TEACHING IN KOREA:
The Different Elements.
OPPORTUNITIES & PITFALLS
An Unofficial Guide Compiled by American Citizen Services,
U.S. Embassy, Seoul. Republic of Korea.
This document is a readily available public access
file from the U.S. Embassy in Seoul,
its contents were printed May of 1995 and extracts
have been included here.
"Over the last few years the U.S. Embassy has received many inquiries
about teaching English in Korea. We have prepared this unofficial guidebook
to give teachers basic information on the business of teaching English
here so that they can be better informed before committing themselves to
a particular job.
Unfortunately some American citizens come to Korea under contract, with
promises of generous salaries, bonuses and other amenities, only to find
themselves in tenuous situations, often lacking funds to return to the
U.S. The Embassy, by regulation, cannot enter into any case, conduct an
investigation, nor act as a lawyer in legal or contractual mishaps experienced
by U.S. citizens. We can neither investigate or certify employers. The
Embassy maintains a language institute complaint file and will answer inquiries
about whether specific schools have been the subject of complaints. However,
it is up to each individual to evaluate potential employers before signing
We hope this information will prove useful. If you have any problems
please contact the American Citizen Services Branch at the U.S. Embassy,
82 Sejong Ro, Chongro Ku. Our telephone number for basic information is
397-4603 or 3974604. Please press 0 at any time during the message to be
contacted to an ACS staff member. Our fax number is (02) 725-6843. Our
office is open for walk-in service every weekday, except Wednesdays, from
9:30 am to 12:00 pm and 1:30 pm to 3:30 pm. The Embassy is closed on official
American and Korean holidays.
Many Americans have enjoyed their teaching experience in Korea; others
have encountered problems. The key to happy and fruitful employment as
a language instructor in Korea is to be employed by a reputable school
and to negotiate a well-written contract before leaving the U.S. We advise
anyone considering accepting an English teaching job in Korea to carefully
review the terms of the contract regarding working and living conditions.
It would also be useful to ask for references from persons familiar with
the institution, especially American former employees.
The KOTESOL teacher's association is a good source for up-to-date information
on teaching in Korea. Information about this group can be found later.
The following information will discuss the types of positions available
in Korea, visa matters, contract considerations, sources of information,
cultural pitfalls to consider, tips on adapting to Korea, and how the Embassy
TYPES OF ESL POSITIONS AVAILABLE IN KOREA
Most English teachers work in Language Institutes ("Hakwon"
in Korean). There are, however positions available in several types of
Private Language institutes are found all over Korea. Some institutes
are well-known with many branches while others are smaller and short-lived.
The ESL market in Korea is extremely competitive and many institutes fail.
Most hakwons employ a certain number of American instructors for conversation
and occasionally for writing classes. The typical employee can expect to
work 20 to 30 hours per week. The majority of classes are conducted early
in the morning and in the evening, so many instructors have free time in
[Something the U.S. embassy doesn't clearly state is that this means
your first class begins at 6:30 am !!! You finish in the morning around
9:30 or 10 am, then you are expected to return again for a 5:30 pm to 8:30
or 9:30 pm shift. This means that most of the free time you have in the
afternoons is spent sleeping. Remember you have to commute at about 6 am
and Korean bus drivers are very erratic and usually late at that time of
the morning. Therefore depending where your institute is located you might
very well be catching taxes most mornings. At other times the bus service
is pretty regular although it does cease at about 10 or 11 pm].
Most classes have between 10 and 25 students. Pupils may be grade school
or college students, or businessmen who are contemplating overseas assignments.
Some of the better institutes will provide housing for instructors. The
average salary is currently about 1.5 million won per month. (US $1850).
[*The average salary is now higher 1.6-1.7 million won per month]
PRIVATE BUSINESS PROGRAMS
Most large corporate groups ("Chaebol") have their own in-house
programs. The typical instructor can expect to teach more than 30 hours
per week, teaching all day from early in the morning to late at night.
Most are intensive residential programs where the students study from three
to six months. Some employers provide full benefits including housing,
but the instructor may be required to either live on campus or commute
long distances from Seoul. The average salary is currently between 1.5
to 2 million won per month (US$ 1,850 to US$ 2,500).
Major universities in Seoul, as well as some provincial universities,
operate foreign language institutes. Some pupils are university students,
but the majority of students are business people. These institutes tend
to have the highest hiring standards in Korea; most instructors have MA
degrees in TESOL, and years of teaching experience. The pay, status
and benefits offered by these institutes are among the best in Korea. As
a result there is very low turnover.
Most universities in Korea employ full-time English conversation instructors.
University classes tend to be large, with little personal contact with
the students. Most instructors teach between ten and fifeteen hours a week.
Academic standards in Korean universities tend to be somewhat lax. Leftist,
nationalistic and sometimes anti-American attitudes may prevail among students.
Most universities in Seoul do not provide housing, and some do not provide
the benefits required by law. Monthly salaries currently tend to run about
1 million won (US$1,300) per month, with three to four months of paid vacation
[*This sum is a little higher now, about W1.4 - 1.5 million per month]
Provincial universities generally provide better housing, working conditions
and salaries, and tend to treat foreign instructors as part of the faculty.
The better working conditions, however, should be balanced against the
cultural isolation a foreigner may encounter living in the Korean countryside.
[*This includes constantly being ambushed by groups of children
screaming "Hello" at the tops of their voices. Interesting/amusing
at first but can quickly become irritating. Most Koreans can understand
a little English but just can't speak it, so your body language will play
an important part outside of the "island" of Seoul].
/ RESEARCH INSTITUTES
Many government agencies and some private companies operate research
institutes. Most of these institutes hire foreigners who have degrees in
the humanities, economics or business administration as full-time editors.
Editors proofread correspondance and research publications, write speeches,
and occasionally teach. Most institutes pay quite well, and some provide
housing. Because these institutes tend to to be government run or closely
affiliated with powerful corporate groups, their instructors seldom experience
problems in obtaining work visas.
/ PR / MEDIA
Quite a few public relations and advertising companies in Korea hire
foreigners to work as copy editors, and occasionally as teachers. These
positions are very hard to obtain as they are quite popular with the resident
English-teaching community. There are also opportunities to appear on television
programs, movies and radio. Most of these positions pay quite well and
some provide housing assistance.
Many full-time English teachers teach part-time as well, either at another
instutute or with privately-arranged classes. Extra-contractual private
instruction is illegal; however many English teachers do take private students.
Part-time instruction at a second institute is legal only with permission
from the sponsoring institute and Korean immigration authorities. Private
students pay more per hour, but some instructors have found it hard to
maintain long-term private classes. One should arrange for private lesson
fees to be paid prior to each class. The Embassy reminds teachers that
they are personally responsible for any violations of Korean teaching and
immigration law they might commit.
[*Almost every teacher I have met in Korea has done (from time to time)
private lessons. It is easy enough to supplement your income by about US$
1,000 per month this way. If you arrange to get a months money paid in
advance sometimes the student will cancel after two weeks and usually they
let you keep the full amount of money they paid you].
EMPLOYMENT VISAS: In order to work legally in Korea, one
must first obtain the appropriate visa. The Korean government tightly controls
visa issuance for employment, and sometimes teachers have been unable to
obtain visas. A person who wishes to work in Korea must obtain the
visa outside Korea. One can, however, come to Korea on a tourist visa,
obtain sponsorship documents, and apply for the visa in a nearby country.
Depending on the job and other factors, it can take between one week and
two months to obtain the appropriate visa. A teacher arriving in Korea
with a teaching visa must register with Korean Immigration and obtain a
residence certificate and re-entry permit within 90 days of entry.
Employers, on behalf of Korean government agencies processing your case,
may briefly need your passport for visa or permit purposes. Despite what
some employers may tell you, you are not required
to hand over your passport to your employer for the duration of your stay.
It is your passport; keep it yourself.
Korean Immigration offices require the same documentation that was used
to obtain the visa, so one should make plenty of copies. The Embassy has
a complete listing of the various visa catergories and fees, as well as
contact information for the Korean Immigration offices and for Korean consulates
in the United States. Visa catergories and fees may change from time to
time, so they should always be confirmed with Immigration or a consulate.
Most English instructors are granted either an E-2 visa (conversation
instructor), an E-1 visa (professor at educational institution higher than
a Jr. College), or an E-5 visa (professional employment with a public relations
firm or corporation). Dependents of diplomats stationed in Seoul can work
as English teachers by obtaining a work permit from the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs. This can be handled through the Embassy personnel office. An individual
who is married to a Korean citizen can also acquire permanent residency
and the right to work under the F-2 category.
REQUIRED FORMS: In order to obtain both the visa and the
residence permit (which must be obtained within 90 days of entry) the following
documents must be submitted to either the Korean consulate or the Korean
- Sponsorship guarantee (notarized)
- Certificate of employment
The above documents are supplied by the employer and should be arranged
one month in advance to allow for mistakes and other mishaps. In addition,
the authorities will probably require the following:
- Statement of purpose
- Driver's license size photos
- Original of college diploma plus copies
The Ministry of Education, which also must approve the visa and residence
permit, requires English teachers to register at the U.S. Embassy and to
submit Embassy-notarized copies of their resumes with their applications
for residence permits. Registration at the embassy can be accomplished
quickly. Notarial services cost $10 per document, payable in either dollars
or won. The embassy cannot accept personal checks.
CHANGING EMPLOYERS: Korean Immigration must approve changes
in Employment. This is accomplished through leaving Korea and entering
under a new visa with a new sponsor. Changing one's employer while in Korea
is quite difficult and requires written consent of the original sponsor.
Questions on this procedure should be directed to the nearest immigration
office or Korean consulate.
[*If you resign or are fired, and want to come back to Korea to work
(as far as I am aware) it is important that you receive a "release
letter" from your contract with the first employer. As far as I am
aware another work visa won't be issued unless you provide this letter
or wait for your old contract length to expire. It is also important that
if you leave Korea and do not want to come back to the same job, hand your
"alien registration card" in at the airport as you go].
LEGAL WARNING ! Some American have run
into serious legal problems with Korean Immigration because they either
work as English teachers while in Korea on tourist visas or they accept
part-time employment or private classes without obtaining the proper permission.
Violation of Korean immigration laws can result in severe penalties including
imprisonment, fines of up to 50,000 won ($60) for each day of overstay,
or deportation with a ban on re-entry for up to two years. It is your responsibility
to understand local laws and to obey them.
If you violate Korean visa laws, the Embassy cannot assist you other
than to provide you with a list of attorneys.
[LOCAL IMMIGRATION OFFICE CONTACT NUMBERS:
- Seoul: (02) 650-6221/33
- Pusan: (051) 463-761/5
- Inchon: (032) 882-0544
- Cheju: (064) 22-3494/5
- Taegu: (053) 981-6850/4
- Taejon: (042) 254-1391/3
- Kwangju: (062) 361-2253
- Masan: (0551) 23-5004
- Iksan: (0653) 855-7081
- Tonghae: (0394) 521-5024
- Uijongbu: (0351) 876-5561/3
- Ulsan: (0522) 72-7545
Even though they should, do not expect that most immigration office
staff can speak English that well. If it is possible always take a Korean
with you just to be sure that they understand what you want, and so you
can understand how to do what it is that you want to do].
NATURE OF CONTRACTS IN KOREA: Foreign Instructors
in Korea occassionally have contract disputes with their employers. In
the Korean context, a contract is simply a working agreement, subject to
change depending upon the circumstances. Most Koreans do not view deviations
from a contract as a breach of contract, and few Koreans would consider
taking an employer to court over a contract disupute.
Instead Koreans tend to view contracts as always being flexible and
subject to further negotiation. Culturally, the written contract is not
the real contract; the unwritten, oral agreement that one has with one's
employer is the real contract. However many employers will view a contract
violation by a foreign worker as serious, and will renege on verbal promises
if they feel they can. Any contract should be signed with this in mind.
[* A teacher at the institute I worked at coined the phrase "Korean
Promise". A verbal promise that is rarely fulfilled or is at some
later stage. If a Korean promises extra money to be paid to you for working
extra hours or for travelling or whatever, always make sure they write
it down. Otherwise they will say they never said it, or their English isn't
good enough and that there must have been some cross-cultural inter-language
communication problem. My institute employer told me he would pay me double
travel money for a company job. However at the end of the month only single
travel money was paid. The above was his excuse even though he had lived
in Australia for 6 years and studied an MBA and worked whilst he was there!
At other institutes money wasn't paid on time, you can always refuse
to teach which usually gets things sorted out. Although make sure you explain
the situation to the students other wise it relfects on you and not the
institute. Most students will be unhappy if the institute isn't taking
care of you, and in my experience the students will support you and the
management of language institutes will listen to them since they are paying
Alternatively you can also take complaints to the Labor Board, who will
liase with your employer on your behalf. The phone numbers of two Labour
Board Inspectors in Taejon are:
Kim Dok-Kwan Tel: (042) 257-9363
Kim Joo-Mok Tel: (042) 255-8086
I have never had to use the numbers but they were passed on to me by
other teachers that were able to get things sorted out with the help of
BASIC FEATURES OF MOST TEACHING CONTRACTS:
Contracts for teaching positions should include provisions for the following:
salary, housing, tickets home, working hours, class size, severence pay,
taxes, and medical insurance. If these items are not included, one should
negotiate until they are. Information on these topics is given below. When
in doubt, ask; get it in writing.
SALARY: Most contracts provide for either a set monthly salary,
or for a salary based on the number of hours taught. In any event, a guaranteed
monthly renumeration should be included in the contract. Payment dates,
methods, and currency should be specified in advance.
HOUSING: Few contracts provide for housing in Seoul. This
can be a serious problem as housing in Seoul is among the most expensive
in the world. Hosuing options include key money (yearly deposit), monthly
rent shared housing, dormitories, lodging houses, and inns. If your institute
does not provide housing, it should at least be able to help you in finding
housing, and in negotiating the appropriate rent and utility payments.
Teachers who have been promised housing might want to request photos, floor
plans or furniture inventories in advance. Koreans have very different
ideas of what "western" and "furnished" housing means.
"Furnished" might only mean a linoleum floor and a two-burner
stove. "Western" usually means an apartment with an indoor bath.
Koreans measure housing space in "pyong". One pyong is approximately
36 square feet. Pyong measurements usually include the front porch, utility
room, etc. Monthly rents can run from U.S. $1,500 to U.S. $4,000 for a
KEY MONEY SYSTEM (Chunsee): Key money is a year's rent paid
in advance; with no monthly rent payment. At the end of the contract period,
the renter receives the money back without interest.
Key money can be risky because property ownership may change in the
middle of the contract period, or the owner may simply decide that the
foreigner is in no position to fight for the Key money. One can reduce
this risk by having the employer agree to pay the Key money. Key money
rents run from a minimum of 20 million won (US$ 24,000) for a studio in
a less desirable part of town to 500 million won (US$650,000) for a small
apartment in one of the richer neighborhoods.
Wolsee is a variation of Chunsee. The renter pays a certain
amount per month plus an initial deposit which he receives back when he
moves out. The same caveats apply as with Chunsee.
DORMITORIES, LODGING HOUSES AND INNS:
Yonsei, Ewha, Seoul, Hanyang, Konkuk, and Hankook Universities
all have dormitory accomodations available. In addition, the Korea Research
Foundation runs an International House for foreign students. Sometimes
these dormitories can accomodate foreign instructors, but they usually
only accomodate their own regular faculty. Shared housing is a popular
alternative, but be careful in choosing roommates and spell out financial
arrangements in advance.
Lodging houses are popular with young Koreans in college or just starting
out in their professional careers. Single rooms run about US$500 per month,
and include Korean-style breakfast and dinner, and sometimes include laundry
service. The disadvantage is the lack of privacy.
Another option is staying with a local family. Ths can be an excellent
opportunity to experience Korean life and culture, but again the lack of
privacy can be a disadvantage. Most instructors who live in such homestays
eventually move into more private accomodations.
Finally, some people rent rooms in inns on a monthly basis. This is
similar to staying in a lodging house, at about the same cost with no food
provided, but offers far less security and less privacy as well. Some inns
cater to short-term clients and criminals, so staying in an inn may cause
some Koreans to treat you with a lack of respect.
TICKETS HOME: Some institutes promise to provide tickets
home upon completion of a contract or to reimburse teachers for the trip
to Korea. One should be aware that sometimes this commitment is not honored.
Consider requesting an open-ended round trip ticket in advance.
WORKING HOURS: Most institutes require foreign instructors
to teah five or six hours per day, Monday through Friday, and some also
ask instructors to teach Saturday morning as well. Universities will usually
require 10 to 15 hours per week plus participation in student activities
such as editing school newspapers. Research centers usually require 40
hours per week, with occasional uncompensated overtime. Saturday morning
is a normal part of the Korean work week. Teachers may have to teach early
morning or late evening classes to acoomodate working students.
CLASS SIZE: This is usually spelled out in the contract.
Private institutes usually have classes of between 10 to 20 students, while
universities can have as many as 100 students in a class.
SEVERANCE PAY: The embassy receives many enquiries and complaints
about severance pay issues. It is a good idea to broach this subject early
in your employment, and to be prepared for resistance. By Korean law ,
discussed below, all full-time employees, Korean or foreign, are entitled
to receive severance pay of one month's salary for each year of employment.
Employers can not ask you to waive this, nor can they get around it by
employing you on an 11 month contract. However Korean courts have ruled
that unless an institute instructor actually TEACHES 40 or more hours
per week, as spelled out contractually, they are NOT "Full-time"
and is NOT eligible for severance pay.
[*I did hear about one case where an instructor claimed that the 30
hours teaching lead to 10 hours of preparation per week and actually got
the severance pay. I also saw one teacher employed by the institute I woked
at get fired in their 11th month because the institute didn't want to pay
the contract completion bonus. I also know that the University I worked
at took a large enough some out of the salary of the foreign employers
and we were told that they would match it with the same amount and pay
that as a completion bonus, even though it was listed in the contract,
two Professors never got it.
In cases like this the Labor Board is always a good place to call].
The Ministry of Labor has jurisdiction over severance pay matters. The
severance pay division can be reached at (02) 503-9727. The Ministry of
Labor's general number is (02) 500-5543/5544. The Ministry of Labor or
the Ministry of Education may, at your request, call employers to remind
them of their legal obligations. If you have exhausted all other avenues
and feel that you need to take legal action, the Embassy can provide you
with a list of local attorneys.
[A lawyer in Taejon is: Paul Mcloud: (042) 285-6011
As a matter of course, one employer didn't pay any teaching staff for
two months. This saw two male members of the teaching staff approach him
for a private discussion in his office. The next day the boss was in the
hospital as a result of the discussion. It should also be mentioned that
a male staff member of an institute I know didn't get paid for 6 weeks
and lodged a complaint with the Labor Board. The Labor Board called the
employer to remind him that he had to pay his employees. The boss called
in the male employee and after their discussion the employee ended up in
hospital for a few weeks.
Of course the schools do tend to provide medical coverage but make sure
you have a Korean medical card or pamphlet, in this way you show the document
along with your registration card and you will pay a cheaper price for
mediceine or hospitalization if and when it is necessary].
Sevrance pay rights are covered by the Labor Standards Act of the Korean
Legal Code. English langugae translations of the Code are available at
the Kybo bookstore (in Seoul), located near the American Embassy. The key
provisions of the Labor Standards as they relate to severance pay include
Article 28: (Retirement Allowance System) 1)An employer shall establish
a system by which average wage of not less than thirty days per year for
each consecutive year employed shall be paid as retirement allowance to
a retired employee. Provided, however, that this shall not apply in cases
in where the period of employment is less than one year.
Article 5: (Equal treatment) No employer may include any discrimination
in the terms of labor conditions because of nationality, religion or social
Article 10: (Scope of Application) stipulates that the act applies
to all enterprises except small family businesses, domestic servants, and
those exempt by Presidential decree.
KOREAN TAXES: Whilst most foreign employees are required
to pay Korean income taxes [at a rate of about 7%], which are generally
withheld and paid by the employer, many instructors are unaware that some
American citizens teaching in Korea are entitled to an exemption from paying
Korean taxes for up to two years because of the U.S.-Korean tax treaty.
ARTICLE 20 of the Korean tax code states: An individual who is
a resident of a contracting state, and who at the invitation of any university,
college, or other recognized educational institution, visits the other
contracting state for a period not exceeding two years or solely for the
purpose of teaching, or research or both at such educational institution
shall be taxable only in the first mentioned State on his remuneration
for such teaching or research.
The tax office maintains a list of institutes that are tax exempt. This
provision applies only to teachers employed at universities, research centers,
or university-operated institutes. (Teachers at institutes and at private
companies usually have to pay taxes). The General Affairs section of the
university or research center should be able to apply for the exemption.
If the institute wrongly witholds taxes, it is required to pay a refund.
For guidance on these matters contact the Korean tax Office, as they
have been helpful in arranging compliance with these provisions. They also
publish an English language Income Tax Guide for Foreigners. This guidebook
comes out in April of each year, and is available for free from any tax
office. The Korean tax year runs from May 31 to the following May 1, with
May income estimated. In most instances, one's employer files the appropriate
tax forms, but if they do not file, the individual must do so.
If you believe that your employer is not complying with Korean tax laws,
your first step should be to discuss the matter with them. If that does
not work, you should discuss the matter with the Korean Tax Office, Internationl
Taxation Division, (02) 738-2121, or the nearest Korean Tax Office. If
the problem is still not solved, you may wish to contact an attorney.
PENSION PROGRAM: At this writing, it appears that foreigners
living in Korea will be required to pay into the national pension plan
in the near future. The mechanics of withholding have not been worked out
as we go to press, but English teachers should not be surprised when this
comes to pass. (Remember, all foreign workers in the United States, no
matter how transitory their stay, are required to pay Social Security Tax).
U.S. TAXES: Americans residing abroad are not exempt from filing
requirements, but are under certain conditions, entitled to exclusions
on foreign-earned income. More information on overseas income and filing
is available from the IRS publications "Tax Guide for U.S. Citizens
Abroad" and "Overseas Filers of Form 1040". These and other
Federal tax forms are available at the Embassy.
Each year an IRS representative comes to Korea and is available
for indiviual tax consultations. The dates of the visit are announced in
the local English newspapers and on AFKN. IRS representatives are
available year-round at the IRS regional office in Tokyo. They may be contacted
by mail, phone, or fax.
U.S. Embassy, Tokyo
10-5, Asasaka 1 Chome,
MEDICAL INSURANCE: Foreign instructors are entitled to Korean
medical insurance through their employer. This should be clarified at the
time of acceptance of employment. Employers often buy the minimum policy
required, which provides about 400,000 won (about US$ 500) worth of
coverage. Those desiring more coverage should negotiate with their employers
or buy their own.
Medical care in Korea is generally good, but, while not as expensive
as in the United States, can still be costly. Many practitioners and hospitals
will not accept overseas health insurance, and may require payment before
treatment. It is therefore very important for individuals to make sure
that insurance or funds are available in case medical care is needed. The
Embassy maintains a list of English-speaking medical and dental care providers
in Korea, as well as a list of insurers willing to write policies for Americans
residing in Korea. [This pretty much proves true for other Embassies and
citizens as well].
Most English teachers hired from the United States do not get their
jobs directly through the insitute where they work. Instead they are recruited
by a placement service. These services recruit on campus and in U.S. publications.
The Embassy has received complaints about a number of recruiters. Those
considering working in Korea may want to check with the Embassy's Citizen
Services section to see if a particular recruiting agency has had complaints
lodged against it. Prospective teachers should keep all of the advice in
this publication in mind when discussing employment terms with a recruiter.
Once you arrive in Korea it is a good idea to subscribe to one of the
local English language newspapers, The Korea Herald or the Korea Times.
Both are published daily except Mondays, and cost around 7,000 won per
month. Both are available in Seoul and at some street stands and bookstores.
The Herald can be contacted at (02) 727-0404, Fax (02) 727-0677, and the
Times at (02) 724-2828, Fax 723-1623. Overseas subscriptions are available.
KOTESOL is an independent, national affiliate of TESOL, an organization
of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. KOTESOL was
founded in 1992 as the union of two seperate national organizations. KOTESOL
is a not for profit organization established to promote scholarship, disseminate
information, and facilitate cross-cultural understanding among English
teachers in Korea.
KOTESOL has active chapters in Seoul, Taejon, Pusan, Taegu, Kyongju
and Chongbuk province. Chapters hold individual monthly meetings, and sponsor
educational activities in their areas, as well as participate in an annual
conference in October. The Seoul chapter meets on the third Saturday of
every month. The time, date, place and topic are announced in the local
English newspapers about a week prior to the scheduled meeting. For further
Jeong Ryeol Kim (051)-410-4449 W, (051)-414-2475 (Fax)
Oryang Kwon (02)-880-7674 W, (02)-8898791 (Fax)
Greg Matheson (02)-724-2349 W, (02)-7395090 (Fax)
Troy Ottwell (02)-420-4396 (Home #/fax combo.)
DIFFERANT EXPECTATIONS: Many types of people teach English
in Korea. Some are professionally trained with degrees in TESOL; some hold
graduate degrees in other disciplines and teach in Korea because they want
to experience another culture; some teach English while doing other things,
such as research; some teach while looking for other jobs; some are merely
Teachers have differing expectations. They bring their own unique perspectives
to their jobs, as well as their own individual reactions to new circumstances.
Some expect to be revered and are shocked when they are not; others expect
to make a lot of money but later find they actually earn about what a unionized
bus driver in Seoul does; some expect to receive a large Western-style
house and are disappointed to find themselves living in a modest room.
Having realistic expectations and a flexible attitude prior to starting
employment as a teacher in Korea will help prepare you for the inevitable
stress and possible disappointment you may encounter.
SHORT-TERM INSTITUTES: The Korean ESL market is extremely
competitive. There are over 100,000 insitutions of all types in Korea,
most of them small-scale, marginal operations. Due to the competitive nature
of the ESL business in Korea, many institutes do not survive long. They
open their doors, hire the first foreigner they can find, advertise, teach
for a month or so, lose money and close.
FOREIGNERS ARE NOT KOREAN: Korean society in general
makes a great distinction between one's inner circle of family, friends
and business colleagues, and outsiders. One should always treat one's inner
circle with complete respect and courtesy, while one treats strangers with
indifference. Korea is not an egalitarian society; one is either of a higher
or a lower status than other people. How do foreigners fit into this scheme?
The simple answer is - they don't. Foreigners are completely off the scope.
In recent years, less than 10 percent of Koreans traveled abroad, most
often on group tours with other Koreans, or on business trips. Thus, Korean
society remains very inwardly focused. For most Koreans, foreigners exist
only as stereotypes, and are not always liked. Living in Korea as a foreigner
requires patience and fortitude. Many foreigners have found Koreans can
be quite friendly and warm, but a foreigner will seldom be accepted as
part of the inner circle; they will almost always be an outsider looking
SOCIAL STATUS OF TEACHERS: Teachers are usually
treated with great respect in Korea. However, it is also important to exhibit
the kind of personal qualities and behaviour that help maintain that respect.
A foreign teacher that does disrespectful things, such as losing his temper
with a boss he considers unreasonable , would be held in great disdain
by most Koreans, and runs the risk of getting into serious trouble with
both his employer and the Korean immigration office. In other words, one
should always act in a respectful manner, and with discretion. As a foreigner
in Korea you will be highly visable, and you may find living here to be
like living in a fish bowl, with everyone around you watching what you
do with great interest. Remember that Korean society is more conservative
in many ways than American society, and abide by local norms.
THE ESL PROFESSION IS NOT CONSIDERED
PROFESSIONAL BY SOME KOREANS: By and large, Koreans
do not think teaching ESL is a professional occupation. In fact, many believe
any native speaker will do. This of course is based partially on reality
- many ESL instructors in Korea have not had any professional training.
KOREAN BOSSES: Korean society is extremely heirarchical.
The boss is the boss; he is never questioned or criticised. The same mistreatment
you may feel you have received from him is probably not limited to his
foreign employees. He probably reneges on contracts and makes "unreasonable"
demands of his Korean employees, too. As a result, one should be careful
in how one deals with one's employer. When discussing issues that might
become difficult, one should make sure one does not lose one's temper,
raise one's voice, or speak in less than respectful language.
LACK OF CLEAR COMMUNICATION: Neither Korean society
nor language is very precise. Many things are left unsaid, but still are
understood. Of course, foreigners often do not understand. It is important
that one understand what is expected and what is required up front, and
that any misunderstanding be solved early on. Otherwise problems may develop.
ADAPTING TO KOREAN SOCIETY
:Care of KOTESOL:
CULTURE SHOCK: When first arriving in a country, one is
usually excited and eager for new experiences. After a while, the newness
wears off, and homesickness begins. Do not judge yourself too severly at
this point. It happens to everyone. "I will never understand this
place. I want some real food, some real friends, a real apartment. Why
do Koreans do X?"
There is hope and it is usually just a matter of time. As you continue
to cope with the realities of living here, you begin to take things for
granted that used to annoy you. Life becomes pleasant enough that you no
longer care about the inconveniences. You suddenly find that you like KimChi.
You realize your students are interesting people to know, that helping
them improve their English just adds to that interest; you begin to understand
your boss who was such a pain when you came; you make a few good friends
who are willing to show you the Korea outside the foreigner's community,
you begin to try and learn some Korean and use it. There are many foreigners
in Korea who have come to and remain at this point - not so much assimilated,
but a part of the country in their own niche here, and who want to spend
a long time in Korea.
For many others, however, the feeling eventually comes that it is time
to leave. With luck you will realize it before it affects your life too
deeply. It is time to leave when you begin to be negative about the country
and its people. When you no longer want to go to work; when you dislike
your students; when you become irritated with everything and everyone and
have angry discussions with others of like mind, it is time to go.
[Ah yes, some cultural aspects I will certainly miss is the pouring
of beer into ashtrays to put out still burning cigarettes. So too sitting
across from a young female student who would delicately pick up the ashtray
and spit into it, or the male student who will collect all the scum from
deep back in his throat with a growling noise and then lean back and aim
it at the ashtray !!! ;-)].