What It's Like Teaching in South Korea
South Korea offers a unique blend of fast-paced cities and pristine countryside. You will find ancient palaces alongside angular skyscrapers, highlighting the country’s past and present.
While teaching will be your first priority, you will also have opportunities to explore the country. For example, the city of Boryeong hosts the world famous Mud Festival every summer on its scenic beaches. You could also visit Jeju Island, which is renowned for its beautiful palm trees surrounding crystal blue waters. Haeundae Beach in Busan is one of the most popular beaches in Korea, attracting more than 2 million visitors every year.
Koreans value education, and around 85% of high-school students continue onto university. Koreans believe this is the only way to get a high-paying job or government position, so competition to get into the best universities is fierce.
Everyone, from kindergarteners to machinery workers, wants to learn English, putting English education (and those who teach English in Korea) in high demand. Korea has two types of schools: private school (hagwan) and public school. The main difference between teaching in a private or public school is the schedule. Public schools start in March or April (with about 45 days for winter vacation and 40 days for summer vacation), and private school classes run year round. Private schools usually hold classes in the early morning and evening, so you would have your afternoons open for grading or personal time. Private school classes generally run 40 to 60 minutes, and public school classes run about 60 to 70 minutes. However, you can expect to work roughly the same number of hours whether you are working in a private or public school.
In addition to its differing schedule, public schools can only hire one Western teacher per school. This means that if you choose a public school for your teach English abroad experience, you will likely be the only English speaker at the school. Many first-time teachers choose to teach in a private school so they have support from other English-speaking teachers.
You will be living in a typical studio apartment/bachelor suite that caters to the busy life of a single person. Apartments are not spacious, but they have enough room for one person to live comfortably (don’t expect a fancy loft, as Asia has a high population density and housing is tight). All of these apartments have modern, western-style bathroom facilities with a toilet, sink, and shower. However, bathtubs are rare in single-housing accommodation in Korea.
Options for Housing in Korea are typically a “Villa” or an “Office-tell.” Villas are four to five story buildings found mostly in the residential areas of the city. Villas are very affordable due to their low maintenance costs, and typically have an owner who resides in the building and plays the role of superintendent.
Tall buildings that offer unit accommodations (alongside business or commercial space) are called “office-tells.” Office-tells are fairly new, which means they come with modern features. Most of the suites in office-tells have keyless entry and other conveniences, depending on the location. The costs may be higher than those of a villa because of building maintenance costs (approximately $50–$150 USD per month). One of the advantages of living in an office-tell is the close proximity to shops and services, which are sometimes attached to the building itself.
Read our blog on how to make a Korean apartment feel like home!
As one of the most wired nations in the world, Korea has Internet access readily available for reasonable rates. Popular service providers include Korea Telecom, Hanaro, and Thrunet. If you’re agreeing to a one-year contract, you can usually get connected without a service charge. On average, you can expect to pay about $30 USD to $40 USD a month for Internet access. Some employers will assist you in setting this up.
Korea has Internet cafés almost everywhere you turn. You’ll also find lots of “PC Bangs.” Some are open 24 hours, offering food service with beverages, noodles, and other snacks. PC Bangs generally only offer Internet service, and may not have business services such as faxes, scanners, or printers. Fees run about 1,000–2,000 KRW/hour.
We encourage those teaching English in Korea to explore their new country and soak up the local culture. Korea’s history spans over 5,000 years, so the country boasts many historic towns, palaces, and Buddhist Temples to visit. Just a few hours from anywhere in the country by bus or train, Kyungju is Korea’s most famous historic city. The country’s largest island, Jeju Island, offers unforgettable views, including the waterfalls at Hae-anjidae and the cliffs at Jusang Jeolli. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy Jeju Island, from hiking and bike riding to paragliding and scuba diving.
Inexpensive flights run daily from several different Korean airports. Korean Air flies out of a dozen different airports in Korea to destinations all over the world (the flight from Seoul to Tokyo takes just over two hours). Flights run several times a day from Seoul to Jeju Island and generally cost between 70,000 and 85,000 KRW each way (less than $200 USD round trip).