My Top 3 English Teaching Destinations

I’ve seen a lot of other blogs and sites posting their lists of top English teaching destinations and I wasn’t completely satisfied.  Most of their lists are primarily based on how much money you can earn and save. This short list is different because I’m placing emphasis on the overall destination that includes the fundamentals of salaries and saving potential but also delves into the things that matter on a more daily basis.  Things such as food and quality of living.  I should also note that while this is a top 3, I am not ranking them above each other.

South Korea

Yes, I bet you knew this one was coming.  South Korea really does have it all.

Salary and benefits: Starting salaries of 2.1m KRW ($1800USD) are not bad at all. Then you throw in paid accommodation, severance pay, a paid flight home, and pension.  These benefits make South Korea, financially a very attractive destination.

Saving potential: HIGH!  Teachers can save up to or even more than half their monthly salary if they manage their money well.  Not to mention that when you leave you will get your pension and severance pay which combined will be thousands of dollars.  Quite a few people go to Korea to wipe out their student debts, then stay on longer to save up for a post-grad degree.

Quality of living: I talked about this in another post but I’ll say it again.  The life of an English teacher in Korea is very comfortable.  You can afford to eat out a couple times a week, go on a weekend trip or two, have nights out on the weekend, and still save money.  The cost of living may be slowly rising but it is still low compared to neighboring Japan.  There is a vibrant expat scene in Korea which further adds to the appeal to life there.  Korea has tons of opportunities to immerse yourself in the local culture, play in rec sport leagues, learn the language, enjoy the nightlife, and generally thoroughly thrive.

Food: Korean food is awesome. Seriously. I am missing Korean food so much haha.  Brilliant BBQs.  Spicy kimchi. Tasty dak galbi.  You will love the food.  An interesting fact about Korea is that it has one of the highest amounts of restaurants per capita in the world which results in a country where there are streets literally lined up with restaurants. One of my favorite is the famous Food Street in Gangnam.  To top it off, eating out is relatively cheap and meals often come with free side dishes to accompany your main meal.  If you haven’t tried Korean food yet, go to your local Korean restaurant and thank me in the comments.

Vietnam

This country is increasingly featuring on more top English teaching destinations and for good reason.

Salary and benefits: Teachers make anywhere from $1000-2000+USD a month in Vietnam.  A lot of teachers have a main job and then supplement it with side jobs in the evenings or on weekends to top their wages up.  Some of the bigger schools offer bonuses and severance pay.

Saving potential: High. Being paid in USD helps a lot.  Having spoken with teachers who currently work there the consensus seems to be that they save on average a third to a half of their monthly income.

Quality of living: Vietnam is VERY cheap.  Teachers in Vietnam can afford to eat out, have a nice apartment, go on weekend trips, party on weekends, and still save a good amount of money.  What I like about Vietnam is that it offers you a similar kind of life to Thailand but edgier due to it being less developed, which I think brings more excitement.  In the big cities there are plenty of expats and lots of social clubs to join and things to do on evenings and weekends.  I have a feeling Vietnam will be my next teaching destination in part due to the quality of life on offer to expat teachers.

Food: Vietnamese food is famous worldwide and for good reason, it is simply delectable! Everyone has heard of pho, the rice noodle soup, but my favorite Vietnamese dish so far is the banh mi! A simple baguette filled with vegetables, pork, sometimes a fried egg, and pate that is simply amazing, and for as cheap as a single dollar!  Street food is another one of my favorite things about Vietnam; you’re never far from it and it is always cheap and diverse. On the other end of the spectrum you can find world class food in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City for a fraction of the cost it would be back home.  Simply put, food is one of the highlights of teaching in Vietnam.

UAE

Arguably the best place to teach English in the world, but that is not to say it is easy to find a job there.  Most jobs are limited to teachers who are certified to work back in their home country.

Salary and benefits: It depends on the type of job you have but generally in excess of $2000+USD, tax free.  Benefits include an annual travel fund for flights, severance pay, free healthcare, moving allowance, etc.  At the top end of the jobs in ESL in the UAE, university jobs, I saw salaries of over $5000USD a month!  This, combined with my previous experiences of visiting the UAE, make it my ideal place to work once I have a masters under my belt and can enter the university teaching job market.

Saving potential: High.  If you’re making at least $2000, and most are making more than $3000, you can save some serious cash.  Just a year or 2 in the UAE could set you up financially.

Quality of life: First off I should address the concern some people may have because it is an Islamic country.  The UAE is one of the most liberal Islamic statics in the world.  Woman are not required to wear the veil or anything like that, but you should dress sensibly in most public places.  It is nothing like living in Saudi Arabia or other hard-line Muslim countries.  There are bars and clubs but they are restricted to hotels and a few other select places.  Alcohol can be bough at certain government stores once you have a permit and can be consumed at your apartment.  Expats seriously enjoy living here.  They often end up working there until retirement.  Lots of opportunities to watch world class sporting events like the Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix or the Abu Dhabi Open.  Unlimited options for people who love to go shopping at the mall (this country has more malls than you could imagine haha).

Food: The UAE, but especially Dubai and the capital Abu Dhabi are very cosmopolitan cities and thus you can find just about any food on the planet in either of these cities.  That said, Arabic and Indian food would be what I would think to be the best choices on offer due to the local specialties and large Indian expat community.  Food is more expensive here because a lot of it has to be imported, but you are being paid premium money so you can afford it.  The UAE also has many large Western supermarkets full of international food and food from home for those of you who love to cook at home.

Other great English teaching destinations

Columbia: More and more English teaching opportunities are opening up in Columbia as it develops more. Safety has improved a lot also. Definitely a place I’d consider going in the future.

Spain: Pleasant climate, living in Europe, easy to adapt.  Those are just some of the reasons that make Spain a great place to teach.

Czech Republic: Teaching in a city like Prague would be a dream.  The students are keen to learn, the locals are friendly, there are liberal social policies in effect, the fact Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and its location in Europe make it ideal as a base to explore other nearby European nations.

‘Top’ destinations that did not make my list

China: A vast and growing job market for English teachers but not somewhere at this time I particularly fancy teaching in.  Reason? Primarily the high level of air pollution and the prospect of big brother always looking over your shoulder…

Japan: High cost of living.  It seems harder to enjoy life in Japan as most things are expensive and so you must be careful with your spending if you aim to save money.

Saudi Arabia: Harsh and uncertain living environment, especially for women.  While the money can be hugely rewarding…I place a higher value on freedom than money at this time.  Not to mention the politics of this country.

What did you think of my top 3 picks? Are there other destinations that I have not thought of that you think I should consider for the future? Did I unfairly dismiss China, Japan, and Saudi Arabia?  Let me know in the comments 🙂

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Overcoming feelings of isolation and alienation abroad

We all come to a time when we’ve been traveling, backpacking, or teaching abroad long enough to feel the ache for the familiar or the strain of having left family, friends, and relationships behind back home or just other places on our journey.  It is during these times you must make the effort overcome feelings of isolation and alienation.

I experienced these feelings on more than one occasion back in Korea after a long Friday night/Saturday morning partying downtown.  I’d wake up feeling hungover as hell in a tiny shoe box of an apartment with nightfall having already descended. I’d ask myself if this was the best I could do to make my weekends count and I always knew the answer was no but still ended up having more weekends like that because it was what my friends did.  Gradually I broke out of that cycle and found that a quiet night in after a hectic week of work was often what I needed to re-charge my batteries.

Now in Trat, Thailand, my problem is living in a town that I don’t know much about, there is a distinct lack of information online, there isn’t much of an expat community, the language is even tougher to learn, I’m still discovering what foods to eat, and while I have another foreign teacher at my school, we’re not close.  To compound this my two closest friends from my last school in Chok Chai chose to head home and end their time in Thailand.  For the past two weekends I’ve been in Koh Chang on Lonely Beach which helps me forget my current feelings of transition but obviously going there every weekend is not the answer.

Am I becoming disillusioned with a life of backpacking and teaching abroad? Far from it.  I’m writing this to show that for people who are just starting out this kind of lifestyle, or having been doing it for years, that the feeling of homesickness, isolation, and alienation, affects everyone time to time.  What matters is how you tackle it!  So here are some of the things I’ll be doing to settle in more and make the most of my time in Trat, these are also things any traveler or teacher abroad can do to beat the blues.

  • Keep busy: take language lessons, start a blog, plan your next move, get a start on making teaching materials for next week, etc
  • Familiarize yourself: go walks or take bike rides around the local area to discover what your surroundings have to offer, you may be surprised!
  • Contact family and friends: Message them, call them, Skype them, do what ever it is you need to do to keep in touch with your close ones to let them know they’re in your thoughts no matter how far away you are.
  • Get fit: Physical fitness plays a big role in keeping mentally fit.  Go for long walks, jogs, or runs, buy a bike and find some trails to explore, get a gym membership, join an expat sports league, in short; get active!
  • Start dating: apps like Tinder are a great way to meet new people, whether they are fellow expats or locals, whether your intention is to look for a friend or something more.  Putting yourself out there is a surefire way to fight back feelings of loneliness and can lead to an exciting new social life!
  • Relax:  backpacking or teaching abroad have their stressful times so it really is essential to once in awhile take time to simply…..relax.  Read books, have a Netflix binge, go to a beach and just look out into the horizon and contemplate the mysteries of life, just not too seriously!   It is ok to have the occasional lazy weekend; they’re healthy for your mind and your bank account, not to mention Game of Thrones starts up again next month, never a bad time to start from the beginning to refresh yourself 😉

So that’s what has been on my mind of late transiting to a new school and town as a teacher abroad.  Having put these words to type has made me feel better already and I’ll be taking my own advice, starting with some simple relaxation and reading.  I should also add in just over 2 weeks my vacation will kick off in Chiang Mai for the ultimate frisbee tournament before Songkran, so still lots to look forward to even while not much is going on at school at the moment.  I hope this post finds you in a good place in life as I am now, thanks for reading and take care 🙂

An Escape to Koh Chang

After my first week at work in Trat at new high school I decided to finally put some sand between my toes and go to the backpacker friendly island of Koh Chang.  Having been in Thailand for over 2 months now and not yet made it to one of the nation’s crown jewels in island beauty I was long overdue.  On the Friday I went home in the afternoon to pack my bag to leave immediately from school to save time.  I was also lucky to have a Thai teacher who lived in the area and gave me a ride to Thammachart Pier, which I believe is the most popular pier to head to Koh Chang because the ferry crossing time only takes 30 minutes and 80 baht for a single crossing.  Ferries usually arrive every half hour from 6am to 7pm.  The only drawback  to my plans was that I was told Friday that I had to work Sunday which would mean I would only get one night on the island, still made the right choice and decided to go through with the weekend escape.

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After about 15 minutes a ferry arrived to pick us up and make the crossing. The lower deck is filled with cars and motorbikes and the upper decks have seats, a store or food vendor, and a fresh sea breeze flowing through the open windows.  I went to the upper deck, bought a beer, found a seat with a view and kicked back for the rest of the journey.

After the short journey time  we made to it Koh Chang and I immediately went looking for songthaews. So I find one and only three other guys get on the songthaew so the driver says we’re going to wait for the next ferry. The next ferry shows up a half hour later on and only two more people join us.  It was supposed to be a 100 baht trip but the driver asked everyone for an extra 20 baht so that we’d leave now.  One of the problems with Koh Chang is the scarcity of songthaews and the prices they charge.  During the day prices are ok if there are groups of people going places but at night when there are fewer songthaews running, it can be a hassle because the drivers start asking for extortionate fees of up to or more than 500 baht for rides between different beaches too far to walk to. DO NOT support these prices, always negotiate down.

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Songthaew rides across Koh Chang is like being on a roller coaster with the number of upward winding roads with clusters of development focused in and around the beaches.  70% of the island is still covered in virgin jungle and there are lots of trails for hiking to beautiful waterfalls and incredible views so the ride from the pier is quite scenic but you’ll definitely be holding on to something at certain points.  With stops in between it took about an hour to reach Lonely Beach, the backpacker center of Koh Chang.

I chose Lonely Beach as the place to start my exploration of Koh Chang because I was in the mood to have a good time and a friend recommended Siam Huts to me as the place to stay.  I paid 380 baht for a basic wooden hut with a bed, shower, sink, fan, and toilet.  Perfect for what I wanted: a cheap no-frills place to crash after a night out.

After settling in to my hut and changing from my stifling work clothes I met my friend, a fellow Brit I met from my Lao visa trip, at the bar and we ordered food.  I had a beer and ordered a huge pad Thai that I was impressed to finish.  Unfortunately he wasn’t feeling so well so he was not going to be able to stay out that night.  Still, it was nice to catch up with him and learn more about the island since her lives there.

For the rest of the night I hung out with various backpackers at Siam Huts, sharing stories, and knocking back beers while cheering on the fire show and hitting up the dance floor.  The party went on until almost 3am but by that point I had gone to bed, happy to have had a decent first night out on Koh Chang.

The next day I decided to make the most of my day and sat out in the sun in attempt to build up a tan before I head off to Abu Dhabi in April.  All day I alternated between beer, water, and fruit lassis.  I savored the time out in the sun by reading and thinking about the new job and the upcoming events in April.  For lunch I had a delicious tom yam soup with rice washed down with my second fruit lassi.

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With about an hour left to go before I wanted to take a songthaew back to the ferry I set off on a walk down Lonely Beach to get a feel for the sea and the sand washing over my feet and legs. It was a refreshing way to end my stay but knowing that I could easily see myself going back there again next week this time for the full weekend.

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View from Siam Huts

When it came time to leave the songthaews kept racing past me while I had my hand out but they were all full.  Much to my luck a Thai guy saw my predicament and offered to give me a ride to the ferry  as he was headed to the same place.  I happily accepted but then it dawned on me that he was a big guy and I wasn’t sure his scooter would be able to get up some the steep twisting roads.  While there were one or two moments I thought the scooter would break down, it pulled through and I made it to the ferry in one piece.  I will say that though I was grateful for the ride, he drove like a mad man desperately trying to get to the next ferry.

On the ferry I thanked him again and offered him some money for his trouble but he kindly declined saying it was just a nice thing to do for a person in need.  After the hour long journey, we had taken a slow ferry, we parted ways and I went to look for a songthaew back to Trat.

The problem was not finding a songthaew but finding other riders.  We waited almost another hour before I gave in and paid 300 baht to take me to the market in Trat.  All in all it was a great half weekend and I look forward to returning and exploring more of the island.

Have you been to Koh Chang? Where does it rank among your favorite Thai islands? Let me know what you think I should go see/stay next time I head to Koh Chang!

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly about Teaching in Thailand

As a follow up post to my my recent one, I present….

The Good

  • A great place for new teachers: Whether you are thinking of taking ESL as a career seriously, just want the experience of working in exotic Thailand, or in between traveling and looking to make some extra money for a few months, Thailand is a great choice for people who have not taught before.  All you need is a degree and while a TEFL certificate is desired, it is not a formal requirement for a lot of public schools.  Even then, you can get 120hr TEFL online certificate for a couple hundred dollars.  Also, there is less pressure in most Thai public schools because they realize a lot of the teachers have never taught before and therefore there Thai staff are very helpful and understanding in their efforts to help you teach and settle into the area.
  • Food: Come on, do I really gotta mention how good the food is? Thai cuisine extends far beyond tourist favorites like pad Thai, papaya salad, and tom yum soup.  One of my favorite things about living in Thailand are the local markets where I have almost limitless food options.  For $3USD at a market I can easily buy more delicious food than I can even eat!  Typically I’ll buy a main course, rice/noodles with veg and meat, a side dish, perhaps some sticky rice, and a dessert, my favorite being freshly sliced antelope.  All for $3-4!  The food alone should almost be enough of a reason to come teach in Thailand, it truly is a foodie’s paradise.

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  • Low cost of living: The essentials to life in Thailand, especially living outside of Bangkok, are incredibly cheap.  For example, my monthly food budget is about 5,400 baht ($150) and I spend 3500 baht ($100) a month on rent. On a starting salary of 30,000 baht a month, that leaves you with 21,100 baht ($600) left over to spend how you like!  If saving money is not a priority for you, then you could easily go on a weekend trip most weekends in a month.  But if saving is something you care about, you can still save about half your monthly salary (if you live outside of Bangkok) and still have money left over to have some fun, whether that is a few nights out at the bar or a weekend trip or two.  The life of a teacher even making starting salary is quite comfortable.
  • Long vacation time: If you plan teaching for a full year at a public school, 2 semesters, then you will be happy to know you will get at least 2 months vacation!  Of course, depending on your contract situation, whether you work directly for the school or through a teacher placement company/agent, you may or may not be paid for the vacation time.  My advice, try work directly for schools and they should pay the vacation time, or find a company/agent that pays for the vacation.
  • Some great students: the students themselves will play a big role on whether you enjoy your job.  But from my experience so far I’ve had some wonderful students who have proven extremely helpful in explaining things in Thai to the other students, telling the noisy students to quiet down, and then giving me goodbye gifts after having only known them for a short time.  I even received a hand drawn portrait of myself by a very talent student!  Another teacher who had taught at the school for a year received a handmade book of pictures taken from their classes and each student wrote goodbye messages to her.  Great students make such a difference and Thailand has them in spades.

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  • Location, location, location: Thailand has an abundance of every kind of place to live and work.  From small, rural, idyllic villages out in places like Isan, to towns up north in the jungle near Chiang Mai, big bad Bangkok, or down south near the island treasures of Thailand.  There is a place for every lifestyle in Thailand.

The Bad

  • School organization: Having taught at two public schools here in Thailand, and having spoke with teachers working at private schools, a frequent topic that comes up is the strange way certain things are done at school.  Just as you’re leaving to go home a Thai teacher tells you ‘oh, by the way tomorrow is Open Day at school so no classes!’, or nobody knowing who to talk to to get class outline/lesson planning documents, or going office to office searching for someone and then finally being told that actually that person is not at school that day.  Issues like these are are a reflection of Thai culture in the workplace, which brings me to…
  • Cultural differences: There are always going to cultural differences; it is a part of what makes traveling and working abroad a great experience!  But some differences are harder to adjust to.  For instance, it is common to have lined up at a cafe or have been served at a restaurant and then see that the Thais who came after you have been served first.  For women choosing to work outside of big cities or places popular with tourists where the locals don’t have much experience living around foreigners, women will get a lot of looks from Thai men and women, unfortunately that is a fact of life in Thailand.  The same goes if a foreign man is seen in public with a Thai women, you will get a lot of looks from the locals.  These may not be major issues, but they are annoyances.
  • Visa status: The ruling Thai military junta and prior governments have been changing visa rules for years now so it is hard to know what the rules are for sure, and can often be decided at the discretion of the official.  To get the Non-Immigrant B visa to teach legally in Thailand you will either have to get it before you enter the country, or take a 2 day trip to Malaysia, Cambodia, or Laos to get it sorted.  Some schools will even encourage you to simply work on a tourist visa, which is illegal.  Having said that, it seems a blind eye is turned to those teachers who are on a tourist visa and working but are having their documents processed before leaving the country to get the correct visa.
  • Rowdy students:  Don’t get me wrong, while there are great students, there are also students who are plain rude and aggressive towards teachers, particularly in public high schools where classes can be up to 50 students!  It is mostly the less advanced classes that are rowdiest and they are predominately filled with boys, some entirely.  Those classes can be a drain on you mentally and physically as you have to shout and cajole them into behaving and learning something.   Thankfully, most classes are not like this and since coming to teach in Thailand I’ve only had one class that I dreaded teaching each week; class 4/11.
  • Isolation:  If you are working in a public school out in the countryside, you may be one of the only, if not the ONLY, foreigner in town and thus your every movement will be of interest to the locals as if you’re minor celebrity with less privileges.  It can get quite lonely if you don’t have a support network set up to beat back feelings of loneliness and boredom.  At my school in Chok Chai in Isan I was with 3 other foreign teachers and I still felt bored and lonely at times because there was next to nothing to do besides drink beer and watch Netflix for hours on end.  Do your research before taking a job somewhere out in the countryside.

The Ugly

  • A target for crime and scams:  As a foreigner in their country where most of the people have far less than you, it is unfortunately natural for some of the less honest locals to want to make a little extra money from you.  It can be a taxi driver refusing to turn on the meter or asking for a jacked up fare.  Selling you counterfeit goods while claiming them to be genuine.  The police targeting you for not wearing a helmet while riding a scooter and asking for a ‘fine’, or worse, them asking you to take a piss test for drugs in the street (illegal) and asking for a ‘processing fee’ to make the problem go away.  There are a lot more I could go on about but you get the picture.  As always when traveling or living in a foreign country, it is best to exercise caution and keep informed about news in Thailand.  I’m sure there are more ugly sides to living in Thailand but I think being a target for crime and scams are the biggest ones.

So what do you think? What other good, bad, and ugly sides are there to teaching in Thailand? Let me know in the comments!

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Teaching English in S. Korea

The Good

  • The students: Most Korean students you will meet are fun, well-behaved, smart, and constructive members of the classroom!  While every teacher in Korea will remember a certain naughty student, they will remember countless more students that made their day with their smile and overall good attitude to learning.  I can count on one hand the number of real trouble students I’ve had on one hand and just some many more that I truly miss and wish I could see how they are doing now with their new teachers.  If you can make your classes engaging, the students will enjoy themselves and be more willing to take part in your lessons.  And even if the material you must teach may be dry, the students will for the most part be very well behaved with a few great students who help the others get on track.
  • The food: I had never had Korean food before I came to South Korea, nor had I really done much research on what to expect, besides knowing kimchi is the national dish.  But once I got there I fell in love with the beef and pork BBQ dinners with drinks and close friends before heading out on the town for a Friday night.  Then there is bibimbap, dak galbi, jjim dak, and so much more!  If you haven’t tried Korean food yet but are thinking of going to teach in Korea, go to your local Korean BBQ restaurant and thank me in the comments.  Korean food can be a little spicy, so be warned.  Another thing I love about food in Korea is how affordable it is!  You can quite easily eat out a few nights a week for less than $10 for a decent meal.  It should also be added that I believe Korea has one of the highest rates of restaurants per capita worldwide meaning you will never be far from a place to eat, whether it is a local mom and pop joint, or Michelin star quality restaurants in Gangnam.  I may be spoiled for food here in Thailand, but I definitely get cravings for Korean food.
  • The financial side: Korea is still one of the top places in Asia to make bank.  Wages may have stagnated but are still right up there with the best.  Throw in the relatively low cost of living and it is easy to see how teachers in can quite comfortably save half their salary a month.  Not to mention that all teachers receive a pension and if you complete the contract you will get severance pay which equates to a month’s salary.
  • The quality of life: While still saving as much as half your salary, you can eat out once or twice a week, go out for drinks a couple times, and go on a weekend trip somewhere in Korea each month.  A trip might entail a mountain trek to one of the many peaks in Korea, a weekend sojourn to the bright lights of Seoul or Busan, a tranquil getaway to a Buddhist temple, or shredding it on the slopes in the winter time.  It may take some balancing but it is possible if you’re smart with your money and plan it out.  Korea also has a vibrant and active expat scene so you will never be far from making new friends.  I personally recommend joining a Korean language exchange club, like The Box in Daegu, or a recreational sports league.  I played in the ROK Ultimate Frisbee league for 2 seasons and I loved every moment of it, not just playing but the super people I met, the journeys to the games, the parties, the camaraderie among members of the wider ultimate frisbee community…so much fun, and when I return to Korea eventually I definitely will be getting back on the field again.
  • The location: Korea is an ideal location for vacations across Asia, Japan is a stone throw away and can even be reached by ferry, tons of cheap flights to China and Hong Kong, the Philippines is very close, and Southeast Asia is a very affordable place to spend your vacation time.  If you love to travel, Korea is a real gateway to the rest of Asia and has two three great international airports; two in Seoul and one in Busan making it easy to get out and explore beyond Korea.

The Bad

  • North Korea:  I should get this one out of the way first because I think it scares off some teachers from coming to South Korea.  Yes, the North is a rogue nuclear armed nation ruled by the Kim family dynasty that likes to make big, bombastic threats against Korea, the US, and their allies.  And that although the Korean War ended with a armistice, not a peace treaty, this technically means these two countries are still at war…But the fact is the North has been making these threats for years and while it may be stressful for people considering to come teach in Korea, if you ask S. Koreans and foreign teachers they will tell you they pay little heed to what the North says and carry on with their daily lives.  So while the threat of North Korea remains, it is held in check by the guarantee that any kind of attack would be met in kind by overwhelming power from the combined ROK-US forces. Nevertheless, having a noisy neighbor is never a good thing.
  • Visa paperwork:  Of course it is understandable that the Korean government wants to be careful about who is coming to teach their children but it doesn’t change the fact that it is a time consuming process that may take months.  You need a nation wide criminal record check (clean), transcripts, your degree, and all of these need to be notarized/apostilled attached and sent to the Korean consulate for their stamps of approval.  Then you must gather more documents, along with a sealed copy of your school contract, passport pics, visa confirmation number, and processing fee, and submit this to the consulate and hope they approve it.  If this process was streamlined I think it would be a big help to potential and current teacher in Korea.
  • How and what things are taught:  This one is controversial I think.  I think alot of the English taught to Korean students is purely rote repetition and often in hagwons teachers must follow strict lesson plans following pages from the books that are often outdated and boring.  Depending on your school, teachers have little say on how they’d like to teach the class and thus it often means the classes are dry, boring, and repetitive.  Alot of what is taught in class is designed purely to help them do well on the TOEIC tests and university entrance exams.
  • Increasingly competitive job market, poor economic climate, declining working conditions: with the government seemingly winding down the EPIK program, teachers who worked in public schools are now entering the private hagwon sector.  EPIK teachers are higly regarded by hagwon owners because of the competitive process to teach in a public school so this adds to the pressure on teachers who have only worked for hagwons.  Wages have stagnated and even started to lower in some classes.  Return flight packages in contracts are becoming rare.  Teachers are seemingly being asked to work longer hours with more classes and fewer breaks for less money.  The ‘golden era’ of teaching English in Korea has truly finished.

The Ugly

  • Management:  A big reason hagwons get a bad rap is because of the management and owners who run these schools.  Their primary concern is maximizing profits and keeping parents happy; business first, education second.  Then of course you have the types of directors who are massively unqualified to do their jobs and just do so, so, much wrong.  I had a terrible experience with a director at my last school was a contributing factor to me deciding to take a break from Korea for awhile.  The horror stories usually relate to the breaking of contractual agreements, physical, emotional, and sexual harassment, firing teachers before the last month to avoid paying severance, making teachers do additional unpaid work, treating the children appallingly, etc.  You have to be careful when picking a school, and EXTRA careful to find a decent boss.  The director will make or break your experience at a school.
  • Xenophobia, racism, and other prejudices:  Although it is not as much of an issue as it once was, it still rears its ugly  head.  It is harder for African-American or black South African teachers to find jobs here, and the ones that do can be made uncomfortable by their treatment from the more elderly Koreans.  If you’re a member of the LGBT community, although progress is being made, it is not advisable to make this known to a potential employer or make public displays of affection (this goes for straight people as well).  ‘Attractive’ teachers are preferred also.  This may merely mean they prefer their teachers to not be overweight, to not grow beards, no piercings, no visible tattoos, dress well, and not keep your hair respectable.  I even had a friend turned away from a job, after coming to Korea and going to the school, because they thought he was too short…..he then landed a job teaching adults so it ended well for him, but still, that was ridiculous.

Don’t let the Bad and the Ugly deter you from teaching in Korea, I still think the good far outweighs the negatives, it is just better to hear a balanced view of what it is like to teach in Korea.  Teaching in any country has its good, bad, and ugly sides and Korea is no different.  These are just some things that came to mind from my own experiences and talking friends from my time teaching there.  Let me know what you think! What other good, bad, and ugly sides do you think are worth mention?  I will also be writing the good, the bad, and the ugly about teaching in Thailand once I have been here long enough to make a more informed opinion of things.  I do not have anything against Korea and again stress that I fully intend to return there.