6 Key Things to Look for in a Korean Teaching Contract

letter from student
If you teach English in South Korea, then you too could get funny notes like this one. I received this from a student shortly before leaving Seoul.

I’ve gotten enough emails regarding what to look for in a Korean teaching contract that I’ve decided it’s time to write a post about it. I’ve previously written posts about how to find and get a job teaching English abroad, but none were specific to Korea. Here are six things to look for in your contract: Read more

Us Wanderers

Most of the people I meet abroad in Asia are in the same boat as me. Not many are traveling for a few weeks; they are traveling for months on end or teaching English. So many of these people, myself included, are in their twenties and haven’t committed to a career path yet. Exploration is more enticing, and quite honestly we don’t know what to do.

We’ve been told to do what we love, but because our economies at home are in the crapper, to take what we can get. So, do you sell out and take whatever job you can if you can’t get a job that pays you to do what you love? Do you move back in with your parents? Read more

How to Get a Job Teaching English in South Korea

Step 1: Pick a Place

The first thing you want to do after you’ve decided you want to teach in South Korea is choose a location. If you don’t have a specific city in mind, think about whether you want to be in a small town or large city. If you don’t particularly care where you end up, that’s okay, you just need to make sure you are somebody who can be happy in any type of setting.

Changdeok Palace in Seoul

Step 2: Find a Recruiter

Teaching English in South Korea is a huge business and there are many recruiters out there who will help you find a job. I recommend finding a couple recruiters and having them both try to find jobs for you. It’s best not to depend on just one recruiter.

One way to find a recruiter is by going to Dave’s ESL Café. Look through the forums and message boards and try to find a recruiter with some good reviews. Then all you have to do is email them!

Step 3: Tell Them What You Want

Make it clear to your recruiter(s) what you want. If you are trying to find a job with your significant other, make sure the recruiter understands that you want to live together in the same apartment. This is totally possible and is not as difficult to find as some might lead you to believe. Are you set on living in a specific city? If so, tell your recruiter that that city is the only place in South Korea you will move to. Also let them know whether or not you want to teach in a public or private school.

Step 4: Get Organized

Your recruiters will do the job search for you. While you wait for them to find you some interviews, you should start getting your paperwork together. The South Korean government is constantly adding new things to the list of documents you need, as of now, you need a:

  • Valid Passport (make sure it will last at least one year from your estimated departure date)
  • Resume
  • Copy of Your University Diploma Notarized and Apostilled
  • An FBI Criminal Background Check Notarized and Apostilled (these can take a long time to process so do this ASAP!)
  • Two Sealed Official Transcripts
  • Passport Size Photos
  • Pre-Employment Self Health Check

Your recruiter will inform you if there have been any changes to this list and exactly what you will need.

Step 5: Interview

Once your recruiter finds a school they think you might like, they will set up an interview for you. This is not just the school’s chance to chat with you and make sure you aren’t a nutcase, but it is also an opportunity for you to feel out what kind of school you could be potentially teaching at. Interviews are not typically long. They will ask you a few questions about yourself and why you want to come to South Korea and then they will ask you if you have any questions. It is always good to ask a couple questions. This is not a good time to discuss things like money, your recruiter will negotiate that for you. You can ask about the curriculum, the daily schedule, class size, etc. And don’t forget to ask for the email address of a current foreign teacher at the school. That is incredibly important!

Step 6: Decisions Decisions

Don’t rush into things. If something doesn’t sound right or feel right, don’t let your recruiter convince you otherwise. You will be signing a year-long contract and you want to make sure everything is the way you want it. Your school should pay for your housing, if they do not, keep looking. Salaries range from 1.9-2.3 million won. If you have teaching experience or a teaching degree you will be offered the higher end of that range and if you don’t have experience or a relevant degree you will be offered the lower end of that spectrum. Also, ask your recruiter for pictures of where you would be living.

Make sure you get the email of another foreign teacher working at the school. Ask them all of your questions. Important questions include:

  • Do you get paid on time?
  • How many people have left before their contract was over?
  • Do you enjoy your day-to-day life at this school?
  • How many other foreign teachers are there at the school? (The more the better. This can be a good indicator of how well the school is doing. A school with only a two foreigners might not be a very strong school.)
  • How many sick days do they give you?
  • How many vacation days do you get?
  • How is the medical insurance at the school?
  • How long is your commute to school?
  • How well did the school stick to your contract?
  • Did they pay for your flight and if not, did they reimburse you quickly?

These are some really important questions. Unfortunately there are many cases where recruiters leave out some serious details or try to flat out lie to foreigners looking to teach in South Korea. Recruiters get paid for finding you and getting you to sign a contract, that is their first mission. Don’t let them push you into a contract you don’t feel comfortable with. The best way to avoid this problem is by directly asking a foreign teacher who is already teaching at the school. Make sure you are confident that you are sending yourself into a good situation.

Step 7: Applying for a Visa

Applying for a visa is the last step in this process…other than boarding a plane and leaving. Your recruiter will give you all the information you need to apply for your visa. Before you can apply, you will have to sign a contract and the school you will be teaching at will have to submit your information to the immigration office in Korea. Once they have done that, you will be given the information you need to successfully apply for a visa. You cannot apply for a visa before the school submits your information.

Check out my other posts for more information on teaching abroad:

Teaching Abroad Part 1: Getting Started

Teaching Abroad Part 2: The Search

Teaching Abroad Part 3: Questions to Ask Before You Sign a Contract

Teaching Abroad Part 4: How to Pack for a Year

Thanksgivings Far Away From Home

I’ve spent three Thanksgiving holidays abroad now, which makes me a little sad because Thanksgiving at my house is the best. Yeah, yeah, your mom makes the best pie or turkey, whatever. My mom seriously makes the most wonderful food. She makes everything from scratch, and on top of making the turkey, two pumpkin pies, a pecan pie, a crimson pie, cranberry sauce, salad, green beans, gravy, and stuffing, she also makes vegetarian friendly stuffing and a tofurkey for our non-meat eating family members.

Thanksgiving 2010 in Seoul!

My mom rocks and so do our gourmet Thanksgivings, but as we all know though, Thanksgiving isn’t all about the food. It’s also about the family and friends gathering around a huge table and being thankful for all of the love in your life. If you have to be abroad for Thanksgiving, you have to work a little bit harder to find both the food and the company to share the evening with. Having at least one of these two things while abroad for Thanksgiving is lucky.

My first Thanksgiving abroad was five years ago while I was on Semester at Sea. We were in Spain on Thanksgiving Day, and my friends and I ended up spending the entire Thanksgiving evening in an Irish pub. I think I ate half a bag of chips that night. Not a successful turkey day because there was not a bit of turkey involved or much food for that matter, but it was filled with lots of good friends and love.

Unfortunately, my second Thanksgiving out of the country wasn’t nearly as successful as my first turkey-less turkey day. I was living in Khon Kaen, Thailand at the time, and my American buddy invited me to a Thanksgiving buffet at the Sofitel, the nicest hotel in the city. I was very excited to actually get to celebrate one of my favorite holidays with other turkey lovers! Thanksgiving night I called to confirm what time we would meet and I was informed that we had missed the dinner. They had held the Thanksgiving dinner for the foreigners the Saturday before and we had missed it! I was heartbroken. Who celebrates Thanksgiving on a Saturday?!? No turkey, no pie, and no one to spend Thanksgiving with. I ended up eating fried rice alone at one of the restaurants I frequented. It was not a good Thanksgiving.

This year I knew that I would be missing Thanksgiving again, so I made sure we celebrated before I left the home. It was a much smaller Thanksgiving than usual because not all of the usual attendees could make it in October, but it was perfect nonetheless. I figured that if I ate a Thanksgiving dinner before I departed, then I couldn’t complain about not having a fabulous holiday with all the fixings in November, little did I know that I would get to have a real Thanksgiving dinner here in Seoul too.

I really lucked out getting two Thanksgivings in one year, and the best part was that I didn’t have to celebrate in Korea alone; all of the other teachers at the school I’m working at, even the Canadians and British, partook in the festivities. We ordered a Thanksgiving dinner to go from Dragon Hill Lodge in Itaewon, which is close to the US army base (hence the availability of a Thanksgivingtake-away meal). For around one hundred bucks, you get a meal that serves ten to twelve people, as advertised. The package includes a turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, vegetables, mashed potatoes, gravy, and a pumpkin pie. Altogether for fifteen of us, including the cab fare to pick up the meal, it cost around eight dollars per person. Not bad for a Thanksgiving feast.

The feast!

Concerned that there wouldn’t be enough food, we each brought side dishes. I made my mother’s delectable cranberry sauce, so even though I was away for Thanksgiving I still had my mom there in a way. Others brought mashed potatoes, two extra pumpkin pies purchased from the always reliable Costco, a broccoli pasta dish, scones, rolls, sweet garlic bread, and spring rolls. We had our feast in the gym of the school, each of us seated in the tiny kindergarten chairs making our glasses of wine and beer seem slightly sinful.

After the meal was over the girls talked over the leftovers while the boys played some form of football/basketball, reverting to the traditional Thanksgiving roles. We divvied up the leftovers, put the wine and beer bottles in the recycling, and moved the kindergarten tables and chairs back to the classrooms where they belonged. Tomorrow the kids will be none-the-wiser about what their teachers were up to the night before. Although nothing comes close to mom’s Thanksgiving dinner, this year’s was as close as a Thanksgiving abroad can get.

This post was originally written for diwyy.com.

Can’t Stay Away

I am back in Asia yet again. This is trip number four; I just can’t stay away. I’ve always been drawn to this part of the world, it’s almost like it was written in my genetic code to yearn to travel in these parts.

I am currently setting up camp in Seoul, South Korea, specifically in the Gangseo district. For the next year my boyfriend Dave and I will be teaching English to kindergarten and elementary school students. Dave started orientation two days after arriving here and today was his first day teaching and running his own classroom. I don’t start teaching for another two weeks, so in the mean time I’m wandering around the city and observing.

All of the housing for the teachers is on the third floor of the school, which makes the commute to work very easy. We are living in a single apartment for the first month, until the apartment that is fit for two people opens up. I will post pictures once we get that apartment set up. Unfortunately the girl who lived in our temporary apartment before us wasn’t super clean, so there is still a mysterious mildew smell and a few cockroach families residing with us. Each morning I kill five to ten of the little buggers, but I know it’s futile. It’s nice to at least feel like you are attempting to solve the problem. I’ve set out some cockroach traps with the same hopes, but I’m not sure if they work.

In other news, I have opened a store on www.etsy.com. Etsy is a place where people can buy and sell handmade goods, supplies, and vintage items. I am selling feather earrings and hair clips, necklaces, and a few sets of my infamous cards. Please browse (and buy) and show your friends my creations at www.wakeupanddance.etsy.com. Even though I am in Korea, the items will ship from the States thanks to my wonderful parents. Remember holiday season is quickly approaching! Here are few things that are for sale:

White Sea Glass Necklace
This is a wire wrapped white sea glass necklace. Click on the picture to see more pictures of this item or other sea glass necklaces for sale.
Feather Necklace
This is a one of a kind feather necklace. The feather necklace is felt-backed enhancing its durability and making it soft against your skin. Click on the picture to see more pictures of this item.
This is one of the many hair clips I am selling. I have a wide variety of colors and styles. Click on the picture to see more pictures of this clip or to browse my shop.
Here is one of the pairs of feather earrings I am selling. I made a wide variety of styles and colors. Click on the picture to see more pictures of this pair or to browse my shop.
Handmade postcard style cards and envelopes. Click on the picture to see more pictures of these cards or other cards I am selling.

 

More exciting things will be happening to Wake Up and Dance…you’ll just have to wait and see!

Teaching Abroad Part 4: How to Pack for a Year

So you got the job, you have the plane ticket, and you are trying to figure out what the hell you need to bring. Because you will be living in the country you are teaching in for an extended period of time, it is important to pack smartly. Your family can send you supplies of course, but this can be costly and sometimes inconvenient. It is best to anticipate what you might need for your entire stay abroad.

Depending on where you are traveling to, you might not have access to certain items that you take for granted at home. Believe it or not, deodorant is not sold worldwide. I ran out of deodorant while I was backpacking in Korea and had to have a friend from home bring me some when he met me in China. Even if the country you are traveling to does have deodorant, it might not be a brand you like to wear, so bring a good supply.

The same goes for tampons. Many women still use pads around the world, which can make finding a tampon difficult sometimes. When you do find tampons, they will most likely be OB brand. If you like OB and you can find it in the country you will be living in, then you are set. But if you don’t like that brand, then I suggest going to Costco and stocking up on tampons before you leave.

Medication is another important item to consider when you are packing. Certain medications can be found abroad for less and over the counter, but you might not want to chance it if it is something you depend on. If you take a specific birth control, acne medication, or some other pill you can’t live without, buy a bunch of it at home before leaving the country.

It’s a good idea to look at your daily routine and decide what you can live without. Are you completely set on using a specific face wash, shampoo, or mascara? You will be able to find most of the things you use daily in some form abroad, but it might not be the brand you are loyal to. For example, I am addicted to Burt’s Bees lip balm and would be completely distraught if I ran out, so I bring more than enough lip balm to last me a year. Look at every product you use and if you don’t mind using a different brand, then don’t bring it. If you couldn’t imagine life without that brand, then you will need to bring enough to last you the extent of your time abroad.

There are also some more obvious things you should take that I absolutely must mention. Books! Sometimes it can be difficult to find books in English abroad. When you do find them, they might not be the kind of book you want to read. You will be able to trade with other travelers, but you might not always be able to find someone willing to trade with you when you want to. A camera and your laptop are also a must when you are leaving for a long time.

Before you depart, make a trip to your dentist and your doctor. Tell them you are leaving the country and want to make sure everything is fine before you leave. Make sure you have all of the necessary shots to travel and maybe request some sleeping pills for the plane ride. Ask your doctor for a prescription of Ciprofloxacin (Cipro for short). This medication is like gold for all travelers. If you get unstoppable diarrhea, this is going to be your new best friend. Nobody wants to have to teach all day or get on a long bus ride with the runs.

Before I leave, I take a large Ziploc bag and make myself a medical kit. Key medicines in this kit are Pepto-Bismol, Imodium, Cipro, Neosporin, Nyquil, Midol, and your choice of pain relief medication. I also include a thermometer, Deet, band-aids and duct tape. At some point during my time abroad I have used all of these items and have always been grateful that I had them on hand.

Lastly, while you are deciding what clothes to take, make sure you have a good understanding of what the other teachers at school will be wearing. It is pointless to bring pencil skirts and collared shirts if everyone else is wearing jeans and t-shirts. You should consider the fact that you will probably be shopping and buying clothes abroad, so you don’t need to pack too much. And finally, as I’m sure your mom is going to remind you, bring plenty of good underwear!

This post was originally written for www.diwyy.com.

Teaching English Abroad Part 3: Questions to ask before you sign a contract

After you’ve found a potential teaching position, you will be overwhelmed with excitement and ready to pack your bags. Before you sign a contract or buy a plane ticket, make sure you question your future employer about all of the following topics.

The Terms of Your Contract

Make sure you understand everything in your contract before you sign it. Ask about anything you are unsure of. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I can’t emphasize enough the importance of this step. Find out if it’s okay for you to tutor on the side for extra income, if you have a Christmas vacation, or if there’s a dress code.

Salary

Before you agree to getting paid a certain salary, make sure you have an estimate of how much it is going to cost you to live in that country. Also try to research what the standard salary for a foreign English teacher is in that country or city. Teaching English is a really great thing to do, but things can go downhill fast for you if you aren’t able to pay your bills.

Visa

Find out what kind of visa you will be getting and how you need to get it. Many developing countries will allow you to apply for a work visa from a neighboring country, but sometimes things are a little more complicated. Employers may ask you to work under the table and use tourist visas instead of work visas because they are much easier to obtain.

There are a few downsides to this for you, the teacher. The first is that you will most likely have to leave the country every couple months. If this is the case, make sure that the school is helping you fund these trips or are at least paying you enough so that you aren’t paying out of your savings. Secondly, governments usually frown upon working in their country with a tourist visa. It is unlikely you will get caught doing this, but you have to decide if you want to risk it. I worked two different jobs like this and never had a problem. It did make me a little nervous at first though.

Student-Teacher Ratio

Ask about your average class size. Find out the maximum number of students you potentially could be teaching. Take it from me; trying to control 30 twelve-year olds in a public school in Thailand, where they only understand about four percent of what you’re saying, can be more than exhausting. The smaller the class size, the happier you are going to be at the end of the day.

Also find out if there are going to be any other teachers teaching with you. This can be great if you are trying to control a classroom, but it can also make the actual teaching process more difficult sometimes, especially if that teacher isn’t a foreigner. In that situation they might speak to the students in their native tongue, which can defeat the purpose of even having you there.

Other Foreigners at the School

Ask how many other foreigners teach at the school. I know teaching abroad isn’t necessarily about meeting other foreigners, but about immersing yourself in the culture of one specific place on the globe. But here is the other side to the story, if you don’t have a support system, then you might crack. I lived for five months without much access to other foreigners and it was extremely hard on me emotionally. The locals in the area will be lovely, but being able to bond over the little things, like constantly being stared at, with another foreigner is key. You don’t need to teach at a school with a ton of foreigners, but a few will make your quality of life a little better.

Contact a Foreigner Teaching at that School

Before you agree to sign a contract, contact another foreigner at that school. Ask your interviewer for an email address of another foreigner teaching there. This is a good way to find out exactly what you are getting yourself into. Ideally you could get two email addresses, but some schools might find this offensive. Tell your contact that you are so excited to go teach there, but just want to make sure you are choosing the right school.

Ask them what their experience has been like, if they get along with their fellow teachers, and what a standard day or week is like for them. This is also a good time to ask questions about the city you will be living in. A great question to ask is whether or not the school pays you on time. Also ask how many people have left before their contract was up and what the circumstances were. This is a great way to find out whether or not other people like it there without directly asking.

You can also ask if there is anything you might not be able to buy or find in the country you are teaching in. The answer to this question will help you when you are packing. I will cover some of these key items in my next post.

This post was originally written for www.diwyy.com.

Teaching English Abroad Part 2: The Search

The search for a job teaching English abroad can be done in several ways. It mostly depends on the country where you are interested in teaching. Developed countries will have more requirements for being hired and will usually have more visa requirements as well. Whereas developing countries typically do not have as much red tape and make the search a little bit easier.

The Internet is going to be your key to finding a job abroad. If you Google the phrase: “teach English abroad” you will get six million results back, so I suggest making your internet search a little more specific. If you can determine a few cities you think you would enjoy being stationed in, then it will make your search a bit easier. At the same time though, you need to be flexible. If you have your heart set on one city, it might take you a while to find a job, or you could be disappointed when you only find listings in other cities.

If you are interested in teaching in a developing country, I usually suggest packing your bags, buying a plane ticket and just showing up in your country of interest. This sounds incredibly scary and risky, but is worth it for a few reasons. The first time I left the country to work abroad, it sounded like it would be a great fit, but I quickly found out upon arrival that the city I was going to be living in was not ideal for me. Throughout my stay in Thailand, I was constantly offered teaching positions everywhere I went. I realized that I could have just wandered the country until I found a suitable location, and then accepted one of the many jobs offered to me.

If this is an option you might actually consider, then you need to be a very proactive person. Sometimes being offered a job is as easy as mentioning that you are an English teacher to the right person, but if you are avidly looking for a job, you might need to be a little more aggressive than that. Tell everyone you meet abroad that you are an English teacher looking to settle down in that area. Most people you will meet know at least one other English teacher or school, and this can lead to important connections. Schools can’t hire you if they don’t know you are out there looking for a job. Make sure you let people know you are interested. Networking is your best friend in this type of search, not the Internet.

Things can be much more complicated if you are looking to teach in a more developed country. For example, South Korea requires that you send them your diploma, a background check, and transcripts from your university. Not only do they need all of these items, but they also need you to be in your home country during the application process. So it would be a poor idea to show up in South Korea and hope to get a job.

If you are leaning towards teaching in a developed country or don’t want to show up in a developing country looking for work, then your next question is “How do I find a job on the internet?” Before you start googling, let me warn you that many of the ‘jobs’ you will find listed are not in fact jobs. Many times they will ask you to pay them to come teach English.

Volunteering is wonderful and I am sure that there are pay-to-volunteer programs available that put a lot of the money you pay towards helping the organization you work with, but unfortunately there are many that don’t. Sometimes the organizations that will set you up with a teaching position if you pay a couple thousand bucks are just scamming you. For one of my previous jobs I worked with volunteers who came through a rather large name in the pay to volunteer business, and I can say without a doubt that almost all of the money went directly into their pockets and did not reach our organization. So if you choose the pay-to-volunteer route, make sure your money is going where you want it to.

Remember what I said in my previous post as well, TEFL and TESOL certification is not completely necessary to teach abroad. Before you spend the money on it, make sure you absolutely need it.

Sifting through the results that your search engine will turn up is definitely a process. Idealist.org is a great website for the global job search. This website allows you to search by country, language, categories, job type, etc. If you are interested in teaching English in South Korea I recommend going to Dave’s ESL Cafe and checking out the listings there. I wish I had a list of websites for prospective teachers for every country, but I don’t. If you know of a great website for teaching abroad in any country, please comment below. Let’s compile a list of helpful websites for prospective English teachers!

This post was written for www.diwyy.com.