After spending the last year in Korea I feel sharing my experiences there will be of great assistance to any ESL teachers who are considering or have accepted a position in the country. Firstly, I would like to outline the basic conditions of employment in the country The average salary is around 2,000,000 Won per month, which is equal to around $2,200, this amount is fairly standard whether working at a government school, university or the most common place of employment the all prevalent language school or ?Hagwon? in Korean. Furthermore, your employer will provide free accommodation, round trip air fare and will make a contribution to both the government run health insurance program and pension fund.
Additionally upon completion of your contract you will receive one month?s severance pay plus all contributions made to the government run pension fund, which should amount to around $4500. The standard contract at a language school states that you will be expected to teach 30 classes a week, which usually consist of a 50 minute session followed by a 10 minute break. If your particular school offers a kindergarten program your schedule will most likely be broken up into split shifts with you working three classes between 10 AM?2 PM and another three classes between 3:30-8:30 with the foreign and Korean teacher alternating days with each group of students. Now, that the basic situation has been outlined I will proceed to pass on my personal experience and resulting advice for those who are interested in the country as an ESL instructor.
Korea with the exception of some Middle Eastern countries is most likely the easiest destination to save a significant amount of money. The cost of living is low especially if you are able to cook yourself and limit entertainment to one night a week, additionally taxes are minimal. Personally, after an initial period lasting two months while settling in I was able to save an astounding $1200 a month while still maintaining a reasonable standard of living. Now, one reading this article might think this sounds like an ideal situation but in truth there is nothing that could ever drag me back to the country, I would rather live like a pauper in Thailand than a king in Korea. The main reason being the people as much as I tried (and I did try) to understand Koreans it is a nearly impossible task, it could be compared to banging your head against a brick wall for no discernable reason. They are an extremely xenophobic people and there nationalism knows no bounds, to put it simply they do not like other foreigners, especially Americans and look down on all ESL teachers as drunken child molesters who only came to Korea as they could not find work in their native countries. Of course, this can not be taken as a blanket stereotype but it is gives a fairly accurate description of the population in general. I would strongly recommend to not rebel against the facts of life there, as truthfully you are in the country by your own volition and more importantly you will be much happier once you become resigned to reality. While, I do not have space to give specific examples please feel free to email me at the address provided at the bottom of this article for more information on what I am referring to. Next, I will provide the most crucial piece of advice for anyone interested in teaching there. Choose your school carefully, I can not emphasize this point enough as if you do not there is substantially greater chance you will be cheated or blatantly ripped off for which you will have little recourse. Government run schools are the exception but the most likely option for ESL teachers the ?Hagwon? abound with horror stories of lies to outright fraud. Among the forty or so other foreigners I knew there at least 50% ran into problems with their employers at one time or another. While outside the country the best way to evaluate a school is by researching it online there are numerous sites created by teachers, which in effect serve as a blacklist for language schools. Additionally, get in contact with other teachers at the school and be sure that the communication is via email as if it is via telephone the school director will most likely be standing over the teacher listening to each word, making it impossible to get objective information. Furthermore, ask the school how many students are enrolled and confirm it with the teacher you are in contact with as the probability of issues arising reduces relative to the amount of students at the school. Once again if you would like specific examples please do not hesitate to contact me directly.
While anyone reading this article may feel it is the subjective views of someone who had a horrendous experience in Korea it is merely a warning that truthfully I feel is very accurate. I am sure there are some teachers in the country who love the country and would not leave for anything but they are certainly a small and in my opinion eccentric group. If you have any questions or comments my email address is [email protected], I will be happy to provide any information or advice that is possible.
Author: Robert Merchant
Date of post: 2007-04-18