Author’s note: everything old is new again, especially when blogging about the same things and places for several years. This seemed a good time to publish a question that’s commonly asked, upon realizing how long it’s been since I’ve seen a blogger in Korea approach the topic.
Do you have a question about Korea? Do a quick search on the blog, then send me an e-mail at chrisinsouthkorea AT gmail DOT com and your question might be answered here!
A reader writes in:
My name is [H.]. I discovered your blog today & am in love with it. I’ve been thinking about teaching in Korea for a a bit & I was wondering if there is a section of your blog that has information on how to become a teacher in Korea; like what’ll ill need to qualify & the steps in going about it. I want to ask all these questions but if you already have a blog entry about it, I didn’t want to waste your time. So if you can direct me to it, I’d greatly appreciate it.
Image credit: Wikipedia
I start with the following caveats:
- Despite the appearances of being a well-paying stable job, teaching jobs are anything but. A one-year contract is standard, with no guarantees or promises of renewal. Public school positions are being cut, while there’s no guarantee the programs will ever reach their previous level.
- Did you take the ‘Should you teach English in Korea’ test? While far from official, it’s a good clue on whether you’re ready for the job.
- The current regulations state that only native English speakers from the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Ireland, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand can become English teachers on E-2 visas. It’s worth noting, however, that Filipinos married to Koreans on an F-2 (residential) visa can legally work as English teachers, despite the locals’ misconceptions and prejudices.
- You’ll need an undergraduate degree and a clean background check of a national nature. Note that traffic tickets or infractions of a parking nature are no problem, as far as Korea is concerned. While minor infractions (e.g. petty theft) used to be overlooked, it was quite rare to hear of any major infractions (e.g. driving while intoxicated) being waived. Anecdotally speaking, I’ve yet to hear of or meet anyone that’s come in within the past couple of years with any sort of criminal blemish on their record.
- Being young and reasonably attractive definitely helps your chances. Discrimination is common – a significant percentage of ads for teachers openly state their preferences for, say, an American woman, a ‘kind’ and ‘gentle’ person, or a taller guy. The younger you are (or can make yourself sound), the better. As one recruiting website states, “We do our best to accommodate as many candidates as possible in this sector but as recruiters we’re limited to the hiring practices and demands of the schools.” One craigslist ad wraps up the open discrimination succinctly: “That’s what students want.” Get used to thinking of eight-year-olds not as your students, but as your bosses.
- It seems inappropriate at best, but a photo is a mandatory part of your application – while you’ll never hear it from the horse’s mouth, one reason your application might never get a call back is because your teeth are yellow or your hair looks unkempt. If pictures are worth a thousand words, that single wallet-sized photo included or attached in the e-mail says more about you than the rest of your application. This might be the time to get a professional headshot.
If you’ve made it this far, I’ll assume you’ve realized that this job search is less straightforward and more complex than originally thought. If you’re ready to continue, by all means get started!
What to do
First, get your paperwork in order. This includes a copy of your college diploma, a criminal background check at the national level (if you’re an American this can take three months), and a few other pieces of required paperwork. A recruiter’s website will have the complete list as it stands currently, but don’t count on it being completely accurate. Regulations change, and inconsistent answers are abound.
Second, learn about the country. A lot of jobs are available across the country, but it seems a lot of them are in the suburbs of Seoul. That’s actually kind of a good thing – it’s a nice compromise between big city life and being comfortable and where you live. If you’re not picky about where you live, then definitely consider some of the other cities for areas around the country. How to choose? This 10 question quiz will tell you.
Third, learn how to teach and learn what to expect. This post by a fellow bloggeris apt, and a TEFL/TESOL certificate of some kind is required or highly recommended for the public school jobs. The hagwons don’t require one, but these days they’re easier than ever to get in a short and relatively cheap manner.
It is also possible to get your certification through an online university. This is probably the easiest way to earn your certificate, since you can complete coursework on your own time and finish as quickly as you wish. If you are hard-pressed for time and want to complete your training immediately, online certification is highly recommended. Keep in mind that you will receive the exact same level of training that you would if you were in a classroom.
Fourth, get ready to say goodbye. You may think you’re only going away for a year, but you’d be amazed how many people come to Korea for a year, then go for a second, a third, fourth, etc. The visa process is hardest the first time around, and seems easier each time. Many people go back home for good, while some go home for a few months only to return to Korea. Quite a few people come to Korea and, once they’ve experienced life here, they never want to leave.
Fifth, choose to live. What I mean by this is to think about coming to Korea as a serious life change – like getting married or having a child. It is what you make it to be. If all you choose to do is sit around and complain about your job, or drink your nights and weekends away, you will see the results from that. Choose to be productive with your time in Korea, whether that means being the very best teacher, or building your talents for something even greater. It’s too easy to coast along when you’re in your home country, surrounded by people you know and things that make you comfortable, but coming to a foreign country– any foreign country – forces you to rethink some of those assumptions.
In short, life in Korea is what you make of it. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by wonderfully talented people making the best of their opportunities, and creating new ones in the process. Who you hang out and associate with is and always has been your choice. One can delve whole-heartedly into the English-teaching community and KOTESOL, or find a good use for your interests and energy via volunteer organizations. Still others will sing, act, dance, write, photograph, play in a band, tell jokes, appear on radio, appear on TV, network, start businesses, and many other ventures.
Choose it and do it.