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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

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Good luck in your job search! Seoraksan National Park, South Korea

Hello!

I've found that a lot of people email me with questions about teaching English in Korea. This page is my attempt to answer them. If you have a question that is not answered on this page, email me at esloutlet@gmail.com and I will likely post a response. You may also find an answer to your question in one of our youtube videos, at youtube.com/esloutlet

I have done ESL work in South Korea, as well as some other volunteer ESL teaching in another country. For people interested in teaching ESL in a foreign country, my biggest piece of advice would be to do as much research as you can about the school you will teach at, the country you will live in, and the contract you will be signing. If you find out as much as possible beforehand, you are much less likely to encounter unpleasant surprises once you arrive and begin teaching. Make sure that you know what you are signing up for before you accept a job teaching English (or any job for that matter). This page is designed to help you in your research, so you can make a more intelligent and informed decision, so that you can have a pleasant and enjoyable experience traveling and teaching English in a foreign country like Korea. The more you prepared and the more you know, the better your experience will undoubtedly be.

The answers that I provide here are based on my experiences. They apply mainly to teaching in Korea, but people looking for ESL work in other countries might also find them helpful. These answers should not be considered authoritative in any way. Good luck in your search!

Sincerely,

Steve


Tip #1 - Do your research.

Q: Should I work at a public school or a private school?

A:This is an important and often debated question, especially in Korea. Many people have strong opinions about which type of school is better. The answer depends a lot on your personality, and your personal preference. One is not necessarily better than the other, they're just different in some important ways. The most important thing to do, is research the options that you have, and read the contract carefully. Make sure, if you do want to teach at a private school, that you trust the company and the people you will be working for. Some schools will actually allow you to speak with current or past teachers, so that you can get a feel for what the school is like. Ask the school you are considering if that is a possibility. If they say, "Absolutely not!" that's probably not a good sign.

I've tried to outline some of the pros and cons to both types of schools as objectively as possible. This youtube video also explains the differences.

Pros of public schools

  • You're working for the government, as opposed to a private individual who may or may not be trustworthy.
  • The contracts are very standardized, and it's easy to find information on them.
  • Better hours (if you like working during the day, like from 8 to 4).
  • No work on weekends, or national holidays. Public schools will generally able to offer you more vacation time, sick leave and things of that nature.
  • Generally public schools require you to teach fewer classes per week (usually around 20 per week, or 4 per day). So you have plenty of prep time.
  • Public schools usually offer you more paid vacation time than private schools... about 20 days per year.

Cons of public schools

  • Larger class size (sometimes more than 30 students in a class), although you will have a co-teacher to help you in the classroom.
  • Most public schools hire only one native English teacher. They do offer periodic trainings and orientations where you can network and make friends with other English speakers, but you will probably be the only native English teacher at your school. Your co-teacher will speak English, and should be able to help you communicate.

Pros of private schools (academies or 'hagwons' as they call them in Korea)

  • Generally, hagwons offer a slightly higher rate of pay.
  • Smaller class sizes, so you can work more one on one with students.
  • Better hours (if you like working in the evenings (like 2 to 10 PM) and some weekends.
  • Most private schools have several teachers working in the same school. That may or may not be a good thing, depending on who you're working with, and how you feel about associating with them.
  • The following is not necessarily a pro or a con, but you can think of it like this: Students go to private academies when public schools are not in session. That means public school teachers and private schools teachers often have schedules that are almost opposite. Evenings, Weekends, holidays, and other times when students are not in public schools are often the busiest time for private school teachers. During the day, when most students are in public schools, you might have more free time working in a private school.
Cons of private schools (academies or 'hagwons')

  • Private schools are businesses first, and educational institutions second. Some private schools are more interested in keeping paying students and parents happy, than teaching them English. Research the school you are considering to see if it is reputable or not.
  • Private schools tend to push students a little harder than public schools. As the teacher you are responsible to get results.
  • Each school has their own contract, and some are better than others. There are a few standards which seem to be industry wide. But unlike public school contracts which are fairly standardized and widely accepted, a private school can put anything they want in their contracts. Make sure you read yours carefully before you sign it.
  • Because private schools are businesses, if the schools goes bankrupt or runs out of cash, you may end up on the losing end of the deal.
  • More classes per week, or per day.
  • Private schools usually offer you less paid vacation time than public schools... about 7 to 10 days per year.
Q:What kinds of requirements or prerequisites are there?

A:Most schools require a bachelors degree from an accredited university. If your major relates to teaching ESL (education, English, TOEFL, etc.) you gen generally get a little more pay. If you have a masters degree, or other related work experience you will also generally be offered a higher salary. You must, of course, be a native English speaker (or be able to speak English like a native speaker). I recently heard that some public school districts in Korea are hiring teachers that have 2 year, associate degrees, but for a little bit less pay. Check with your recruiter for specific details, and read through any contracts you are offered very carefully before you sign.

Q:Who pays for my airline ticket to Korea?

A:Any legitimate school should offer to reimburse you for your airline ticket to Korea. The specifics of your travel and return should be clearly outlined in the contract. Generally the school will reimburse you either upon arrival, or within a very short period of time. Once you complete the contract, the school should also reimburse you for your airline ticket home. That is pretty standard procedure. Some schools may offer to purchase the ticket for you, rather than reimburse you. Most airlines allow you to check two large bags. There are ways, if you want to bring a bunch of stuff with you, to send it over on a boat for a very reasonable fee, although I wouldn't really recommend it. You will probably accumulate more stuff while you're here.

Q: Do you have to speak Korean?

A:No, but it makes life a lot easier if you can learn how to say basic things like "Where's the bathroom?" and "How much is it?". To learn the basics, I would recommend visiting survivalphrases.com. You can subscribe to their podcast, and learn several important phrases that will make your life a lot easier. Another great resource on youtube is busyatomdotcom. He makes very informative videos covering all the basics of learning Korean.

Also, in Korea, there are Korean academies for foreigners, where you can study the language (for a fee) if you feel so inclined. Language exchanges are a good way to learn, and a good way to make friends and meet people also.

In most situations, you should will have a Korean "co-teacher" who helps you in the classroom. Someone at the school who speaks English will help you open a bank account and do all the administrative type stuff.

Q: What other benefits are provided?

A: Most schools offer health insurance. They should also offer you between 15 and 20 days of paid vacation. The big Korean holidays are Chuseok, which is kind of like Thanksgiving, around October, and Lunar New Year which is around the end of January or early February. Other holidays like Christmas are also celebrated and you will generally get those type of vacations off, especially if you work in a public school where those days are taken off by everyone.

Free housing is almost always offered. For single people living alone, the apartment are generally quite small, and include the basics like a bed, stove, microwave, rice cooker, etc. So don't expect to live in a penthouse. If you're married, or you can work out a deal to live with a roommate, you can usually get a larger place with 2 bedrooms, and maybe 2 bathrooms.

Once again, those details should be pretty clear in the contract. If those details aren't outlined clearly, ask yourself how much you trust the people who are offering it to you.

Q:What do they eat in Korea?

A:The most famous Korean food is kimchi, which is spicy, fermented cabbage. Kimchi is eaten with everything. Koreans also eat a lot of pork, seafood, rice and vegetables. Not all Korean food is spicy, like Kimbop. At the grocery stores, you can find just about any kind of western or international food you might be in the mood for, although imported foods are generally more expensive than you would expect to pay at home. Across Korea there are many western style restaurants, including things like Krispy Kreme, Baskin Robbins and Pizza Hut. So don't worry, you'll find something you like.

Other Useful Info

The ESLoutlet youtube channel has lots of videos about what you can expect teaching ESL in Korea.

Korvia Consulting - a professional, helpful, knowledgable recruiting agency.

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