I was recently asked by a friend of a friend to give her some advice on becoming a teacher in South Korea. So naturally I wrote a very long response on the application process and experience here. I decided I would post the exact response on my blog to help any other future teachers! I hope it helps a little in your decision process and best of luck to all of you who want to become teachers all around the world! It’s an incredibly rewarding job and I’ve loved every minute of it! Enjoy my response below~ Happy Friday!
Love from Korea, Caroline
“I currently teach in Gwangju, South Korea. There are two options when teaching abroad in Korea. You will need to have your TEFL certification with actual teaching hours. You can fly here and try to find a job in a hagwon which is a private academy…but I do not suggest this at all. It would be way too hard and stressful and you don’t have a secure placement. I have heard many horror stories so cancel that out haha The best option is to apply to the EPIK program (English Program in Korea). It’s a government run program and it’s the most secure teaching program and it’s amazing. They provide free housing, airfare reimbursement, settlement stipend, around 30 days of vacation and you work at an actual public elementary school. You can apply directly to the program on their website: https://www.epik.go.kr:8080/index.do – the application is not easy and takes around 6 months to complete. There is one intake every year in February and you should start the application 6 months prior to February so around August! There used to be two intakes in February and August…so when I started it was in August but that was the middle of the school year and they stopped doing that because it’s too hard to transition teachers halfway through the year. When you apply, you have to gather a ton of documents and have your TEFL and teaching hours completed. You will then submit your application and if they accept it, then you will have a skype interview. And then you have to wait another 1-2 months to find out if you are 100% accepted. I didn’t find out I was accepted until around June and I moved to Korea in August. You also don’t find out your city placement until end of July, beginning of August. And you won’t know your housing, exact location, or schools until you officially arrive in Korea haha honestly it’s a crazy process but every teacher does it and the program is amazing. You arrive in Korea and do a 10 day orientation and find out all the information you need to know there. When you teach in Korea you are given a 1 year contract. At the end of the year you are given the opportunity to extend for 1 more year or go home. So I extended for 1 more year. And they will offer it again at the end of the 2nd year. Many teachers move back home after 1 year but I had a handful of friends who stayed an extra year alongside me!
Trying to move with a friend…honestly Korea wouldn’t be the best option for that because I don’t know any friends who were placed in the same city. Most people who moved here didn’t know anyone beforehand unless they were married and then they were placed in the same housing. I do know two couples who ended up in the same city and were both accepted. But I haven’t heard of actual friends. You can request a city but it’s not guaranteed you’d be given it and one of you may be accepted and the other not. But I know if you taught in Spain you’d be more likely to live near each other as I have friends who did that! If you taught in Korea you wouldn’t be able to be roommates as the government provides apartments and most are small studios and you can’t request anything different. You can choose to find a place on your own and they will give you a monthly stipend but I 100% don’t suggest that as it’s stressful and no one speaks English so it’s so nice having all of your apartment stuff taken care of for you and having it furnished. Also – you wouldn’t work in the same school as your friend. There is only 1 foreign teacher at each school 🙂
EPIK doesn’t have recruiters or agencies but they do work with non-profits. I worked with Greenheart Travel based out of Chicago and I highly recommend that! You’ll actually see my blog on their website. I traveled to Chicago before moving to Korea because I had to go to the Korean embassy there and I met all the people. They’re amazing! https://greenhearttravel.org/
Honestly Korea is one of the most competitive in the world for teaching abroad because of the amazing benefits. Japan JET program is also extremely competitive and those two top all of the other programs for money, government funding, amazing school systems and the education they give their students. But I won’t lie when I say that many many many people are turned down. And don’t take it personally. I’m not always sure what EPIK is looking for in applicants. Some people have zero experience and some have experience. They want to hear you’ve lived abroad and worked with kids. I know quite a few people who applied and did all the paperwork but didn’t even get an interview. It’s tough. They only let in 300 applicants into my intake and they accept from 7 countries worldwide…America, Canada, South Africa, Ireland, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. So you can see how competitive it is! But don’t let that stop you from applying!!!! You never know if you don’t try. I almost let it stop me but I went for it and I was accepted! I’ve lived here 2 years and it was the best decision of my life. I absolutely love it. I’ll also be honest and say it is not easy living here. I live in a city with 1.5 million people and there are 200-300 foreigners here. Literally, Korea is 97% Koreans and 3% foreigners. And Korea is 50 million people. It’s crazy how homogeneous this country is! Their culture is so different from American culture and so unique in its own ways. It still blows my mind after 2 years here. I can speak Korean and understand it and I feel like I’m half Korean now but there are days still where I feel so uncomfortable or alone hahaha but Korea is also one of the safest countries in the world. Everyone is so scared of it because of North Korea but Korean people are amazing. You can leave your wallet and laptop at a café all day and leave and no one would touch it. You can go to a club and leave your phone on a table and go dance for 3 hours and no one would take it. There’s this amazing trust here that is unspoken but incredible. I always have the American mind in me but I’ve learned to loosen up a bit in trusting others. That’ll probably change once I move back to USA haha I 100% recommend teaching abroad. Wherever it might be. I chose Korea for a few specific reasons and you can read it on my blog here: https://carryonwithcaroline.com/2015/06/05/5-reasons-why-i-chose-to-teach-in-south-korea/ – I wrote this post 2 years ago and I still stand by all of these! You can also read this blog post about cultural differences: https://carryonwithcaroline.com/2015/10/21/adjusting-to-korean-cultural-differences/ haha and since then I have learned about 100 more things that are SO different from our culture.
Options other than Korea: I will also suggest looking into Thailand if money isn’t an issue. I have heard amazing things about teaching in Thailand! I’ve had a few friends do it and they LOVED it!!!! And also Spain!! I have friends currently who live in Spain right now and are teaching. They first lived in Korea and then moved to Spain afterwards. And I have about 5 other friends who taught in Spain who lived there and absolutely loved it. China is also a good option! I have friends who did that as well! The only thing I will say about China is be careful with the pollution. Korea has random bad days of pollution and it’s nothing compared to China’s everyday air and my eyes burn and my throat hurts and it sucks haha so I can’t imagine living in China but I know so many people who do it all the time. Just something to consider! Again, the money is not great but the experience is worth it. I think if it’s a dream of yours then don’t let it stop you and do it while you’re young. If Korea feels right for you then go for it. But like I said it’s not for everyone. It’s a tough transition and I know a lot of people who struggled a lot here. But I also know a lot who absolutely love it. I love every part of it. The uncomfortable and all. But if it doesn’t feel right, then definitely look into other programs!!! There are so many and they all are so unique and fascinating in their own ways!
I wrote a novel but I hope it helped! I wanted to be honest and upfront about everything! Korea is one of the best programs and I highly recommend it but there are also so many other programs that are amazing too. I know that you will find whatever program is right for you! You can see on the Greenheart Travel website that there are so many other countries to teach abroad and they can help you with everything. You can go to Columbia or Europe or Asia. So many places and so many options. If you have any more questions, please don’t hesitate to ask! I’d be happy to help in any way I can!!!!!” – and that rings true for all of you. Please reach out if you have questions or comments. I love to hear from all of you!