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30 things you should know about teaching English in Korea
by Jay Gutman
2014-08-22 10:07:11
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Here’s a list of 30 things you should know about teaching English in South Korea, if you ever intend to teach there.

1. Finding a job will be easy, if you want to teach children

If you want to teach adults, you will need either experience or qualifications or both. If you want to teach at a university, you will probably need a Ph.D.

2. Don’t expect an orientation

EPIK and TaLK teachers get an orientation, some say it’s useful, others not so much. Private schools offer no orientation, and you will teach an actual class within 24 hours after landing in Korea. That can be painful if you’re teaching kindergarten and have no experience and no knowledge of Korean. 

3. If you’re sick, you’re still expected to show up

The flu is contagious, but even when teaching 3 year old children you will be expected to show up and spread the germs. Officially, it’s because there are no substitute teachers.

4. Expect a lot of anxiety in the air

If you’re used to a stress-free environment, your Korean colleagues’ constant anxious look on their face can be intimidating.

5. Your classes will always either be too easy or too difficult

Expect your management to tell you to shift from easier content to more difficult content at least once a week.

6. You are not a real teacher

Doesn’t matter if you’re a respected scholar in the field of TEFL, your colleagues will never see you as a real teacher.

7. Co-teaching is supervised teaching, and the Korean’s the boss

If you think being a native speaker will make you your co-teacher’s boss, think again. Your Korean co-teacher has the power to decide when you teach, what you teach and how you teach.

8. If you argue with Korean staff, be prepared for horrible things

Koreans can be emotional and sometimes downright hysterical. If you respond the same way, be prepared to be isolated, or fired.

9. Don’t teach English in Korea if you’re looking for stability

The pay is good, benefits can be great. But after one year, there’s a good chance your contract will not be renewed.

10. Don’t apply for the first time if you’re over 50

If you’ve taught in Korea in the past and you’re over 50, there’s a good chance you’ll find a job. If you’re applying for the first time, Koreans might sense mid-life crisis and are likely to pass.

11. Children (and adults) can be touchy-feely

If you come from a culture where there’s a notion of private space, Korea’s different. Children will touch, grab and rub themselves against you. Your hair will not be immune.

12. Expect shifts from laissez-faire to micromanagement

If you’re used to having a lot of freedom to teach classes and carry out projects, think again. Many schools start with a laissez-faire approach only to start giving you so many directions it gives a feeling things are being micromanaged.

13. Vegetarianism=social suicide

Your foreign friends will like fried chicken at their parties, Korean staff will like barbeque pork belly. You can stick to the bibimbap (Korean rice mixed with vegetables) but you’ll miss out on a lot of action.

14. Korean English teachers are… Korean!

The logic stating that Korean English teachers should speak English with each other because they are English teachers is as flawed as saying you should be speaking Korean with your foreign friends because you live in Korea.

15. Your students are… Korean!

Asking your students to speak English amongst each other because they are in an English classroom would have the same results as asking you to speak Korean with your foreign friend in a Korean classroom. Would you be able to do that?

16. Your private life is public

If you’re a heavy drinker or a womanizer your school could find out and it won’t play in your favor. How could a heavy drinker or womanizer responsibly handle children or adults (so they think).

17. Personal drama could get you fired

An ugly break up? A divorce? That could get you fired. Koreans believe your personal problems will affect your ability to teach.

18. It’s hard not to drink

The permanent anxiety at the Korean workplace makes evening beer or soju relaxing and refreshing.

19. Don’t expect praise

Praise is frowned upon in Korean culture. If you want praise you can go to Latin America. Everyone seems to be a great teacher there.

20. You are not a Korean teacher

Korean teachers can yell at the students, discipline them or speak to them in Korean. You are not allowed to do any of those things.

21. Professional development is an obligation and has nothing to do with advancement

A Master’s degree, a workshop, an award or a title won’t get you that promotion or pay raise. It won’t encourage them to renew your contract either.  But you’re still expected to engage in professional development.

22. You will be addicted to traveling

The only thing foreign teachers talk about is traveling. Coming to Korea will mean you will have a long list of places you will want to travel to.

23. You will find people back home boring

With all the stories (fake and real) told by teachers in Korea, you will find people back home really dull.

24. You will be addicted to ethnic food, the authentic kind

You will probably never go to an ethnic food restaurant back home, unless it’s real authentic food.

25. You will be a great teacher

All the criticism and feedback you will get teaching in Korea may be annoying at first, it will make you a reflective teacher in the long run and will make you a great teacher.

26. You will miss your job

You teach 20 hours a week, and with a co-teacher, you sometimes teach 6 hours a week when your co-teacher does the rest. In some cases you are paid not to teach at all. You spend 12 months being paid real money to slack around. There’s no equivalent job back home.

27. You will miss the clean, fashion-conscious cities

You may not be the most fashionable person yourself, but you won’t find an entire population dressing to kill elsewhere.

28. You will be a Korean ambassador wherever you go

Anytime something happens in Korea, you will be called upon to explain it.

29. You will need kimchi and soju at least once a month

You will probably miss Korean food, even when you didn’t always find it appetizing during your stay.

30. You will marvel at the sight of being surrounded by “foreigners” back home

Using the word “foreigner” to describe non-Koreans will stay in your language for a very long time.

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