“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