Blog, Teaching Abroad

South Korea, Anyone?

South Korea, Anyone?

By Christie Belfiore

Daegu, South Korea. Source:


If someone had told me a year ago that I would be residing and teaching in a small residential town in South Korea, I would have told them they were mistaken. Having previously worked at an educational magazine, I’ve read about many international teaching experiences, but they mainly focussed on teaching and classroom topics, not the day-to-day details of living and working abroad. Now having completed one month of teaching at a private English-immersion “Hogwon” (Korean for a private for-profit academy), I’d like to share practical, real-world, words of wisdom that I wish were given to me when I decided to uproot my life and deposit it in South Korea for a year.
First thing’s first, where to teach?
You have the entire world to from which to choose and you may second-guess yourself, but once you do pick a country, go with it. Everybody will offer you an opinion, but you must decide what’s right for you. You don’t want to try to replicate someone else’s experience. For myself, much of my initial interest in moving to Asia was rooted in the stories I had heard from friends who taught there. Once I narrowed down my choices to Japan and South Korea, I began applying.
So why South Korea?
Aside from the fact that most English-immersion schools in South Korea pay for your flights and accommodations, it also pays its English teachers one of the highest salaries in the world (on average, approximately 2.1 million won/month or $1881.00 CAD). I also took into account that a lot of my earnings would be saved because Korea’s cost of living is very low. Comparatively, Japan pays its English teachers the same, but their cost of living is much higher and would’ve impeded my ability to travel throughout the rest of Asia.
The next question is, big city or small town? Before taking the plunge into teaching on a completely different continent, ensure that you have carefully researched different geographic areas and school districts. Your location within the country should be based on the type of experience you want to have. I chose a small residential area outside of Daegu (the fourth largest city in South Korea) because I wanted a truly authentic cultural experience, free of western amenities and “big city” conveniences.
You will more often than not be recruited by an agency rather than directly from a school. If a company is interested in you they will e-mail you directly and set up a series of over-the-phone or online (probably Skype) interviews. Once you’ve been accepted for a position, the visa process could take up to three months, so make sure you get the proper documentation down to your local consulate as soon as possible. The start dates vary among the schools. I started in February for example, so be sure to apply up to 6 months prior.
Proper paperwork may include:
  • Updated resume and cover letter;
  • Notarized criminal record check;
  • Notarized copy of your university degree;
  • 2-3 sealed transcripts;
  • 4 passport photos;
  • Copy of passport;
  • 2-3 photographs of yourself (smiling); and
  • TESOL/TEFL Certification (pending on the school).
Another thing to consider are vaccinations. Go to a local travel clinic and inquire about any vaccines or pills you may need. The medication will vary depending on your location, as well as where you may travel to while abroad. Take the necessary precautions, it’s worth it.
Now pack!
One thing I did incorrectly was over-packing. Whatever it is you think you need, cut that in half. Many of your clothes will remain unworn and half of your products will add weight to your luggage, but everything is available in South Korea, everything. From hair products to cleaning products, clothing to reading material, and even electronics, South Korea has it. I would recommend bringing deodorant or antiperspirant, they can be hard to find (and when found, at a much higher price). Keep it simple.
Go time!
The waiting process can be agonizing, but once you receive your visa, your recruiting contact will e-mail you an e-ticket for your flight. You may not receive this ticket until a couple weeks before your departure, but have no fear, you’re still well on your way.
As long as you go with an open mind and an open heart, you can make this one of the most incredible experiences of your life. As Buddha put it, “The trouble is, you think you have time.” Do it now—you may never get this type of life-changing opportunity again.

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