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On The Challenges of Teaching English in Korea

(Photo Courtesy: Isa Castaneda) Image of Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul

Teaching English abroad is a job growing in popularity due to the benefits that come with it. However, expats in Korea argue it’s not all glamor.

English textbook
Photo by Ivan Shilov on Unsplash

THE BENEFITS

Teaching English in South Korea is advertised as an easy job and great cultural experience. Bridge Universe encourages prospective teachers by discussing the great culture, delicious food and Korean pop as benefits. The only requirements to teach in South Korea are a bachelors degree and a background check. Schools provide housing and even meals in some cases!

Casey Brown is a first-year English teacher in the heart of Seoul. Brown moved to South Korea directly after college graduation.

“I love my job,” she says. “I love getting off of work and getting some samgyeopsal (pork belly) and soju (alcohol)!”

Brown’s not alone in this sentiment. Many young teachers feel as if this was the best choice for them.

I love my job, I love getting off of work and getting some samhyeopsal and soju!

Arab male English teacher explaining rules near blackboard, standing with clipboard, smiling at
Photo via Envato Elements

NOT ALL GLAMOUR

Some expats argue that teaching English in Korea is over-glamorized. Korean work culture can be extremely jarring and cultural differences can overwhelm young teachers.

Catherine Swells moved to Korea in early 2019, and wasn’t able to travel home due to the pandemic.

English teacher writing at whiteboard, explaining rules to the students
Photo via Envato Elements

“The videos and articles online convinced me,” she says. “I started working at an academy, but I got completely scammed. They put me in a house with no heating mid-winter. They wouldn’t allow me to break my contract. It was hell.”

They put me in a house with no heating mid-winter. They wouldn’t allow me to break my contract. It was hell.

Theodora Davis, 24, spoke out about a similar experience. Similarly, a small English Academy scammed her.

“Honestly, I moved here for all the wrong reasons,” she says. “I didn’t have any passion for teaching, and I just wanted to get away from my life back home. I never expected that the high-end academy would go bankrupt.”

Indian Teacher Writing English Grammar Rules On Blackboard Teaching Indoors
Photo via Envato Elements

Honestly, I moved here for all the wrong reasons. I didn’t have any passion for teaching, and I just wanted to get away from my life back home.

Theodora Davis, 24

Finally, Kelly Frank says she “didn’t really know anything about Korea before I landed. My first boss made us go out for long company dinners (Hwe-sik). I wasn’t allowed to go home before he did. I ended up finding out that this was all part of work culture. The childrens’ mothers would berate me, and I don’t speak Korean, so I couldn’t defend myself.”

The children’s mothers would berate me, and I don’t speak Korean, so I couldn’t defend myself.

A REMINDER

Horror stories about teaching in South Korea are abundant. However, many of the teachers expressed one regret. For one reason or another, many expats lived inside their bubble, unable or unwilling ingrain themselves in Korean culture.

This is a common issue for expats, and they wished to give a reminder. Athena Lopez, a teacher of five years says:

There were many great things about teaching in Korea. If I could give just one suggestion, it would be to learn Korean, make Korean friends, and really get into the culture. Break out of the expat bubble. It will only help you. Don’t blindly believe what the media says and come here for the right reasons.

Athena Lopez, 35
English Teacher (Photo via Envato Elements)
English Teacher (Photo via Envato Elements)
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