Teaching in South Korea vs Teaching Back Home: What’s the Difference?

Pros and Cons

In comparing one job to another, there is a lot to consider. Obviously, there are pros and cons and it can be difficult to sift through them objectively. There’s also a lot of personal subjectivity. I’ve loved every teaching job I’ve had, but I hope to shed some light on some the cons you can eliminate by teaching in Korea, specifically with Chungdahm Learning and the Aclipse program. I’ve boiled this down to a set of key points: the students, the environment, salary/livability, and Requirements/Expectations of the Job. 

girl sitting on temple steps in Korea

The Students

In my experience, Korean students feel a deep desire to learn and are always putting forth their very best efforts. Of course, there is the occasional student that wants to try your patience more than others! But the difference is that is is not the norm, but the exception. I have never seen such a large number of children so well behaved and dedicated in all my life. Rarely, if ever, do I need to repeat myself more than once. Students work hard and go above and beyond in every task given to them, and at every age. This blows me away. 

On the other hand, American students are often not as motivated or passionate about learning. Motivating them is often more than half the battle. Again, this is not every situation. That would be a gross overgeneralization and would not be fair or accurate. However, a majority of students I’ve personally worked with in the States are not driven in the same way, which I attribute to the difference in parenting styles and culture. We tend to ensure more gradual development in America, whereas Korean students are trying to be the best from day 1.

colorful lanterns in korea during buggha's birthday

The Environment

An obvious appeal of teaching in Korea is that you are in Korea. It is such a beautiful country with so much to offer in regards to food, sights, and culture. There seems to be no end to all of the old temples, cafes, and amazing art to be found around the corner of every street! On top of all of these incentives, my commute to work is no more than a 5 minute walk. The people in the school are kind with great dispositions and students are very respectful as well. 

ALL teaching materials ARE PROVIDED FOR YOU, by the way. I just felt the need to say that, and to say it loudly. The United States is a beautiful place to live, of course, with a a lot of creature comforts. However, it is very large and everything is miles apart. Everything is extremely expensive to even get to. I’ve always wanted to see new places and try new things, but that just wasn’t on the table for me. 

a bridge over a stream in korea

The Pay

While I won’t go into too much detail of my salary, of course, I can say it is enough to cover my expenses and more. This is especially true since rent, utilities and other bills are very cheap and housing is often provided by the school. I’ve been paying off school loans and saving up money while being able to take trips around South Korea on the weekends. Teacher salaries are pretty low in the States, which is makes it difficult with the high cost of living. Between rent, utilities, phone bills, car insurance, health insurance, and groceries, gas,  there just isn’t enough left over to really do much of anything. Eating out, traveling, or saving just isn’t a reality on a teacher salary in America. 


The Requirements

Lastly, the teaching requirements are both very similar and so very different at the same time. Lesson planning for Chungdahm Learning consists of looking over the provided materials and making sure you are familiar with the topics to be discussed for the day. I often plan games, classroom procedures, behavioral incentives, and extra activities as well. This doesn’t take more than an hour or two a day the way that the curriculum is set up. 

Grading is mostly done automatically for you, except for the occasional writing or speaking assignment. A portion of the grading may even be shared with the Korean staff depending on your branch. You don’t get a ton of time off, but the time that you do have is actually off! Its not being used to grade or lesson plan or play catch up or take courses for extra certifications. 

In America, lesson planning used to take up most of my days, weekends, and nights. Of course after a while you get the hang of it, but I’ve always been a bit of a perfectionist. On top of this, the grading seemed endless. Considering how large each class is, and the amount of feedback, grading, and filing required seemed endless. 

close up point of view of ginko leaves on a sidewalk

Love for Teaching

At the end of the day, I love to teach in any capacity that I can. Every job will have its ups and its downs. That being said teaching in Korea at Chungdahm Learning has been the best teaching experience I’ve had so far. It is much more freeing, while providing you opportunities for growth at the same time. I am able to earn a living AND enjoy my life. I am surrounded by students that love learning and by people that are helpful, kind and always strive for excellence. As much as I loved my previous positions, it’s going to be tempting to never leave Korea at all. 

Alecia Alford is a secondary English education major with a taste for traveling, languages and ‘eating all the foods.’ She graduated from Northwestern State University and spent some time abroad in South America where she learned Spanish and discovered her true love: seeing and tasting all that the world has to offer. Alecia has dreamt of teaching all her life, but was surprised at how inexplicably inhospitable the living conditions were for a teacher in the states. Things weren’t necessarily impossible, but they certainly were not exactly easy, nor were they travel friendly back home. Looking into ways to teach abroad, she was pleasantly surprised at the number of options and opportunities out there that combined her two great passions. She now teaches with Chungdahm Learning in Pohang, South Korea and intends to continue the pursuit of traveling and teaching for as long as she can.