Teaching English in Korea: An In-Depth Analysis of the Country, Job and Benefits of Teaching Overseas

Information About Korea
Geography & Environment
Culture, Language, Religion & Customs
Job Opportunities

Selecting a Company and Type of Work
Where to search for ESL opportunities
What to expect from a placement company

Minimum Requirements and Ideal Qualifications
Work Politics

Benefits of Teaching English Overseas

Action Plan for Success
Furthering Education
Establishing Contacts
Putting Together a Resume
Preparing for the Interview
Getting the Job


Works Cited


Rather than reflect on the past in this paper, I am going to plan for the future. Still perplexed as to what I wish to do with my Bachelors of Arts in Criminal Justice, I am certain of one thing – I must experience more of the world. This is easier said than done when one is $22,342.35 in debt. My first option would be to reside here in British Columbia and scour for jobs. The biggest problem with this scenario is that time is working against me, and although this may sound ironic coming from a 23 year old, I am convinced it is the truth. I have no desire to simply make enough money to cover expenses if the job is not providing me with some sort of experience that will assist me on my path to finding a career. Working a dead end job makes about as much sense as treading water to me. On the other hand, I have no desire to lock myself onto a career path right after college, for if I start pursuing my career interests, I must be willing to make considerable time commitments to my employer. Hence, my predicament, a desire to travel and a need to make money.

In my situation, it would be ideal if one could travel, earn money and gain career relevant experience simultaneously. Teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) offers me this unique opportunity. The more I researched the topic, the more complex it all became. This paper is broad in scope and examines the issues surrounding teaching ESL within the context of Korea. Everything from the history, culture and demographics of the country to the intricacies of finding a reputable employer, negotiating a contract and accommodating to another way of life will be discussed.

Prior to embarking on a journey to teach ESL there are an abundance of questions that must first be answered. The high demand for English teachers around the world brings new meaning to the cliché, “the world is your oyster”. While a few factors such as the pay, language, and potential job opportunities a country has to offer may significantly narrow ones search, the most important step it still to figure out which country you find most appealing. The best place to start is by examining the countries geography, climate, history, culture, political structure and economy.

Information About Korea
Geography & Environment
The Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea, both situated in the North Pacific Ocean, engulf the shores of the Korean peninsula. The only land based boarder South Korea shares is generally referred to as the demilitarized zone or DMZ, a 4 km wide strip of unoccupied land which follows the 38th parallel across the country separating North and South Korea. Korea’s nearest neighbors include Japan, China and the Former USSR. Seoul is South Korea’s largest city, capital and industrial hub.

The majority of South Korean landscape consists of rugged mountainous terrain. Two of Korea’s longest rivers are the Naktong and Han, which flow from north to south (Canadian Oxford World Atlas, 1992). Both waterways, and much of the environment have been polluted as a result of rapid industrialization and the impact of nearly 50 million inhabitants trying to survive in such a limited space. In fact, Korea has one of the highest population densities in the world at 495 people per sq km (‘Korea’ Encyclopedia Encarta, 2005).

Domestic air pollution has been cited as a cause of health problems in the country while pollution from neighboring and highly industrialized China effects Korea in the form of acid rain (‘Korea’ Encyclopedia Encarta, 2005). Acid rain has led to decertification and deadening of Korea’s rivers, lakes and vegetation. Korea’s environmental problems should pose some serious health questions for foreigners looking to spend any significant amount of time in the country.


South Korea’s climate is quite similar to that of Southern British Columbia. Temperatures on average, range from –5* C to 25* c over the course of four distinctive seasons. Like most Southeast Asian countries, rainfall is highest during the summer months and typhoon season affects regions along the southern coast of Korea (‘Korea' Encyclopedia Encarta, 2005).

The earliest known Korean state dates back to 108 BC. While the Koryo Period (918-1392), and the Choson (Yi) Dynasty (1392-1910) are fascinating time periods within Korean history, this paper will focus on major events from 1894 onward. From 1894-1895 Japan fought the won Sino-Japanese war against China. Nine years later, in 1904, the Japanese battled the Russians in the Russo-Japanese War and won within a year. Japan, now bordering all sides of Korea, annexed the country in 1910 and assumed control over all of its vital functions (‘Korea’ Encyclopedia Encarta, 2005). The Korean people were extremely resistant towards the newly imposed Japanese rule and in 1919, millions of Koreans took to the streets in a peaceful protest for independence. The Japanese brutally suppressed the resistance and continued in their effort to assimilate the Korean people. It was only after the Japanese were defeated in World War II that Koreans were freed from their tyranny.

Just prior to the end of Word War II, America and the former USSR had agreed to separate Korea at the 38 parallel. The rational behind this decision was that the burden of accepting the surrender of thousands of Japanese troops could be split between the two superpowers. Both the USA and USSR took advantage of the opportunity, using it to establish governments that served their own interests. In the North, the USSR backed Kim Il Sung, a Communist who had led anti-Japanese guerrillas; and in the south, the USA promoted Syngman Rhee, a nationalist who had opposed the Japanese and lived in exile in the United States.

From 1946 onward the mutual distrust grew between USSR and the USA, a tense period now referred to as the Cold War. On June 25, 1950, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, situated in the north of the country, attacked the south across the 38th parallel instigating the Korean War.

Kim Il Sung’s motivations for the attack were partly due to the rising opposition in the south to US endorsed Syngman Ree. Kim Il Sung felt he had enough support from citizens south of the 38th parallel that he would be seen as a liberator of Korea. Furthermore, he hoped that this heroic reunification of the country would also quell the growing opposition towards his own government in the North.

Within a month of the first shot fired, North Korea nearly took control of the entire Korean peninsula. American forces suffered many humiliating defeats by what they assumed were an untrained, unmotivated army of peasants. It was not until General Douglas MacArthur had committed every one of the American Armies’ combat trained units – but one – that the tide began to turn.

While president Truman’s original objective was to roll back communism trough reunifying the country and setting up a new national political institution, he soon realized this would be impossible as advances north of the 38th parallel were met with harsh resistance by thousands of fresh Chinese ‘volunteer’ combatants. Both the United States and the United Nations were over extended and ill equipped to fight such battles

Tedious peace talks eventually ended the three-year war but only after 415,004 South Koreans, 520,000 North Koreans, 33,629 Americans, 3,094 Allies and an estimated 900,000 Chinese died. It is now known that Kim Il Sung saw his primary enemy as American Soldiers. As the author of the article so eloquently puts it “Decades later, Koreans still seek reconciliation and eventual reunification of their torn nation” (‘Korean War' Encyclopedia Encarta, 2005).

If we are to understand Koreans and their culture we must examine their history with an analytical eye. It is neither a secret, nor surprising that Koreans still exude some disliking towards enemies of recent past. Japan’s early efforts to assimilate Koreans has not earned them a flattering spot in Korean History books. Furthermore, in Japan, where Koreans were once slaves of the empire, the Korean minority that has since emerged are victims of discrimination to this very day. Americans can find themselves subject to the same prejudice some Japanese face when visiting Korea. The Chinese, on the other hand, are well received by Koreans as many Chinese have died fighting along side them. Thus, taking into account Korea’s turbulent history, travelers must not be naïve when they envision how the locals might treat them.

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