Teaching English In South Korea
From: Botley, Southampton, United Kingdom
Lives In: Suwon, South Korea
About: Adult English Teacher and Founder of Next Stop Native.
Teaching English in South Korea can be a daunting experience. Lloyd Meikle, founder of Next Stop Native, an online English teaching platform, gives his advice to help prepare future teachers.
1. Why did you decide to teach English in South Korea?
About mid-way through my final year of university I started to work out my game plan for post graduation life. Asia has always fascinated me, specifically Japan. When I started talking to people who had or were considering moving to this part, the idea immediately attracted me.
As you will hear from many a teacher in Korea, Japan was often the initial idea, but after researching it becomes clear that Korea is overall the best deal. In terms of remuneration, cost of living, and other factors, Korea always wins.
What started off as a 1 to 2 year endeavor snowballed into 6 years in the blink of an eye and a different career path.
I’m currently based in Suwon, a city based about an hour south of Seoul. However I’ll be leaving Korea in about a month.
2. How would you describe your average day?
Since I teach adults my schedule is a little bit strange when compared to most teaching jobs here. Most jobs are teaching kids which would be a more regular schedule (typically 9:00-17:00 or 14:00 -21:00). In my case though I teach in the morning and again at night, leaving my afternoons free.
My classes typically range in size from three to seven students. If you’re teaching kids you will usually have bigger classes than that though (maybe an average class size of 10 in an academy and around 30 in public schools).
In my case I generally teach adults ranging from university students to people in their 50s and sometimes 60s. My classes start early in the morning (at 7:30 these days but you can start as early as 6:30) before they go to work (that’s dedication to English!) And then my next classes will typically consist of housewives, university students and people with flexible schedules, then I’m off for the afternoon. In the evening I’ll teach a two hour class, usually consisting of workers who have just knocked off (that dedication to English again!).
3. Are there any downsides to teaching adults?
The only bad thing about teaching adults is that you can be left pretty tired from the early mornings and late evenings, plus your social life during the week cannot really thrive. Other than that I’d recommend it, if you can get a decent schedule. Mine is very fair.
Some adult institutes have been known to work their teachers to death though (not literally, but close enough) so be careful.
The great thing about most jobs here for foreign teachers is that your apartment, which is included in your contract, is typically a five or ten minute walk from your work. So no stressful morning commutes to deal with.
4. How do you get around?
Public transportation in South Korea is fantastic and cheap. So you can get virtually anywhere without a car. If somewhere is a bit out of the way you can get a taxi which is also very reasonably priced, but the friendliness of the taxi driver can vary.
5. On average how much should a new teacher expect to earn each month?
If you are working for a private school, the minimum you should expect is 2,100,000 Won a month (around $2000). As far as I know this has been standard for a long time. In public schools this initial salary is a few hundred thousand less, but depending on your past experience, qualifications and negotiation skills you can get yourself a bigger pay cheque.
Some companies can be stingy though, so know your worth and don’t settle for the first offer if it’s not to your satisfaction.
You should expect to increase your salary by 100,000 (just under $100) for each extra thing you bring to the table. And if you stay on another year you can expect a salary bump of a hundred or two.
6. How would you describe the cost of living?
Cost of living is reasonable for a developed country. Not cheap but your salary is more than enough to live a comfortable life, socialize frequently, do whatever hobbies you’re into, take trips and save a fair bit each month.
7. Were there any surprise costs you hadn’t considered when moving to South Korea?
Ah… coffee is ridiculously expensive! You’ve been warned. I’m writing this from a coffee shop though, so not following my own warning.
Apart from that, I can’t think of any major expenses. Be careful with importing things from overseas though (e.g. online shopping), especially if the items weigh a bit, since the import taxes can be huge. Rather shop online using a domestic Korean site like Gmarket which is in English and has almost anything you’d want to buy anyway.
Depending on your medical plan hospital trips and dentists can work out a bit pricey, but much more affordable than some places. Cough, America, cough.
8. What has been the biggest adjustment for you?
There can be some cultural differences which you need to try and respect when you’re out and about. You’ll work them out as you go along, but as long as you are polite, friendly and respectful you will generally be treated in kind.
In terms of culture shock, that’s natural. But I’d say that it’s outweighed by the initial excitement of being in a new and different place.
9. What is the best thing about making the move?
Exposing yourself to a different culture, a chance to make friends both local and international, the chance to learn a new language, try new foods.
Oh, but just one… I’d say getting out of your comfort zone and throw yourself into a completely new environment.
10. How easy has it been to blend into the local community?
For those who have been around for a long time, I’d say this is the biggest challenge and one of the reasons I’ll be leaving soon.
As easy as it is to become good friends with the locals here and have a good standard of living, you will unfortunately always be an outsider to a degree.
And you’ll get fairly frequent reminders of that. Not in rude ways usually, often small things like people marveling at your chopstick skills or asking you the same questions about why you came to Korea etc. Over time little things build up and get kind of annoying… thus the blending is not really possible. That fact is a bit sad but once you come to accept it you can enjoy yourself more and take pride in being something a little unique in an otherwise homogeneous society.
11.What are some of your favorite places in South Korea?
Seoul, Busan, Jeju, Geojedo Island, Gapyeong. (Seoraksan to finally be ticked off this fall!)
12. How would you rate the ease of:
Opening a Bank Account
Pretty easy, but the language barrier can be a problem sometimes. Sometimes someone from your company will come and help you set it up.
Registering for public/private health insurance
Usually your company will set this up for you, but be sure to check.
Renting an apartment
An apartment will be included in your contract, but if you’d like to find one on your own you can do that and receive extra money in your salary which should cover your housing.
Registering and paying tax
This can be done by you or your company, so check with your company to be sure.
13. What do you miss about home?
Sometimes you’ll miss doing an everyday mundane activity without even thinking about it… going to the bank, post office or hospital and speaking in another language is not always the smoothest experience. It gets easier the better your Korean gets, but you’ll marvel at how smooth these things are when you go home.
14. Any advice for readers considering teaching English in South Korea?
Do your research about the company you will work for, talk to present and past teachers for their opinions. Don’t take the first job that ends up on your lap.
Use recruiters to your advantage but beware of them too!
They don’t always have your best interests at heart and get commission for every teacher they place so they often just want to place you in a school regardless of it’s good or bad.
15. What has been your biggest frustration?
Probably the fact that you can not truly integrate into the society. Once you accept that though, you can still have a great time.
Oh, and getting your visa is quite a nightmare. Getting all the documents together is very time consuming and fairly expensive. Plus sometimes you’ll be asked for something else from immigration out of the blue…
16. Is it difficult communicating with locals, if you can’t speak Korean? Are they helpful?
Most Koreans cannot speak English well or are not confident doing so. Older folks usually cannot speak much English at all, so it is well worth your time to learn Korean. You can get by without speaking Korean but your daily life will be much easier if you do. Plus you’ll gain locals respect in the process, win – win.
Yes Koreans are usually helpful, more so when you can understand each other though!