Tips to get you started teaching English in South Korea

My friend Steve is currently teaching English in South Korea. I’ve been interested lately in doing the same and thought I’d email him for some tips. The email response back was more then what I had expected. I’ll let his email take over:

Hey dude,

Here’s some info about teaching English in South Korea. It’s been an awesome experience and I would highly recommend it to anyone. Korea is also one of the best places to earn a decent amount of cash to save, unlike some other countries. That is, of course, depending on your qualifications.

There are several ways to secure a job in SK:

1) Public Schools. I myself went through a recruiter named Teach Away Inc. which is based in Toronto, Canada. Through them I applied to the government-sponsored program called EPIK. If you go through the EPIK program, you have your choice of teaching
elementary (Grades 1-6), middle (7-9), or high school (10-12). All placements are in the public school system. To apply to EPIK you are required to have at least a university degree. The public schools are like a regular day job: 8:30-4:30, no work on weekends, and all holidays off. 10 paid sick days, 10 days vacation in summer, 11 in winter. The best part is that they give you a 10-day orientation that will give you a good foundation for beginning your job. they also pay for your entry and exit.

2) Hagwons. These are the privately-run academies that teach any number of subjects. English and science are in high demand. They have some funny hours that could go all day. I know a few people who have gone this route and the response is varied. Your experience in these institutions is completely dependent on your manager. Some managers are money-mongering idiots, others are pleasant bosses. You have a chance to make more money in these institutions, but that comes with the sacrifice of hours. That being said, I meet a lot of people who work in hagwons and are still out all night partying, so, it can’t be all that bad.

3) Companies. Lucrative if you can get the job. Crazy hours like hagwons (since you have to accommodate employees’ schedules). Not sure about vacation, etc.

4) Universities. This is something I wish I knew before coming to Korea. If you have a Master’s degree, you stand a very good chance of being able to land a job at a university. Universities are tougher in terms of lesson planning, but pay more and give much more vacation time. If I return to Korea, I will go the university route. In Busan, I know of a few universities: Kyungsung University, Pukyung University, Pusan National University, and Dong A University. Kyungsung and PNU are also major party centres where you will meet a lot of other foreigners. To land a job at a university, you normally need to know someone, but if you know who to solicit, you can probably make contact with someone in the university who can assist you in securing a job.

korean school 016
korean school 016 by choimina

A few notes:

-Culture shock. Wasn’t as bad as I thought, though it is still present sometimes. Korea is striving to look very much like the Western world, but underneath, in terms of culture and the manner they do things, some things are just different from the way they are done in North America. Come with an open mind and be prepared to laugh off bad situations.

-Money. It’s good. Saving money is a great idea, if you can pass up going out all the time. I know some folks in the university area find it difficult to save because the party scene is always happening and drinks are just that cheap.

-Food. I approach each meal with the “don’t tell me until I’ve tried it” mentality, it really does help. And no, eating dog is not as prevalent as the ESL forums would have you believe. The younger generation is generally against it and you’d probably have to go out of your way to find a place anyway. In any event, Korea has many of the things the Western world has.

-People. Foreigners are generally very nice and adventurous folks, so too Koreans. I found it difficult to make Korean friends at first,
which I attribute to my lack of Korean language, culture, and disposition. The university areas have lots of foreigners and Koreans,
whereas my area, Goejeong, is mostly Korean and it’s rare to see other foreigners (but they are there). Further, if you go through the EPIK program, you will meet tons of foreigners right off the bat.

-Cities. Travel in Korea is pretty easy and cheap. The major centres are Seoul and Busan, followed by Kyongju, Jeonju, Jeju, and a
few others. The major centres will assuredly have just about everything you could need, Western or Korean. Smaller cities, well, won’t.

Gyeongbokgung, 경복궁, Seoul South KOREA  (night shot)
Gyeongbokgung, 경복궁, Seoul South KOREA (night shot) by K. T .O

-Korean language. Try to learn. Go to and sign up, it’s free and easy, and it’ll at least get you started. Learning some of the language will also soften culture shock. The hardest part is learning the alphabet, after that, you start laughing at how Koreans like to transliterate words from English into Korean.

I hope that helps. Let me know what you decide to do.


Thanks Steve for the information!

If you have any tips, please feel free to share them in the comments!

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