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


Introduction

Information About Korea
Geography & Environment
Climate
History
Culture, Language, Religion & Customs
Government
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
Advancement
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

Afterwards

Works Cited


Culture, Language, Religion & Customs
Korea is “one of the most ethnically homogeneous countries in the world” (‘Korea' Encyclopedia Encarta, 2005). Chinese from the largest minority group in Korea. Although the Korean language is more similar to Japanese, Korean writing uses many Chinese characters. Major religions in Korea include Christianity, Buddhism and Confucianism respectively. Interestingly, Korea is more Christianized than any other country in South East Asia (‘Korea’ Encyclopedia Encarta, 2005).

Knowledge of the customs in a foreign country are perhaps the single most important aspect to learn. Korea, like many other Asian countries, has a hierarchical social structure. Age, gender, income and social status all dictate what form of speech and thus ‘politeness’ will be used (Various Authors, 2005; Ekaterina, 2001; Cooper, 2002). In addition to using appropriate language when addressing those of different social statuses one’s actions will also very. Bows and two-handed handshakes show more respect while it would be customary to give up a seat on the bus to an elderly person who might be standing (Cooper, 2002)

For Koreans to fit a foreigner into their social hierarchy, they may ask many questions perceived as personal by many westernized cultures, such as, how old you are, if you are married and how many kids you have. Korea is a collective society and thus Koreans view answers to the previously stated questions as affecting the whole of society and not the individual (Cooper, 2002)

It is also common for Koreans to stand very close when they talk to you, perhaps even touch you. This is because personal spaces for Koreans are much smaller. Talking about money is not taboo, Koreans will not hesitate to ask how much you paid for something, however, exchanging of money is delicate process. Apologies are often unnecessary, pushing you way through crowds and bumping into people does not warrant an apology, nor should you be expecting one (Ekaterina, 2001).

If a Korean offers food it generally is a sign of friendship, rejecting the food, or turning down some of it could be offensive. Oddly, whistling or clipping ones fingernails at night is considered unpleasant behavior that could cause misfortune (Cooper 2002).


Business in Korea also follows many customs. Firstly, business cards are received as frequently as hand shakes in Korea. These cards should first be admired and then stowed away in a safe place, not simply stuffed into a back pocket, written on or ripped (Various Authors, 2005). Because Koreans are reluctant to introduce themselves, a third person will often introduce the two people who are meeting; last names should be used. Business for Koreans is more focused around building relationships than it is about the deal itself. The first 30 minutes of a meeting may have nothing to do with business and it is considered impolite to be direct and get to the point. Fostering positive relationship with superiors in the work place will often result in solid relationships outside of work.

Gift giving is an important aspect of Korean Culture, the gifts need not be large, small tokens such as fruit, flowers or chocolates should suffice. It is important to remember to take off your shoes when entering Korean house holds and perhaps even schools and restaurants. Clean socks without holes should be worn, as bare feet can be offensive.

When socializing, it is usually the person who has extended the invitation that pays in younger social circles. When amongst a group, the bill will often be split. If poring drinks, both hands should be used, in the event it is alcohol, one must make sure that the guests glass is completely empty before refilling. Meal utensils include chopsticks and a spoon; the spoon is used for rice and soup, chopsticks for side dishes (Cooper, 2002).

Government
South Korea is a republic governed by a President who is directly elected by popular vote. The President’s job is to make decisions about governmental policies. The unicameral National Assembly holds the legislative power. Local government is divided amongst nine provinces and seven cities. The highest court in Korea is the Supreme Court where 14 justices sit. Five appellate courts and a number of district courts function below the Supreme Court.

Job Opportunities
Job opportunities are rampant in Korea. John, who has taught in Japan, Taiwan and Korea sums it up best on his Geocities web page, “Korea is generally the easiest place to get work despite there being lots of teachers looking in Korea. Their typical free airfare/accommodation deal for poor students looking to pay off their student loans is very popular” (Jack, 2001b)

Korea is what Japan was to English teachers 10 years ago. A quick search on Google for ‘teach English in Korea’ results in over half a million hits, each individual page generally listing hundreds of job opportunities. However, it is well known throughout the ESL community that there are many scams out there. Either the jobs do not exist and the scammers are trying to obtain documents and whatever cash naïve, optimistic students are willing to part with, or they operate legitimate schools which are managed so poorly, students simply can not bare to work in them. Korea seems to be especially bad, though unofficial, many experienced ESL teachers in Korea have estimated one in seven job opportunities are not worth pursuing (Various Authors, 2005)

Selecting a Company and Type of Work
There are a few different ways of going about finding work as an ESL teacher in South Korea. The simplest method is to apply to a placement agency; ideally they will arrange everything prior to departure. Placement agencies advertise in schools, colleges, universities, newspapers and, most predominantly, on the Internet. As mentioned previously, the difficulty is not finding an agency, but rather finding a legitimate agency. The most powerful, and often the only means of determining if an agency is reputable or not is to research it on the Net. Chances are, if someone has had a negative experience with the agency it will be posted somewhere.

The agency I chose is based out of Nova Scotia and is know as Scotia Personnel Ltd. After extensively researching the company on the web, I was unable to find negative commentary, nor did I find anything particularly positive. Nonetheless, an interview was set up in Vancouver. During the initial stages of the interview it felt as though I was interviewing the employer rather than the other way around. Scotia Personnel answered all of my questions and gave me a detailed account of how long they had been in the business. They presented postcards and emails from previous student who they had placed and showed me their Better Business Burro certification. By the end of the meeting most of my skepticism had dissipated and I was eager to be placed.


After all the research has been conducted, ultimately, it comes down personal judgment often based on a gut feeling or instinct about the particular situation.

Where to search for ESL opportunities
The Net is full of information on teaching ESL anywhere in the world; in particular Dave’s ESL Café at (www.eslcafe.com) offers a plethora of information based on first had experiences from thousands of teachers. Of the many forums, one is detected to providing information on teaching English virtually any Country imaginable. Teachers and prospective teachers simply navigate to the country they have had experience teaching in, or would like to know more about. Frequently, the first few messages, refereed to as ‘sticky posts’ or ‘FAQs’, give detailed outlines of what can be expected from the selected country.

Because teaching ESL is such a subjective experience, each post may contradict the next however, this is what makes Dave’s ESL café such an excellent resource. There is no censorship and as a result people are able to speak freely about their experiences with specific companies, their students in general, and the country itself. If one spends enough time reading these forums, both the pros and the cons associated with each country emerge allowing the viewer to come to his or her own consensus.



The United States Embassy has also posted information on teaching in Korea by popular demand. Again, they stress the importance of teaching at a reputable school and having a clearly written contract. The page goes on to discuss some aspects of Korean culture and makes very clear that the American embassy, for the most part, is unable to help students who have been taken advantage of by their employers (Teaching English in Korea, 2005).

What to expect from a placement company
The common one-year contract package being offered to those willing to teach in Korea consists of:

A Round Trip Ticket
Free or subsidized accommodation
Approximately 30 hours of work a week Monday through Saturday
Approximately $2300.00 Canadian a month
An extra months pay upon the completion of the one-year contract


After investigating on the Web and personally interviewing many people who had experience teaching overseas a long list important questions emerged.

How many children will be in the classes?
What is the physical size of the classroom?
How old are the children?
How frequent are classes and how many are taught in a day?
Is public transportation available to get to the classes?



If so, how long is the commute and what does it cost?
What time of day are the classes will be taught?
Will teaching materials be provided?
How much time will be spent on class preparation?
Will there be severance pay?
Is there medical insurance?


It is important to enter the negotiation with a clear idea of what is, and is not, negotiable for you (Teaching English in Korea, 2005). After everything has been agreed upon, read the contract with a relentlessly scrutinizing eye. Better yet, if you know someone in the legal profession or an experienced ESL teacher, have him or her read over the contract.

Minimum Requirements and Ideal Qualifications
Sometimes, the only requirement is that one is a native speaker of English however, more and more companies are looking for teachers holding either bachelor degrees, Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) certificates or teachers who have had a few years experience in the field. To teach at universities or find jobs with businesses in public relations or marketing, a bachelor’s degree appears to be the minimum requirement in Korea.

Advancement
There are opportunities for advancement and lateral mobility in Korea including in:

Private foreign language institutes
Corporate in-house language programs
University language institutes
University academic departments
Government/private research centres

(Teaching English in Korea, 2005)

Work Politics
Teachers are highly regarded and respected by most Koreans (Teaching English in Korea, 2005) but to some Koreans ESL teachers are not considered teachers at all. To some extent this perception is true, if the only requirement for the position is to be a native English speaker than perhaps the label of teacher is not appropriate for the first year or so.

Dealing with Korean bosses can be troublesome. Because of Koreas hierarchal nature, Bosses should never be openly questioned or criticized. Furthermore, contracts do not hold as much value for Koreans as they do for North Americans. Koreans attach more value to oral agreements. A contract is often viewed as being flexible and open to further negation (Teaching English in Korea, 2005). Students who are unhappy with their bosses or contract often have very few alternatives, especially because in order for foreigners to change employers in Korea, they must have the consent of their current employer. It is important to note that relations with bosses are not always troublesome. In most cases it simply takes time to understand how to most effectively deal with ones boss.

Benefits of Teaching English Overseas
Teaching ESL overseas can be a very rewarding experience that strengthens many skills employers’ regard highly. Leadership, managerial, time management and English skills are developed and honed in the classroom. The ability to teach others effectively is also highly sought after. Having taught overseas shows employers you are both flexible and adaptive.

Action Plan for Success
Furthering Education
While I already meet the minimum prerequisites for teaching in many countries such as Japan, Korea, Taiwan, if I were to have a TESOL certification combined with my BA it would open up doors to virtually any school in any country. At this point I will search for a job with my current qualifications and then pursue a TEFOL certification if I feel there is enough demand for it.

Establishing Contacts
I have already established many contacts in the filed. My former landlord has taught in China and is a wealth of knowledge. My best friends girlfriend has taught in Korea and through friends and family I have been put in contact with many other ex-ESL teachers. Communities of ESL teachers on the net are also very approachable and eager to answer any questions.

Putting Together a Resume
My resume highlights my education and some work related experience I have with children. From what I have learned researching, it is important not to appear overly qualified for the position. Apparently, if you know how to speak the host country’s language fluently, it is advisable not to put this in your resume. Some employers worry that you may speak to children in their mother tongue and thus not be a good teacher while others are worried you will see through their scams or be too demanding (Various Authors, 2005).

Preparing for the Interview
The interview process appears to follow the same format as most interviews. Again, the Internet community suggest that you abstain from telling potential employers that you are there to learn the language and absorb the culture. Employers are generally businessmen and their main concern is that you have an interest in children and in teaching English to them (Various Authors, 2005).

Getting the Job
There are a few way of going about getting a job. One option is simply to board a plane and look for work upon arrival in Korea. In this scenario, one must first obtain a tourist visa from Korean officials, then find an employer who will sponsor you, leave the country, and then re-enter on a working visa. The second option is to arrange work prior to leaving with a placement company. I have opted to go this route, primarily because I am unable to afford a plane ticket.

Afterwards
It is impossible to determine what I will do once I have finished teaching English overseas. This experience could ultimately lead me in any number of directions. The biggest predictor of what choices I make will be the extent to which I enjoy my experience. Ideally, I would like to rise up the ranks and either teach at universities or business or find work in some aspect of media relations, or conduct research and writing in any number of countries. Should I return to Canada, I feel confident that my newly acquired skills, life experiences and qualifications will assist me in whatever career I choose to peruse.

Works Cited

Various Authors. (2005). Korean Job Discussion Forums. Retrieved March 23, 2005, from http://www.eslcafe.com/forums/korea/viewforum.php?f=1

Canadain Oxford World Atlas
. (1992). Toronto: Oxford University Press.

Cooper, J. (2002).
Pusanweb Culture - Customs - Guides to life in Busan Korea.
Retrieved March 25, 2005, from
http://pusanweb.com/culture/customs/index.htm?/culture/customs/customsmain.htm

Ekaterina, M. (2001).
Epinions.com - Ugly Americans, Ugly Koreans; Korean Customs and Culture - Part II. Retrieved March 23, 2005, from http://www.epinions.com/content_1876861060

Jack. (2001a).
The Japan Myth. Retrieved March 23, 2005, from http://www.geocities.com/esl_korea/TheJapanMyth.html

Jack. (2001b).
Tiwan vs. Korea vs. Japan. Retrieved March 23, 2005, from http://www.geocities.com/esl_korea/TaiwanvsKoreavsJapan.html

"Korean War," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2005 http://uk.encarta.msn.com © 1997-2005 Microsoft Corporation.

Peters, L.
Japan and Korea (Updated). Retrieved March 23, 2005, from http://seamonkey.ed.asu.edu/~jonb/upd_ko_jp.html

Teaching English in Korea. Retrieved March 23, 2005, from http://usembassy.state.gov/seoul/wwwh3550.html

"South Korea," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2005 http://uk.encarta.msn.com © 1997-2005 Microsoft Corporation.

Teaching in South Korea and other South Korean Jobs
. (2005). Retrieved March 23, 2005, from http://www.jobmonkey.com/teaching/asia/html/south_korea.html

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