Friday, 5 March 2010

Step #1 - Deciding on a Job've decided that you really do want to go to South Korea and you want to work there as an English teacher...but where to start? There are literally hundreds of different sites out there offering seemingly competitive contracts to potential EFL teachers, but how do you choose which one to go with?

Well, in order to focus your options somewhat, I suggest that you decide on what kind of teaching job you actually want. Teachers new to Korea generally have the following three options available to them:

Public Schools
Private Schools (Hagwons)

The Low Down on... Public Schools

  • Stable income - Your salary gets paid on the same day every month
  • Holidays - You usually get at least 4 weeks plus any national holidays (ca. 14 days a year)
  • Co-teacher - You work with a co-teacher who can help you with teaching and class discipline if you need it.
  • Set curriculum - Public schools tend to follow a set curriculum, so you will have the materials you need to work with.
  • Set pay scale - There is no way of progressing up the pay scale once you hit the top.
  • Co-teacher - If you don't get along with your co-teacher you may be in for a tough year.
  • Set curriculum - You may not like the way the curriculum is set out, or the materials being used.
  • Lonesome stranger - Working at a public school it is often the case that you will be the only foreigner working at your school, which could make you feel a little out of place
  • Class size - You could be teaching up to 40 students in one class, which can be daunting if you are just starting out.
General contract terms:

Level: Elementary/Middle/High School
Teaching hours: 22 hours/week
Overtime: Sometimes available
Starting Salary (no previous experience/qualifications): 1.8-2.1 million won
Top end salary (relevant experience/qualifications): 2.7 million won (fixed)
Holidays: 18-25+ days/year + Korean national holidays
Flights: Reimbursed after arrival/departure
Housing: Furnished housing or housing allowance of 400,000/500,000(Seoul)
Severance pay: 1 month's salary
50% Medical Insurance
50% Pension plan
Settlement allowance: 300,000 won
Sick leave: 11-15 days/year
Hiring Boards: SMOE (Seoul), GEPIK (Gyeonggi province), CEPIK (Chungnam), EPIK (everywhere except Chungnam)

The Lowdown on...Private schools (hagwons)

  • Salaries - Hagwon jobs tend to pay higher salaries than public schools jobs.
  • Overtime - You will be more likely to have the option of picking up overtime if you want to.
  • Curriculum - Depending on the school, you may have a set curriculum, or you may be given the option of constructing your own curriculum altogether, giving you complete freedom over the material used and how to teach it.
  • Class size - Usually hagwon classes have between 8-15 students, so you can personalise lessons more.
  • Social Network - Hagwons tend to employ a number of foreign teachers, which automatically provides you with a network of people you can call on after you arrive.

  • Working hours - You are more likely to have more hours teaching students and less time for preparation available.
  • Job security - As hagwons are privately funded it is not unusual for schools to go bankrupt.
  • Holidays - You will most likely get the standard 10 days holiday a year + national holidays (ca. 14 days).
General contract terms:

Level: Kindergarten/Elementary/Middle/High School/Adults
Teaching hours: avg. 30 hours/week
Overtime: Usually available/required
Starting salary (no experience/qualifications): 2.1-2.3 million won
Holidays: 10 days/year
Flights: Usually prepaid
Housing: Furnished housing or housing allowance
Severance pay: 1 month's salary
50% Medical Insurance
50% Pension plan
Sick leave: 2-3 days/year

The Lowdown on... Universities


  • Holidays - The standard is around 8-12 weeks of paid vacation per year, but some offer anywhere up to 20 weeks!
  • Short hours - Most instructors teach students between 10-18 hours a week.

  • Large classes - As English is required for credit at universities, the classes tend to be large (up to 100+ students) and leave little room for personalised contact with students.
  • Benefits - Some of the benefits like airfare, housing, health insurance etc. provided as standard elsewhere, may not be provided.
  • Salaries - Although holidays are long, salaries tend to be pretty low around 2 million won/month which is that of a teacher starting out elsewhere.
General contract terms:

Level: University/Adults
Teaching hours: avg. 15-20 hours/week
Overtime: May be available
Starting salary (MA and/or 2-3 years experience): ca. 2.1 million won
Holidays: 8+ weeks/year
Flights: Not usually provided
Housing: May be provided
Severance pay: 1 month's salary
Medical Insurance: Yes
Pension plan: Yes

As you can see there are pros and cons to working in any of these institutions and in order to make your decisions, you will probably need to decide on what your priorities are. If you want a stable, regular income without the risk of losing your job and don't mind teaching large classes, you may want to try for a public school job. However, if you're more interested in making money, and want the option of working extra hours to do so, or simply prefer smaller classes, then a hagwon job would probably be a better option for you. If you want long holidays, then universities are probably the way to go, though they do tend to prefer to hire people with teaching experience in Korea and as mentioned, the salaries tend to be on the low end and benefits are not always included.

There are other options out there for teachers, which I have not covered i.e. university language institutes and corporate in-house language programs, but these tend to recruit within Korea and require more specialized qualifications, which is why I haven't covered them.

If you've had any particularly good/ bad experiences in any of these institutions feel free to comment below!

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