Teaching in Korea: Options and Future Aspects

I haven’t even started to teach yet because of a slight issue with my graduation and diploma. I will definitely start with the new term in March. There are plenty of jobs in South Korea, but the wealth of jobs in Korea is starting to diminish…

Many of my classmates in the Applied Linguistics department at my university had intentions of teaching abroad a year or two before returning for their Master’s. Not out of the ordinary. Travel, work, make good money and new memories for the rest of your life, who wouldn’t want these things before going back for more schooling? I had the same idea, but getting married to a Korean national and deciding to live here permanently is making that temporary vacation more of a career for me. If you are in a situation like mine and able to get a special F-series visa (typically gyopos, permanent residents, and spouses of Korean nationals) you can really take advantage of this lucrative teaching abroad business since more jobs are open to F visa that don’t require company/school sponsorship. Now if you aren’t one of these lucky people, then you will be needing an E visa so you are dependent on the jobs that will sponsor you. So what are your options in Korea and how are they changing?

Options for (specifically teaching) jobs in Korea
I’ve touched on the options there are for teaching jobs in Korea, but it won’t hurt to do so again.
Public Schools: So the first we have are public school jobs. These are schools that are publicly funded. Getting a job here usually happens with government programs. The biggest are EPIK and TaLK, with GEPIK also a popular option. EPIK and GEPIK require you to have graduated with a degree in anything but are starting to require TESOL/TEFL/CELTA certification. These jobs are more secure in nature, but all school has their own set of politics.
Private Schools (Hagwons): Hagwons are the second most popular options for teachers. Korean students go to school after the regular school day ends around 4:30, usually till 8 at night. Education is very important in Korea and these hagwons are ways to try to get ahead and a VERY highly competitive job market. These schools aren’t funded by the government but instead of private businesses, and they function like that. You are there to teach… but often it becomes you are there to play games and keep the kids and parents happy and the business you are working for above float. These schools pop up and disappear just as fast as they open sometimes. These is a occupational hazard. On top of the 100% job security, you also are at the mercy of your director.
Privately-funded schools: Now, these are like public schools. They have normal work schedules/teaching hours, not like hagwons that can have you working late at night or even slit shifts. These schools usually have a focus
Companies: Since this is the age of globalization, English is needed in a lot of regular Korean companies. Some companies hire people (usually already in Korea with experience teaching conversational/business English) to come in for a few hours to conduct English classes for employees. I have also seen companies offering positions for languages other than English, especially Chinese, Japanese, and Spanish. I don’t believe these jobs sponsor visas, so they are more for those F-series visa users.
Privates: Privates are just private tutoring sessions. In Korea, you are usually only allowed to work for one job, the one that is sponsoring your visa. It isn’t to say I haven’t heard of people who do privates to make a little extra dough while here. I mean, why not since you don’t go anywhere during the week and have some extra time on your hands? Most people come here to make money to pay back loans at home so money is important.
(Note: I am not advocating for doing anything illegal while abroad (or ever), but just reporting what I have seen and heard.)

How the face of jobs are starting to change
Experience Most jobs are now requiring a TEFL certificate if not a specific field like English, Literature, or Linguistics. This is the case with the government-funded jobs (like GEPIK, EPIK, or EPIK-SMOE). This is now a entry level requirement for getting a public school job here. So, basically the things that would have gotten you an extra 100,000 won a year ago is now your starting point. Boo for me. On top of the qualifications, most schools won’t even look at you without experience. My recruiter sent out my information and no one looked pass the “No teaching experience clause.” Be sure to have SOMETHING (preferably something related). It’s way better than nothing.
Financial Situation I also feel a lot like I am trying to start teaching at a bad time. The bad economy has taken its toll on all professions, but it’s really starting to show in the TEFL market here in Korea. Money doesn’t flow as freely, and although Korean parents usually shell outs hundreds to thousands A MONTH for their children’s education beginning early; if it’s not there, they can’t spend it.
More Loops to Jump Through On top of this, the paperwork is more extensive (for which I outlined in a previous post on how to get a job here). On top of the paper work just to get here, you have to be drug tested by immigration approved hospitals. And more paperwork down the line. This isn’t exactly unreasonable. Koreans are sending their CHILDREN to you. They want to know they are as safe as possible. But I guess the more annoying thing is that no one can tell you straight at immigration because they change things… constantly. Usually not making them any easier on foreigners.
Job Availability When I was in school, people always made it seem like South Korea was where the jobs were at. I planned to move here regardless, so it was great to hear, but… now that I am here… the situation isn’t what was presented to me. The qualifications and lack of money is seriously taking a toll on the jobs, and the ones that actually are available are becoming SUPER picky. You need experience. You need qualifications. You need to be from North America, white, female, and between the ages of 25-30. Not exactly… but these things don’t hurt. Despite all the aforementioned things, the market is too competitive for foreigners already here. Forget if you are a newcomer to the game. It’s just THAT much harder. Even more than 3/4 years experience has your pay bracket too high and you might not be hired by more secure (i.e. public) job spheres. So there are still jobs, but if you want the good ones, you got to be the cream of the crop.

All of this is making it really difficult to get a job right now. So, starting out in Korea is becoming more difficult Most jobs want experience (check out Dave’s ESL if you don’t believe me). I would suggest volunteering in school if you have the chance (I had to work full time so I didn’t). Don’t let this discourage you, but prepare better against it! It’s too late for me! But there’s still time for you! Good luck job hunting!


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