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 About Korea

 Work and Live

 ESL Teaching

 

 

 

 

 


So, you're asking yourself, "Am I ready? Do I want to do this?" Be sure! Many teachers come to Korea and don't last their first year. Why? They didn't know the rules of the game and went home with their ball. This section is designed to help you ask the right questions and get ready for the big 'vacation'. It ain't Kansas, Toto.

Some Questions I Asked and Some I Wish I Had   

1. Where is the school located?
2. What size school will I be teaching at?
3. Will I have to teach classes outside the school?
4. Is overtime mandatory?
5. What are the ages of the students that I will be teaching?
6. What hours each day will I be teaching?
7. How many days a week will I teach?
8. What will my living arrangements be?
9. Are my travel expenses to and from school covered?
10. How many students will be in the average class?

 Things to Bring   

Korea is a very modern society, but there are a few necessaries you should pack before you go.

1. Prescriptions: Korea's medical system is highly developed, but there are certain drugs you just can't get here. Make sure you pack a years supply of anything you just have to have.
2. Clothes: Although Koreans tend to be the largest of the Asian people, if you are a large individual, you might want to make sure you have lots of clothes. also, don't forget that Korea does get cold in the winter so pack your cold weather clothes, too.
3. Personal Hygiene Items: Again, Korea has a lot of these things like tooth paste, shampoo, etc., but if you prefer a certain brands bring a year supply.

 Take note: If you bring anything that requires being plugged in you will have to buy an adaptor. Korean electrical systems run on 220 and not 110. Also, the plugs are a different shape here. You can get pretty much anything here that you can get at home and it is reasonably priced. Unless it has sentimental value, leave it at home and buy a replacement here.    

 The Weather

Some contracts give you an apartment to live in while you work for them. Make sure you have an air conditioner.
Summers here are hot!
Your electric bill might soar, but trust this you will think it is worth every penny.
Korea has four seasons, although some find the transition from one to the other a bit abrupt.  Bring clothes for all kinds of weather, although, it doesn't snow much compared to most places in Canada it does it get cold. So, make sure to pack your winter wear. You can buy things here, but again size may be an issue.
Make sure your apartment will be warm enough in the winter as well. at least of one case of enimia and another of numonia because of poor heating in apartments.

How Long is a Year?

 A lot of foreigners who come here to teach and don't last more than a month or two. A number of factors contribute to this, but there are two things that really make the difference whether you'll last the contract year or quit before it finishes.
The first is knowing yourself. Are you ready to live in a culture different than your own? Do you enjoying working with children? Are you patient and willing to be flexible? Do you adapt well to change and new situations? Ask yourself a lot of questions about leaving your home country, where life is easy and you can cope without much assistance and then decide whether you can enter a strange new world where even going to eat a restaurant may be impossible without a little help or imagination.
 The second is that people don't find out enough information about where they will be teaching. Every school is different and every place you might live can be as well. Making sure you do enough research is the difference between heaven and hell when it comes to working in Korea.

 Questions to Ask Yourself

 There are a few things that you should ask yourself before you even leave your home country. The Canadian Government Web Site is very useful, even if you're not a Canuck. It has a lot of useful information and links about the current conditions of living as a foreigner in Korea as well as general travel tips. We highly recommend you check it out.

 First, ask yourself a few questions about where you want to teach in Korea.

1. What size city do I want to live in?
Larger cities have more amenities, but are more crowded. The smaller the city, of course, there is significantly less to do socially and you might find it hard shopping for your daily needs. You might find it a long hike to the nearest decent sized city to do even the simplest things, like going to the movies. For newbies, we'd recommend living in a decent size city, even if you're a country person like myself. You have greater access to Western Style food, whether it be in a grocery store or restaurant, you will find more things to do and hopefully have more access to foreigners and people who speak English.

2. What type school do I want to work at?
Every type of school has its advantages and disadvantages. A lot of newbie teachers are intimidated by the thoughts of teaching in a public school as their first teaching job in Korea. Don't be! Public schools have a lot of advantages for a new teacher that private schools do not and tend to be a more stable contract. Both public and private have their advantages and disadvantages, so check out the teaching section on them where I go into what you can expect.

3. What size school do I want to work at?
Every size has its advantages. A large private school usually has many foreigners working there, so you won't feel as isolated as in a small school where you may be the only foreigner working there. This can cause real problems if the Korean owner and/or manager doesn't have a good command of the English language or if problems arise between you and your boss. Of course, smaller schools where you are the only teacher also have their advantages and you may get treated better than a larger school where you are just another face in the crowd.

4. What age of students do I want to teach?
Most ESL schools here concentrate on elementary students and up, but basically their are schools of every age group. Do you love kids? Or do you want to work with adults? A lot of schools also have kindergartens, where you teach really young kids, 4 and up, and that can be a whole different can of worms. After you have taught here awhile, you will often find you nitch, ie., you're favorite age group to teach.  It really is important to find the age groups you find you can teach the best and enjoy teaching.

 A lot of this is unknown of course if you've never taught before. So, you need to really look at yourself and your own experiences and decide what might be the best situation. Do you get along well with kids besides your siblings. If you have previous experience working with children, even if it was not in a teaching environment, this might tell you a few things about yourself. Do you enjoying spending time alone or do you need a network of friends? Isolation can be a big problem here, especially if you're in a small town and you're the only foreigner around. There is a reason that Korea is hiring ESL instructors. The majority of the population has no or little English ability (talking maybe 80-90%) and you might feel daunted in a small community where only the people you work with speaks English well. Sure you can learn Korean and interact more, but depending on your teaching schedule you may not have the time.

Make sure you really think these questions through before you make the leap. It really is important and can make the differences between your teaching experience here being a joy or a burden.

There is a lot of debate on the best way to get a job in Korea. Some people feel it is better to search for one on their own and others prefer to go through recruiters. On this page, looking at the different issues regarding this as well as talking about contracts and other things that matter on making your decision.

What Qualifications do I need?   
To work in Korea you need the following:
1. You need to be a native speaker (English as your first language) from the following countries: Canada, USA, Great Britain (Including Scotland, Wales and Ireland), Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
2. You need a 3 or 4 year degree in any subject from a university (online university degrees may not be accepted).
3. You need a valid Passport from the above mentioned countries (it should be valid for more than one year).
You'll also need a good resume and cover letter. A good picture is important as well. Appearances are important here (maybe more important than your resume), so make sure that you show your best side and smile.
That's it. If you have those you have the key to a career teaching ESL in Korea. If you don't, get them or don't quit your day job.   

What Schools are Looking For   
 Korea is a in someways similar to Western job markets, but in one way it is extremely different (or maybe not depending on how you look at it). Most schools want young, good looking teachers. Why do you think they want your picture? Image is everything here and it is more likely that a parent will complain that a teacher is too fat or has a tattoo then that they are a poor teacher. You might be the best teacher in the world, but if you don't look good you might find it difficult to find a job.
Age is also a factor in getting a job in a private school (public schools are much less picky on age and appearance, but that might change as time goes by). Most schools (and parents of the students) want young teachers. Also, due to Korean culture an owner might feel uncomfortable hiring a teacher older than himself due to the fact that he must show his elders respect and generally must defer to them (which is a great ace to play if you're having disagreements with them). Korea is an age hierarchial society to the point that if you have an adult class that can free talk, the younger participants will refuse to debate with their older classmates.
 According to the Korean labor laws, employers aren't supposed to  be able to discriminate based on looks and age, but there isn't much you can do about. Civil suits against employers aren't common here and some contracts even stipulate that an employee can't sue them over such issues (public schools especially).
Luckily, Korea is progressing and this is becoming less of an issue (age anyways) and there are many good schools who are just looking for good teachers, regardless of age or appearance.

How do I get to Korea?
That's the big question isn't it? You've decided to come and now need to find the best school for you. There are basically two ways to find a job here. Contact a recruiter and let them do the work or try to contact schools yourself. The third option, is if you already have friends here and they help you get a job at their school or one that they know is hiring.
Let's look at the pros and cons of them and then you can decide which is right for you.

Job Searching on Your Own
That's the way we do it in the West, isn't it? We put on our best duds, pound the pavement and search for the perfect job. Of course, in this case, the pavement is virtual (unless you decide to fly several thousand kilometers and search in person) and the best jobs aren't easy to find. Some schools do recruit for themselves. They say the best ones do, but sadly also do the worst. They're the schools that either are large enough to have a recruiter, have gotten one of their staff to take on the additional work of trying to find a new teacher (often to replace themselves) or have such a bad reputation that no recruiter would touch them with a ten foot pole.
 So, when looking on your own it's really important to find out as much information about the school as you can. Contacting former teachers at the school is a great idea but hard to do. Is a school going to give you a contact who didn't like the school? Doubtful! You can check Black Lists on various sites, but frankly we find most of the teachers who post there are whining over petty things, although again there are some who have legitimate complaints, but the whiners ruin it for me. You have to read the lists with a grain of salt.
The majority of schools in Korea, even the good ones, go through a recruiter and don't advertise privately. Frankly, either most don't how or are just too busy running their school to bother, but if you're not in a hurry then this might be the way to go. At least then if you get a bad school you can only blame yourself.

Recruiters
Recruiters rule the Job Boards and you'll find them bombarding them with ads for a gazillion schools. Like anything else, there are good recruiters and their are bad ones. Good recruiters never ask for fees from you, the school pays their fee,  if they do don't deal with them. There are a million recruiters out there who a decent and don't charge a dime to you. They make enough money from the schools, trust me.
A good recruiter is easy to find. First, they should offer you more than one school as a choice. They should be quick to answer any questions, whether it is about the school or just general questions about what you need to know to live here. They should be on your side and look out for your interests. The best recruiters are ones who do follow up once you are placed at a school and can act as a go between if there is a disagreement between you and the owner.
Don't let a recruiter bully you into anything. Take your time and choose one that treats you as an individual and not just a big signing fee. Make sure that they answer any questions that you have to your satisfaction. Always ask to contact foreign teachers that are working or have worked (if any) for the school. (You should do this regardless of how you search for a job.) Make sure the recruiter knows what they are doing and get them to give you all the information you need to get your teaching visa, travel arrangements to your school and as much information as they can give you about where you will be living and the school you'll be working at. It's there job! If they don't, well move on to the next one (if you haven't submitted your stuff to multiple recruiters) and don't settle till you feel you have gotten one that truly is looking out for you.

Schools through Friends
 This seems like the best way, doesn't it? Someone you know well recommends a school. They know the school, hopefully, and are not just lonely and want some company (Misery loves company sort of thing). They can also help you adjust to your new setting and having someone familiar around might make the adjustment easier.
 What's the best choice? Well, What ever method you chose make sure you take your time and make the right choice. You're signing away a year of your life, so make sure that it will be an enjoyable and profitable one.

School Contracts

 To work legally in Korea, you have to have a contract with a Korean school, whether private or public, or a company. Read this contract carefully. Once you sign it you have committed yourself to working for this organization for a full year. If you have any doubts about anything in the contract, don't be afraid to question your potential employer. If they can't or won't give you clarification, then: DON'T SIGN IT!
If you go to a good English teachers forums, you will read a lot of gripes from teachers here who got a raw deal and many times it is because they didn't read the contract carefully. There are thousand of positions here and, whether you are a novice or a veteran of ESL teaching in Korea, you have a lot of choices of where you want to work. So, take your time and get the best deal for you.

 Visas
You generally need an E2 visa to legally teach English Conversation in Korea. There are other types allowed but this is the most common type of Visa used by the teachers here. Check out the Canadian Korean Consulate web site to find out what you need and how to apply or if you are using a recruiter they will tell you exactly what you need to apply. You can find their web site on my links page. Some schools may want you come to Korea first and then do a visa run to Japan. They often make you work without a visa for a short time before making the run.

 This is ILLEGAL!!!

If you get caught working in Korea without a visa you will have to pay a big fine and will be deported from korea for life. A recruiter or school might tell you this is a rare occurrence, but every year many teachers get caught and deported. The school gets a fine, which while it is often substantial, is really just a slap on the wrist. You lose a great opportunity to not only make a good living, but you now have a black mark on your record with the Canadian government, who could also make your life difficult. It's your call, but ask yourself, "Is it worth it?"
Every ESL teacher in Korea has to sign a contract. You can't work legally here without one. Contracts are pretty standard, but it's usually the extras that you have to watch out for. Here are some tips on what to expect with Korean ESL Contracts.

What a Standard Contract Includes:   

1. Start Date: Make sure this is from when you start teaching and not from the point you signed the contract. If it is from that point, you may need to do a Visa renewal to honor finishing your contract and receiving your bonuses.
2. Wage: Wages in Korea don't vary much from school to school. As a new teacher, you're at a standard rate which is decent and with the cost of living in Korea you can save a lot of it for those pesky college loans or whatever.
3. Return Airfare: Most schools pay for a return economy flight to your home country. If you are already in the country, they may only pay a one way ticket home, but should then reimburse you for a Visa run to Japan.
4. Housing: Most schools supply a studio apartment with basic furnishings. If you need more than that make sure that you state so and have it changed in the contract. Also, if you want anything extra regarding furnishings and appliances make sure you let them know.
5. Completion Bonus: This should be equal to one month's salary if you stay for the full contract year. It's a lump of coin, especially if you aren't good at saving money like me.
6. Medical. All schools are required to get you Korean medical insurance and to pay half the cost. Try to get on the National Health Insurance as it will save you money if you frequent the doctor. Some medical plans are basically just indemnity insurance and you wind up paying full cost.
7. Overtime: All schools have a set amount of hours that you must work each week before you receive overtime. Don't expect time and a half overtime as is done in the West. Just make sure the amount is more than your hourly wage (If you can get them to pay you time and a half, let me know and I'll come and work there, too).
8. Sick Leave: All employers have to grant you leave in special circumstances, such as sickness. Make sure that you know how many (some only offer two) and if you'll need a doctor's note.
9. Vacation: The amount of vacation time you get varies from school to school. Schools may also restrict when you can take your vacation. Still other schools may offer you a bonus if you don't take a vacation.
10. Holidays: Korea has about the most public holidays of any country in the world. You should get all of these off. Some schools (public schools) have their own holidays (founding day of the school, for example) and you get these off as well.
11. Duties: This tends to be a rather vague section in most contracts, but make sure you get specifics. Also find out if any teaching materials you create stay your property or become the property of the school (even if you do it on your own time).
12. Conduct: Your conduct inside and outside the school will be watched and any wrong doing based on this clause could lead to your termination. Criminal acts can lead to automatic termination, but even just culture errors might put you under the microscope. I know what you do in your free time should be your own business, but not in Korea.
13. Hours of Teaching: Every school will tell you exactly how many hours a week they expect you to teach. Make sure to find out what they mean by a teaching hour. Classes tend to run fifty minutes. Some schools count that as a teaching hour. Some do not and you wind up teaching more classes to make up the time.
Well, that's the standard stuff to look out for. If something is missing from the contract, Wouldn't sign it or I'd find out why. It is almost impossible to renegotiate a contract once it is signed.  

ESL Contracts
Sometimes It is thought that all the bosses in the ESL job market got together and made the work contract for ESL teachers. They are all basically the same. It is the differences that you have to look out for. Check out the left side of the page to see the standard stuff that every contract states. Here I'm going to write about the non standard stuff that you have to watch out for.
The value of a contract in Korea is different than in the West. How much the contract will be honored really depends on the school you're working for. Some employers will honor the contract to the letter while others will see it as a mere guideline that can be changed at their whim (private and public schools are both at fault on this subject). Make sure you let them know that you expect your contract to be honored (in a polite, indirect way of course) and stick to your guns on the important stuff or you might find that your contract is about as good as a sheriff's badge out of a Cracker Jack box.
One way that you can stem the problem is to make sure that you and your employer have the contract read aloud before signing. Especially with older Koreans, a verbal contract has much more meaning than a written one.
Again contacting former or present teachers at the school is a good way to find out just how well your new boss will honor their contract.
If there is a serious breach in the contract, you can contact the local Korean labor board and they may or may not help. Some are sympathetic to foreigners while others are not. They often cannot force your employer to comply but might be able to help you contact a good labor lawyer especially where money is involved. Sadly, somethings you might just have to live with or resign. Think hard before you do so as you will lose all your signing bonuses and probably your return plane ticket as well.
Don't let your employer threaten you if you do chose to resign. Don't pull a runner! It's not worth it. Give the required notice and leave on your terms. Hopefully, things can be worked out before you do leave, but just grin and bear it if it doesn't. Get everything owing you and find another job. Running away puts a blemish on your job record as well as the Korean government might penalize you monetarily as well as banning you from working as a teacher again for up to a year and in the worst cases for life. Do you really want to throw your career in Korea away over this?
Another thing to watch out for is what days you are expected to teach. Make sure that it states you are only going to have to work Monday to Friday. If it states that you might or are expected to work on the weekend, make sure that is what you want to do and are compensated for it. A man had a school ask him  to work for a couple of hours once and he told them he wanted  double his overtime pay (it stated in his contract that he only had to work weekdays). They called him greedy and hung up. Twenty minutes later (and after calling every other teacher in the school) they called him back and gave in. Of course then he told them it was triple the rate and, though they cursed him, they grudgingly agreed. They never asked him to work on the weekends again. The morale of the story is that if they are going to ask you to do things outside of the contract, make sure that you benefit from the extra. It's also a good thing to sometimes say no as they may decide to ask you too often to do things that break your contract.
If your school is not within walking distance, ask the school if they will give you a travel allowance. This doesn't have to cover the full amount, but should be pretty close. Also, if the school wants to outsourcing you (you can teach legally up to two classes outside your school if you have the proper stamps from the nearest immigration office) make sure they either arrange transportation or again give you some kind of subsidy. Most schools will as they make a lot of money loaning out their teachers (and will prolly just bill whoever you are teaching for the costs).
 Some schools provide meals for their teachers. Make sure whether this is paid by the school or you'll be asked to contribute (Most public schools charge you to eat in the cafeteria everyday. It's  cheap, but you don't get a choice in the menu. someone prefer to bag a lunch, but you may be less fussy.).
Utilities for your apartment are generally paid by you. Some rare schools will pay these costs, but generally they don't. Utility fees are relatively cheap here, so it's not a big concern, but if you're really a tightwad you might ask the school to pay or at east give you a subsidy.
Check the housing you'll be given. Most give you a single studio apartment, but some expect to share an apartment with one or more teachers. If you have special needs (family coming with you, for example) make sure that the housing is adequate for your needs. Some schools charge you a refundable deposit against any damages to your place. Make sure that you are there when they do the checking, the first and last day of your dwelling there, and that any items that are damaged when you moved in are noted. Generally, you should expect any previous damage (if major) to be repaired by the employer, but make sure that's understood. Of course, any damages done while you live there will be covered by you, not your employer. If the damages exceed your deposit expect to have to pay the balance.
On a similar note, make sure that all your appliances work. If they don't when you move in make sure that your boss knows and that you expect them to replace it at their cost. Also, sometimes employers will give you used appliances and furniture. Find out who has to replace them if they break.
Generally, most employers will honor your contract and so should you. Especially if you plan on making a career teaching ESL in Korea.

Taxes

The tax year in Korea is from June 1 to May 31. The tax rate is from 5 to 10%.
Most foreign employees are required to pay Korean income taxes, which are generally withheld and paid by the employer. Teachers working for colleges or universities are sometimes entitled to an exemption from paying Korean taxes for up to 2 years due to tax treaties.
The Tax Office maintains a list of institutes that are tax exempt. This provision applies only to teachers employed at universities, research centers, or university operated institutes. The General Affairs section of the university or research centre should be able to apply for the exemption. If the institute wrongly withholds taxes, it is required to pay a refund. Teachers at hakwons and at private companies have to pay taxes.