but critical), or a lot. The culture of Korea is OK in my opinion.

    Where my problem lies is how Korea deals with its foreign English Teachers. They have no clue on how to utilize us in the classroom because:

    1. The books are out of date, full of errors or culturally incorrect views on western life (maybe a mix of both), and not geared towards learning the language from a practical standpoint (mixing lessons-no practical speaking sections buildup, lack of verbs taught, no section based on sentence structure with known problems that Korean students make)there is no back up book to use. You can bring in your own books, but with the students’ level being beginner/intermediate,it would take a very long time formulating a proper lesson plan for them to use, when all you have is a year to work with them, if you can renew your contract and if the co-teachers use what you’re doing to reinforce learning, which is rare.

    2. With the lack of proper speaking sections within the book, teachers still want you to teach from the book (as means to give proper pronunciation of words, but learning English is more than just pronouncing words correctly; it’s about knowing the words basic function, what it means, how to use it in a sentence, and when to use it in a sentence (by situation) ) which perpetuates the students to stay at their current English levels.

    3. Without book use, the teachers mainly want you to be an entertainer, or “edutainer” as they like to call it. I can understand about using fun things within the classroom to promote learning, but what they want you to go with is Bingo, Scrabble, Taboo, and if that’s all you have to go with for your lesson planning..then you’re stuck. As said previously, you can bring your own books and form your own lesson plan, but you better hope that the co-teachers go along with it (they can’t because they have to teach the textbook) or else it’s wasted effort.

    Think about it. If the book is in Korean, the Korean teacher teaches their sections of the book, you teach yours, how are you (as well as them) improving on their English ability? Now say you don’t use the book because they want you to teach them freely, but they still have to teach the textbook because the students are tested on it, how is what you’re doing improving on their English? They would be more concerned with their upcoming tests.

    So if the first scenario has a high possibility of the students not improving on their English, and the second scenario has the same possibility; what value do you have as an English teacher in Korea?

    You don’t have much value. Now on the bright side, as of now they are trying to figure out how to use foreign English teachers in the classroom. There’s still some problems with this, but hopefully over time, what they are trying to do will replace the current method used because it obviously hasn’t improved knowledge of the English language on a societal level. But the obstacle that’s in the way of this becoming “of use” is the public weary of having foreigner’s in control of anything. This may be due to xenophobia, high nationalism, or even hierarchy.

    We, unfortunately know what needs to be taught in English, but if they don’t want to utilize us properly you will be expected to, “entertain the students”. That’s what one co-teacher said to me, and that’s what another co-teacher said to their English teacher.

    So what can you do? You can either take everything in stride and get what you need to get out of this country, not care, do something about it, or leave. Most people do leave eventually. Some people leave because they gotten everything, and some because they were frustrated.

    Some people stay for 1 year, 2. Some even stay for 8 or 10! If you’re able to find a good school, able to roll with the punches, or become very nonchalant about everything, having a good experience in Korea can happen. In my opinion, if you want to shoot the breeze, this place is great; but if you want to make teaching English a career..I would think about going to another place first before coming. You won’t be utilized as of right now and you would feel unsatisfied with the job.

  45. Thomas

    I completed my one year contract and left Korea. I’m Korean American, but came here late enough that my Korean is fluent and adjusting to Korean life was not a huge issue. Teaching English to 30+ kids with different set of English skill sets, however, was humbling and eye-opening. At the same time, the kids were the ones who kept me going and pushed me to be better everyday. I miss them.

    My main reason for coming to Korea was to be closer to a woman I cared about. Foolish, but I pulled the trigger and just went with it. It didn’t work out for us in the end, but I experienced a great journey and now have many, many memories to cherish for the rest of my life. Some bad, good, sad, painful, frustrating and downright insane. I can even laugh about my worst moments and days during my 1 year working holiday.

    Life is short. If you want to come out to Korea, find out for yourself. You can research, ask questions, research some more and ponder. In the end, you have to decide. Do it or not. That’s up to you. And it’s your life. As long as you won’t look back and regret, you’ll be richer for simply acting on it and giving it a shot.

    For those of you who are considering coming here, all the best. For all my fellow ESL “entertainers/teachers,” hang in there and all the best.

  46. new Canadian

    I have been teaching at a public school in Incheon for 3 months. Moving to Incheon seemed okay until I found out my neighbourhood is a racy ghetto for the mafia…or so it seems. There is no way the amount of noise on the streets after midnight would “fly” in Toronto, my home town.They just don’t care about whether the neighbours can sleep or not. The cops make a lot of noise at night with sirens, megaphone or speakers. I am serious. The cops apparently don’t carry guns here so they shout at people with some speaker system. I solved the problem by duct taping a blanket to my apartment window to reduce the noise pollution.You gotta be able to sleep!

    School is good for the most part. Cafeteria food is good. Principal is good. Kids are great but some are wild, treat foreign teacher like he is a big toy or polar bear..fascinated with blonde hair on my hands..no understanding of personal boundaries..I have to set them regularly. My co-teachers are okay but my main co-teacher is sometimes annoying..he set me up with a smartphone about 1.5 months into my stay in Incheon after I really bugged him after repeatedly failing to keep his promise to get me one…it felt like he didn’t care. You have to get used to being a foreigner. That is easier said than done.

    Here is a biggie…BE CAREFUL IN TRAFFIC…DO NOT TRUST MOTORISTS HERE…they go through red lights regularly. I got hit by a motorcycle in Seoul….he got charged for running a red. I was surprised that I didn’t break a single bone. I have recovered. I am SO careful now….taxis and motorcycles are the main rebels…lawbreakers. They need justice here. Cops should be allowed to throw their weight around if they have any.

    Overall:
    public school…good
    food….good
    people…so so
    neighbourhood….ghetto

    I give my experience a passing grade.

  47. Anonymous

    Korea is a country that I really became to dislike. My first impressions were good, but that changed quickly. I’m from the Netherlands but after living and working in so many different undeveloped countries in Asia and other continents, for me this was the worst country to live in. I lived in Gwangju and the people are extremely vain, arrogant, superficial, discriminating, rude and do not have respect for anything/anyone except for money, status and a car and their looks. They look at themselves the whole day! They have their Smartphones in front of their face and just look at themselves.

    I taught at an academy and I left due to the violence, physically and mentally. The hitting and the pressure that is put on these very young kids, is outrageous. But for Korea it is “normal” anything to get your kid into a university. This is such a poor country, not in terms of money or jobs. But the lack of social skills, respect and politeness is shocking. I’m European and in my country the situation is not very good, but compared to Korea, it is a wonderland. Also the drinking is revolting, Korea is no 1 in alcohol consumption, domestic violence, rapes etc are being dismissed just because alcohol was involved, and that is acceptable for Koreans. They can’t organize nor take decisions. The traffic is manic, all the food tastes the same, and in my opinion, not good. The only good thing about Korea is that it is safe in terms of robbing, your valuables are safe. The weather in Gwangju is horrible, too cold, too hot, too windy or too rainy. And don’t get me started on the public transportation, or better said, lack of! There is hardly any culture left, the new architecture is so ugly and everything is badly built!! You can see for miles 1 type of apartment complex.

    If you are a non-native English speaker it is too difficult to get a job, you won’t be able to get a work visa. If you are from an African country or if you have brown skin, be prepared for a big amount of discrimination! Koreans look down on everyone who is not born and raised in Korea. It is very expensive and the landlords are horrors. The trucks selling eggs etc with megaphones are screaming from 06:00am and will continue the whole day! Koreans talk as they are having big fights and love to make the most noise after 23:00. Most of the Koreans had English in school for more than 4 years, but nobody speaks English in Gwangju. Seoul is a bit better. The level of English in Nepal is on a level that Koreans can only dream of. Also what are all these churches doing there? I have never seen so many churches in my life! In 1 small area there will be at least 15 churches, very weird. And Korea is expensive, everything is expensive and difficult to get if you are a foreigner. Something that takes 5 minutes in Indonesia, will not be able here, or will take you 2 months and 4 headaches.

    I’m glad I’m out and I will never return again to this country. And as for jobs, it might have been worthwhile 10 years ago, but now it is difficult to get jobs. So if you like violence in schools, no social skills, rudeness, bad food, beauty obsession, plastic surgery and nothing special to do or to see…Korea is your place!

  48. Anonymous

    I feel so much better after reading these posts – I left Korea almost 3 years ago and still haven’t recovered from the emotional trauma of it. I take a lot of the blame, I’m sensitive anyway and was in an extremely vulnerable place at the time. I made a LOT of mistakes. In the end I fell apart and lost my temper with the kids (middle school). After all the provocation, bullying and impossible pressure it’s me who’s left feeling guilty and ashamed.

  49. Ryan

    I taught ESL in Jamsil, and the work was ok. The kids were awesome, but my boss was a bitch, and so I caused mischief. Cultures collided, things got out of hand, and it was the most insane time of my life. I “met” a lot of women, joined a rock band, drank, partied, committed crimes and climbed out of fifth storey windows. I got fired twice from the same job, draped my jacket around a hooker’s shoulders, and gave all my cash to a homeless guy. I fell in love, studied devanagari script, and almost died.

  50. Stephen Bass

    Greetings English Teachers!
    My name is Stephen Bass. I am an English language teacher and researcher. My primary task while teaching English in South Korea for one year was to document the problems that native English speaking English teachers were having involving their employers, students, their labor contracts, passport and labor contract confiscation, failure of employers to return promised inbound flight fare on arrival in Korea and teachers’ living and housing conditions. I turned in my preliminary research findings to the U.S. Embassy in Seoul.

    Having prior knowledge about past problems in Korea can help prospective teachers avoid those difficulties.

    The survey started out small and then grew to a point where I had logged over four hundred (400) separate complaints. All 400 complaints are documented in the eBook. I divided the complaints into several categories including complaints made before teachers began teaching in Korea, during the time they were teaching in Korea and after teaching in Korea.

    After teaching and collecting data in South Korea for one year I moved on to Thailand. I continued my research in Thailand for an additional five years while teaching full time for corporate English language students and two years as a full time English language lecturer at Rangsit University, Thailand. I was a voice and pronunciation specialist for Thai English teachers at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University.

    Most of the native speaking English teachers I interviewed in Thailand were far, far happier in Thailand than they had been in South Korea. During multiple visits to Japan and Malaysia I continued the research. The difficulties the English teachers experienced are documented in my first eBook “Teaching English in South Korea – CAUTIONS and Warnings, Know Before You Go!”

    Teachers suggested that I write a separate book involving EFL – ESL employment (labor) contracts. That request was made primarily because of faulty contracts some of the teachers had been given to sign by recruiters.

    Another English teacher said, “How can we tell the difference between a good recruiter and a bad recruiter?” There is a third book that I wrote providing guidelines that can be used to determine the due diligence and integrity of a particular recruiter as well as the potential employer whether that be a language institute Director of Studies, or a college or university employer. In conclusion, the three eBooks provide those considering teaching English in South Korea (and other countries as well) with a powerful wealth of knowledge and information involving potential problems and how to avoid them.

    The fourth book contains all of the information in books 1, 2 and 3. This eBook is also an instant buy and download. This book is offered as a substantial discount compared to purchasing all three books separately.

    More information about these eBooks via the links below. The books are all available in Microsoft Word and download to the buyer’s computer.

    My best to you,
    Stephen Bass
    International English language Teacher, Researcher, Advocate

    Teaching English in South Korea Warnings- Caution – Know Before You Go!
    This book contains over 400 complaints made by English teachers in South Korea. Knowledge of these problems can help prospective teachers avoid similar difficulties.

    Teaching English in South Korea – EFL – ESL Overseas Language Institute and University Employment Contracts
    What teachers should know before signing a labor contract to teach English in South Korea.

    Teaching English in South Korea: Guidelines for Conducting Background Investigations on Language Institute and University Recruiters and Employers
    Does your EFL ESL recruiter or language institute employer have a blacklist complaint history?

    Foreign English Teachers In South Korea – book 1, 2 and 3 combined

  51. Colette O'Halloran

    I am also battling to settle into Korea and it IS a culture shock, however, any country that you move to will be very difficult for the first six months! I am from South Africa and I found London also very difficult, initially. The people there are cold and unfriendly and the tubes are packed like sardines. I ended up LOVING the place. I also lived in Costa Rica for a year…again, the language barrier was a problem and I felt the people were backward and that I was treated like an idiot when actually I was from the western world. I ended up absolutely loving the place. Things take time and people in the U.K and America are spoilt with the efficiency and normality of things. It’s good to break out there and explore places that are difficult and testing and it makes you grow A LOT! :)

  52. Anonymous

    #1 I have five co-teachers and one is a male. He is a dictator, sexist, and possibly a nationalist. I have no authority to do anything in my classes with him; i told a student it was okay for him to sit by the air conditioner and my male co-teacher told him no. If i ask him questions he ignores me, if he sees me coming he turns the other way, he tells me what to do all the time but makes no effort to do stuff his self; nothing i do is good enough for him and even the other teachers no it that’s why they don’t like him.

    #2: 2 of my female co-teachers don’t respect me. I told the students for seven weeks that we were going to have a pop quiz. during the quiz two of my co-teachers helped the students throughout the whole thing AND they always talk to the students and laugh in the back of the class while I’m trying to teach…just disrespectful and rude.

    #3: my female pushover co-teacher. the students don’t respect her therefore they don’t respect me. the KET is supposed to discipline the students but she cant even get the students to move to different groups or stop talking.

    #4: there are no consequences for the students. students can treat you like crap and guess what? their grade wont suffer because there is no “failing” system in Korea. students can literally do bad on every test and still graduate because attendance is what they are graded for. Oh Yeah I forgot to mention i teach high school so i don’t know if that applies to lower grade levels. I have taught for 4 yrs in the states i am a REAL teacher i am not used to students disrespecting me like this…i cant wait for 2015 to arrive already.

  53. flo

    Wow! So many bad experiences. I am black and from Africa and I am perfectly fine here. Yes, people stare, kids wonder about my afro, but so what? I know I look different! I either get over excitement at my skin color, or get ignored. I’m fine with both as long as no one is rude to me. And no one has been. I’m in a smaller town teaching at a Hogwan and I love Korea! I don’t see people as rude. I think their just aren’t as extroverted as other cultures who are always so excited to meet foreigners. My co-workers aren’t as outwardly friendly as I am, so I constantly chat and invite them out and now we are great friends. I believe one should make the effort and not wait to be treated specially. Yes, personal space is different here. As is the food, buildings, sanitation… the list goes on and on. Well duh! it’s a different country! Not Africa, America, Europe or wherever you call home. It is going to be different and if you expected it not to be then maybe travelling isn’t for you. What exactly were you expecting when you decided to come here? You will have good and bad experiences anywhere you go. Even in your own country. Get over it or go back home. Or choose a country more similar to your own next time.

    Lastly, if your hogwan is genuinely bad by not paying you or there is true abuse (legally), then I completely empathize and you need to file a complaint with the ministry and immigration (yes, you can do this and they could be shut down). But I don’t think your bad experience is a “Korean” thing. There are horrible employers in every country.

  54. Anonymous

    My original opinion hasn’t changed. As of now, it’s predicted that public school native ESL teaching jobs will be scrapped in and around 2018 or 2019. This is a prediction. If this actually happens, I hope that the planning and the negotiation stage of forming a new program is extensive and addresses every issue that Korean and native speakers have. It can’t just be, ‘use the same program and add native speakers’. It can’t be ‘hire any native speaker’ either. It has to be a comprehensive program with good curriculums for every grade level and good hires throughout, even on the Korean English teacher side.

  55. Chip

    Living in Korea isn’t that bad. I’m black and some people think you’re going to face all of this discrimination but to be honest, I’ve never felt it and I live in what is considered a “small” town in Korea. Some people stare but mostly I’m surprised at how much most people don’t care.

    The one big gripe I have with Korea is the lack of parent involvement in anything. Most Korean parents have children, but fail when it comes to punishing them for anything. We have kids who won’t do their homework and their parents say they don’t know how to make them do it. Simple. Take away things the kids like, like TV, phones, playing outside etc until its done. These concepts are completely foreign. They think that because they pay hagwons X amount of money then that absolves them of all responsibility as parents.

    Parents in Korea never take responsibility for their children’s education. Its a system of shelling out money to make other people responsible for it. So when a kid fails a test, then its not because they child didn’t pay attention, didn’t do homework, didn’t study (two of which is the parents responsibility to make sure happens) they can complain to someone else for it.

    This is the one thing I really dislike about Korea. The hagwon system has simply created lazy parents which in turn push out lazy students. I feel like it is not my responsibility as a teacher to raise your children. To spend my time making them do homework you couldn’t check because it would have taken 5 minutes out of your day. Its also not responsibility to reteach and reexplain X, Y, and Z because your 12 year old doesn’t have enough sense to come prepared with the examples I gave them yesterday. “I didn’t bring my…” (book, notebook, homework, pencil). How the hell are we supposed to do anything when every step forward is two steps back?

    This is a big reason why I will be leaving Korea. Deal with it for what? Glad my kids aren’t going to be raised here. Say what you want about Western education, my kids will be a lot better off then the ones raised here.

  56. Anonymous

    Respect goes a very long way, be humble, assume best intentions, be open to trying new things, do not get too frustrated by the language barrier, it will be OK.

    I bowed to every older person I encountered, even if they just stared back at me. I drank soju with the Korean teachers and had a lot of laughs, I had a movie-like affair with a beautiful Korean girl, I traveled all over the country and visited every significant cultural site, I smoked hash with my roommates, I played a Bob Seger album at a bar in Taegu and threw up in the bathroom sink, I saw a great band in Seoul who were from Wales and impressed the lead singer with my basic awareness of Cardiff, I taught a bunch of middle school boys who were sullen and disrespectful but also sweet and intelligent, I did my best but still wish I’d done a better job as a teacher, I hung out with a Korean gangster and his Australian driver, I went to a professional Korean basketball game, I rode my bicycle all over the countryside, I had a crush on this other American teacher in my town (but nothing happened), I was constantly baffled by Korean behavior but grinned and bore it, my roommate was Canadian and we smoked Omar Sharif cigarettes and drank Hite and Cass and bitched about our schools, I loved the bus music what was it called trot music (whoa they also had these noribang buses with old folks partying that you’d pass on the highway), I traveled with my students and teachers to the incredibly beautiful Seoraksan mountain area, I rode the roller coasters at Woobang Land, I listened to the incredible Shin Joong Hyun the godfather of Korean Rock, I shook my head at the ridiculous use of English in Korean ads, I drank vodka with Russians in Itaewon, I watched as one of my Canadian friends stumbled down a street in Seoul after spending the night with a prostitute.

    Overall, I had a blast and sometime I will write a book about this crazy year. 1997-1998.

  57. John

    I have taught in Korea more than once and my experience may help. Firstly, though I want to complain about how some people, instead of posting useful information , tell us (for pages) that its all our own fault and that we are lazy and don’t know what work is.
    I think that’s unfair. The reality is that there a number of really bad working situations out there. On the other hand, I have read posts that are just one long howl. But I am not going to just throw my head back and howl. I’ll leave that to the wolves.
    I came to South Korea almost as a new teacher. Visa rules have changed, but the general problem has not, so please read on. A very slick recruiter offered me a job in a small city . I was a bit worried, because I felt danger. My fears about limited social life were all assuaged but I was concerned about being the only western teacher in the hagwon. When I asked if I could speak to the western teacher I would replace, I was refused. The boss just said “please come quickly!” This was a red flag-a warning sign. The American Embassy in Seoul carries a warning about teaching in Korea, and for GOOD REASON. Without feedback from people doing the job you applied for, you are at risk of really exploitative working conditions. Better safe than sorry.
    I felt pressurized to sign up. So I did. Almost as soon as I arrived, the boss warned me not to break my contract. The previous 4 western teachers had all left after 5-8 months! This is not good. It means that you will lose out on a lot of the advantages-especially financial. The school was bad at staff retention. If they fire you before 6 months are up, they may well claw back the recruiter’s fee and the cost of the flight to Korea. I was not allowed to complete that contract. I was also very much underpaid!
    A more frequent problem nowadays seems to be people being forced to leave after 11 months.
    The school was small and cheap. Their resources were almost all Korean textbooks, FOR Korean teachers. Although I had an hour of lesson prep in my timetable, the Koreans hogged the sole computer and slow printer during that time. Basically I was just there for decoration.
    My boss was a bad boss. He would have been a good “friend” outside school, in that he invited me to family events and invite me to dinner with the school.
    Socially, Jecheon was compact and friendly. I found the western teachers were great company. and looked out for each other, enthusiastic Australians, Canadians and New Zealanders. I had a lot of fun with them, but unlike some people I tended only to drink at the weekend. Otherwise I met people to go to restaurants.
    Now, a word of advice. On day one, armed with my Lonely Planet Phrase Book, I went into a restaurant and ordered food and drinks-in Korean. I know I can be shy, so I had to fight not to go into my shell. The strategy worked, and eventually I got to know a couple of people. It’s important to at least try to socialize. If your area doesn’t have a friendly expat community (it happened to me on a later occasion), you can check out some of the social websites that other people have mentioned here. You can register with Worknplay as well and see what they have.
    On my most recent job in Korea, the western teachers seemed determined not to socialize.(except for 2 people from the U.K.) Even on their Facebook group. So I did the inevitable-I took the weekend bus to Seoul, Busan, or Daegu. I had friends in Seoul and Daegu. The bus took 4 hours!!! But it worked. It was worthwhile.

  58. Newest

    Hi,
    I want to come and take up a teaching or training Job in South Korea. Can anyone advise how can I start searching opportunities and travel process.
    Please drop me a mail.

    Thanks

    • John R

      Dear Newest,
      The visa rules for South Korea have tightened up enormously from 10 years ago. You need a degree, but you need to get it notarised. That is a lawyer has to stamp a photocopy of your degree/diploma and certify that it’s a true copy. After that, you need to send it to a particular office to get an apostille form-again, to prove to Paranoid Koreans that you didn’t forge the document. You also need to get a criminal record check and it has to be apostilled too. For public school jobs, you need 2 letters of recommendation from the past 2 years. Most of these documents cost money, as does the visa. You need the documents before you can apply for many of the jobs.

  59. Colleen Norman

    I have worked in Korea off and on over the last 15 years and will never set foot in the country again. I arrived in Uijeongbu to only be treated like crap by my employers. My first apartment was filthy, and it took one month to clean the old place. What happened to me was unimaginable and disappointing. First, they never paid into the pension fund and I did work for them for four years. The academy owner said that because of the schools size, he did not have to pay. I usually taught 6 classes per day and was never given updated schedules, and there was little communication. The only reason I worked there for four years is because I was working on a Masters degree and paid cash for it .

    Something very unusual was going on in my first building. Someone broke in an defecated in my toilet and spit on my window. When I arrived home, someone who resided upstairs from me (we sounded mentally challenged) yelled out: “Your apartment has been infiltrated and someone left a present for you in the toilet.” Sure enough some jackass (had a key) and this happened. Next, I went to my employers and one told me: “Oh you must be crazy.” I then requested that a lock company be called and had to pay to change the locks. The challenged guy above me kept harassing me day and night and was hacking into my computer. I would just scream back at the loser.

    At the end of my third year I asked to be moved to another building and sure enough all of the harassment moved to the same building. I ask my employers to hire a rental truck to move my furniture and they didn’t. Instead the person complained that he had to help me move on a holiday and said his wife was angry. They did not move any furniture but threw it all out and left me in an empty apartment. I bought a kitchen table, chairs and a desk. Throughout the time that I was there, a person harassed me and would run by my door and tell me to take a shower, threatened to kick me in the head through the wall, threatened to punch me in the head if I had opened the door and the list goes on. Then one day, I notice several of my bras were missing and I tore the entire apartment looking for them but they weren’t there. One month later, they were returned and thrown away. I advise my employers at least 3 times a week about what was going on and they did nothing except say “call the police.”

    Whilst working on my dissertation a jerk hacked through the IP and tried to destroy my dissertation. He kept on stating that I was going to fail and believe he had failed me. I did pass. I spend $40000.00 Canadian on my education. This person sat there reading my e-mails to me and once again I advised my employer. They bombarded me with different people making different statements, telling me I had a shitty life and to reflect on it, conform to Korean norms, I should get my hair cut etc. The list of 4 years of BS from Koreans goes on. I hired a private investigator and we were able to record what was happening. Then this idiot would sit upstairs or behind in the next building 2 meters away and say “everything that has gone on here is all in your mind….none of this is real.”

    So I did the same thing back to these people and in the last 6 months, other than the hacking, they did not harass as much.
    I went to the police who drove me to the cyber crime unit, who had a translator on the phone, whom I explained the crimes to and the officer stated: “bring in an English speaking friend.” Why? What was the translator on the phone for? (Utter stupidity).

    In the end, there were no answers, and no solution. My employer took 200000 won off of my pay to give to the other teacher for moving expenses and 100000 because he said he could not afford to pay it. I was led to believe that other foreigners were being harassed in the area because a Caucasian male, Korean, and a Frenchman were fighting over harassment. I did not interfere in the conversation by overheard it as I walked past.

    I left Korea with a very negative view of Koreans and would not ever set foot in this country again. It used to be my favorite place to teach but now I feel very embarrassed for Koreans. Even if this is a small group of Xenophobics, they are socially immature and charges should have been laid against them for criminal harassment, cyber stalking, break and enter etc.

    I graduated with a MSc in Forensic Psychology and Criminal Investigation. Not once did I ever treat anyone I worked with disrespectfully, and always put forth my best effort despite the fact that I was being kept awake all night via harassment. A good friend of mine if he was still alive would simply have said ” “Koreans have no honour.” I am so sorry to all who participated in this garbage that you felt the need to do this. I am very happy, despite the fact that you ruined my businesses in Canada, and France. I’ve simply walked away from all of you and your crap. I’m so very glad I’m not you. This was never funny. All of you made asses of yourselves. I cannot ever describe what you did to me. You are “crazy” and I will move on and complete my PhD, even if I’m 100 when I graduate, it will be with honour.

    Colleen Norman (Uijeongbu 2012-2016).

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