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How to Teach English in South Korea: Your Guide to Avoiding Hagwon Horror Stories

October 15, 2021
Teaching English in South Korea is an amazing experience I would recommend to anyone looking for a new adventure. Here are my tips on how to find the best position suited for you.

How to Teach English in South Korea: Your Guide to Avoiding Hagwon Horror Stories

Teaching English in Korea is definitely an experience worth trying if you are looking for a way to live abroad and save money at the same time.

You can easily live comfortably as your rent is fully covered by your school.

To be honest, I never expected to try teaching or live in South Korea but I am so glad I gave it a go.

I personally heard about teaching English in Korea through my Korean friend who recommended it to me as a good way to travel and save money.

I never seriously considered it until I was laid off from my previous job due to the company closing.

I knew I wanted to pursue a master’s degree abroad but needed more funds so, I decided to apply for several jobs and ended up finding a great role at a Kindergarten just outside of Seoul.

I want to admit that I was extremely lucky in finding such a great school to work at considering the sheer amount of horror stories I’ve heard online and through friends.

Therefore, I want to share how you can find a great school so you can fully enjoy your time teaching and living in Korea.

Here I will walk you through how to find the best teaching job suited for you in Korea as well as the pros & cons of working as a teacher in South Korea.

My adorable 6 year old students shooting me with heart arrows.

The Basic Qualifications for Teaching English in Korea:

  • Be a native English speaker from the US, Canada*, Australia, UK, New Zealand, or South Africa*. (If you are from South Africa or Quebec you must prove that your schooling was completed in English.)
  • Have a Bachelor’s degree from one of the countries listed above in any subject.
  • Obtain either a teacher’s license or at least a 100-120 hours TEFL certification (you can find online TEFL certifications for as little as $20 on Groupon)
  • Be able to provide a clean background check (no misdemeanors or felonies)
  • Must be in good health standing and pass a health check upon arrival. (drug usage is highly illegal in Korea)

First Things First: Decide Between Working at a Hagwon or EPIK

When you first look into teaching abroad in Korea you first must decide whether you want to teach at a Hagwon (private academy) or through EPIK (public school).

Hagwons offer more flexibility and choice as you can choose your location such as Seoul or Busan.

Also, you can apply at any time of the year but the majority of jobs tend to start in March or September.

Whereas with EPIK you cannot choose your location and can only apply for the fall or spring positions begining in either in March or August.

However, you do benefit from having a much longer vacation, fewer working hours, and the likelihood of a horror story experience is much less.

I personally choose to work at a Hagwon and loved my experience!

Application Process

Hagwon:

The application process is also vastly different, to get a job at a Hagwon you simply have to email your resume to job postings and recruiters, and then you will be asked for a short interview around 20 minutes or less.

After the interview, you will almost immediately receive a job offer.

The process of getting a job at a Hagwon is extremely simple but it is more complicated to find a good job and you often have to do multiple interviews before landing a good one.

I recommend posting your resume on sites such as ESLROK and Dave's ESL Cafe with your location, preferred age range, and salary requirements.

Be wary of any jobs hiring immediately because it usually means an employee did a midnight run or quit due to mistreatment.

Once you post your resume several recruiters will reach out to you with job offers that may or may not match your requirements.

I recommend using several different recruiters to find a good job and if they are pushy or rude use a different recruiter.

You can also reply to direct postings by schools but usually if you are just starting out as a teacher using a recruiter is the easiest way to find a job and they help you with the visa process as well.

EPIK:

The EPIK application is much more lengthy in comparison to the Hagwon process.

For EPIK you must secure two letters of recommendation, create a mock lesson plan, and write several short essays on why you want to teach in Korea, and explain your teaching philosophy.

After applying if you are successful you will have an interview with EPIK which you must pass to be accepted into the program.

To prepare your application and documents, I recommend watching YouTube videos on applying to the EPIK program to hear tips from successful applicants as it can be a bit overwhelming.

You can also choose to use a recruiter for EPIK such as Korvia which is a free and reputable recruiter many people use to help them apply.

The Pros and Cons of Teaching in Korea

Pros:
  • You can save lots of money and/or pay off any debt.
  • You can learn a new language and culture.
  • You live rent-free which allows you to live well and travel while saving money.
  • You will learn a lot about yourself by living abroad and become more independent.
  • You will feel rewarded when you see your students enjoy learning and improve their English.
  • You can meet new friends and will likely work with a few other foreign teachers.
  • The contracts are only valid for one year so you can easily switch jobs, resign, or leave after your contract finishes.

Cons:
  • If you don’t enjoy teaching it will be a long year.
  • There will definitely be some culture shocks.
  • You usually cannot choose your apartment. (make sure to ask for pictures).
  • Your visa is tied to your job. (if you quit you have to leave Korea until your current visa expires)
  • You will definitely have to deal with a few behavior issues, especially when you first start teaching it can take awhile to get the hang of it.
My students loved taking pictures of me with the SNOW app!

How to Ace your Interviews

The interview process for both Hagwon and EPIK are fairly simple. I recommend treating it like any other job interview and dress nicely for a good first impression.

Along with having a nicely groomed appearance, make sure to ask as many questions as you have to get a sense of the school and work environment.

Remember that you are moving your whole life to another country for at least a year so, it’s important to find a good job so you will enjoy your time in Korea.

If you don’t feel comfortable asking some of the questions make sure to speak to at least 1 current foreign teacher and ask them as they will usually be honest about their experience working there.

Here are some of the questions I asked in my interview which helped me find a great position.

Questions to ask during your interviews:
  • Can I see a copy of the current schedule?
  • Can I speak to a current teacher via KakaoTalk for further questions?
  • How many classes am I expected to teach in a typical day?
  • Am I expected to work on red days and what is the vacation time?
  • How many students are in each class and what is the maxium amount of students accepted?
  • Is the curriculum given to me or do I have to plan my own lessons?
  • How much prep/planning time can I expect to have each day?
  • What are the other job responsibilities besides teaching?
  • Do I have to eat lunch with the kids?
  • Is an apartment provided and if so is it fully furnished?
  • How far is the commute to the school from the provided housing?

After your interview make sure to read your contract thoroughly and ask any questions/concerns you may have before signing.

Please make sure to not accept any positions offered for less than 2.1 Million Won and ensure that housing is included or a housing allowance as well as pension and 50% healthcare.

Most schools will also offer a flight allowance but you must stay at least 6 months or you have to pay it back.

You will also experience some theme days when working at a hagwon or public school. Here I transformed my class into a pharmacy.

After you landed your position

After you signed your contract or even before begin collecting the documents needed for the E2 visa.

My best advice is once you decided you want to teach in Korea to prepare all the documents first, therefore as soon as you find a job you like you can accept it without being worried about if the required documents will be ready in-time.

These documents will be submitted to your closest Korean Consulate

The complete list of required documents:
  • Apostilled photocopy of Bachelors degree
  • Apostilled National-Level Criminal Background Check
  • Personal Resume
  • Photocopy of Passport Info Page
  • 6 Passport-sized Photos
  • Notice of Appointment & Contract (for EPIK) or a Visa Issuance Number & Contract (for Hagwon)
  • Passport (unexpired and with at least 2 blank visa pages)

After you submit your documents to the Korean consulate you will usually receive your passport back in 2 weeks.

Then you can finally book your flight and get ready for an adventure of a lifetime!

Interested in Teaching in The Land of the Morning Calm? Pin this handy guide to use later!
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