Seoul Train.

So you want to live & work in Korea?

Or … you want to fuck off abroad but don’t have the cash to do it … teaching ESL – it’s a thing.

I have a had a lot of adventures abroad. Of all my adventures;  one of the most common questions I am asked is about teaching English abroad – in particular in South Korea. Even though that adventure took place some years ago I’m still asked how I did it?!

 How did I managed to take my small town Canadian white girl arse and land a teaching gig in Seoul!?!?

Actually, getting a job in Korea might be the easiest, hardest part of the process. My first trinket of advice is: GET A RECRUITER! They are essential. You DO NOT need to pay a recruiter. If they are charging you – find another company. I used Footprints Recruiting.   (if it is your first trip abroad teaching English – they will help you with EVERYTHING!!)  A good school will pay for your visa, flight (upfront – they just send the flight information), airport pick up and apartment.

DO YOUR RESEARCH! Recruiters are great but they are also there to fill positions at schools. Look up on a map where the school is located. Are you close to the metro? close to downtown? Are you in the city you want to live in? There are A LOT of Western people teaching in Korea – English speakers are everywhere but the last thing you want is for someone to tell you your area is close to city center and then find out when you get there – it isn’t. Be firm. But also don’t expect your rookie contract to be next to Namsung Tower.

There are two types of schools you will likely get a job at:

HAGWON: This is a privately run school. It is usually an after school program for kids. As you will learn most Korean kids are in hagwons for EVERYTHING. Small classes, guaranteed. It also means that you will be working after normal school hours (like till 8 or 10pm). Sometimes they are shady as shit. I worked at a hagwon – just ask to speak to one of the teachers from the school before you sign a contract.

Hagwon (Korean: 학원; also hagweon or hakwon) is the Korean-language word for a for-profit private institute, academy or cram school prevalent in South Korea.

PUBLIC SCHOOL: Exactly what it sounds like. You will have a full class of students in a normal school. If you can get in (hard to get on with the Public schools – it is dependent on the time of year you want to go to Korea) – the pay is better structured. Usually there are less foreign staff at these school. Everyone I know that work for the public system stayed longer in Korea.

ACTUALLY TEACHING ENGLISH: Teaching is not overly hard. I worked at a hagwon so there were lesson plans created and lists of teaching games and resources. Other staff shared tricks; I had co-teachers that taught the same kids. I learned more about English teaching English then I ever thought possible. English is a difficult language. There are a lot of irregular verbs, words and there is mostly no logic. Teaching makes you think about punctuation like you never have and ALL the things that you just know because you are a speaker and it sounds right. Korean kids all have cell phones with translators. They drop vocabulary words that are not wrong but totally out of context. The great thing about teaching in Korea is most kids have a vested interest in learning because they want to get into a super good University. Therefore they need English.

You do not need a teaching degree to teach English in Korea – but you do need a degree – in any subject. 4 years from a University.

LIVING IN KOREA:  It is not exactly like life in North America. But let’s be real – you didn’t move half way around the world for it to be similar. It takes some time to get accustom to Korean culture and way of life. Different religious influence. Utmost respect for Elders. Beautiful language. Busy, busy Asian life. Eating with chopsticks. Never understanding anything anyone says. Drinking excessively.  Only having 2 English TV channels for down time. Korean food. Korean beer. Korean people. Skype life. Time change to anything familiar.  Drunk Skyping friends at home. Maybe being taller than everyone. Only drinking bottled water. Guessing at food in restaurants. Being pointed at.  Drinking. Matching couple outfits. Plastic surgery. Being University educated yet completely illiterate. Living in a xenophobic culture where you are on the losing end. People being racist fucks to you for being a different color. Being told to go back to your own Country. Being touched – by strangers- on the metro. So so so so so many people.  There is so much more!  Did I mention the drinking? South Korea is an experience that you embrace at whatever level you want. The more you dive in and learn the more you benefit from your experience.

After a lot of teaching contracts, in lots of Countries I have learned there are two types of foreigners: those that embraces it, tried the food, learned some of the language, explored the country, took in everything they could and those that fucking hated it.If you hate it – fucking leave. No one wants to hear you bitch endlessly about how much you hate it. No one will want to be friends or hang out with you. Don’t be a dick. If you hate it, don’t spread your negative energy to all the people having a time. Figure out a way to be less scared of things you don’t know and become a better person for living the experience.

Korea was one of my favorite teaching experiences. I have  an overwhelming love for the friends I made, the deliciousness of Korean food, booze and culture.  I have more friends roaming the globe than I have in my current city from traveling so much. There is so much to talk about when it comes to the experience of embracing a new culture.  Friendships made in an experience that changes your life tend to be people you bond with for life.

I am not the ‘be all end all’ of Korean experiences and this post just barely scratches the surface of my time there – Different people had different co-teachers and different areas to live, different experiences. That being said – Korea was worth every tear drop of fear, every weekend of yellow liver failure diarrhea from drinking too much and every delicious bite of bipimbop. So if you are thinking you might want to do it – you should!

If you have more questions comment below, and I will answer as best a girl can.

Until laters, Chingu!


2 thoughts on “Seoul Train.

  1. Couldn’t agree more. Currently back on vacation, taught here years ago and still largely the same. Korea is an awesome place to go teach and travel as long as you embrace the differences. If you hate it, get the fuck out, stay at home, and stop bothering the rest of us.


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