News & Stories/2020

Nicole's TEFL Experience in South Korea

Nicole's journey began with a UK-TEFL weekend course in London. Meeting so many like minded people all looking for a new adventure, along with the inspirational tutor and fun nature of the course assured Nicole that teaching English abroad was for her. Here Nicole tells us about her experience teaching in South Korea

My name is Nicole and I've been working in South Korea for over 2 years. I came here back in April 2014 as I was bored of graduate life in Edinburgh and wanted to experience a new culture while exploring another corner of the world. In that time I've worked both in private and public schools and I want to share my experience.

One of the first things to think about when applying for jobs in Korea is whether you would rather work in a private or public school. The conditions, pay and working hours vary between both jobs. Here's the lowdown on each.

Private Schools A.K.A Hagwons
A quick search on google and you will soon find plenty of horror stories about private schools, locally known as "Hagwons." However, you need to take these stories with a pinch of salt. Hagwons operate after school; most teachers find themselves working between 2pm and 9.30pm.  I spent my first year working in a Hagwon and I had absolutely no issues- I was always paid on time, my students were attentive, and I had a great support system.

There are a lot of other benefits to working in a Hagwon. For starters, applications are ongoing and the overall application process is much shorter than that of public schools. You also have the freedom to decide which city you would like to teach in, and the chances of having a foreign co-worker are much higher.

Public Schools
Public school positions are generally regarded as being the best option for new teachers due to the high level of job security. As you are working for the government you know that your job is stable and that you are always going to get paid on time.
Other benefits of working in public schools include 9-5 working hours, long holidays (18 days in public vs 10 days in Hagwon) and having a Korean co-worker who will help you to control the classroom. You will also need to be comfortable managing large classes. Most public school classes have around 30 students. Don't worry too much about this point as you do have the support of a Korean co-worker to translate for you.

While public school is often thought of as the "holy grail of teaching jobs in Korea", it definitely has its downfalls too. These days, a lot of jobs have been cut in the big cities like Seoul, Busan and Daegu, making it almost impossible to teach there.
Work life can be quite isolated at a public school since you are the only foreign English teacher and a lot of your co-workers won't be able to speak English.

For me, working in a Hagwon trumped working in a public school for a few reasons.
To start, I enjoyed having smaller classes of students who I was able to get to know well. Most Hagwons have a limit of about 10 students per class. I taught each class 3 times a week so it was really easy to monitor their progress and form a good rapport.
I'm quite an extroverted person too so I do find being the only foreigner at public school difficult and often wish I had someone to share my experience with. Having a foreign co-worker is a great way to make friends in Korea since they'll be more than willing to invite you out and introduce you to their friends- that's how I made most of my friends in my first year.

Although this is what I prefer, everyone's experience seems to be different. So before making a decision about where to teach, think about what matters most to YOU.

What’s Right for You?
Would you rather teach small classes independently or large classes with the support of a Korean co-worker?
Are you happy to sacrifice more holidays for higher pay? Or would you sacrifice higher pay for less holidays?
Do you like to spend your free time after work socialising with your friends, or are you happy to do your own thing through the week?
Are you an early bird or a night owl? 
These are the things that you need to think about before deciding what kind of job to apply for in Korea.

You can learn more about Nicole's expat life in Korea on Wee Gypsy Girl, where she writes about her adventures on a shoestring around South Korea and the rest of the world!  If you would like to follow in Nicole's footsteps, take the first step today and book onto one of our TEFL courses here