How We Found our Teaching Job in Korea

Hagwon Teachers in South Korea.

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.

Do another Google search on hagwons, and there will be hundreds of horror stories. My take on the matter is that people are more likely to post complaints online rather than raving about something. Face it–the Internet is filled with Cynical Cindy’s and Negative Nancy’s.

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.

To help find us a job we went through a recruiter. Again, do a Google search and hundreds of possibilities for recruiters will pop up. I found one (Footprints, ahem) that looked great, and I heard positive things about the agency. I went ahead and e-mailed them about placing couples. Here was their exact response.

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.

Yet, it didn’t even matter. The interview was very informal. The only question I recall was, “When can you start?” The interview lasted less than 10 minutes. It was probably to verify two things: that we were actual English speakers and we weren’t disheveled. The day after we had the interview, we were sent a contract to read and sign our lives away for a year. After corresponding with the current teachers to ask any last-minute questions, they confirmed that everything was great. (Of course they may have exaggerated a bit.) But since we didn’t want to give up this opportunity and be picky, we accepted our first choice.

We were going to Daegu, South Korea for an entire year.


  1. says

    I am SO excited that I found your blog! My husband and I went to South Korea a few summers ago to teach English for six weeks, and loved it. We want to go back after I graduate, but have heard so many mixed things that sometimes it gets discouraging. I’m definitely going to look into Teach ESL Korea!

    • Dan says

      Haha,don’t you already read my other blog DasBloggen?(Obviously this was written by my girlfriend not me though.) Actually our experience of Korea was mixed. I’ve written a short eBook about my year working in a hagwon which is a mixture of DasBloggen posts and new stuff. If you like I can send it to you if you read ebooks. However it may put you off as a lot of it is negative. It’s really a demanding thing to do mentally and physically, it’s quite exhausting and it takes some getting used to working in Korea due to the way their workplaces are.

      • says

        Bahaha you caught me. Still, I found it, as I usually don’t click on the links that people share. I would love to read the eBook – I remember our six weeks of teaching being exhausting, but at the same time I loved the people and the culture. Sometimes I wonder why we’re actually going back, because I remember how homesick we were and the expectations placed on our team of teachers were often unrealistic (in our eyes, anyway).

        • Dan says

          I’m glad you clicked. I’m not one to share links on my blog, actually it almost cause me physical pain to make that announcement post. Hah.

          A chunk of my eBook is about those crazy expectations and the pressure of them. I’ll try to email you the eBook tomorrow. No pressure to read it though as I can’t promise you’ll enjoy my bitching.

  2. says

    I almost went to Korea to teach English. I had the contract and everything, then decided to follow my heart to Prague, but that didn’t work up. Wound up visiting home and met the love of my life in my old flat… haha so funny how things work out. To say I’m glad I didn’t go to Korea is an understatement – can’t imagine how different my life would have been.

    Super cute pics!!!!

Leave a Reply