Teaching English in South Korea: Pros & Cons

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If you are going abroad for a substantial amount of time, you may need to find work. And just like anywhere in the world, you will need to decide how many hours and what type of work best suits you and your travel needs.

Before South Korea, I had only traveled and studied abroad, making this not only my first “real job” after college, but also my first job abroad.

And after 6 months on the job, here are the basic pros and cons you should be aware of if you’re considering something similar.

Pro: Stability and Support

I told you the easiest way to find a teaching job here, and if you pick a good school/academy as your employer, you’ll be on the receiving end of a LOT of help.

  • My school paid for my airfare to Korea, picked me up at the airport, and paid for a hotel room for me until my apartment was ready.
  • I received a week of orientation, where I observed other teachers and eventually did some trial teaching in front of them.
  • My school always pays me (and my rent) on time.
  • They took care of virtually all the paperwork for my alien registration card, my bank account/direct deposit, and my health insurance.
  • They basically took care of all the annoying day-to-day stuff that comes with moving to a new place.

Con: Limited Flexibility

Because teaching is not some part-time job to pay the bills, you are much more restricted in some ways.

  • You take holiday and vacations only when the school does.
  • You have limited sick days, which are to be used only for serious illness, and much like middle school, they will ask to see some kind of documentation that you visited a hospital during your day off.
  • The hours and the days aren’t flexible, so planning any extra travel requires just that: planning.

Pro: It is not a desk job

Your job is to work with kids.  Of course you have to follow a lesson plan, and get them through their textbooks, but there is also a lot of flexibility as far as your teaching methods are concerned.

Kids are hilarious – they are blunt and unapologetic, and they generally dive into things head-first.  And unless they are particularly frustrating, they will make your work day go so much faster.

Con: It’s tiring

Not to get all preachy and Freedom Writers on you, but working with kids does require that you give a certain amount of yourself over to them.

You don’t have to be the best teacher, or use any fancy methods (because most of us don’t have teaching degrees), but you do have to try. Every day.

Teaching is not a passive job, and the classroom energy always starts with you.  And at the end of the day, it can be exhausting

.Hard work can hurt

Pro: It’s a year

In many ways, a year is the perfect amount of time to live abroad.

  • You have time to adjust, learn, and make your new country feel like home.
  • You have time to get the hang of your job, and even (gasp!) become good at it.
  • You have time to explore your country and all it has to offer in a year, which includes all of its holidays, festivals, and weather.
  • And you have time to travel around to the surrounding countries also.

Con: It’s a year

After you’ve made your new country feel like home, and made new friends that have experienced this exciting, strange journey with you, it unceremoniously comes to an end. Your contract is finished.

You have to say goodbye to your friends, and your students, and you have to figure out what’s next.

And you’ll probably have to start paying your own rent.

Have you spent any time teaching abroad? What are some of your own pros and cons?

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About Author

Claire is a recent college grad turned expat, who is currently teaching English in South Korea. When she's not exploring Korea and writing about it, Claire enjoys fantasizing about future trips, shopping, dancing, and drinking dangerous amounts of caffeine. She plans to move to Buenos Aires in 2012. You can follow her adventures at www.sokogigglygirl.wordpress.com.

11 Comments

  1. Good, honest review of teaching overseas. I’ve been approached about it before but never made the decisions to do it. In some ways, it’s like teaching here in the US. In many other ways, it’s different – both in good and bad. Good things to ponder and consider when teaching overseas.

  2. This is GREAT info! I taught as an English assistant in France through CIEP, which was far less organized/supportive than what you’ve described here. Pay was pretty minimal and I had to cover my own rent and expenses and complete my own paperwork for my visa, bank account, etc. But I still loved it!

    Which teaching program did you take part in? A friend of mine is looking for an English teaching gig and I’m trying to help her pick one that will provide the best/least frustrating experience.

  3. Emily – I went through a recruiting company called Pegasus, and it didn’t require a toefl certification or anything like that. I would definitely suggest it – a lot of my friends have used the same company and we’ve all had pretty good experiences!

    I definitely think South Korea values its teachers – part of the reason we are treated so well, is that education is such a priority here. I know a lot of countries don’t make it so easy. I would definitely recommend teaching in Korea to anyone who wants a safe, adventurous, and money-saving introduction into the world of teaching English abroad.

  4. Great list of pros and cons. I taught English in S. Korea and Thailand and definitely recommend working for a reputable school. I also think it’s important to look for a school with a lot of other teachers since those will become your friends. In S. Korea there was only one other teacher at my school so I was very lonely and it took me much longer to make friends than if I had been at a bigger school, so I would say that a bigger school is a pro, at least until you have established yourself and met some people.

  5. About 2 years ago I was all ready to go to Korea and teach a year of English, I even had the contract arranged. Then I decided I wasn’t ready to commit for an entire year. I ended up just traveling around and ended up locating in Thailand and did some teaching there.
    It’s great to hear tips from someone who is actually teaching on a contract in Korea. Looks like there are quite a few benefits, apart from the lack of time flexibility.

  6. This is great! I currently live in South Korea teaching english. And everything you said is true. It’s almost been a month ive been here and I’m contracted to stay for a year. One thing I would add to the con list is that your voice will get tired and horsy. Especially when you are working with the children, because you have to sound excited or yell over the children to grab their attention.

    If you’re in South Korea take advantage of weekends, don’t sleep in unless you have to. Spring time is the best time to arrive so that you can view the nature of South Korea.

    Make friends with you Korean co-workers or adult students, they take you to the real side of Korea and show you places orientation may not take you.

  7. I taught English in Taiwan for 8 years and realize now that is was a complete waste of my time! if you are thinking about Taiwan, be sure to be certified before going! if you have a degree and a TEFL, which is what I have, then the only jobs you can get are at kindergarten/crams schools.

    In a nut shell, they treat you like shit and justify it becasue they are paying you 1500-2000 US a month! The kids are arrogant and spoiled and have no respect for you at all! The parents/schools are biased. Any problem that comes up will be your fault and they offer you virtually no help at all!

    I feel like iover the 8 years I was there a giant suction cup was placed over my head that proceeded to suck the life force out of me with nothing at all in return!

  8. Great list of pros and cons. For the first half of last year (2011) I was teaching English in Southern China as part of a TEFL internship program. It was an amazing experience with many of your ‘pros’ about Korea also being relevant to my teaching in China. However, since I’ve been back in the US I just cannot stop thinking that the six months in China was simply not enough to satisfy my appetite for teaching in another country. I am naturally attracted to Korea because of the fact that they pay significantly more than in China. I know I have a job offer at my old college in CHina if I decide to go back there, but part of me wants to experience another country that might allow me to save a little bit more. Great tips! thanks!

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