Today I have an amazing Q&A to share with you all from a new friend, Bria, from Finessing Finances. She's currently teaching English at a private academy in Gyeongju, South Korea. She also blogs about personal finance, budget travel, and lifestyle for millennials. I seriously love her blog!
In today's interview, she's going to share what an English teacher does on a daily basis, how to become a teacher, salary expectations, and a lot more.
Her unique experience traveling abroad is super inspirational. If any of you have been thinking about teaching English abroad, you're going to love this article!
1. What is an English teacher and what exactly do they do?
In the instance of teaching in South Korea, an English teacher offers supplementary English lessons. The children have a main English class with Korean teachers who teaches them grammar and vocabulary. Our job as native speakers is to help the children with their pronunciation and improve their writing and speaking skills.
In the public school system, it’s encouraged to have PowerPoint visuals and hands-on activities in your lesson plan to help the children learn.
For private academies, which take place after school, the focus is really on getting them to understand English to the point where they can pass their exams. As a native teacher at a private academy, I try to incorporate fun activities into my lessons as well because I know how it feels to learn a second language. I don’t want to bore the kids to death.
Related article: South Korea: The No BS Guide To Living In Korea
2. How can someone become an English teacher abroad?
It’s actually pretty easy to become an English teacher here since experience isn’t necessary in most cases.
The main requirements are that you need a bachelor’s degree (or diploma) from an accredited university in any discipline, that you have a TEFL/TESOL/CELTA certificate (required for public school) and that you have a clean criminal background check.
Oh, and you have to be a resident of one of these native English-speaking nations: The United States, Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom or Ireland. So, as long as you have those main boxes checked off, you’re good to go! If you’d like to work for the public school system, EPIK is the way to go.
3. How did you find your job? What was the process like?
So, when I initially started applying to work as an English teacher, I wanted to do public school. It was the most advertised and seemed like the best option, but after doing more research, I liked the idea of working at a private academy more.
I actually found my job on Craigslist, believe it or not! For private academy jobs, you typically need to use a recruiter who acts as a middle man between you and a school. I replied to an ad for a job in Seoul and the recruiter who put it up got back to me.
From there, we decided that the job in Seoul ultimately wasn’t a good fit for me and she introduced me to a school in Gyeongju, which is the job I ended up going with.
It’s a lot easier to get a job with a private academy since they hire year-round, there’s no need to fill out an entire application and they don’t necessarily require you to be certified. In most cases, they’re just looking for English speakers with a sincere desire to pass on their knowledge to these children.
The process of me getting my job was very quick and simple. After she gave me information about the school and told me that the director was interested in having a phone interview with me, I agreed and set up a time to talk to him. Mind you, this interview happened at around 2 AM EST due to the 13-hour time difference, so I had to make sure I sounded awake, haha.
The interview was very casual, he asked me if I liked working with children, about my previous experience working with them, how I would handle a student who was misbehaving in class, etc. It was a very nice interview. The next day I heard back from my recruiter who said that the director liked what he heard and enjoyed his conversation with me and offered me the contract.
I was also reached out to from one of the current English teachers who was working there with more information about what the working environment was like. From there, it was a whirlwind of just gathering up the required documents and negotiating the contract.
The whole process took about 2-3 weeks. For public school, the hiring process takes a couple of months.
Related article: South Korea: The No BS Guide To Teaching English
4. What is the salary like for an English teacher starting out? What other benefits can one expect?
The salary ranges, but it’s pretty consistent. As a public school teacher, you can expect anything between ₩2,000,000 and ₩2,200,000 (won). That’s about US $1800-2000 or £1350-1480 before your bills or monthly fees come out. You can expect a low amount to come out for your school lunch fee and then you’ll have your monthly bills to pay for from that amount as well.
As a first-year private academy teacher, the salary depends on what your school is offering. Big chain schools may offer larger salaries like ₩2.3 or 2.4 million won, but you may not get a pension. Due to the cost of living being low, this is more than enough to live off of and save as a cushion for when your contract ends, if you decide to return home and not renew.
The benefits are typically the same across the board, but can vary depending on public or private:
- Furnished (typically) studio/1-bedroom apartment, rent free
- Flight reimbursement (public) or paid for one-way (private, but may also do reimbursement)
- Settlement allowance of ₩300,000 (US $270) (public)
- Exit allowance (Public, if no renewal)
- Renewal bonus (public)
- Medical insurance
- Pension (residents from South Africa aren’t eligible)
- Vacation time (up to 5 weeks for public, 2 weeks for private)
- Cheap travel both in country and to near-by countries
- The chance to work with some cute and sassy kids
5. What's your favorite part of teaching English?
I think my favorite part of teaching English is watching my students grow. They learn quickly through repetition and activities. When I first got to the school, my youngest students struggled with basic phrases and they weren’t very confident, but over the last semester, I’ve seen major improvements every day.
Now, they don’t stop talking and singing! I also love the relationships that I’m building with all of my students because I see them every day. They’re really an awesome group of kids! I also lucked out with having a great set of co-workers, a caring boss, and a huge apartment!
Related article: How To Survive A Solo Trip To Japan Without Going Broke
6. What's your least favorite part of teaching English?
To be honest, there really isn’t much of anything that I don’t like about teaching. For the most part, my students are well behaved and pretty excited to talk in English with me, but of course, there are those that would rather be anywhere else but school, haha. I was a little surprised by the fact that some of my students just flat-out ignore me sometimes or act out because you hear that Asian students are well-behaved, but I’ve been dealing with school age children for a while, so it’s nothing that I can’t handle. Kids will be kids, after all.
7. What is it like living in South Korea?
One great quality I have is the ability to adapt quickly. I’ve settled into a daily routine here and I do my exploring on the weekends. The culture here is quirky, full of things that make me tilt my head and wonder, but also smile.
The food here is amazing, full of flavor and can range from normal to ‘what the heck am I putting in my mouth?’ The people are also generally nice and try to help or understand you for the most part. I have a long post dedicated to living here in South Korea that gives you more of an inside look, but I like it here overall.
8. What made you decide to teach English in South Korea?
I’ve been interested in Asian culture for years now, dating back to middle school and I was looking at ways to make my way over here. So, when I stumbled across the opportunity of teaching English on this side of the world, it was a no-brainer, really.
At first, I was dead set on teaching English in Japan, since I’d studied the language, knew about the culture and visited, but after comparing the cost of living and benefits in other surrounding countries, South Korea came out on top. Plus, I thought it would be pretty cool to get to know a whole new culture that I didn’t have too much knowledge about.
9. Do you want to teach somewhere else one day besides South Korea?
I would definitely consider teaching English again in another country besides South Korea. It’s not in the cards for me right now though, since I have plans back home in the States after my contract ends next year. However, if the opportunity arises again, I would try teaching in Taiwan, Japan or China. I would also consider Europe, but my heart belongs to Asia!
10. What's your best piece of advice you would give to someone who wants to teach English abroad?
My number one piece of advice for anyone considering teaching English abroad, anywhere, is to step outside of your comfort zone. You’re doing an amazing thing by leaving your family and friends behind to embark on a new adventure that not only benefits you but the students and people you meet.
You’re going to impact their lives and leave your mark, that’s a wonderful thing! Being that you’re moving to a new country with a culture that is different from your own, it’s best to come with an open mind and try to have fun like the locals do. You might really enjoy it!
One of my favorite pass times here in Korea is noraebang, AKA karaoke. There are many different types of noraebang to try. It defeats the purpose of coming to the other side of the world if you just sit in your apartment, afraid to venture out and engage because of language or culture barriers.
Make sure to check out Bria and her adventures on her blog, Finessing Finances.
Would you ever like to teach English abroad?
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