Shirlen at a festival in South Korea... with Devil horns!

Interested in teaching abroad? Hear details from Shirlen, a Houston, Texas native, about how she found and began a teaching job in Uijeongbu, South Korea! Take it away, Shirlen:

As my seventh month approaches and the honeymoon stage dissipates, I am still happy to be teaching English in South Korea. I am so happy, in fact, that I will renew my contract.

In May of 2009, I graduated with a Masters, but I wasn’t happy with the lack of opportunities for recent graduates. So I decided to improve my international resume by working abroad. I researched online for international job opportunities, but most were volunteered-based and required money up front. Unfortunately, my student loans wouldn’t pay themselves.

Further research uncovered that South Korea would be a great match for me. Teaching there didn’t require a teaching certificate, just a degree. In addition, they compensate teachers for their qualifications. There is a pay scale with several levels so it is easy to increase your pay. Also, the benefits are more competitive than other countries. As a public school teacher I get 20 days of vacation a year (which is more than double what private school teachers get) and there are opportunities to earn more money through extracurricular English classes. Also, the school pays half of the health insurance, which is about $50 each month. I encourage those looking to teach in South Korea to teach at a public school as it is more advantageous.

I decided to apply for a public school position through a recruiter, Reach to Teach, which was great. They even helped my boyfriend and I get placed near each other. FYI: the South Korean government will not place teachers together unless they are married.

The application process was fairly easy but time consuming. After getting all the numerous required documents in and a few phone interviews with the recruiters and the South Korean government, I had to wait. After 3 months I was offered a position at a technical high school. Once I accepted, everything moved very quickly, though this is not the case for everyone. I’ve heard others knew their teaching placement for a month before any action happened. As for me, within 2 weeks of my notification I was on a plane with visa in hand. I got my visa quickly (3 days) because a Korean consulate is based in my city, while I think the process may take longer in other areas.

Shirlen's lively students in South Korea. Love the expressions!

I arrived mid-March and luckily went straight to orientation. However, most teachers go straight to work from arrival. After a week of training I was escorted to my school by a Korean colleague. My school asked me to observe classes for about a week before I began teaching, although this may not be the circumstance for all teachers.

There are 3 public English programs in South Korea. I work for GEPIK (Gyeonggi-do English Program in Korea) and the other programs are EPIK and SMOE. EPIK manages all the public schools in the other 7 provinces and SMOE manages all the public schools in Seoul. As a public school teacher, each native teacher is required to do 60 hours of training each year. At these trainings/orientations they explain the education system and give you tips and tools to be a successful teacher. The most important part about teaching English in South Korea is that native teachers are required by law to have a Korean co-teacher, which has its advantages and disadvantages, and this is covered in detail at the trainings.

Furthermore, I think it is important to know that not only does the English Education Program in Korea try to make native teachers’ lives easier in the work place, but the government has also made this a very foreign-friendly country. Most street and metro signs are also in English. In fact, a person can live here without learning Korean, though that is not recommended. Also, it is very cheap and easy to travel the country, and there are many perks to being foreign here. For instance, foreigners sometimes get to attend concerts and do cultural things for free. While living here I am a teacher on weekdays and a tourist on weekends. It’s a truly enjoyable life here, and there are always so many things to do, regardless of whether you live near Seoul or not.

Teaching English in a foreign country is a wonderful experience no matter where you go, but teaching in South Korea has been a perfect match for me. I have been able to gain international experience and earn money as I wait out the recession back home.

If you are interested in teaching in another country, I hope you find a good match, so you can also have a wonderful experience living abroad. South Korea may or may not be your match, but I haven’t met many people who don’t enjoy living in here. Happy teaching traveling!

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Posted by Lillie

Lillie started TeachingTraveling.com in 2010 to share the infinite ways to combine education and world exploration. Lillie has been a Boston teacher since 2003, and chronicles her own travels at AroundTheWorldL.com.

2 Comments

  1. Hi Shirlen

    Thanks for the detail you gave about your teaching experience in SK and the differences in teaching methods there. Without being too specific, could you share details about what salary can be expected on those various levels? And you mentioned paying off your loans… do you find that you are able to make enough to pay those loans and still travel around SK/Asia and enjoy living there?

    Thanks!

    Reply

  2. What would you say you enjoyed more, teaching in Korea or in the US?

    Reply

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