With the sinking British economy and constant chaos in America, working abroad has never seemed more attractive. There are hundreds of options but teaching is often the most achievable and well paid. Almost every country offers teaching jobs to English native speakers. Often cited as one of the best places to teach abroad, South Korea is enjoying a moment. The pay is great, the hours are good and you will be given a free apartment or housing allowance. The people are friendly, the culture interesting, and the food is exciting. Sounds amazing, right? It really is, but there are a couple of things I wish I had prepared for before teaching English in South Korea.
1. Not All Jobs Are Created Equal
If you’re moving across the globe for a job, it makes sense to get a good one! There are two main choices when it comes to teaching in South Korea: in public schools or private academies. I am going to be focusing on the latter here. The problem with academies is they are private businesses and can vary wildly.
While there are laws in place, the way they are run seems to be different from academy to academy. I have met people who have come to work on Monday to find their academy no longer exists. The trick to finding a good job is research. Ask for the contact details of a current employee, do a Google search and don’t be afraid to say no. Your recruiter will probably make you feel like there’s hardly any jobs but they just want you to sign so they get their commission.
Salaries tend to be very similar, so this is less of a concern. There’s so many jobs out there, you can be picky! There are some fantastic ones to choose from so it pays not to take the first that is offered.
2. Find a Balance Between Fun and Saving
When I received my contract, I was overjoyed! £1500 with no rent!? I was basically a millionaire! I quickly drew up an elaborate budget and savings schedule. In the U.K. I lived on a quarter of this and lived well. Sadly, I have learnt the more you earn, the more you spend. Living in Seoul, there’s always something to do, a new restaurant to try, or a trip to take.
The best way I have found is to give yourself a couple of months to try everything, then knuckle down. When I first arrived, I did everything and went everywhere. I ate out a lot, keen to try local food. Needless to say, the amount I saved at first was minimal.
However, Seoul is a great city for the thrifty. There are several hikes easily accessible, free museums, new areas to explore, and there is always some kind of event happening. Eating Korean food and avoiding Western food will save you a small fortune. Korean food is cheap, often cheaper than cooking at home, so you will rarely feel deprived.
3. It Can Be Difficult to Travel
One of the main reason people work abroad is to travel more. I imagined myself living in Seoul and using my big fat pay check to jet set away every weekend. Compared to Europe, flights out of Seoul are ridiculously expensive! Private teachers get very few holidays, usually two weeks plus public holidays; however this varies between schools. The flight prices during these public holidays are astronomical!
I was looking at flights to Thailand during Cheusok and realised it would have been cheaper to fly from the UK. However, if you aren’t trying to save, it is easy to travel in these holidays. For me, it was far more economical to save like mad, then travel afterwards.
4. Forget About Sick Days
This is the only really negative thing I have experienced here. Koreans have a fantastic work ethic. My students often attend academies until 9pm 5 nights a week, and on weekends. Who would I call if I am sick? How much in advance did I need to call? It turns out I don’t call, as sick days don’t really exist. This is not true for all academies but it seems to be true for the majority.
If you are sick, your school will most likely take you to hospital, then take you back to school. If you are completely out, you may be asked to find cover and pay for it. At my job, I am expected to pay each student’s parents for the cancelled class. Granted, I have not actually been sick but it’s something I wish I had been aware of.
On the plus side, the healthcare system is fantastic here, especially coming from the UK. I can usually get an appointment that day, the facilities are modern, and you don’t have to register with one particular practice.
Teaching in South Korea is one of the most rewarding experiences I have had. The people are welcoming, the teaching is rarely stressful, and there are so many great places to explore. Do your research and you can enjoy a fantastic year!
This is a guest post by Natalie Cooke.
Natalia is an English teacher in South Korea. After spending years traveling the world on a budget, she is now working while she explores. An avid reader, she decided to share her book reviews and experiences on her blog. Follow her adventures in fiction and in Asia on The Petite Explorer.