You Want to Teach English in Korea? Read This.

Teaching in Korea can be both a rewarding and frustrating experience.

As a Korean-American with many years of business experience, and a person that has taught groups of people privately, please read this long-winded list of points in order to make sure that your teaching experience in Korea is worthwhile.

1.  Teaching in schools pays less but may be more reliable.  The negatives are that the total pay can be lower than teachers at a hagwon.  This is particularly true if you have majored at an Ivy-league university (there are other hints for you down below).  In addition, there may only be positions for you in faraway places, which you may not like.  Seoul is a first-world large city, and as long as you have cash/credit card, you can buy almost anything, including western food, drinks, etc.  In addition, the impersonal feel of a large city may be a source of comfort to you if you are not Korean/Asian.  Although I do not know personally, my thought is that in small towns, you will draw stares.  That said, if you are fortunate enough to meet kind-hearted Koreans in the countryside, then those people will be nicer to you than big-city Seoulites.  That is a gross generalization, but it holds true, much like in other countries.  City people are not as nice as country people after they have accepted you.  As a teacher, you may be able to get this type of treatment.

2. Hagwons can be compared to the Wild, Wild West.  There are basically two types of hagwon businesses.  The first are what I would call corporations.  They have franchises with many branches, and are located in multiple areas, in multiple cities.  The pay will be above average, and many of these hagwons have prepared curricula from which you can teach.  Generally speaking, these companies have the funds to reliably pay teachers on time.  This is important.
The reason that this is important is because there is a second type of hagwon, which I will call entreprenurial, for the lack of a better term.  These hagwons are usually established by a star student at some level, who tries to leverage his/her academic performance into profits.  Have no doubt:  these entreprenurial hagwons can vary widely in the way that they handle teachers.  If you are fortunate, then you will be paid on time, and treated with respect.  If not, then you are a mere input to the hagwon's profitability.  Since a hagwon's profitability depends on the number of students that attend, as well as the costs in running a hagwon, there are many substantiated stories of hagwons not paying teachers on time, and not honoring signed contracts. 

3.  If you want to change jobs, you can do so easily.  Especially when dealing with entreprenurial hagwons, the Seoul Gyopo Guide recommends that teachers should both teach and look for better opportunities continuously.  You need to be aware of how your hagwon is doing in your location, and also be aware that other, larger, more stable hagwons may be interested in hiring new teachers, i.e. you.  You should build and maintain a network of fellow teachers to remain informed, and keep you up to date on developments in your area.  Do not believe any hagwon owner that tells you that you cannot change positions.  That is intimidation which cannot be enforced.  You should know that hagwons themselves are under continuous scrutiny by tax authorities due to suspicions of tax evasion.  More than a decade ago, all of the owners of the largest hagwons "visited" jail because of tax evasion.  Corporation hagwons often have publicly-traded stock, so there are specific financial reporting requirements, which serves as a safety net for teachers.

4.  Private tutoring is illegal....  Due to public policy concerns, the government doesn't want private tutoring at the individual level for school-age students outside the hagwon atmosphere.  This law is broken everyday, in almost every city in Korea.  The Seoul Gyopo Guide cannot make any other comments on this other than that.

5.  If you don't want to teach school-age children, then consider teaching Business English.  In small cities in Korea, language hagwons can teach both school-age students, and they frequently also have Business English classes.  You may prefer to teach adults.  Teaching adults has two forms:  inside the hagwon and outsourcing (on-site at the company).   There are hagwons in the major cities which specialize in Business English.  Those hagwons usually also have an outsourcing service that sends teachers to the company to teach during either early morning or evenings.  There are many pros and cons to teaching for a Business English hagwon.  The main one is total amount of compensation.  While the hourly rate is usually 2-3 times that of a teacher at a public elementary school, it may be the case that the fewer hours that you work will actually make the amount of money that you make lower than elementary school teachers.  Now, if you can have a hagwon sponsor your visa, and still teach on the side, then it may be the best of both worlds.  You may be able to work more than full-time, at a much higher hourly rate.  That will be difficult to do, but not impossible, especially if you are a bilingual Korean woman who was born and raised outside Korea.  If you do not fit that description, then you can still teach 4-5 hours a day, and make the same as other teachers that teach school-age students.  If you are very, very organized, and a little lucky, then it is entirely possible to make more than double the amount that a hagwon teacher to school-age children makes.

6.  Steady hours, high pay:  teach Business English for a Korean corporation.  Many medium-to-large size Korean corporations have English learning centers of their own, at offsite locations.  There are relatively few positions at these places, but they do exist.  The locations are usually not very far from Seoul either because employees need to be able to go there and return home after a week-long "English boot-camp."  Given that the number of positions is small, the competition is relatively tough.  In addition, the airlines need to have English teachers for their staff.  There are frequently openings for this type of job.  If you have this type of position, there is not much that would prevent you from teaching additional hours on the weekend if you wanted to make extra money.  That said, you will be considered an employee of the corporation.

7.  If you have graduated from an Ivy-League university, the rules are different.  The International Schools in Korea are competitive, the parents are ultra-competitive, and both the schools and the parents are usually willing to pay more than the market averages to well-qualified teachers.  In Korea, well-qualified teachers translates to Ivy League degree.  If you can tutor AP anything, then you will be able to command about 75,000 KRW per hour for positions in specialized places. You should look, and will be able to find, opportunities to make this amount for yourself on an ad-hoc basis.  The Lost Seoul knows how you can do this:  you can send me an email to discuss this further.

8.  If you are married to a native Korean, then you can create your own service to teach English.  Getting a business license is not difficult if you have the correct type of visa.  For example, if you are married to a native Korean, and teach Business English, thehn you can begin by teaching through a Business English hagwon.  Once you have relationships with people or companies, then you can cut out the "middle man," i.e. the hagwon, and collect the entire hourly teaching fee.  For outsourcing services, the hourly rate is usually slightly less than double the teacher's hourly compensation, which means that you can make 40% more an hour by setting up this type of completely-legal business.

9.  Teaching in Korea will make most likely make you more money than your peers.  If you are a U.S. citizen, then you are bound by global taxation rules.  That said, there is an expatriate exemption amount that will lower your reported income.  In short, you will make pretty much the same as your friends in the U.S., but taxed at a much lower rate.  So, your disposable income will be higher.  On the other hand, you will be living in a foreign country, and you will spend more because you are homesick, you want to explore Korea, etc.

10.  Advice for new teachers that have never been to Korea: make a Korean-native friend.  This is pretty important.  If you have just one friend, he/she can help immeasurably.  Korea is still relatively foreigner-unfriendly.  You cannot become a member of the PC Room which lowers your internet rates.  You cannot easily get a mobile phone.  It is relatively difficult to set up a bank account.  Contact lenses are much cheaper in Korea than in other countries, which is totally useless unless you can take an exam in at a Korean eyeglass store.   Dentistry is excellent and cheap in Korea: it is better if you have a Korean friend who can help point you in the right direction.  There are some practical things that need to be addressed, and a native Korean can show you the ropes easily that saves you hours, days, and weeks of frustration.

11.  Robots are coming?  Don't Worry.  Yet.
There are some that believe that native English speakers are not ideal for elementary Korean students.  You can read my thoughts on that idea here.  However, there are some trends which may actually gain a foothold.  One is the idea of robots being used at the elementary level.  To be fair, it isn't a bad idea, although there is an open question regarding how well robots can regulate the behavior of unruly students.  It may mean that elementary school teaching is a less viable option for new teachers, but it is highly doubtful that this will occur anytime soon.

Disclaimer:  The above is the opinion of The Lost Seoul.  You will hear war stories that differ from the information listed.  That said, I am a Gyopo (foreign born of Korean descent) and have experienced the best and worst of Korea.  English is important to Koreans, which is both a good and bad thing.  You can help them, and succeed on an individual level.  The advice above is to help you do just that.

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