Q&A: FAQs About How To Get A Job Teaching English In Korea

QATeachingWhen I woke up this morning needing to reply to three separate messages (and I’m sure one or two comments I’m forgetting) asking about resources and information for teaching in Korea, I decided to just write this blog post for once and for all.

In this instance I’m just adding my one little voice to the thousands of great resources and guides that already exist. With a little Googling you’ll turn up far more information than you know what to do with! That being said, the requirements seem to change all the time, so maybe my experience in 2014 will be helpful and relevant to you. I’m going to start from the premise that you already want to teach abroad, and specifically in South Korea, specifically at a private school or hagwon. Please note: I am by no means an expert on this topic. All the information below is based on my personal experience applying from Canada (but I will include information relevant to other countries when I can).

Resources

Why Teach in Korea?

How To Teach in Korea

  • FAQs from That Backpacker
  • FAQs from Great Big Scary World
  • FAQs from Around the World in 80 Jobs
  • FAQs from An American Teaching English in Korea

DSC_0002Documents

This was the area that caused me the most stress and confusion. Ultimately, you want to get an E-2 Visa from the Korean government, so the easiest way to figure out what you need is to go to the website of your local Korean consulate and they should have a section detailing what you need for the E-2 visa (for example, here’s the section for Toronto). Go East Recruiting has a great – and as far as I can tell, up-to-date and accurate – guide to what documents you will need and the different requirements based on the country you are from. You can find it here.

The first thing you need to do is order sealed transcripts from your university. Depending on where you went to school, these may cost money or they might be free. You’ll probably need 3 all together. When they arrive, don’t open them.

You’ll also need to order a police check. This is the thing that takes the longest and can really stall your applications. You can start applying for jobs before your check arrives, but the process will move a lot quicker if you are an applicant with all their documents in hand. For Canadians: as far as I can tell you can order either a local police check or an RCMP police check. For both, you’ll want to check off “Vulnerable Sector Search”. The VSS isn’t a separate check, it’s merely included in the regular police check. You can get more information on specifics for different countries using this guide.

Then, make a copy of your university degree at your local printing shop on standard 8.5″x11″ paper. Find a notary in your area and ask them to notarize the photocopy. You have to bring your original degree, but my notary barely even looked at it. Most notaries know all about the process of applying to teach in Korea and should understand what you’re talking about when you ask for your degree to be notarized. It cost me around $30. You should make a couple copies of the notarized photocopy of your degree just in case.

Once you have your police check, transcripts and notarized degree in hand, head over to your nearest consulate. Again, check the website for detailed specifics (example here) but you will probably need around $10 in cash, your passport or driver’s license, and your original degree. (That’s right, even though you got your degree verified, you still also need to bring it along! Lots of red tape.) In my experience, you do not need your criminal record check notarized by a notary, but you do need to have it verified at the consulate.

Once these verifications are complete, please note that you do not have a visa. These are just the first of several steps in getting a visa. Once you get a job offer, you’ll courier your documents to your school and they’ll complete the necessary paperwork for you in Korea. When that’s completed and processed, they’ll get back an E2 Visa issuance number from Korean immigration. They’ll send you the issuance number and you’ll take it to the consulate to apply in person. Your visa will be stamped into your passport within a few days.

Another note on documents: in my experience you do not need a TESL certificate. Some schools will want you to have one, and so if you find an awesome job that you desperately want, you’ll have to decide if it’s worth it to you to do a certification. I had one job offer from a school who said it was mandatory and two job offers from schools that didn’t mention it even once. In the end, I went with the best offer and didn’t need to get my TESL. I became skeptical about getting it when I learned that, while you might learn something helpful from your course, the certification isn’t regulated by any governing body and so anyone can technically set up shop and teach TESL – you can get them online, for $200. You can also do in-person courses that are considerably more expensive, but which (so I’ve heard) teach you a lot more practical, hands-on lessons about teaching. It’s up to you, but don’t feel that it’s necessary. Some schools will want it and (most) others won’t care.

DSC_0002Recruiter

I recommend shopping around when it comes to a recruiter. Do not feel obligated to stay with one, even if they get you an interview or two. There are a ton of recruiting agencies and they often don’t have your best interests at heart. That’s not to say that they want to put you in a horrible job, it’s just that they want to place you as quickly as possible in a pretty good job and move on to their next client. You really have to be your own advocate here. Decide what city you want to teach in, and do a little research to find out what area of that city you might like best. When I said I was only interested in teaching in Busan, my recruiter tried to put me in the outskirts of Busan, at the end of the metro line. Know what you want and be firm.

I used Tony of Gloii Recruiting initially, but he stopped responding to my emails after my first job offer fell through. I do have friends that were placed successfully with him, but other friends had the same experience as me.  You could also use recruiters like Teach Away, Footprints or Korvia. Note: I applied to some of these, but when I had a hard line on the area I wanted to teach in they didn’t have any job listings for me. If you’re flexible about where you work, you could get a job in less than a week. If you have a particular area in mind you most definitely can still find a good job, it just might take you slightly longer.

In the end, I worked with Kate from My Etec and she got me my job here in Busan. I found her by looking through the Jobs listings on KoreaBridge and applying to postings that looked good. She was totally awesome throughout the whole process and I ended up in a really great job in a great location. I would definitely recommend looking on the job boards on KoreaBridge and Dave’s ESL Café to see what’s out there and applying for things on your own, even if you’re already working with a recruiter.

Interviews

There’s not much to say here, except be enthusiastic. They mainly just want to see you or hear your voice, check that you can speak English and make sure that you seem like a nice, normal, energetic person. Be prepared for them to possibly ask you personal questions, like what your parents do for a living or how old you are. Be prepared for the possibility that you won’t be able to see them in the video call or that they won’t be able to see you. Be prepared to do your interviews at 10PM. They will likely offer you the job on the spot at the end of the interview, or you’ll hear one way or another from your recruiter right after.

IMG_2964Timing

If you’re planning to teach at a hagwon, you can apply at any time of year. The “semesters” usually start in March and September so there may be more listings then, but since these are private schools it’s quite a loose designation and most schools are hiring constantly depending on need.

There were about 2 months from the day I applied for my police check to the day I flew out of the country – early January to early March. I would recommend beginning the process about 3 months before you want to leave because it can be very stressful waiting for your police check to arrive, finding a recruiter and getting a job offer that seems fair, and you don’t want to feel rushed on top of the stress you’ll already feel.

Don’t settle!

Trust me, I know exactly how stressful it is applying for these jobs from home. You usually just want the process to move quickly and are totally ready to take whatever job comes your way. Don’t. I know it can feel like you won’t get a better offer or that the details that seem sketchy about your offer won’t be a big deal in practice. But they will be! Decide on the things that are the most important to you – for me these were location and salary – and then don’t compromise. It can be scary to turn down a job offer without a backup, but I promise that:

  1. You will not be happy if you compromise on the important things.
  2. It’s a full year of your life! I know once you make the decision to move to Korea, you want to get here ASAP, but take the time to do it properly and you’ll have a much better experience.
  3. Another job offer will come along. A better one.

Currently the job standards (at least in Busan, where I live) are a salary of 2.1 million won, a 7 or 8 hour work day, 10 days of vacation during the year, a furnished apartment, flights to and from Korea covered, and a year-end bonus equivalent to one month’s salary. You don’t have to settle for less, these jobs are out there.

***

Good luck! Coming to Korea to teach English has already been such a rewarding experience. While my job isn’t the highlight of my time here, it opens the door to so many other possibilities for me. It’s given me the money, the time and the space to pursue other passions, have lots of lovely adventures, and start to figure out what I want my next steps to be. I would highly recommend it to anyone who feels stuck or unsure about their next move.

If you have any other questions, let me know in the comments below! You can also send me an email at stephanie @ lifeinlimbo.org. I’ll try to keep this post updated as things come up.

Seoul, Korea

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

It was a four-day weekend here in Korea, in honour of Children's Day and Buddha's Birthday, and I spent it in Seoul with friends. After our trip to Tokyo (a vibrant, colourful blur) I was a bit tired and was sorely tempted to stay home, watch TV and decompress. Fortunately I didn't, and those three days away were exactly the kind of break I needed.

Since I'm living in Korea for a year, I knew I'd probably be going back to Seoul a few more times and that took the pressure off. There was no rushing around trying to get everything checked off the bucket list. There was no agonizing over where to go and how much time to spend there. There was no real stress of any kind, except for the last mad dash to the train station and boarding the train back to Busan with two minutes to spare.

Instead, there were long talks about life on the sundrenched four hour train ride there and back. There was meandering down the streets of bustling shopping districts eating street food and ice cream. There was delicious food – Korean and Mexican in the same day. There was an afternoon spent roaming the grounds of a gorgeous palace. There was a full day spent with a girl I met while travelling alone through Madrid so many months ago. She showed us around her favourite parts of Seoul, took us for some of the best Korean food I've ever had, and happily, we got along as well as we had in Spain during the few days we spent together then.

And there was more! I had my birth chart read by a local tarot card reader. We hid from the rain in a cafe bordering the stream that cuts through downtown Seoul and drank hot sweet tea. I had iced mochaccinos every morning and soju mixed with Sprite in plastic cups every night. We wandered around the university district enjoying its lively energy, watching people boxing and others playing music side-by-side in the little park in the middle of it all. There were so many times we laughed until we cried.

I came home feeling recharged, not drained. I felt (and still feel!) blissed out and happy, alive and connected. It reminded me of how incredibly lucky I am to have this opportunity to live and work in another country, and to explore and experience such amazing parts of the world. It also reminded me not to take any of it for granted. Life is good.

Favourites:

  • Juno Guesthouse: While the facilities were nothing to write home about, it was in a quiet area and very close to a subway stop on one of the major train lines. But most of all, it had an absolutely incredible welcoming committee: a beautiful little Korean Jindo dog that brightened our day every time we left or came back to the hostel.
  • Vatos Urban Tacos: This restaurant in Itaewon made us feel immediately like we weren't in Korea anymore. Not that there's anything wrong with Korea, but it just made us feel transported to somewhere completely different. Amazing margaritas, perfect tacos, delicious salsa, some queso dip – we were in heaven.
  • Ssamziegil (in Insadong): We all agreed that walking through this shopping area (shown in the fifth picture from the top) felt like walking through Etsy brought to life. There were tons of stores selling adorable handmade or unique things like jewelry, stationery, and soaps.
  • Gwanghwamun Square: A gorgeous, open plaza leading to the gates of the Gyeongbokgung palace (another of our favourites). It's right in the middle of Seoul, framed by mountains behind, and is positively gorgeous.

Observations in Korea / 02

Observations 2

I’ve been in Korea almost two months (time flies) and have been doing a lot of exploring during my short time here so far. I’ve been trying to keep track of the things I observe, but it’s actually harder to do than you might think! I’ve felt pretty settled here remarkably quickly, so the cultural oddities have been fading into the background more than I would like them to. It’s hard to believe that I wrote my first observations post a little less than a week after arriving (!) when everything was fresh in my mind. Here are some more observations I’ve collected over the past couple months.

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You can get Burger King and McDonald’s (among a million other things) delivered to your apartment by a guy on a motorcycle. It seems like a miracle that most people here are as petite as they are.

Speaking of motorcycles, they’re allowed on the sidewalks here and use them constantly. Which means that the sidewalk isn’t necessarily a safe pedestrian zone. You have to always be on the lookout for a rogue motorcycle heading your way!

There are a ton of public bathrooms everywhere, which is excellent. They don’t always have toilet paper and are often squat toilets, but at least the facilities are there.

In most washrooms, there is a small garbage can where you’re meant to put all your used toilet paper instead of flushing it. In public bathrooms it’s often overflowing, and I can never bring myself to put it there instead of flushing it.

There are not a lot of trash cans anywhere, which is not so excellent.

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Around hiking trails (and there are many here) there is often a little station for cleaning off your boots with a pressurized air nozzle.

A lot of Korean food is bright red due to their use of gochujang, a spicy red chilli paste. I love to watch well-dressed women like my coworkers eating gimbap or tteokbokki (Korean rice cakes) smothered with red sauce with chopsticks and not spill a drop on their lightly coloured clothes. I’m not always so lucky/skilled.

There are whole lanes and traffic signals devoted to U-turns. As one of my coworkers described it, this is because the country is so small that they can’t make all the lanes we have room for in Canada, so U-turns are a simple solution.

Even very young children (we’re talking maybe 6 years old) have cell phones. And most people have very large phones that they make even bigger by adding a huge, brightly coloured case.

IMG_1448

Since it’s Buddha’s Birthday next week (a national holiday and four day weekend!) there are bright, beautiful paper lanterns hung absolutely everywhere. It’s really quite delightful.

Even when you’re downtown, seeing locals decked out from head to toe in bright, neon-coloured hiking clothes (complete sometimes with windbreakers, hats, gaiters and hiking poles) is an everyday occurrence, though it happens even more on the weekend. The Koreans love to hike on trails, but sometimes just wear their hiking clothes while walking around in groups in the city too!

My Korean coworkers will not hesitate to exclaim that I have dark circles under my eyes or that I look really tired. This isn’t meant to be taken as an insult, from what I understand, though when one actually is tired, it can be hard not to take it that way.

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People seem to love Canada. Whenever cab drivers or strangers ask where we’re from and find out, they always light up and say that Canada is very good. America, not so much. We’re still trying to figure out exactly why.

I’ve seen people pushing around strollers designed to hold a cat or a small dog. No comment.

There are a lot of pizza places here, but it’s usually like North American-style pizza with a Korean twist. Often plain cheese pizza will come with corn on it, and they offer other interesting combinations like sweet potato pizza (I have yet to try but have heard it’s really good) or of course bulgogi pizza.

I often feel stared at by Koreans, especially men. It’s a bit unsettling but I don’t ever feel unsafe or threatened. I think it has more to do with the fact that foreigners are the overwhelming minority in Busan.

In my last post, I wrote about how Korean cars always look brand new. Well, to build on that: when I’ve been given a ride by coworkers I’ve noticed that some cars have the factory plastic still inside on the backs of seats or on seatbelt buckles or on the flip-down mirrors. And a huge number of cars have little foam blocks on the outside of their cars, approximately where the door handle is. From what I understand, these are to minimize dents if a car door swings open and hits another car.

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***

On the whole, life in Korea isn’t hugely different from life anywhere else, which seems like an insane thing to say, but it’s true! The biggest difference is that besides foreigners and people who work at English schools, hardly anyone here speaks any English (but I can still get by with just my few phrases in Korean). Yes, there are some cultural idiosyncrasies (for example, I still get disgusted every time someone horks and spits up phlegm, which happens everywhere and all the time) but overall it’s been a very nice place to live. I love the beach and try to spend as much time there as I possibly can – it makes any minor annoyance seem tiny and insignificant. On Saturday evening my friends and I had a glorious few hours sitting out on the beach with beers as the sun set slowly, and it made me so excited for what promises to be an incredible summer.

Inside My Korean Apartment

KAI can hardly believe I’ve been living in Korea for a week and a half. In some ways it feels like I’ve been here much longer than that, and in other ways it feels like I got here only yesterday. I’m settling in pretty well though overall, and I thought I’d share a glimpse of my apartment for anyone curious back home!

DSC_0124I live approximately 5 minutes walking distance from the school I’m working at, in a large apartment building right next to my friend Dylan’s building. I can actually see his window from the lobby on my floor where I wait for the elevators! I’ve never lived in an apartment tower before (I’m not the biggest fan of waiting for elevators) but it’s in a perfect location and so far has worked out great. My door has a keypad, which I adore, because it makes me feel like a spy punching in a secret code. 

DSC_0138It’s a relatively small apartment, but I still feel like I have lots of space to move around. I might need to invest in a couch so that I can have people over, but I’m also enjoying being able to practice yoga facing my big window. 

DSC_0129True to Stephanie form, I outfitted my space with as many pops of colour as I could muster. Luckily, the local dollar store chain, Daiso, is all too happy to oblige – they have lots of neons and rainbow colours for not a lot of money! The kitchen doesn’t have a lot of counter space, which I’m getting used to, but that being said, I think it actually has more than my first ever apartment! I have two gas burners, no oven, and a washing machine. I think I’ll be investing in a toaster oven soon. 

DSC_0137Here’s the view from the bed. On the far right is a big closet, and there’s another by the door. 

DSC_0131I was pretty relieved that I have a “Western-style” shower, one that’s closed off from the rest of the bathroom. In many Korean apartments it isn’t, so when you shower everything gets wet. I definitely had a hallelujah moment when I saw that mine had a real door and everything! The bathroom is right across the hall from the kitchen space. 

DSC_0146And last but not least, my beloved desk. I (crookedly) put up that pink wall decal (yes, from Daiso!) to serve as a kind of bulletin board, but I haven’t gotten around to putting anything up on it yet.

DSC_0007This is the view from my apartment if I lean precariously out the window to the right. Straight ahead of me on a cloudy day, the view is like this: 

DSC_0005Either way, not too shabby. The beach is just behind those buildings! 

The apartment is still a bit of a work in progress, but it’s growing on me the more I make it my own. I have all the things I need now to cook and clean, along with a few cute things that make me happy. I’ve heard that the apartments foreign teachers get can be kind of yucky, so I feel like I really lucked out. I like my little apartment! It’s going to be just perfect for my year in Korea.