*This article is 25-30 minute read, but it will give you EVERYTHING you need to know about teaching English in South Korea and adjusting to Korean life. I spent several weeks writing this and I’m confident that it has the best information online.
I taught English in South Korea for 18 months – from August 2013 to February 2015 – and it was the best experience of my life.*
I was originally going to make this an eBook and charge $20, but I decided to share everything for free because I love you guys and I want you ALL to have an amazing experience like I had.
The best way that you can pay me back is by purchasing your TEFL class on this link, because I make a small commission at no additional cost to you. The class is put on by a company called myTEFL, and I can assure you that it’s the best and most affordable TEFL class that you can find online. The commission that I make will go directly to making my website better 🙂
Use the discount code “DREW” and get 35% off, so the course will cost you about $195!
And as always, don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions!
Teaching English in South Korea was the best decision of my life. It’s one of the most adventurous and unique life experiences that anyone can do for themself. I highly recommend teaching in Korea to anyone and everyone who meet the basic requirements (more about that later).
Even beyond the teaching aspect, the lifestyle in Korea is an eye-opening and fantastic experience in itself. There is so much to learn about the world when you are thrown in a fast-paced, tech-savvy Eastern Asian culture such as Korea.
Over the last few months, as my travel blog has nearly tripled in traffic, my email inbox has been flooded with question about teaching English in Korea.
How can I teach in Korea? What are the requirements? Is the job hard? Can I make enough money to travel Asia?
So, I decided to write this guide to answer all your questions and tell you everything that you need to know about teaching English in South Korea to make the MOST out of your experience. I use a combination of my knowledge, research online and I even interviewed current English teachers to provide you with the complete package from start to finish. This guide is so useful that I wish I had a copy before I started teaching! I’ll do my best to keep it updated with accurate information for years down the road.
As I am writing this, I’m on my 18th and final month of living and teaching English in Korea. I decided to move here just 2 months after I graduated from the University of Wisconsin, when my friend told me about the job opportunity. I immediately applied for it and was accepted the following week without much thought. I always knew that I wanted to travel around Asia, and this job was the perfect gateway to make my dreams come true.
Before I dive into any more details, it’s important to be aware of the fact that the Korean government has been cutting teaching jobs like wildfire over the last few years. While there is still a big demand for native English-speaking teachers, the government seemingly caught on to the overly generous benefits and awesome lifestyle that young foreigners (like myself) were having in Korea. That being said, there are still many sources that will help you find a teaching job if you meet the requirements, so don’t worry!
After you read this post, you will be ready to book your flight to Korea and start a brand new, thrilling chapter in your life 🙂
Let’s get started.
The following is an overview of the 13 categories that I’ll cover:
1. Public Schools vs. Private Schools
2. Job Eligibility & Requirements
3. How to Find a Job
4. Contracts, Benefits & Payments
5. How to Plan Lessons
6. Upon Arrival in Korea
7. My Personal Experience
8. Life in Korea
9. Korean Culture
10. Nightlife in Seoul
12. My Advice to You
13. What to Pack?
14. Interviews with Current Teachers
1. Public vs. Private Schools
–> This is the most important thing that I’ll tell you in this guide. <–
Teaching at a public school is completely different than teaching at a private school… So listen carefully!
*Public school jobs are MUCH BETTER than private school jobs*
What’s the difference?
Private schools (called hagwans in Korean) are privately owned and managed academies. They typically have classes of 5-15 kids, and you will be accompanied by several other foreign teachers at your school. The work load is much larger and the benefits are much worse than public schools.
Public schools are owned by the government, and are similar to any public school in the U.S. Typical class sizes are 30-40 kids. Public schools generally hire only 1 native English speaker to teach at the entire school.
When comparing the two together, private schools have stricter rules, longer working hours, worse benefits, shorter holidays, and a much larger work load as opposed to publicschool gigs. And the starting salary for both private and public is about the same.
I have met hundreds of English teachers since I’ve been in Korea, and I have never heard of a single person who enjoys working at a private school. They are the ones who are constantly stressing about their lives, complaining everyday about how demanding their schools are and how they have no vacation time.
On the flip side, mostly everyone who I’ve met at public schools (including myself) absolutely loves it!
In addition, most people who I meet at hagwans (private) are only there because they didn’t know the difference between the two jobs when they originally applied. I am writing this post so you will not be one of those clueless people!
So just in case I haven’t made it clear enough yet… You want to find a job at a public school, unless you want zero vacation time and a lot of pressure on your job. Trust me, you’ll be much happier in Korea this way.
*Please note that every public school job slightly varies from one another depending on how strict your principal and faculty members are. Some schools will give you extra classes to teach, some will let you have more vacation days, and some will make you do more lesson planning. It’s sort of luck of the draw, but generally speaking, the main benefits are the same.
The remainder of the information in this guide will solely focus on public school jobs, so if you want help finding a private school job (which I don’t know why you would even consider it), then you will have to look somewhere else.
2. Job Eligibility & Requirements
In order to teach at a public school in Korea, you must meet 3 basic requirements:
– Carry a passport from an English speaking country
– Have a Bachelor’s degree from a 3+ year University
– Get a TEFL certificate to be a certified teacher
That’s it. You are not required to speak any Korean or have any previous teaching experience.
Although, learning Korean is a really good idea. I nearly became fluent and it was a hugebenefit to my lifestyle in Korea. My experience would not have been the same if I didn’t attempt to learn the Language… I personally recommend using Beeline Language to learn Korean — it’s a great online course that’s both affordable and intuitive!
Next, I will explain each requirement in detail:
a) You must carry a passport from an English-speaking country
These countries include: The USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Northern Ireland, South Africa, Nigeria and any other country where English is the first language.
Unfortunately, even if you are 100% fluent in English but you do not carry a passport from one of these countries, then you cannot get a contract job at a public school. However, there are several other opportunities to teach in Korea such as being a private tutor or working after school gigs. These jobs are more risky, because you’ll have to find your own clients, arrange housing on your own, and find a way to get a working visa. But you can charge up to $60USD per hour as a private tutor, and end up making even more money than on a contract job at a public school.
b) You must have a bachelor’s degree from a 3+ year University.
It’s as simple as that. You must prove that you have a bachelor’s degree from a 3+ year University to be eligible. Any bachelor’s degree works! (My degree is in economics…)
If you have an English or a teaching degree, then you may be exempt from #3 on this list (below).
c) You must obtain a 100+ hour TEFL Certificate.
TEFL = Teach English as a Foreign Language. You must have one of these certificates to be eligible to teach, and it can be acquired by taking an online class which provides you with the necessary skills and training to be an effective teacher and to find a teaching position.
The TEFL class costs anywhere from $1500-$1,200. The class must be labeled as 100 (or more) hours, so it will take a few weeks to finish. Even though it’s labeled as 100 hours, the amount of work is realistically more like 50 hours.
The TEFL class is extremely easy if English is your mother tongue or if you’re fluent. Basically, you’ll read a bunch of chapters about grammar, sentence structure, vocabulary, etc and take mini quizzes at the end. You’ll also be required to write essays at the end of each chapter and submit them to a TA who will grade your work and provide feedback.
*Please note that there are a lot of sketchy TEFL companies online that will rip you off.* So, I highly recommend checking out a company called myTEFL– they offer a very affordable TEFL certificate and it’s one of the most reputable classes that you can find online!
3. How to Find a Job
Assuming that you meet all requirements in #2, there are several ways to find teaching gigs in Korea.
But first, check out this useful article by Go Overseas, which explains more in detail for how to find jobs in Korea!
In my personal case, I was lucky that my University (Wisconsin) has an affiliate program with a recruiter in Korea, so I just applied directly through my school. But I am guessing that most of you don’t have this option from your University, so you will have to use an alternative method for finding jobs.
Next, I will lay out all the ways in which you can find a job at a public school.
a) EPIK & GEPIK
EPIK & GEPIK are the two biggest recruiters for public school jobs in Korea. Your first priority should be to score a job with them, because they are the best!
The acronym of E.P.I.K. stands for English Program In Korea, and G.E.P.I.K. is Gyeonggi-do English Program In Korea.
The two companies have virtually the same contract. The only difference is that they offer jobs in different areas of Korea.
EPIK provides teaching opportunities in 15 metropolitan cities and provinces in Korea, including Seoul, Busan, Daegu, Incheon, Gwangju, Daejeon, Ulsan, Jeju and Gangwondo. So basically, EPIK provides jobs everywhere in the country, except for the Gyeonggi-do Province.
On the other hand, GEPIK provides jobs ONLY in the Gyeonggi-do Province, which is the most populous province in Korea with 13 million people. It’s located on the outskirts of Seoul. My current job is provided with GEPIK.
With both EPIK and GEPIK contracts, you are not allowed to choose which grade that you will each (Elementary, Middle of High school). However, you can request your top choice, but it’s not a guarantee that you’ll get it.
The same goes with the city or school that you’ll be placed in. You may suggest your top choices to live and teach, but it’s not a guarantee because if there is only one spot open, they will fill you in with that job. But don’t worry because public transportation in Korea is the most efficient in the world so you can easily get around.
b) Private recruiters
There are tons of private recruiters that can hook you up with jobs in Korea. Word on the street is that they are cutting jobs more jobs every year, but think optimistically because there’s always a way it can work out!
The most popular and reliable private recruiters that I’m familiar with are Teach ESL, Korvia, Gone 2 Korea, Hands Korea, Work N Play, and Morgan Recruiting Services. If you apply to all of them, then I guarantee you’l find a job opening.
There is also a thread on Dave’s ESL Cafe, where people post job openings all over Korea and you can apply directly on there.
c) Word of Mouth
If you already know a teacher who is currently teaching and is about to leave, then you can usually arrange to take over their position.
d) Post in Facebook groups
There are TONS of facebook groups that deal specifically with teaching English in Korea. Post a question on there, and get instant feedback!
e) Talk to me!
As a last resort, contact me and I can probably put you in touch with the right person. Remember, I am always here to help you and that is my motive for writing this article!
4. Contracts, Benefits & Payments
Ah ~ The moment you’ve all been waiting for!
What’s inside your contract? How much do you get paid? What are all of these amazing benefits that you can get? Tell me more!
This is what sets Korea apart from the rest of the world when it comes to teaching English. The pay + benefits of teaching in Korea is better than anywhere else in the world. There are some countries in the Middle East that pay more than Korea (Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar), but the benefits and lifestyle of living in a remote Middle Eastern city is nothing compared to living in Korea.
In Korea, most starting public school contracts have the same pay and benefits. The contacts are all about 50 pages long, with writing in both Korean and English. You will need to sign the bottom of every page, acknowledging that you understand and accept all of the information in the contract.
Every contract is 365 days – no more and no less. If you want to stay longer and your school likes you, then you’ll have the chance to re-sign at the end of your term. You might get lucky if you school offers you a 6 month extension (it happened to me), but it’s not very common.
All contracts assure that you have a Korean co-teacher by your side at all times in the classroom. They are there to help with discipline, safety and translation whenever necessary. I had 4 different co-teachers who taught different classes with me. Some were helpful and others didn’t say a word in class. It all depends.
Also, your students will likely view your English class as a “bonus class,” because they already take a normal English class with a Korean teacher. So luckily, you are never expected to prepare tests or grade homework. But the bad news is that the kids tend to goof around more in your class because it’s “fun,” so you will have to deal with more discipline issues.
Here are the main benefits in your contract:
1) Flight reimbursements to AND from Korea
2) 18-25 PAID Vacation days per year (depends on your school)
3) Free Rent at a place within walking distance to your school (fully furnished)
4) No taxes (this may not apply to your country, but for USA citizens you aren’t taxed)
5) Year end Bonus (equal to one paycheck)
6) Health Insurance
8) A Visa to live and work in Korea
9) 10 Paid Sick Days (varies on each school)
10) Free lunches at school (some schools will take out $1-2 per meal from your paycheck).
*Please note that some benefits depend on your school. My school was really lenient when it came to vacation time, and other people I know had a stricter schedule. But generally speaking, you will be entitled to all of these benefits.
The starting salary for most public school jobs is just shy of $2,000 USD per month. It doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but keep in mind that this is a solid $2,000 that goes into your pocket every month, because you have virtually ZERO expenses, you are tax free, and the standard of living in Korea is relatively cheap. More or less, you can live like a king (or queen) with this amount of money.
Just to give you an idea of what I mean by living like a King… In my first year of teaching, I had enough money to eat out 5 days a week, rage at clubs in Gangnam every weekend, and travel to 12 new countries. Granted, I didn’t save much, but this money was derived 100% from my paycheck.
Some people come to Korea with the intention to save money and some come just to travel the world. I know some people who saved $14K in one year by living extremely frugally and not leaving Korea. But others like me, spend it all on having fun and traveling to a bunch of new places.
And when you think about it, a salary of $24K teaching in Korea is just as good or better than your friends who are making $60K working corporate jobs in NYC or London, and are paying $1,500 for monthly rent and $15 for a cocktail at a bar. And their lifestyle isn’t comparable to what yours will be like.
Believe me on this one 😉
5. How to Plan Lessons
Some public schools will give you a textbook to follow, and others (like my school) will expect you to come up with your own lessons from scratch. Both have their own pros and cons.
For textbooks, I can’t really give you any advice, because you must follow what the book says. But if you make your own lessons (which many of you will), then there are some great resources online where all English teachers in Korea post ideas and share their materials.
The website that literally saved my life is called Waygook.org. It’s a forum-based website where all teachers in Korea upload their lesson plans – like powerpoints, worksheets, game templates and ideas. It’s a place to collaborate and share ideas with other teachers. You can even post any questions on the forums and you’ll get answers immediately. I downloaded 75% of my powerpoints and materials on this site, and my teachers were thoroughly impressed by the “work” that I put into lesson planning. It’s essential.
6. Upon Arrival in Korea
When you arrive at Incheon International Airport, you will be greeted by your co-teacher and he/she will take to your new home. You will be given an allowance of about $300USD to get settled in to your new place (sweet!)
Within the first few days upon arrival, you are required to get a health check and a drug test a nearby hospital. So yes, that means that you must stop smoking weed about 3ish weeks before you come to Korea, so you don’t fail the drug test and get sent back home…
After a few days of getting over jet lag and culture shock, you will show up at school and start teaching. Honestly, the first week is intimidating because everything is so new and confusing, but I promise that you’ll settle in quickly and get the rhythm of teaching.
7. My Personal Experience
I’ll admit that I got a bit lucky by my school. All of the teachers are extremely friendly and the school was really lenient on my vacation days. I was able to travel to 17 new countries during my time teaching over 18 months, and I took 6-7 sick days without ever needing a doctor’s note.
My school didn’t follow a textbook, so I created all of my lesson plans from scratch. But as I mentioned before, I used Waygook.org as my main resource for ideas and game templates.
My school – Yangjin Middle School – was located in the rural area of Anseong, about 70 kilometers south of Seoul in Geyonggi-do province. I had approximately 700 students, and I was the only foreigner at my entire school and one of the only foreigners in my town.
I taught 18 different classes of 35+ students. I taught each class once a week, so I saw every student in the school exactly one time per week.
The hardest part about teaching was adjusting to the English level of each class. For example, within one class, I would have kids who could have a full conversation with me, and others who couldn’t read the alphabet. This is because some students attend a private academy (hagwan) after school everyday to study more English, while others don’t practice outside of school.
So, it was hard to find the “median” English level to make sure that all kids were learning something. I usually just played games, showed them videos and tried to entertain them as much as possible. (Yes, the job was as easy as it sounds.)
The majority of my students were adorable and respectful. I made a personal connection with many of them and they really looked up to me as a role model. It was a very special feeling.
I realized that my only job wasn’t to teach English, but to help them understand what life is like outside of Korean borders. Most of my kids had never met a foreigner before and have never left Korea, so they looked up to me and asked me lots of questions about American culture.
My town was very rural, and I was one of the only foreigners in my neighborhood. I was literally a celebrity in my town because every time I left my house, I would run into my students and they would scream across the street to say “HELLO DREW TEACHER!!” Furthermore, everyone at the local restaurants and supermarkets knew me.
If you want to know more information about my town, then please see this post called “What it’s Like to Live and Work in Rural Korea.”
To learn more details about my job, please see this post called “A Day in the Life of an English Teacher.”
I also took the time to learn Korean, which was a huge benefit to me as I was living in Korea. I highly recommend you to make the effort as well.
My students are so adorable that they all wrote me letters and drew pictures of me during my last week teaching. Here are some of my favorites ^^
8. Life in Korea
South Korea is a very friendly country to live in for foreigners. It’s also extremely safe. So safe that the police don’t carry guns on them, and big crimes like murders, shooting and robberies are virtually unheard of.
Everything you hear about North Korea on the news is false, and it’s just the media trying to gain attention and make a story. Things easily get blown out of proportion on the media. Nobody in South Korea speaks about their neighbors to the North because they know that it’s a joke, and nobody here feels threatened by them. Whenever I ask my students about Kim Jong Un, they just start laughing and start making fun of him.
South Korea is a very densely populated country. The entire country is the size of Mississippi and it is home to 50 million people. Just to reiterate that point further – take the entire population of California and New York, and thrown them all into Mississippi, and that is like the population of Korea.
So at first, you will feel overwhelmed (especially in Seoul) because there is SO much happening at once. But it’s just a matter of time until you settle in and call Korea your new home. For me, this took about a month.
Korean people are some of the friendliest that I’ve ever met. Most of my friends are local Koreans, because I made the effort to meet them. You will realize that many Koreans are shy and difficult to approach, but those are typically the ones who can’t speak English. On the other hand, the ones who can speak English are more outgoing and willing to meet you. Many of my best friends were Korean, and I also dated a few Korean girls during my time.
Public Transportation in Korea is the most efficient in the world. It’s bizarre how easy it is to get around.
There are 5 types of transportation systems:
a) KTX trains – these are known as “bullet trains.” They are the fastest and most expensive trains in Korea. You can get from Seoul to Busan in 3 hours (that is the entire length of the country from North to South). The journey from Seoul to Busan round trip is about $60USD. Not every big city has KTX station, so you must check to see.
b) Regular trains – these are common and much cheaper than the KTX. They connect every city in Korea. From my city, it takes 40 minutes to get to Seoul and it’s only $3.50USD.
c) Metro – the Seoul metro is the most extensive metro system in the world, which means it covers the most ground (over 85 kilometers). There are 18 different lines, 622 stations and it carries over 20 million people every single day. You can take this to get everywhere in the Seoul Metropolitan Area, but it gets REALLY crowded during peak hours. Even my town of Pyeongtaek was on the metro, it would still take 3 hours to get to Seoul.
d) Buses – Don’t under estimate the buses in Korea – they are amazing! I use buses more than trains to get around. All highways in Korea have a “bus lane” which is virtually traffic free. Also, buses are much more comfortable than trains and usually cheaper.
e) Taxis – Taxis are everywhere in Seoul and they are really cheap! I usually take taxis in Seoul because it’s so much quicker and easier to get around. It costs about $5-7 for a 15-20 minute ride. Especially if you have more than one person, take a taxi to avoid the crowded metro.
To book train tickets and view routes (in English), see this website.
*You can buy a metro card called “T-Money,” which you can swipe for the Seoul Metro and taxis. Carry it in your wallet with you at all times, and just add money on it inside the metro station or at a convenient store like 7/11.
9. Korean Culture
It will take some time to adjust to Korean culture because it’s very unique.
You may feel uncomfortable in the first few days upon arrival because things won’t be like you are used to. I have been here 18 months and I still earn something new every day about the Korean way of life.
The first thing thing to know about Korean culture is the importance of the family. Essentially, Koreans spend lots of time with their family and family-time it always comes before play-time. Along the same lines, Koreans are very good about showing respect to other people- specifically people older than them.
Next, I will lay out some of the biggest cultural distinction in bullet points:
– The Korean Language has different dialect and verb conjugations when speaking to your friends vs. speaking to someone older
– When you greet someone older than you, it is necessary to bow (the older the person, the deeper the bow)
– If someone older than you offers you a shot or some food, you must take it
– If you give or take something from a person that’s older than you, you MUST use 2 hands
– If you take a shot with someone older than you, you must turn your back and face the other way
– K-Pop (Korean pop music) dominates the music scene, and all teenagers and young adults are obsessed with the songs
– Traditional Korean restaurants have no chairs. You must sit on the ground and eat. This is also true in many Korean houses. Always take off your shoes.
– Many Korean couples will wear the same clothes (matching jackets, shoes, socks, backpacks, etc.)
– Koreans are afraid of the sun and they want to be as white as possible (as opposition to being tan). You’ll see many people take out their umbrellas on a sunny day to protect themselves.
– Koreans have very good style and they like to dress nice, even if they are just going shopping. Korean girls always wear high heels.
– Koreans have bad manners like dramatically spitting in public streets and loudly slurping up noodles
– It is nearly impossible to find a trash can in Korea (don’t ask me why)
– Yes, Koreans do eat bizarre foods like dog meat, live octopus, bugs, cow blood soup and chicken feet. I’ve tried them all. Check out this video of me eating an entire live octopus in Seoul in one bite!
10. Nightlife in Seoul
Ah! My favorite section in this entire article! If you’ve ever read my blog before, then you probably know how much I (literally) rave about Seoul’s nightlife, and why I think it is The #1 Party City in the World.
In fact, the most popular post that I’ve ever written on The Hungry Partier is called an “Ultimate Guide to Clubbing in Gangnam.” Inside that post, I recommend all of my favorite clubs in Gangnam and talk about the nightlife in Seoul. In the last 3 months, this post has been viewed over 20,000 times!
When the sun goes down in Seoul, the city becomes electric. Crazy neon signs populate every building (it’s like Vegas on steroids), and soju bottles begin to pop off in restaurants and bars. Soju is a very popular rice liquor in Korea, that is the most consumed alcoholic beverage in the world (62 million cases were sold in 2014). It tastes like watered down Vodka, and it comes in a glass green bottle. The best part? It only costs $1USD per bottle!
Every single weekend during my 18 months in Korea, I went to Seoul to party my ass off. The only time I stayed in my town on the weekend was when I was sick. I can’t even explain to you how much fun I had raging in Seoul. It was the craziest time of my life!
There are 5 major areas for nightlife in Seoul, as explained in detail below:
Itaewon is the foreigner district of Seoul, but it’s also trending for young to middle-aged Koreans. Here, you will find several bars (some fancy, some casual), as well as various night clubs and pubs. The healthy mix of foreigners and locals gives Itaewon a unique feel that’s always full of energy.
Hongdae is the most hipster and crowded nightlife area in Seoul. On any given night of the week, head over to Hongdae to see young Korean trends and fashion at it’s finest. The entire area is more-or-less a college campus, because there are 4 big Universities surrounding it.
Everything in Hongdae is much cheaper than other parts of Seoul because places cater for student budgets. In Hongdae, there are more bars and clubs than I can count and it’s always packed with people until morning. Many street vendors local Korean BBQ restaurants stay open 24 hours, so make sure to get some drunk food after the night!
Sincheon is like an extension of Hongdae, because it is located just one metro stop away. It has a similar college vibe to it. The streets of Sincheon are packed with thousands of 18-22 year olds and there are several activities to do there.
There is one main strip with most of the bars and clubs that are cheap and fun. It’s always a good idea to start the night in Sincheon, and then head over to Hongdae for some more fun.
Contrary to the cheap bars of Hongdae and Sincheon, Apgujeong is an expensive and trendy nightlife hub district located next to Gangnam. Rodeo drive is where all the craziness happens, with some of the priciest clubs and deluxe hotels in Seoul.
If you’re not on a strict budget, then go to Apgujeong for dinner and drinks before heading out to Gangnam (but seriously prepare your wallets).
5. Gangnam 🙂
As made famous by Psy’s “Gangnam Style” song, this area is the number one district for Seoul’s luxurious and posh nightclubs that are absolutely insane. Dozens of multi-leveled clubs with massive dance floors and top-notch sound systems can be found scattered around the area.
Gangnam is compared to the “Beverly Hills” of Los Angeles with it’s wealth and fashion. Basically, this is where all of the celebrities and rich folks hang out and spend ridiculous amounts of money, but as of lately, it is beginning to trend for young 20-somethings who want to party all night.
If you want to do some serious clubbing in Seoul, then definitely go to Gangnam and read my post to prepare you!
In this section, I will share with you some important resources that you can use for meeting people and finding out things to do in Korea.
This category is broken down into 4 sub sections:
– Popular blogs in Korea
– Learning Korean
– Meeting People
– My Korean-related Blog Posts
a) Popular Blogs in Korea
– Eat Your Kimchi – Simon and Martina, a Canadian couple, moved to Korea in 2008 to teach English and have been blogging about it ever since. On their website, they share awesome things about Korean culture from the best eats to the hottest K-Pop songs and everything in between.
– Seoulistic – Seoulistic is a very informative culture and travel site for people who are coming to Korea and looking for things to do and places to explore Korea.
– Seoul Searching – My friend Mimsie – An American expat whose been living in Seoul for 6+ years – covers everything related to Korean culture and her experience here. She has phenomenal travel guides to nearly every big city in Korea. What sets her apart from the rest is her creativity and perspective that is really interesting to read.
– A Fat Girls Food Guide – My friend Gemma writes about all the best non-Korean foods to eat in Seoul! Her mouth-watering reviews cover Thai to India restaurants and everything in between.
– The Soul of Seoul – This blog is written by an American expat named Hallie, who is married to a Korean rockstar and who has been living in Korea for 8 years. Her blog is very informative and she writes a lot about festivals, foods and events in Korea.
– Zen Kimchi– Joe has been entertaining the world since 2004 with his humorous exploration of Korean food and sharing survival tips for foreigners already there.
– Seoul Eats – Dan provides excellent info on finding the best local foods in Seoul, and organizes cooking events and walking tours around the city.
b) Learning Korean
I cannot tell you how important it is to learn Korean – at least the basics. It will make your life SO much easier. I am conversationally fluent and my experience would not have been the same if I never tried to learn the language.
You can learn Hangul – the Korean alphabet – in just a few hours. There are 14 consonants and 10 vowels. It’s a phonetic language, meaning each letter/vowel always makes the same sound. Korean is much easier than its neighbors like Chinese and Japanese.
I started learning the Korean alphabet on my own by watching YouTube videos. I also paid for lessons on a website called Beeline Languages and it was really helpful. I was able to read, write and speak basic conversation before I ever stepped foot on Korean soil.
When I lived in Korea, I practiced speaking with my Korean friends and I always pushed myself to read the signs around me. I used Korean everyday and made a strong effort to communicate and understand life around me. I also dated a Korean girl who didn’t speak any English, so that helped me a lot as well.
Beeline Languages can be purchased for $12 per month or you can do a deal for $6 per year. They have nice videos which go over common words and phrases. You will be able to speak from the very first lesson and you will improve fast.
Talk to Me in Korean is free, and they have PDF files that you can download with vocabulary and grammar. They also have nice videos on their YouTube Channel.
On the other hand, Korean Class 101 is a $200 annual fee, but it really helps you learn vocab and you listen to a series of podcasts and it’s very easy to understand. I did this for 6 months before I came to Korea and it was worth it!
c) Meeting People
The best way to meet people is to go into Seoul and hop around the bars and clubs. I met new faces every weekend that I was in Seoul, and my network of friends kept growing bigger every weekend.
But if partying isn’t your thing, then you should look into specific groups on MeetUp.com. You can find Meet Ups for anything you’re interested in, from sightseeing, dating, food, partying, hiking, language exchanges, painting, rollerblading, rock climbing, entrepreneurship and more.
There are also a number of Facebook Groups that you should become a part of. My favorites were Every Expat in Korea, Seoul Expats and Nightlife in Seoul. In these groups, there are always people posting meet ups around Seoul!
As I’ve repeatedly mentioned, I am always happy to talk about Korea and share any recommendations with you. I am just an email away!
12. My advice to You
I have a lot of advice to give you before you move to Korea, so listen closely.
Half the people I’ve met who come to Korea LOVE IT, and the other half HATE IT. I’ve seen it time and time again, and it’s very easy to tell who will end up loving it and who can’t wait to get out.
If you take my advice in this section, then I can guarantee that you’ll love it as much as I did. I have listed my advice in order from #1 being the most important.
1) Step Out of Your Comfort Zone: If you’re wondering why I loved Korea so much, then this is the main reason that I can give you. I forced myself to step out of my comfort zone every day situations.
What do I mean by “Comfort Zone?”
I mean doing things out of the ordinary. Things that made me feel a bit uncomfortable. Things that felt awkward to me.
But guess what? You’ve already done the hardest part, which is choosing to come in Korea in the first place. This is the biggest step out of your comfort zone, so it is essential to maintain this mindset throughout your time here.
I trained to be a black belt in Taekwondo. I partied in Seoul every weekend, I met hundreds of new people, I became conversationally fluent in Korean, I traveled to dozens of cities in Korea. I constantly kept myself busy and that’s why I loved Korea so much.
On the flip side, if you just go to school and then go home and lock yourself in your room, then you are going to be miserable. If you don’t go out of your way to make friends, then you are going to hate life. If you don’t get yourself involved in clubs and activities, then you will be counting down the days to leave Korea.
You must understand that Korean culture is not similar to any other culture that you’re used to. Everyday, you will be wondering what the hell is happening around you but you must be able to adjust and go with the flow. Korean culture can be very intimidating if you don’t make an effort to step out of your comfort zone.
2) Learn Korean: If I haven’t made it clear enough, it is so important to learn Korean. This can make or break your experience. Even if you suck at languages, you should still learn how to read and write, and learn basic phrases like “How much is this?” “Where is the bathroom?” “My Name is Drew.”
Learning the language also introduces you more into Korean culture and enables you to better make sense of life around you.
It’s really satisfying to understand what people are saying around you and having the ability to speak to Korean people in their native tongue.
Here was my farewell speech that I did to my entire school, only speaking in Korean:
3) Have a Side Project to Work on
You will have LOTS of free time on your job. I’m talking about several hours everyday to sit on your computer.
Instead of watching every season of Breaking Bad, you should consider making better use of your time by working on side projects like:
STARTING A BLOG!
I started my travel blog the day I moved to Seoul, and fully committed myself since day 1. In just 18 months after launching my site, I get 40K page views per month and I have 40K Social Media Followers. I am also making enough money from my blog to fund my upcoming travels around the world.
However, it does take a tremendous amount of work to make this happen. About 40+ Hours a week of blogging full time over the last year. If you want, you can absolutely do this too and become a professional blogger during your time in Korea.
But if you don’t like writing, or aren’t interested in blogging, then I suggest learning some new skills online or starting a business, as opposed to wasting your time watching TV Shows.
4) Be Flexible
Korean culture might drive you crazy sometimes. Your co-teachers will never warn you of changes until the last minute. I don’t know why they do this, but you must learn to adjust.
For example, my co-teachers would tell me minutes before school ended that I had to teach an after-school class that day. But this can also work out in your favor too, like the time when my teachers told me that school was cancelled the night before.
So, don’t freak out when you’ve turned in your papers to teach English but you don’t get placed at a school until weeks before you arrive. Just understand that Koreans do everything last minute.
The best way to handle this is to have an open mind from the start, and prepare for everything. Learn to make adjustments when someone throws a curve ball at you, because it will happen quite often.
13. What to Pack?
Summers in Korea are really hot, and winters are brutally cold. All four seasons are prominent. You must pack clothes to prepare for to all weather types.
For school attire, you can generally keep it casual. Although during your first week at school, you should make a good impression by dressing up nicely (I wore a button down and slacks). But by the end of my term, I was wearing jeans and a V-neck.
You can find almost ALL toiletries and accessories in Korea, so don’t worry about bringing all of your cosmetics. The only things that you should stock up on is deodorant and any personal medications that you may need. I don’t know why Koreans don’t wear deodorant, so bring enough to last you for one year. Also, girls have told me that Koreans don’t use normal tampons, so you might want to look into that if you are a girl.
You don’t need to overpack. If you forget something at home, then you can find it at one of the many Giant Shopping Malls in Korea. For all of my stuff, I only packed a big suitcase and a 40 liter travel backpack for all of my trips. If you are planning to go on backpacking trips around Asia, then you are definitely going to need a travel backpack. I use the Osprey Porter 40 Liter and it’s great!
14. Interviews with Current Teachers
I figured that you are probably sick of only hearing about my experience, so I reached out to some fellow teachers and asked them questions about their experience teaching in Korea! See interviews below.
Teacher #1. Morgan Sullivan
1. Which program are you on?
I am part of English Program in Korea (EPIK), a government run program that places teachers in public schools throughout Korea.
2. How did you find your job?
Several people had told me that teaching English in Korea and Japan were great opportunities for people who wanted to travel and make a decent living wage, so I started doing research via the internet and came across several blogs and websites that suggested teaching through EPIK. Once I had the name, I did some more searching, found the main website, and decided to apply.
3. What are your biggest takeaways from teaching in Korea?
It sounds a little bit corny, but I think my main takeaway is that attitude is everything. If you enter a situation with a positive attitude and an open mind, an entire world of amazing opportunities can open up for you. Starting completely from scratch and living in a country so drastically different from home is filled to the brim with challenges, and if you don’t take the time to manage your perspective those challenges can become overwhelming. No matter the situation – good or bad – your reaction and your attitude is 100% up to you.
4. What 3 pieces of advice would you give to newbies who are first arriving in Korea?
Learn as much Korean language as possible BEFORE you arrive in Korea
Do your research – There is a huge wealth of information (blogs, YouTube videos, forums) out there about people who have already taught in Korea, and their insight and experiences will be invaluable. They know about the culture, they know what it’s like to teach ESL, and they have already gone through all the hurdles and hoops that comes with being a new arrival.
Be a Yes Man/Woman – A willingness to try new things and go out of your comfort zone will enrich your experience exponentially. Try the food you can’t pronounce, explore the cities you’ve never heard of, and be open to giving anything and everything a chance. You don’t know what something is really like until you try it for yourself – for all you know it could be the best thing to ever happen to you 🙂
Check out Morgan’s awesome travel blog called A Beautiful View!
Thank you for reading this guide!!
I did my best to tell you everything I know about teaching in Korea and adjusting to the Korean lifestyle. I hope that you all will make the right decision to teach and live in this amazing country. Don’t forget to buy your TEFL class on this link!
And lastly, feel free to check out the many other blog posts I’ve written about teaching and living in Korea! You can find all of them in this section of my blog, or see the most popular ones below:
– What It’s Like to Live and Work in Rural Korea
– A Day in the Life of an English Teacher
– 6 Damn Good Reasons to Visit Seoul
– 5 Reasons Why Seoul is the #1 Party City in the World
– How I Traveled to 17 Countries and Saved $3K
– 5 Ways I’ve Grown After 1 Year in Korea
– Gangnam Nightlife Guide
– Seoul (Itaewon) Nightlife Guide