Job Hunting in Korea: Part I: Teaching English
Amanda Segal, a world traveler and English teacher, gives insights on teaching English jobs in South Korea. She also shares her experience when it comes to the private vs. public teaching job debate.
This post is from our friend Amanda Segal, who hails from Glen Ridge, New Jersey. She is currently living in small town South Korea teaching English to high school students. While not representing the Western world, she enjoys making people laugh, going on spontaneous trips, taking long walks to new places, and going to the movies just to eat the popcorn. She blogs at: http://flylikeasegal.blogspot.com/
When doing research on English teaching jobs in South Korea, the results can be overwhelming, and sometimes it seems like no one has anything nice to say. Hopefully this post will give you a positive perspective and put your fears to rest over that nasty Public vs. Private debate. Here’s my advice:
1) “Rise Above It”
When I started encountering lots of negative feedback about private and public schools alike, I frantically emailed my recruiter, worried about picking the wrong job. He emailed me back with a piece of logic I hadn’t thought of before: positive experiences appear vastly outnumbered on the internet because foreigners who are having a great time in Korea (which is the majority of them) are too busy having adventures and enjoying their lives to post about every itty bitty complaint they have on some random internet forum.
English teachers in South Korea work relatively low hours for good pay, great benefits, and wouldn’t be becoming here in scores if they were treated so poorly all the time. I’m not saying bad experiences don’t happen, they do, but it is often blown out of proportion on the internet. So as my recruiter advised: “Rise above it.”
My additional advice: although popular sites like Dave’s ESL Cafe, etc. can be helpful for many things, steer clear of them when looking for advice on jobs, especially public vs. private. Again, these loosely structured internet forums don’t always attract the most reliable resources, but they certainly do attract those who are frustrated and in need of a place to vent. If you want to know anything at all about working/living in Korea, I’d recommend checking out (in addition to my blog) reputable and well known websites like http://www.eatyourkimchi.com/. This couple puts out hilarious videos on any and everything you could possibly want to know about coming to Korea.
What you should also do is find contacts through people you know from home or through your recruiter; people who you know you can trust and people who can answer your specific questions. Seriously, if you tell people, even strangers, that you’re looking for a teaching job in Korea, you’ll quickly find that everyone and their mom knows someone or knows someone who knows someone, that is teaching in Korea.
And don’t be shy about contacting teachers just because you don’t know them! Most foreigners here would be thrilled to share something about their experience with you. My contacts before coming here included a friend I hadn’t spoken to in five years, my friend’s cousin who I’d never met, and my friend’s brother’s friend from college (who I’d certainly never met). All were extremely helpful and have met up with me while I’ve been here!
As for the bad things that do happen: keep in mind that all jobs have their ups and downs, but when you’re 6,000+ miles from home, don’t speak the language, and dealing with a new culture, it’s true that things can seem worse than they are. Just remember to be patient, find a support system, and take comfort in the fact that at the end of the day, you can always get a bowl of noodles and go relax at their nearest jimjilbbang (a Korean spa).
2) What are you looking for out of this experience?
Although issues can occur with your job that are entirely out of your control, sometimes I wonder what percentage of people on those forums are truly unhappy because they didn’t consider what they were signing up for? Even though you may not want to teach English as a permanent career, an interest in education, kids, or at least getting to know foreign cultures will make your experience much more pleasant. Remember: the majority of your time here will be spent teaching and in school. If your only interest in coming to South Korea is an apartment and a paycheck, then you might be in for a long year.
While it is possible to survive in most places without learning much Korean and ignoring cultural norms, this also will certainly taint your experience. Koreans are very proud of their culture and I think most schools, especially public schools where you may be the only foreign teacher, will expect you to adapt within reason. Showing respect for cultural norms and even making minimal efforts to adapt will show your co-workers that you are here to teach as well as to learn, and result in a much more pleasant work environment.