So now that you have met Granger, I’ll return to May of 1996 and finish up how my wife at the time and I wound up in Gongju.
By mid-May, Better Resource had gotten us university jobs in the small town of Gongju which 2 hours by bus from Seoul and an hour from Daejeon another fairly large city. The job also was only 20 hours of teaching/week vs 30 in the hogwon and we thought we would be teaching university credit courses (that was a small lie). So, on June 24, 1996, 6 weeks after the wife had gotten her MA, we were off to South Korea. We would live in Korea until the end of 2013 working in a variety of jobs in a number of cities eventually settling in Seoul in 2004.
In the ensuing year, while we were in Gongju, we would wind up helping several people there who we having trouble with their working conditions. We would primarily help them do midnight runs (leaving a job without telling your employer you were quitting ) as what the US Embassy had said about hogwons was pretty much true. We would also sometimes provide financial help to people who have not gotten paid or needed a little help getting that plane ticket home. That help we provided people then would then become a part of our mantra there to help our fellow expats and return the help people provided us during the first few weeks which were very rough.
We had run low on money, a neighbor loaned us some. I had gotten horribly sick with some sort of nasty cold or bronchitis after 2 weeks there our neighbor got me to a doctor just to name a few things. We both got terribly homesick and our fellow expat teacher showed us around and introduced us to people. We helped several expats in Gongju who were in horrible situations. For example, one person had been hit by her boss in front of me for calling in sick. We would continue to do this during our entire time there. Even now 5 years after leaving Korea, I stay in touch with people there and provide help to people in need.
So there you go. The story about how a flyer on a bulletin board at a university in Alpine, Texas led me on a 20-year odyssey through Asia.
I’ll return to how the story of how my now ex-wife and I wound up in Korea back in 1996, but first let me introduce Granger my cat and the story of the greatest souvenir of my travels.
My friend Sandra has an interior design blog and she asked people to post about how they decorate their places with travel souvenirs. So here is my story.
I lived in South Korea for 15 years, China for a year and a half, during that time I traveled throughout Southeast Asia. I have picked up a number of interesting souvenirs throughout that time that has decorated the places I’ve lived in. But, the best souvenir I have in my house is the one I picked up in China last year. My cat Granger.
I was wandering around downtown Chongqing one Saturday afternoon and I saw all these very cute kittens and dogs on a street that I thought was for adoption. I did a little research and found out it wasn’t a humane society; rather these were puppy and kitten mills selling them. Via some friends on WeChat, I was put in contact with a group that fosters and adopts pets in Chongqing. Next thing I know, somebody had a cat that needed a home and four days later, Granger, as I decided to name him, was mine.
We have been through a lot in the past eighteen months. First, he had to spend a week in the hospital with an intestinal blockage which was touch and go. We then moved to Shanghai for 6 months and in February came to my present home in Raleigh. Granger loves his new home and being a friend to my 2 adorable nephews. Yeah, he is definitely the best souvenir I ever got.
We also began to play around with the internet and began to discover several new things. One was that there was an increasing amount of information about teaching ESL in Asia. Second, a new site called Dave’s ESL Café ( www.eslcafe.com) had postings about the bad (and good) schools in Korea, people’s experiences in Korea, resources for teachers along with job postings and links to other sites that were called “blacklists” for bad schools and “whitelists” for good schools. As a result, we found a recruiter out in Los Angeles called Better Resource which dealt with primarily universities which were where we wanted to teach. Second, we also found out that the recruiter our friend was pushing Korea Services Group had a horrendous reputation. There were posts complaining about how they had ripped people off and that the schools they were placed in were horrible in things like not paying on time, horrendous living conditions to name just two things.
DANGER WILL ROBINSON!!!!!
A flag had gone up for us about them even before we saw these posts. The contract they faxed us contracts that had several things we were not told about including a lower salary than promised “a probationary 3-month salary” was their explanation, that bothered us. Then there was a $300/person non-refundable “promise fee” that they said covered some of their expenses. What we were told from our research was that recruiters were not supposed to charge us any fees except for some small shipping fees.
Money, money, money
The deal breaker for us was we had to pay our own airfare over to Korea with the promise we would be reimbursed when we got there. For us, that meant over $2,000 in upfront expenses between airfare and the promise fees with the hope we would get $1600 back. That combined with the stories we had read about Korea Services Group along with what they said in their own brochure encouraging teachers to break Korean law by teaching private lessons when not working. This, fortunately, led us to say “no thanks” to Korea Services Group. Which led us to…
“Gyosu-in” or ”Professor”. Without a doubt, the most coveted teaching job in Korea is at the university level position. These jobs usually have the highest pay, lowest working hours, the best working conditions and the most paid vacation of any teaching position in Korea. These job also though are the hardest to locate and are by far the hardest to land. Why? Well, first many universities simply do not advertise on the major job boards like Dave’s ESL Café, Craigslist etc. Second there with a few exceptions, not a lot of positions are opening up due to shrinking enrollments due to Korea’s low birthrate along with low turnover amongst foreign staff. Once people get a job they tend to stay there. I know people who have been at their same job for 10-15 years+ now. Finally, once there is an opening the number of applications is simply astounding. Some jobs there may be several hundred to sometimes over 1000 qualified applications for maybe under 5 positions.
What will I be teaching?
At the university level, you are usually teaching a variety of courses through most are all ESL related. All Korean universities require their freshmen to take some sort of English communication-related course. This can be a simple English conversation course. Sometimes the courses will include a reading and/or writing component. After that, many universities will as a requirement to graduate make students take additional courses in English. These can be practical courses such as Business English for business majors, Tourism English for tourism majors for example. Some universities will also offer other courses such as Current Affairs, American Culture, Employment English as electives.
Besides these general education requirements, a number of departments will offer courses in English for their majors that you may be asked to teach depending on your major and interests. Obviously, the schools English Department will offer courses for their majors in say English Literature. I’ve seen other departments such as engineering, history, International Relations, and business all offer courses in English.
The other place where you could teach at a university is in their language center. Many universities set these up to offer students and members of the community non-credit hogwon-style courses for people to improve their English skills. While not as cushy as a credit course teaching position in terms of hours and time off, they still pay more, offer better vacation and offer chances to teach credit courses. When I first went to Korea in 1996, the first job I had was in the ”Foreign Language Education Center” of a university.
Where are the jobs located?
All over Korea, almost every city with a population of over 100,000 will have at least one two year college and possibly a 4-year university. The bigger cities, of course, have more universities. Seoul, for example, has 30 universities in the city limits alone plus 2-year colleges. Gyeonggi province which surrounds Seoul has another 6 universities. Busan has 23 universities. In Korea, the universities in Seoul are considered to be the ”best” ones in terms of academic reputation with the nations 3 most prestigious ones (Seoul National University, Korea University, and Yonsei University AKA the SKY Universities) being there.
Where to find job postings:
As mentioned earlier, you find very few job postings for universities on Dave’s ESL Café ( http://www.eslcafe.com/jobs/korea/ ) and other sites simply because of the massive influx of applications received via these sites. There are a few universities who tend to have a high turnover rate who will advertise there. Most jobs are listed on the school’s website, hibrain.co.kr ( in Korean) or professional sites such as The Chronicle of Higher Education ( https://chroniclevitae.com/job_search/new ). Some though simply will just rely on their foreign staff to suggest people to hire. Like many professional jobs, the best way to find a job is via networking.
Since the Korean school year starts in March, most jobs are posted starting in September and October with interviews happening in November and December. A few last minute openings will occur in January. For the fall semester, jobs are posted in starting in late April.
What are the academic requirements?
Today the academic requirements have become quite strict due to the government’s desire to raise the academic prestige of Korean universities. Gone are the days of having a BA and maybe a K-12 teaching credential along with maybe a couple of years of teaching in Korea to land the job. Today a Masters Degree preferably in an ESL-related field with some post-degree teaching is a bare minimum requirement. Many schools now want college teaching in either Korea or in your home country though if you hold a teaching credential and have taught at the K-12 level will be accepted. Being published is normally not a requirement nor is any publishing expected unless you are in a tenure-track position. The universities in Seoul, Busan etc., usually have the strictest requirements with universities in the provinces requiring less.
Most if not all schools will want in addition to a resume and a copy of your diploma items such as graduate and undergraduate transcripts, copies of your thesis/ dissertation ( if you did one) copies of publications and reference letters (some now want these sent separately by your reference). Some schools are now requiring applicants to submit sample syllabuses from either class they have taught or from a future course you would teach. Church-affiliated schools will also require some sort of statement of faith or a letter from a pastor of the church you attend.
Today the interview process has become much more complex and much more difficult for people outside of Korea. Due to the sheer number of qualified applicants living in Korea, many schools simply will not do Skype interviews with people outside of Korea. There are a few exceptions to this especially for schools outside of the big cities. Interviews now may consist of 2 interviews one general interview with either Human Resources or the head of the department/program head. Then a second interview is usually required with the foreign teachers that usually requires a demonstration 10-15 minute lesson with staff members posing as students. Language Center jobs usually are not as strict when it comes to demo lessons.
Salaries and hours:
Salaries can range from a minimum of around 2.5 million won/ month to over 3.5 million depending on the school. Most schools now require a minimum of 15-18 hours/week of teaching though there are some jobs that require as little as 9 hours/week to some that require upwards to 24/hours week. Classes are normally held from M-Fri between 8 am and 6 pm. There are though some schools that offer evening classes from Mon-Th and you will have to teach a couple of those. Overtime is available and many teachers do work extra hours for around 25,000 won/ hour. Language Center jobs pay less and require 20-25 hours/week of teaching. In addition to your teaching load, you will be required to observe a few office hours/ week usually under 5 so students can come and discuss things with you. The nice thing is all of this is usually done over 4 days/week. I know some teachers who have been able to arrange to have Fridays or Mondays off meaning 3 day weekends. Language Center jobs are normally Mon-Fri jobs but many of them do not have classes on Monday mornings or Friday evenings.
Housing and airfare:
Because university positions are in such demand many schools especially in Seoul and Busan will not offer either. You sometimes will run across universities that will offer a housing allowance or help with deposits. Outside the big cities, most schools will supply housing or help find housing and airfare will be offered.
Benefits and vacations:
Universities will enroll you in the Korean National Health Insurance without much trouble. In terms of pension/severance, it depends on what type of school it is. If it’s a public school you will be paying into the national pension scheme and will in most cases you will get your pension contributions back along with severance pay. For private schools, it is a little different. You pay into the private teacher’s fund and everyone gets their contributions back when they leave. However, you will not get severance in addition to this. But if you stay at a private school longer than 5 years the amount you get back increases substantially after 5 years and 15 years. You can also get benefits such as bereavement pay if a relative dies or money if you get married while in Korea. Sick time is easy to take, you just call in and your classes will be canceled though you will have to make them up. Never saw anybody have a problem taking a reasonable amount of sick time unlike in the hogwons.
Vacations are perhaps the best part of the job. At a minimum, you should expect 8 weeks paid vacation every year if you teach during the winter and summer breaks. If you don’t teach then the breaks are usually 8-10 weeks in the summer and winter with full pay (schools in China you may if you are lucky they will pay half your salary during breaks). If you travel outside of Korea during these breaks, there is paperwork you have to file with the school. Don’t worry even Korean faculty has to do this. If you want to make extra money during the breaks. You can usually teach classes on campus for extra money. If not most schools will give permission to work at other locations. Language Center jobs usually get 4 weeks faction during the year as these centers offer classes during the breaks
Most jobs for foreigners do not offer tenure. If you have a Ph.D. you MIGHT get land a tenure-track job but it’s very hard to get as in Korea tenure is usually bought and paid for. A few foreigners have managed to get tenure only because their Korea spouses have paid for it.
Very few in terms of schools not honoring contracts violating labor laws. With that said there are 2 problems that seem to come up. The first one contract renewals seem to rest on student evaluations. Some schools even going as far as to say if you are ranked in the bottom “X” percent of either foreign or overall instructor rankings, your contract will not be renewed. This has resulted in some teachers going to extremes in order to get good scores.
A second one that seems to have come up in the past few years is the docking teacher’s pay if they are not teaching their regular load because classes get canceled for being too small. Some teachers have lost a sizeable chunk of their paychecks because of this. They are told that they can make it up the following semester by teaching extra classes. Problem is what happens if there aren’t enough extra classes? As a result, teachers sometimes lobby students to get their friends to enroll in their classes.
Most universities now give E-1 or professor status. You do need a graduate degree for this visa but the hoops you have to jump through to get this visa are fewer than for the E-2 or conversation instructor visa.
Can an older teacher get a job here?
Yes, most university teachers in Korea are in the 30+ age group with many in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. The only problem is you will be forced to retire at age 65.
Would I recommend a university job?
Absolutely!!! Yes, they are hard to get and for the first couple of years, you may not be able to get a job in Seoul or Busan. But if you take a job out in the provinces for year or two, network with people, join say KOTESOL (the professional organization for ESL teachers in Korea), you can get the coveted university job
It’s exactly as the title says, teaching English in the Korean public schools. Since the mid-1990’s, Korea has employed native speaker teachers in their schools in order to improve their English schools starting in the third grade through high school. The program is set up to be like Japan’s JET and Hong Kong’s NET Scheme programs where foreign teachers are paired with a local teacher to primarily improve speaking skills. Today, these foreign teachers are usually employed in the elementary and middle schools with a few teachers employed at the high school level, usually specialty high schools like a foreign language, science-specific or IB high schools. The goal of the Korean government is to have a native speaker in every elementary school and most middle schools.
Number of jobs available
Quite a few, though less than hogwon jobs due to the lesser number of schools and schools only have one native speaker per school. In recent years, there has been a gradual cutback in the number of foreign teachers due to budget cutbacks, slowing population growth and a backlash from Korean teachers who believe they are just as qualified as a foreign teacher.
Where are the jobs located
There are jobs in every corner of Korea from the big cities to the small towns and countryside. The biggest demand, of course, is in the cities but these jobs tend to be the most competitive with rural schools usually going begging for a teacher.
What the job entails
As mentioned above you will be nominally working with a Korean co-teacher who is supposed to help with things like planning lessons, translating, dealing with classroom discipline. In reality, you will be pretty much left on your own to plan lessons etc. though a few teachers take the job seriously. You will be teaching 22 classes a week usually 4-5 classes in a day. Given the size of the schools, this means you will likely see each class only once a week. Class size will be large ranging from 30 to 40 plus students a class of all abilities. If you are out in the countryside, expect to be assigned to a couple of schools where you will be splitting your time. You will be reimbursed for transportation expenses and get an additional 100,000 won/month in salary for working in a rural area.
You will be expected to be on campus from 8:30-4:30 Monday through Friday. When you are not teaching, just like a regular teacher you will be required to be on campus planning lessons, meeting with students etc. Lunch is always on campus and you will be expected to eat the cafeteria grub with your fellow teachers. If you need to leave campus say to go to the bank, you will have to get permission from your vice-principal in order to leave campus.
There will also be the occasional special activity you will be expected to attend (for no additional pay) these include some field trips, sports days and faculty dinners. Some can be fun but the faculty dinners can become tedious especially if there is heavy drinking involved. There are ways to get around these events if need be.
Winter and Summer breaks
Unlike the Korean teachers who are off during the school breaks which run from mid-July until late August, late December until late January and the last two weeks of February, you will be expected to be on campus every day during regular hours. The primary activity you will be responsible for is the English ”camps” that occur during the summer and winter breaks. These camps can be half or full day in length and run usually a week or two. Activities can include things like cooking, movies, sports or anything that can help students improve their English. If you are lucky, your co-teacher will help you plan these camps or maybe a previous teacher left plans for a camp. Designing one can take a considerable amount of time and effort. If your school doesn’t have a camp scheduled you will be in ”desk warming” mode unless you take vacation then. Desk warming can include planning for the upcoming term, maybe doing some professional development but based on what I’ve seen it is spent surfing the net, watching movies or reading. You will likely be the only teacher at the school with only a secretary and/or a principal for company. Hopefully, the administration will remember you are there and turn on the heat or air conditioning for you. It’s really a huge downside to public school teaching.
Salaries and benefits
A nice thing about teaching in the public schools is that salaries are pretty standardized across Korea. The lowest level is a BA with a TESOL certificate and no teaching experience which starts you off at around 2 million won a month. At the top of the scale is having a masters degree, a home country teaching credential and teaching experience will get you 2.5 million won/month.
Benefits include housing be it in the form of a furnished apartment albeit a small apartment or a housing allowance (apartments though can be up to an hour from your school via public transport. Korean national medical insurance with the premium being split 50-50 between you and the school board. Pension is taken out at 4.5% for you and 4.5% by the school board which you should get back when you leave Korea (Brits can’t get this back) severance pay at the rate of 1 months salary per year you worked. You get 1.3 million won each way for airfare. Americans are exempt from paying Korean income taxes if you file an IRS form.Vacation starts at 18 school days/ year and increases the longer you stay there. You get all Korean holidays off unlike at a hogwon which you MAY get some of the days. Sick time is really good at 13 days. Overall a very good package when considered to what a hogwon offers.
Who is in charge of these jobs
These jobs are administered by a number of different government agencies depending on where you want to. In Seoul and in a large part of Korea, its run by the English Program in Korea program (EPIK). In Gyeonggi-do province which surrounds Seoul its called GEPIK. Down in the provinces surround Busan, its called GOE. In the Jeolla provinces of southwest Korea it is called JEP. Despite all the different groups running these programs, the application packages are virtually identical and hiring standards almost identical with the exception of Seoul which is requiring a higher grade point average to apply. All require a minimum 2.5 GPA and either a 120 hour TESOL certification course that includes a practicum or being a certified teacher in your home country.
How to apply for jobs
There are two ways to apply for jobs. The first way is to contact each of these agencies individually ( they are all online) download and submit an application and submit it online. They will contact you if they feel you are qualified and arrange interviews. The other way is to contact a recruiting agency and work with them through the process. The bigger agencies have connections with all the school boards and have people who know the application process. The upside of this way is, you have somebody working with you on the process including getting ready for interviews, reviewing your application so that it can look its best in front of the hiring people. Once you have picked an agency, ONLY USE THEM!!! If an agency gets 2 applications from 2 different recruiters, your application will be disqualified.
The application itself
For all of these jobs, the application is quite extensive (11 pages). Besides the normal information like education (including GPAs) work experience and references, expect questions about things like your height and weight, do you have any visible tattoos (schools require all tattoos to be covered up while teaching), number and types of piercings you may have, how much you drink or smoke.
Then there are 3 essay questions one explaining why you want to come and teach in Korea, one on dealing with cultural differences, the final one concerns your educational philosophy. The last major hurdle is now school boards are now requiring prospective applicants to submit a detailed lesson plan for a certain age group depending on the level you want to teach. For experienced teachers, this shouldn’t be that hard. For newer teachers this where a recruiter or a site like waygook.org with their lesson plans can be of huge help. Finally, you need to list your location preferences, will you work in the countryside and is your spouse/partner coming with you.
After this, if your application gets through a first screening, expect a Skype interview. Questions will likely come from a wide variety of topics some related to teaching like why did you go into teaching? What is your educational philosophy? Classroom management questions. Korea related topics like why did you choose to come to Korea to teach? What do you know about Korea? These are just a sample of the questions you will face. If you are working with a recruiter, they should be helping you prepare for the interview. If you are applying directly, do some research on teacher interview questions.
You will be on a E2 visa like in a hogwon as you will be teaching conversation skills.
You have gotten the job and now it’s time to come to Korea, what’s next? After arriving at Seoul-Incheon airport, you will be taken to orientation. This is usually a one-week event held either in the city you will be teaching in if Seoul, Busan etc. If you are in the GEPIK or EPIK programs, these are usually held at a university or a conference center out in the countryside.
Here you and your fellow new teachers will go through a number of classes about teaching ESL in Korea, Korean Culture, and local school policies. You will also be taken to a local hospital to get the medical exam for your Alien Registration Card. Evenings will include cultural events and you may get to go on a field trip to some sights. The last day of orientation, you will meet your co-teacher and be taken to your school and apartment. Housing during this is usually in dorms and you will have a roommate for the week. I’ve heard the food is not that great but there should be a convenience store nearby to get some munchies. Also be aware that alcohol is usually prohibited during this and there is a curfew so forget about sneaking out and checking the nightlife. It is though a great opportunity to meet your fellow teachers and network.
Can an older teacher get a job in a public school?
Yes. In fact in my research for this topic, I discovered many teachers in their 40’s and 50’s teaching in the public schools and loving it. The only negative age issue I encountered for this type of job is there seems to be an upper age limit of 62. This is the normal retirement age for teachers in Korea
Is this a good job to take?
Absolutely. In fact, after university jobs and international schools, these are the best teaching jobs in Korea. School Boards will honor contracts, you will be paid on time, housing is normally quite good. Benefits are far better than hagwons in terms of vacation, sick time. In terms of academic support, it is quite good as there are Facebook groups and a website (www.waygook.org) that are dedicated to public school teachers. The only downsides I’ve heard of is the boredom of desk warming during breaks and the possibility of being stuck with a bad co-teacher. Also, these jobs are becoming much more competitive given their reputation as being excellent jobs and the shrinking number of positions. Do your homework and you will get a decent job.
There are many different types of teaching jobs in Korea. These range from teaching children in private language institutes to adult teaching in a variety of setting and all sorts of stuff in between. The first one I tackle is perhaps the most controversial jobs in Korea. While hogwons have by far the most number of jobs available. This post is just intended to give you a brief overview of the job. In later posts, you become more familiar with the visa process and what how to deal with potential problems, and what your rights are under Korean law.
What are they
These are privately run language institutes and are the most numerous of the teaching jobs in Korea. You can find them in almost every neighborhood in Korea teaching almost every subject from math to music to Tae Kwon Do. Korean elementary and middle school children will spend most of their after school hours going to several in the course of a day. While primarily focused on teaching children, there are hogwons that teach adults primarily English. For our purposes we will be dealing with the hogwons that only teach English.
The number of jobs available:
Numerous. Due to the sheer number of hogwons out there and the turnover of teachers, there are always plenty of jobs out there. Just take a look at the major job listing sites and the number of recruiters out there you will see what’s available.
For the hogwons focused on children you will be working one of two shifts depending on the ages you teach. If you will be teaching kindergarten, expect an M-F 9-6 shift with kindergarten classes until around 1 PM followed by school-age kids. If you are teaching just school-aged kids, expect an M-F 1:30-2:00P – 9:00-10:00 shift. Adults tend to have split shifts built around job requirements. A typical adult teaching day might look like an M-F 7:00A-10:00A block followed by a long break and coming back to teach a 6:30-9:30P block. In any case, you should be teaching around 30 hours a week with the number of classes you actually teach depending on the length of the classes. For younger kids, expect anywhere between a 25 minute to 40-minute class. Older kids and adult classes usually run 50-90 minutes in length with a short break after 45-50 minutes.
Textbooks are normally provided by the school for all classes (Interchange and Parade are an example of titles) though you will be expected to supplement your lessons with games, songs, and chants for kids. Besides a textbook, I would recommend adding a discussion topics book. It will be up to you to design lessons. Hopefully the school will have bought a teachers edition. If not they aren’t expensive and you can find them quite easily.
Usually quite small with under 10 being average. With younger kids, your school should provide a Korean speaking assistant for translation and classroom management issues. Older kids you will be on your own. Adult classes tend to be very small with some classes being one-on-one classes. With adult classes, you can also arrange to meet them at coffee shops etc.
Hogwons should provide a basic one-bedroom partially furnished apartment. More than likely this will be the apartment of the teacher who you will be replacing. If that teacher is still there, expect to be sharing the apartment until they leave but I would insist on being put up at a nearby hotel. Very few schools will give you a housing allowance and let you find your own place. Most apartments will be within walking distance of your school. The rent will be paid for by the school, but you will be expected to pay for gas, electric, water, building fees, cable, and internet.
Between 2.1 to maybe 2.5 million won a month. This is enough to live somewhat decently on. If you teach over 120 hours/month you should be paid overtime at a rate of around 30,000 won/hours
Your employer is required to enroll you in the National Health Insurance plan. This provides basic accident and illness coverage. Premiums are around 6% of your salary/month with you paying 50% and your employer paying 50%. Most nationalities will also be enrolled in the National Pension System. You pay around 4.5% of your salary and your employer matches. When you leave Korea, in most cases you can get this money back. Finally, your employer is required at the end of your contract to pay you one month’s salary for every year you worked there. This is in addition to the pension plan you are enrolled in. Vacations tend to be only 2 weeks if that. You will likely get a week in July or August and a week between Christmas and New Year’s. You should get Korean holidays (Red days on Korean calendars). Sick time tends to be little if any with maybe 3 days a year if you can get it despite Korean law guaranteeing it.
Korean income and citizen taxes are also deducted. Figure around 2% for taxes. Your employer will file a tax return with the Korean government for you.
Most schools will provide you with only a one-way ticket from your home to Korea. Gone are the days where the school will pay for your return ticket, though it may be negotiated. Some will buy the ticket for you. Most will expect you to buy a one-way ticket and then reimburse you when you get to Korea.
You will be on what is called an E2 or a conversation instructor visa. For details on this, see the visa section.
Where to find jobs:
Jobs can be found on a number of ESL websites. A few include Dave’s ESL Café (www.eslcafe.com), worknplay (www.worknplay.com), Craigslist Seoul and others. Most jobs are advertised by recruiters who can either be great or awful. Some of the major chains recruit from their own websites.
Hogwons tend to have the most complaints about working conditions, not getting paid, not honoring contracts to name just a few. See the in-depth section for more on typical scams
Big Name Schools:
YBM, Pagoda, Wall Street, Chungdam and EF tend to be the big adult chains. Kid chains include these but some other big names are, SLP(Sogang Language Program, a part of Seoul’s Sogang University), Readingtown, Ding Dang, Doing and Wonderland, G”nB, Avalon and POLY.
Can an older teacher get a job at one of these schools?
For the kid schools, the answer is usually ”no”. These schools tend to want young female teachers though it’s not unheard of for an older woman to land a job at one. Guys tend not to get hired by them. The best bet is going to the adult programs. Yeah, the hours may be harder but they tend to like older teachers given the age of your students.
Would I recommend teaching at a hogwon?
No. Why? Simply there are too many problem schools out there that don’t follow the contract. The housing can also be substandard. Finally, schools just don’t tend to want to hire older teachers. Given your life and teaching experience, there are far better options out there. If you do decide to go this route, do your homework, research the school and ask to talk to the teachers there.
We really knew little about South Korea except what we knew from the TV show M*A*S*H and that they held the Olympics in Seoul back in 1988. The good news was that the Korean National Tourist Organization had offices in the US and sent us a huge packet of maps, brochures about almost every region. It looked nice, so we said sure, let’s go for it.
Things were not what they appeared to be
What we found out was that things were not exactly as they appeared to be. The US Embassy in Seoul flat out told us that not to come because they got at least one call/day from an American citizen who had been lied to, cheated on, not paid, you name it by Korean hogwon owners. They pointed out that the embassy could not help you if you got cheated. They did though send us a brochure about teaching English in South Korea explaining the various places you could teach in Korea.
How about teaching at one of these places???
Besides hogwons, we found out that there were other places to work besides those. These include places like companies, public schools amongst other places. The Korean government was just starting the what is now called the English Program in Korea (EPIK) where the government would place you in a school which we applied to and were accepted into. However, the one that intrigued us we’re universities. At that time, if you had a master’s degree in anything you could teach the now required freshman English courses. There was also the chance to teach non-credit English courses through either what was called “Foreign Language Centers”. These were like hogwons but run by universities. University jobs were considered the best jobs in Korea. They tended to follow the contract to the letter, you were paid on time and treated fairly well while the privately run hogwon’s were a crapshoot at best.
So after thinking about it, we decided to take a look at teaching in Asia. This is part 2 of how we went from Alpine, Texas to South Korea.
A job with only a degree? Do tell…
So with the flyer in hand, we went down to the Education placement office to find out about what kind of jobs there were and how we could go about landing one. Turns out at the time in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan getting a teaching job was easy, and there were plenty of jobs. All you needed was a bachelor’s degree in anything, a valid passport and a willingness to commit to a year’s contract and the job was yours. Even better was that the school would provide you with a furnished place to live and plane tickets to and from Asia. We were very interested in this, to say the least.
The jobs paid well enough you could save money and for us given our debts from credit cards and student loans that looked promising. The actual teaching load was actually only 30 hours a week which compared to a 40-hour grind here sounded nice. Our families thought we were a little crazy but for us that was normal. They thought it was crazy to be out in small-town West Texas for grad school, now head to Asia?
Research, Research, Research
So we started the process of looking into things and eventually given the money, low cost of living we settled on teaching in South Korea and began our research and started making phone calls. This included a lot of expensive overseas calls as there was no such thing as Skype. Also, the internet was just becoming popular so not a lot of information was available online, unlike today. The person in the placement office, a grad student there was also looking at Korea and found the name of a recruiter based in Portland Oregon, Korea Services Group who placed people in private language institutes (known as hogwons in Korean) in the southern part of South Korea. He thought they were a great and advised us to contact them
To start this site, I thought I would first give an introduction on how I got into teaching ESL in Asia back in 1996. The following is part of the introduction to a forthcoming ebook on teaching ESL in Korea I am presently writing. Enjoy
Welcome to small-town West Texas
It was in the spring of 1996 while living out in Alpine, Texas that I was first introduced to the idea of teaching ESL in Asia. My wife was finishing her MA in English at Sul Ross State University and we were thinking about what to do next. Do we go back to Austin where we lived, or do we try something else? When one afternoon she was walking down the hallway near her office on campus when a notice on a bulletin board about teaching English in Asia. My wife showed me this and to say the least I was intrigued after 7 fruitless years of trying to land a High School Social Studies Teacher or a community college teaching position and working a variety of low-level jobs just to pay the bills
You were living where?
So here we were out in small-town West Texas 450 miles from home in Austin and I was knocking on doors for the Census Bureau trying to get people to bare their financial souls to the government. That part of West Texas was a hotbed for the militia movement which was gaining strength after the Oklahoma City bombing which made doing this research difficult. Throw in a large Mexican population many of whom were illegal so imagine what kind of responses I’d get when after knocking on the door saying, “Hi I’m from the US Census Bureau and we would like to ask information about your income”.
Sometimes you got to say “What the…”
Looking back on this I think I was lucky I wasn’t shot or worse. So yeah with a bleak future both in Alpine and back in Austin, Yes. I was interested in teaching English in Asia. This despite I’d been out of the US exactly 5 times in my life for a total of like 80 hours total. As a Boy Scout in Ohio, I got to go on a weekend campout in Canada across from Detroit. During the preceding 10 years in Texas, I’d been across the Rio Grande like 4 times to go border towns for some cheap tequila and souvenirs. Heck, I didn’t even have a passport, nor did I know how to get one, but thanks to the wife who had her passport she knew how to get one for me.
Welcome to my site!!!! You may wonder what Mid Life ESL means. Well while I was in China over the past 2 years teaching, I discovered there were a lot of people my age (40 something +) teaching. Yet in terms of information that would help older teachers overseas, there was very little information available. Things like health insurance for older teachers that go beyond what most employers provide was either hard to find or geared toward expats whose companies were footing the bill for them. Also, issues like how to collect a pension, how being overseas affected U.S. Social Security benefits, saving for retirement again were hard to find.
Also, I got older that I began to hold less and less in common with my fellow (and younger) teachers. I began not to want to go out every weekend and get drunk, club/bar hop etc. with my colleagues. After my divorce, I also found it hard to find people to socialize with around my age as I had no interest in much younger local people or younger expat teachers. My social life went to virtually zero.
I returned to the U.S. this past February and started substitute teaching and discovered something new. I would talk to teachers about my experiences overseas and discovered a huge interest in them in maybe getting out of the schools here and going overseas. Finally, I learned that being older person age discrimination was becoming more of a problem.
That’s where Middle Age ESL comes in. I have several goals for this site. First is to provide teachers in the United States information on teaching opportunities overseas. Second I plan to provide mid-life teachers with information that is specific to the mid-life teacher like healthcare, pension, and lifestyle issues. Finally to provide teachers who interested in returning home information on what may await them. There will be things like comprehensive ESL country guides, travel tips, savings information. All focused on the older teacher.
Mid Life ESL is going to be your information source about the issues in order to make your life as a mid-life teaching overseas career better