Lost in Korea: 5 Things to Consider Before Teaching Abroad

Solo Travel, south korea, Working Abroad — By on January 17, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Teaching English abroad can be a great way to earn some money for your adventures while immersing yourself in a different culture.

Aren't they the cutest?

But when you’re researching different locations and jobs, it can be difficult to know what to keep your eyes peeled for. Here are some tips that my friends and I who teach here in Korea have found useful when looking for teaching jobs at schools and private academies.

What qualifications are necessary?

To teach in some countries, you’ll need a TEFL certificate for almost any job. These can range from a few hundred dollars through an online program to more than $1k for an in-person class. If you’re not interested in paying for one, consider locations that don’t require one. (Many teaching jobs in Asia, including Korea, don’t require one.) Teaching anywhere, however, will require a bachelor’s degree from your home country — and if they don’t, you should probably be suspicious.

How many hours will you be teaching?

Teaching is more than just standing in front of the classroom. You’ll have tests to grade, lesson plans to create, and other assorted school-related work. Find out how many hours of your work day will be dedicated to actually being in the classroom and how much work you’ll have outside it. If you don’t get enough time during the day, you’ll be taking work home with you to complete — not ideal.

What’s included in your contract?

Different jobs and countries offer different benefits, but you’ll want to know what they are before you sign anything. Will you be expected to find your own housing upon arrival? Will you get a stipend or will your school simply pay for housing outright? Will you be responsible for booking and paying for your flight? Who pays for apartment utilities? Will you be sharing a flat or will you have a roommate? Will you receive any bonuses once your contract is up? If you can’t fulfill your contract for any reason, what will you owe the school?

Asking these questions will help you figure out how much money will come out of your own pocket before you get started. Your school should let you know all this information upfront andit should be written into your contract.  Here in Korea, most schools will pay for your flights to and from the country. Housing in a single apartment is usually included though you’re responsible for paying

kindergarten in Korea

your own monthly utility bills. At the end of a one-year contract, you’re given a bonus month’s pay.

How much vacation time will you get?

This is helpful to know beforehand so you can plan your adventures or let friends and family know when the best time to visit is. Vacation length can really vary from place to place. It’s also worth asking if you get to choose when you want to vacation or if your school determines it for you. While some friends here in Korea work at places where they choose their vacation times, at my school it’s set in the academic calendar, so we’re forced to take our two week vacation time in one-week chunks during August and Christmas.

How many other foreign teachers are at the school?

Depending on your personality, this could be a deciding factor in choosing the appropriate school. While some teachers won’t mind being one of a handful of English speakers (or even the only one!) at a school, one with a higher amount of foreign teachers might feel more comfortable to others and provide more of a support system.

Other words of advice:

Know what kind of areas you like before starting the hunt. If you love big cities and everything that comes along with them, you’re not going to be comfortable long-term in a remote, rural area.

Research the schools online but take the comments with a grain of salt. People often don’t review a place unless they’re dissatisfied, so you might not get the good aspects of it. Reviews can also get outdated really quickly in language schools, as management can change often.

The best way to get a feel for your school is to have them provide you with the email addresses of current teachers and get their thoughts. They can give you their opinions, fill you in on the workload, answer questions about what to bring from home, and all those other questions that will arise. Most of us are happy to share our experiences, both the good and the bad.

Have any other tips or questions? Add them in the comments!

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    1 Comment

  • Elizabeth says:

    One thing I focused too much on before arriving in Korea was the location of my school. Korea is a highly populated country, but there will be other foreign teachers to befriend wherever you end up. I wish I had spent more time focusing on finding the right job rather than the right city.
    Something else no one tells you: on paper, it looks like public school employees get paid less, but if you take into account all the vacation time, sick days, deskwarming, and randomly canceled classes they get, I’m pretty sure the hourly pay works out to be more than a hagwon. Hagwons also have the customer service component that public schools don’t; if the hagwon parents are dissatisfied, you can be certain you’re going to hear about it from the director because he/she wants to keep the parents’ money coming in.