A steady stream of English-speaking foreigners make their way to South Korea each year in search of financial, professional and cultural gain. By far the most popular source of income for these expats is found teaching English. English teaching jobs are relatively easy to obtain as long as an expat meets a few basic requirements. Jobs are sourced from overseas prior to an expat's arrival so that the employer can apply for a work permit on an expat's behalf.
Most employers in South Korea will only hire English teachers from the UK, Canada, America, South Africa, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia who have an accredited university degree and a TEFL or TESOL certification behind them. Some of the more lucrative positions also require the applicants to have some English teaching experience behind them, but this is not always the case. The types of English teaching jobs are varied and abundant and include positions at public schools, private after-school academies (hagwons), private lessons and universities in both cities and small rural towns.
The Korean people place great value on an ability to understand and speak English. Children as young as three are introduced to the language and from elementary school level, English must be taken by all students as a second language. The nation’s insatiable desire to learn and speak English means that finding a job teaching is easy.
Teaching English in public schools
Perhaps the most pain-free and trustworthy way to get an English speaking job is by going through the South Korean government programme, EPIK (English Programme in Korea).
Established in 1995, EPIK aims to improve the English-speaking abilities of students and teachers in Korea, to foster cultural exchanges and to reform English teaching methods in Korea. The EPIK programme encourages cross-cultural exchanges while promoting the development of English language competencies for Korean students.
EPIK teachers are interviewed over Skype before they are hired and then go through a week-long orientation and training period when they first arrive in Korea. Teaching in public elementary, middle and high schools across the country, EPIK teachers are essentially government employees and enjoy benefits such as a furnished home for the period of their contract, coverage of 50 percent of their medical insurance premiums, a travel allowance, settlement payout and an exit allowance on the completion of a contract. A teacher who has gone through EPIK will generally teach for 22 hours a week and spend the rest of their office hours planning lessons. Applying through EPIK can be done directly on their website, or applicants can go through a recruiter (usually free of charge) which can make the whole process run more smoothly. There are two big yearly intakes in February and August but direct placements throughout the year are also possible.
Teaching in hagwons
A hagwon is an after-school private academy that that focuses directly on one subject. Children of all ages attend English hagwons, even those in the pre-school age bracket. Hagwon jobs are usually better paid than public school ones, but hagwon teachers do not enjoy the same kind of governmental ‘protection’ as public school teachers do and receive less vacation time each year.
When searching for a hagwon job, be sure to do plenty of research. Hagwons that cater to students who want to get a headstart on their English usually employ a staff of both Korean and native English-speaking teachers. They can vary quite considerably in size from very small operations with only a handful of staff members to huge franchises employing thousands of teachers. Classes are divided according to age group and level and it is usually the role of the foreign teacher to help students improve their conversation and pronunciation skills. Hagwon employees will also usually be provided with a fully furnished flat and reimbursement for their air ticket to Korea. Hagwons hire new English teachers all year round.
Teaching English at university level
Teachers wanting to work at a university generally need a Masters degree in English. These jobs usually have better hours, more vacation time and a higher salary. Many English teachers who have worked the public or private school system for a while to become university employees.