Each year, a steady stream of English-speaking foreigners make their way to South Korea for 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 before 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, foster cultural exchanges and reform English teaching methods in Korea. 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. They enjoy benefits such as a furnished home for the period of their contract, 50 percent coverage of their medical insurance premiums, a travel allowance, a 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 focuses directly on one subject. Children of all ages attend English hagwons, even those in preschool. Hagwon jobs are typically better paying than public school ones, but hagwon teachers do not enjoy the same kind of governmental ‘protection’ as public school teachers do and receive less annual leave.
When searching for a hagwon job, be sure to do plenty of research. Hagwons that cater to students who want to get a head start on their English often employ both Korean and native English-speaking teachers. They vary considerably, from small operations with only a handful of staff members to franchises with thousands of teachers on staff.
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 frequently 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 Master’s degree in English. These jobs typically have better hours, more annual leave and a lucrative salary. Many English teachers who have worked in the public or private school system for a while become university employees.