Teaching in Korea

10 Things to Know Before Teaching in Korea (2024)

Teaching in South Korea is an exciting opportunity that offers rich cultural experiences, professional development, and a chance to impact students’ lives. However, before packing your bags and boarding a plane, it’s crucial to be well-prepared.

Here are ten essential things you should know before starting your teaching journey in Korea.


1. Understand the Education System

South Korea is renowned for its rigorous education system, which places a strong emphasis on academic success and discipline. The school system is divided into elementary, middle, and high school, with a significant focus on private education through hagwons (private academies).

Public schools and hagwons are the two primary places where foreign teachers work. In public schools, teachers often work alongside a Korean co-teacher and focus primarily on improving students’ conversational English skills. Hagwons, on the other hand, are private institutions that often cater to students seeking additional academic support outside of regular school hours.

These academies usually operate in the evenings and have a reputation for demanding high performance from both students and teachers. As an educator, understanding these differences is essential for adjusting your teaching methods and expectations accordingly.

English Teaching Jobs in South Korea

2. Visa Requirements

To teach in South Korea, you will need an E-2 (teaching) visa, which involves several steps and meticulous preparation. This process includes obtaining a criminal background check, apostilled copies of your degree, and a comprehensive health check upon arrival in Korea.

The background check must be thorough and clean, as the South Korean government places a high priority on the safety and integrity of its educational institutions. Additionally, ensuring that your degree is properly apostilled—meaning it is certified for international use—is crucial for your visa application to be accepted.

Upon arrival, you will undergo a health check that typically includes a drug test and a check for communicable diseases. Preparing for these requirements well in advance can help streamline the visa process and ensure that you are ready to begin teaching without unnecessary delays.


3. Cultural Adjustments

Korean culture is rich and unique, but it can be quite different from what you might be used to, particularly if you come from a Western background. The hierarchical social structures, collectivist values, and Confucian principles deeply influence everyday interactions and professional relationships.

It is important to show respect to elders and authority figures, which is a fundamental aspect of Korean society. In the classroom, this might translate to addressing your co-teacher and school administrators with the appropriate level of formality and deference. Understanding and adapting to these cultural norms will not only help you integrate more smoothly into your work environment but also enhance your overall experience in Korea.

Engaging with local customs and traditions, from participating in national holidays to trying traditional Korean food, can also enrich your stay and help you build stronger connections with your colleagues and students.


4. Language Barrier

While many Koreans, especially younger generations, learn English, fluency varies widely, and you may encounter situations where communication is challenging.

Learning some basic Korean phrases can significantly enhance your daily life and help you navigate everyday tasks more effectively. Simple greetings, common phrases, and polite expressions can go a long way in showing respect for the local culture and making a positive impression.

Additionally, having some knowledge of Korean can help you understand your students better and create a more inclusive classroom environment. Language learning apps, online courses, and local language exchange groups are valuable resources that can help you get started with learning Korean before and after your arrival.


5. Work Culture

Korean work culture can be quite demanding, with long hours and high expectations. Flexibility and a willingness to adapt to a different work environment are essential for a successful teaching experience.

In public schools, you may find a structured workday with a set schedule, but you should still be prepared for occasional after-school meetings or events. In hagwons, the workday often extends into the evening, and there may be additional responsibilities such as preparing extra materials, meeting with parents, or participating in school events.

Understanding that these demands are part of the cultural work ethic in Korea can help you manage your time and expectations more effectively. Embracing the work culture, maintaining a positive attitude, and showing a genuine interest in your students’ progress can help you build strong professional relationships and succeed in your role.


6. Living Arrangements

Most teaching contracts in South Korea include housing or a housing allowance, which can vary depending on the type of institution and location. Accommodations can range from small studio apartments to shared living spaces.

It is important to clarify what your housing arrangement will be before you arrive, as this will help you prepare and adjust your expectations. While living spaces in Korea may be smaller than what you are used to, they are typically well-equipped and conveniently located near public transportation, shops, and other amenities.

Taking the time to personalize your living space and make it comfortable can help you feel more at home. Additionally, familiarizing yourself with local customs related to housing, such as recycling practices and apartment etiquette, can enhance your living experience.


7. Salary and Cost of Living

Teaching salaries in Korea are generally sufficient to cover living expenses and allow for some savings, depending on your lifestyle and spending habits. Public school salaries typically range from 2.0 to 3.0 million KRW per month, while hagwon salaries can vary but often fall within a similar range.

While Korea can be an affordable place to live, especially if you take advantage of the provided housing or housing allowance, it is important to budget wisely. Major expenses such as food, transportation, and leisure activities can add up, so planning your finances carefully is essential.

Many teachers find that they can live comfortably, enjoy dining out, and travel during their vacations while still saving a portion of their income. Understanding the cost of living in your specific location, whether it’s a bustling city like Seoul or a smaller town, will help you manage your finances effectively.


8. Health and Safety

Korea boasts an excellent healthcare system, and teachers are usually provided with health insurance as part of their contract. This ensures that you have access to quality medical care at a fraction of the cost you might pay in other countries.

The healthcare system in Korea is efficient and modern, with well-equipped hospitals and clinics. Teachers are typically required to undergo a health check upon arrival, which includes a basic physical examination, a drug test, and a check for communicable diseases.

This health check is part of the visa process and ensures that you are fit to work in the country. Korea is also a very safe country, with low crime rates and a strong sense of community safety. Taking basic precautions, such as being aware of your surroundings and following local guidelines, will help ensure your safety during your stay.


9. Social Life and Networking

Building a social network is crucial for a fulfilling experience while teaching in Korea. Many cities have vibrant expatriate communities, and there are numerous opportunities to meet people through language exchanges, clubs, and social events.

Joining expatriate social groups, participating in local events, and engaging with other teachers can help you create a support system and make lasting friendships. Socializing with both locals and other expatriates will enrich your experience and help you better understand Korean culture.

Additionally, participating in activities outside of work, such as joining a gym, taking a cooking class, or exploring local attractions, can provide a sense of balance and enjoyment in your daily life. Being open to new experiences and actively seeking out opportunities to connect with others will greatly enhance your teaching journey.


10. Travel Opportunities

South Korea’s strategic location and excellent transportation network make it a fantastic base for exploring Asia. Teachers often use their vacation time to travel within Korea and to nearby countries such as Japan, China, and Thailand. Korea itself offers a wealth of travel opportunities, from the bustling streets of Seoul to the tranquil beaches of Jeju Island and the historical sites of Gyeongju.

The country’s efficient transportation system, including high-speed trains and extensive bus networks, makes it easy to explore different regions. Additionally, international airports in major cities provide convenient access to other Asian destinations, allowing for affordable and exciting travel adventures.

Taking advantage of these travel opportunities will not only provide you with unforgettable experiences but also broaden your cultural horizons and deepen your appreciation for the region.

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Teaching in South Korea is a rewarding and life-changing experience, but it requires preparation and an open mind. Understanding the education system, securing the necessary visa, adapting to cultural norms, and being aware of the work culture are crucial steps.

With the right mindset and a willingness to embrace new experiences, you can make the most of your teaching journey in Korea. Whether it’s building lasting friendships, exploring new places, or making a positive impact on your students, the opportunities are vast and varied.

By keeping these ten essential points in mind, you’ll be well-equipped to navigate and thrive in your new adventure.

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