I spent two years working at a government elementary school in Busan, South Korea. To say that this experience was life changing is an understatement of note. The amount of personal growth and exploring I was able to do can’t be matched by any other life experience I’ve had. Let me start off by saying that I’ve only taught English in Korea, so my opinion might be a tad bit biased… But, here is why I would recommend teaching English in Korea to anyone who is willing to listen.
In Korea, there are two main options for teaching English. Option one is working at a government school, this is what I did. Option two is working at an after school academy (referred to as a hagwon). There are pros and cons to working at both options. At a hagwon you can earn more money, but vacation time is less and you have a lot more teaching hours. Due to this I decided to go for option one. In order to teach at a government school you need to apply through the English Program in Korea (EPIK). The application process might seem overwhelming and requires a lot of effort, but the reward is worth it- trust me!
EPIK provides a great deal for English teachers. The program pays for your ticket to and from Korea, it gives you a settlement allowance, a good salary, pays for half of your medical insurance and once you have completed your contract they also pay you severance. However, these financial benefits turned out not to be my main reason for finding this program so awesome.
EPIK requires all of its new teachers to attend an orientation for the first week in which they arrive in Korea. At first, I thought this would be a waste of time due to already having all the necessary qualifications to be a foreign language English teacher. But boy was I wrong! This orientation provided the foundation of what I would need for the next two years. Firstly, you get placed in a class with people who will be teaching in the same city as you. This helped me make a great bunch of friends and allowed me to instantly establish a support system. Secondly, the orientation focused not only on how to be the best English teacher you could be, but also on how to adapt to life in Korea. We had basic Korean lessons (which taught us to read and write the Korean alphabet), a cultural trip to 전주 (Jeonju) where we got to see the largest Hanok (a tradition style of house) Village and tips on how to handle conflicts or disagreements at work.
EPIK provides you with a furnished one man apartment. This really helped reduce my stress levels before moving to Korea. It was so nice to be dropped off at an actual apartment and not have to find one myself. If you want, you can choose the option of receiving a housing allowance and finding your own apartment. I was really lucky with my apartment as it was clean, relatively spacious and had almost everything I needed. I was also really grateful, because my apartment was a 10 minute walk to school and a 6 minute walk to the subway station.
EPIK places you at a government school of their choice. Currently, it is mandatory that every elementary school has a foreign English teacher whereas only some middle and high schools are given this opportunity. The school I was placed at was the largest elementary school in Busan and because of this I mainly worked with 5th and 6th graders. My classes ranged in size from 22-26 students. Over my two years I worked with four co-teachers. A co-teacher is a Korean teacher who teachers English with you. This is really helpful with classroom management and translation for the kids. All of my co-teachers were great. They allowed me to lead lessons and helped me hone my teaching skills. I was lucky with the school I was placed at, not only because of my co-teachers but also because of the other staff members. I was asked to join the staff volleyball team (even though I had never played volleyball before in my life) and was taught how to drink like a Korean by my schools principle (a 60+ year old woman).
Vacation days were sufficient enough. At first I assumed that when the students had vacation, so would I. This was not the case. In summer and winter vacations, foreign English teachers are expected to teach an English camp. The camp is generally taught over two weeks in both vacations. At first I was discouraged by the thought of teaching camp and not having the full vacation, but in fact the camps turned out to be teaching highlights for me due to having the freedom to teach anything I wanted. Class sizes were also smaller so I got to spend more one on one time with the kids. EPIK works vacation for its employees as any other job would. Your leave days are subject to your contract. In my first year I had 18 days of leave and in my second I had 23. This was enough to create two vacation trips where I could travel to overseas country’s and recharge my batteries.
Living in Korea was great for traveling. It is so central in Asia and close to South-East Asia that travelling was affordable to go to different country’s whenever I had time off from work. In my first year I was fortunate enough to travel to Japan, Bali, Borneo, Hong Kong, Cambodia and Vietnam. In my second year I wanted to focus more on exploring in Korea, but I still managed to visit China and the Philippines. Traveling locally in Korea is great due to the readily available public transport. The public transport was really impressive for me as coming from South Africa I hadn’t had much opportunity to use it before. Trains and busses were able to take me anywhere I wanted to go in Korea for an affordable price.
I am so grateful to Korea and EPIK for all the opportunities they have given me and will give me. Yes, that’s right- will give me… Even though I lived a comfortable life in Korea and travelled a lot, I was also able to save a substantial amount of money. This money is going towards travelling around South America and Africa for 6 months.
So, if you are interested in teaching English I really think Korea is the place to be!