Teaching Abroad Series | Part Two South Korea
Updated: Oct 8, 2019
In this Series, Teaching Abroad, Travel For Change Founder Cherie asks expatriate teachers working in Southeast Asia some questions on their experience within the education sector. Teaching abroad is a great way to work in destinations such as Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and more, but it is important to remember that you should also have the appropriate skills, training and intentions for working with students or desire to do so as they advance in their role.
This series is focused on travellers who gained paid teaching positions with a school faculty and advocates for each individual to participate in sustainable and ethical work in this field. Travel For Change does not support short-term volunteer work with children in care facilities.
Teaching Abroad Series Part Two
Teaching in South Korea
Why did you choose to teach?
I studied ESL in my undergrad and didn’t love it at the time. I decided to teach in Korea three years after I graduated to give it a chance and to see if being in the class was better than learning about being in the classroom; it was! I also wanted to experience life overseas, so it was a logical step.
Do you love what you do?
During my two years teaching in Korea I decided that teaching really wasn't for me; but I absolutely loved the experience. I had a lot of control over my lessons, so I could try new things and get as creative as I wanted. Some things totally crashed and burned, but some were a huge success, which always kept it interesting. My students were fun and enthusiastic, so the job was never boring. I loved being in Korea and am so thankful that I had the chance to learn that teaching isn't really my calling in a setting I enjoyed.
Is this your first job? If no, why the career change to Education?
This was my first full-time teaching job, though I had taught online and part-time in the classroom before. I currently teach via an online method to kids in China to supplement my income. I chose to go into education because of the opportunities it unlocks. Even though it's not my focus now, it's reassuring to know that I could end up anywhere in the world to teach if I needed to. It's also enabled me to get my current job with VIPKID online, which allows me to pay for grad school.
What do you like to do on your days off? Is there a good work-life balance where you are based?
In Korea, I went on mini road trips all the time. I bought a car and visited my friends from work who were placed at schools all over my province. We'd eat tons of Korea food (BBQ was the favourite), drink outside of convenience stores (a Korean pastime), hike mountains (Korea has tons of beautiful trails), hit up the beach (the east coast is Asia's best-kept secret), and visit some of Korea's crazy festivals (cherry blossoms) there was always something to be celebrated! The work-life balance is good, though your work load really depends on your school. I had much more free time during my second year once I got the hang of things and established a routine.
If you teach English to second language speakers, did you learn their local language?
I learnt to read Korean and learned enough basic conversation to handle daily tasks such as ordering food or asking for directions. Korean is tricky to learn because most people speak English and are always excited to try it with a native speaker.
Do you have a memory in your teaching experience that you are proud of and wish to share?
Halloween isn't really celebrated in Korea, but because American culture is so popular there, many students know about it. I taught my students how to trick-or-treat in English and invited them to come trick-or-treat at my apartment on Halloween. When I got home from work, there was already a line all the way up my stairs and most of my students had dressed up!
Do you have any starter tips for those wanting to teach?
Take a TEFL course! You'll feel more confident and will be able to apply for more jobs. Once you're in a classroom, involve your culture in your lessons as things that might seem mundane to you will excite your students. For example, I had to teach a class on American money, so I showed them a picture of a quarter from my home state of Michigan (quarters in America have different pictures on the back for each state). We ended up spending the rest of the lesson looking up quarters and guessing what each state was famous for! It is important to check that you have the appropriate requirements for the visa and research the area and schools you wish to apply for. As a destination, Korea is well known for being a great place to teach and also save money. In US dollars the salary is around $2000 a month with free rent and return flights as the standard bonus for first contracts in Korea. There are jobs that pay less than this and/or require more hours, but I always advise people not to take them and keep searching. A $3000 job would be a very well-paying job for a first contract, unless it was at a University or for someone who is a qualified teacher, which tend to pay even more. Also, nearly all jobs in Korea pay in their currency, the Won, so the actual US dollar amount is subject to about $100 monthly fluctuations. Cost of living will vary depending if you are based in the city or in a less populated area. Do you think education is important to the local community and why?
Yes! Education empowers local communities to make their own decisions in an informed way and, ideally, puts each member of the community on equal footing.
Contributed by Blythe Collins | Follow Blythe on Social Media