The process of trying to get a teaching job in Korea is daunting. Do a Google search and there are hundreds of results. There are English teachers telling you to do it this way and do it that way. Here I am jumping on the bandwagon to discuss how we, a couple, landed a teaching position in the Land of the Morning Calm.
There are a couple of options when it comes to teaching English in Korea: hagwons, which are private academies, and public schools. The latter is getting harder to come by, especially if you don’t hold a degree in education. Since public schools only accept one foreign teacher, a couple has likely no chance of being at the same school. The only possibility for couples to work in a public school is to try to be placed in the same city but at separate schools. However, that’s not always guaranteed. Since Daniel and I didn’t want to take that chance we settled on the idea of a hagwon.
Like any job there are pros and cons to teaching English in Korea. If you work in a hagwon, you will likely make more money. However, when public school teachers get multiple weeks off during the holidays, expect to get half of that. Something else to take in consideration are the class sizes. Hagwons can sometimes only have two kids in a class, whereas public schools can have up to twenty. (Fortunately for public school teachers, they usually have a Korean co-teacher in the room to help with behavior.) Since hagwons are run year-round, start dates are more flexible for when applying. But public schools start the year in March.
Apparently there’s also a lot of “desk warming” in public schools. English teachers spend more time sitting at a computer than actually teaching, which could be why there are a lot of English teachers with blogs that have the words waygook (foreigner) and kimchi (spicy, pickled cabbage) in the title. Don’t be another statistic!
Being a teacher in a hagwon is hard work. I was already used to working with kids before Korea, but to Daniel, it was mentally draining for him. The hours are excruciatingly long. We hardly ever had a break from the kids, and even had to spend our lunch break with them. Unfortunately this meant most of our time during weekends were spent recharging and not exploring the country.
Unfortunately couples positions at hagwons are few and far between these days. If you are looking to travel together I would recommend considering China as they are far more flexible with teaching couples and there are many more opportunities.
After reading that I felt pretty discouraged. Daniel and I were set on South Korea, not China. I wasn’t going to give up yet though. I eventually found Teach ESL Korea, an agency run by a couple who went to South Korea together. They were helpful right from the beginning, and best of all they encouraged couples to apply. They said as long as we kept an open mind, they would do their best to place us.
We sent in our application through Teach ESL Korea’s website along with our resumes and a short introductory video. Within two weeks of applying, we had set up a Skype interview with a hagwon. We were nervous before our interview. A job interview is stressful enough, but an interview over Skype with someone whose first language isn’t English is nerve-wracking. We spent hours perfecting our answers to any questions we might be asked.
We were going to Daegu, South Korea for an entire year.