South Korea is one of the most popular destinations for teaching English as a foreign language, especially since it is one of the highest paying countries in Asia if you are an English teacher. There is a big demand for English language skills, and hundreds of Hagwons (private language schools) throughout the country are employing foreign TEFL teachers to cater for this need. Here's what it's like to work in a professional Hagwon.
Korea itself is almost entirely indigenous and has millions of children who are seeking (or, to be more accurate, whose parents wish them to have) improved English.
The native English-speaking teacher is usually required to help with speaking and listening skills (your official job title is likely to be ‘English Conversation Instructor’), as the children receive lessons in grammar, reading and writing in their schools.
State School or Private?
There are two main types of institutions: state schools and private language academies.
The first more often than not offers a better deal in terms of schedules, holiday entitlement, salary and so on, but they are more picky about candidates and will probably insist on previous experience, either in state school teaching or TEFL – and vocational qualifications, such as a Cambridge CELTA or Trinity College TESOL.
The novice TEFL teacher is more likely to find employment in a private academy, or hagwon, where the only prerequisite is a university degree (in any discipline). However, it is strongly recommended that you do a theory or, even better, theory and practice English language teaching qualification – and providers of these often act as an agent for finding a teaching role, which gives you some extra security and the confidence that you will be working somewhere reputable.
Hagwons, The Private Language Schools Of South Korea
Hagwons provide extra schooling to Korean schoolchildren, and as such are open during ‘after school’ hours; typically from around 2pm to 8pm (these hours may change during the main winter and summer school holidays). The exception is kindergarten-age children, around four years old, who tend to have classes in the early morning; if the hagwon provides kindergarten classes, then it is likely you will start work at 9am, but if not, your hours will be something like 1pm to 8pm.
Lunch is typically provided and included in the pay, as is rent – the academies often own properties that they house their foreign teachers in, and the accommodation should come fully equipped with modern conveniences, such as cooking facilities, bed, bathroom, television, internet, etc.
Contracts tend to be for a year, with a bonus month’s pay for completing your time. Often flights there and back are paid for, too. Holiday allocation varies, but doesn’t tend to be too generous: eight days, not including Korean national holidays, is a standard amount.