Interested in teaching abroad in South Korea with the University of Toronto TEFL Online? To continue our Q&A series we asked Jen at Teach Away about her experience teaching English in Seoul, South Korea. This is what she had to say:
Why did you choose to teach in South Korea?
When I was a university student I studied abroad in Spain and after graduating I wanted another opportunity to travel and earn money to pay off my student debt. Korea offered the best job perks for someone like me with no formal teaching credentials or experience. Teaching English allowed me to save and travel.
How did you prepare for teaching in South Korea?
I didn’t prepare for teaching at all! I thought the week of training provided by my school would adequately prepare me, but I greatly underestimated the challenges of teaching.
What were some of your biggest challenges as a teacher in South Korea?
I struggled a lot trying to bond with my Korean colleagues. My Korean co-teachers were extremely shy to speak English in front of one another, and would often only speak in Korean to each other at school. This made it really difficult to socialize with them! It wasn’t until the end of my contract that I understood that my coworkers weren’t trying to ignore me, but they were simply too shy to speak English in front of each other.
What was your favourite part about the culture?
Things are super convenient in South Korea. For example, you can have food delivered to any location – even to your picnic blanket in the park! Also, the locals were fascinated by my appearance, being that I’m fair skinned and blonde. I would be walking down the street and people would stare or ask to take photos with me. I didn’t find this to be negative though (for the most part), and embraced my newfound “celebrity status”. Koreans are very polite and friendly so I was happy to take pictures with them.
What is something you wish you’d packed before leaving for South Korea?
More shoes! I am a ladies US size 10, and there aren’t many women’s shoes in my size in South Korea. I had to buy men’s shoes, which limited my choices.
What was your most memorable experience?
I went to an ice fishing festival with a company that organized weekend tours for foreigners. We had Korean-style barbeque, sang karaoke, and enjoyed Soju, a typical drink. At the end of the event I won a ‘Special Foreigner Award’ worth $300! I still don’t understand why I won the award, but it was a very memorable lost-in-translation moment.
What were the benefits, accommodation and salary like as a teacher in South Korea?
My salary was approximately $1,800 USD per month after taxes. Return airfare was paid for by my school who refunded up to $1,000 dollars for my flight to and from Canada. I had a very small bachelor apartment paid for by my school and also had health insurance. I didn’t realize before leaving for Korea, but I was required to make contributions to a Korean pension, which my employer matched. When I left the country I redeemed that money! On top of my contract completion bonus worth one month’s salary, I left Korea with approximately $4,000 which I put towards 4 months of backpacking in Southeast Asia.
As a member of the Teach Away team, what advice would you give to someone looking to land a job in South Korea?
It’s comfortable and easy to stay home, but you really need to put yourself out there to meet people and make friends. Check out meetup.com for local events near you. Also, travel while you’re there! If you’re good with your money, you can save more than 50% of your salary to put towards vacations and traveling.
Want to teach in South Korea like Jen? To learn more and compare our courses, click here.