Congratulations! You’re going to Korea! Now take a few minutes to read our success guide, and start your adventure off right.
Part 1: What do I pack?
Try to pack just the essentials. Remember, airlines charge for excess baggage. After the school books your ticket, contact your airline to find out their size and weight restrictions. You are usually allowed four bags: 2 large bags that you check in, and 2 small carry-on bags.
If you exceed your bag limit, or the bags are too heavy, you will have to pay extra fees. This comes out of your pocket, so please be aware.
If you absolutely need more stuff, consider shipping it directly to the school. However, this is expensive. Plus the school might be shocked to see tons of boxes arriving, so please be reasonable. You are only going for a year!
Pack clothes for 4 seasons. You will need casual wear for different occasions and activities, just like at home, so bring shorts, pants, t-shirts, shirts, sweaters, etc.
But while in the classroom, you must dress in business style clothes, and look professional at all times! So make sure you have enough of these outfits to get you through your week.
I hire for private schools, and the students’ parents are successful professionals like doctors, lawyers, dentists, etc. They expect you to look and act like a professional as well.
Of course you can always add to your wardrobe while in Korea, but it may be hard to find clothing that fits you because Asians are generally smaller than Westerners. So, I recommend you bring enough clothes to last you the year.
And don’t forget footwear! Finding shoes that fit in Korea is especially hard. Asians have smaller feet. Bring what you need for all occasions/seasons.
You should also bring bed sheets. Bring at least one queen sized set. If your bed is smaller, they will still fit. You don’t need to bring pillows or blankets. Those will be provided.
If you have favourite products that you can’t live without, bring them with you. You may not be able to find them in Korea, and if you do they will be expensive since they are imported from the US.
Part 2: Bring money with you
You need to have access to at least $600 for your first month in Korea. You won’t get paid until the end of your first month so you need enough money to support yourself during this period. Your rent will be free, but you will have to pay for your utilities, food and any entertainment.
Part 3: Vaccinations you will need
Go to your local health care center and find out what vaccinations you need. Get them. And plan ahead because it can take a few weeks to get them all done. Don’t be scared, it won’t hurt. Much.
Part 4: Should I sign up TEFL?
While waiting to leave for Korea, consider doing what many of our teachers have done: obtain TEFL certification. Directors appreciate the added skills TEFL graduates bring to the classroom.
The 120 hour TEFL course is our most popular course. This certification allows you to teach at public schools in Korea. This is great if you decide to continue teaching in Korea, and want to advance your career.
Part 5: Bringing pets with you
Some directors allow pets in their apartments, but in general bringing your pet with you is a bad idea. It’s extremely complicated and expensive. And initially your pet will be kept in quarantine.
However, it is not impossible. If you would like more information on this, click here.
Part 6: Bringing your partner to Korea
It will be difficult to bring a partner with you if they don’t have a work visa. Schools prefer to hire single candidates or working couples.
If you took a job for couples, then of course there is no problem.
Part 7: Booking your Flight
The school you are working for will pay for your flight upfront. They will book your flight once your visa is processed. They will confirm the date/time with you before booking your flight. You can pick which airport you would like to depart from, but of course it has to be an international airport.
It’s a long flight to Korea so sit back and relax. Bring something to read, or watch. You definitely need something to kill the time. Every wanted to write a book? Now would be a good time.
The pressure changes on the flights might bother your ears so bring some hard candies with you.
Sucking on a candy helps your ears “pop”.
Part 8: Arriving in Korea
Make sure you have some Korean money with you when you arrive. I recommend bringing at least 100,000 won, so you will have money to buy a drink at the airport, make a phone call, or pay for a bus or taxi if needed.
If someone is picking you up, make sure you have their name and phone number in case there is a mix-up at the airport.
Part 9: Your first day in Korea
On your first day you will meet your director. The director may take you to a restaurant to get to know you a bit better. Dress appropriately.
The director will take show you the school, and your apartment. You will be introduced to the staff.
The director will take you to open a Korean bank account where your money will get deposited every month. You can send your money back home by using Western Union which is located in each bank.
You can sign up for online banking to pay any bills you have from back home.
You will be tired from traveling, so don’t be afraid to say you would like to go to bed. You need to be refreshed for your first day of teaching.
Part 10: Your apartment
Your apartment will be located near the school, and should be ready for you to move into. You’re rent is free, but you will pay for utilities and food.
You may have to pay a damage deposit on your apartment, but you will get all of that money back at the end of your contract.
Your apartment will be completely furnished–including cooking utensils.
You will have a washing machine in your apartment, and you will hang your clothes to dry.
You will have a western style bed, but Koreans sleep on a padded blanket on the floor. Usually when they wake up, they roll up their bed and put it in the corner so it is out of the way.
Part 11: Getting a cell phone
I recommend you get a cell phone in Korea. Go with a Korean co-worker to buy it—they can translate for you.
It’s good to have for emergencies. If you have any questions or need any help, you can call your director. Don’t bug your director with silly questions, but don’t hesitate to call if it’s important.
A cell phone is also great for keeping in touch with the other foreigners you meet.
Cell phones plans in Korea are very cheap. I talked on my cell phone day and night and it only cost me $35 a month. In Korea, you only pay for calls you make. Incoming calls are free.
Your apartment should already have a land line. It will cost about you about $5 a month.
Part 12: Phoning home
You can buy international calling cards at any convenience store, but if you have internet, Skype is the cheapest way to call home. All you have to do is download Skype, put some money on your account, and you are set to go. You can even do video chat to stay in touch with your family members.
Technology is wonderful. You can go anywhere in the world and feel like you are in the same room as someone.
Part 13: Access to Internet
You can pay to have internet installed in your apartment. I believe it is about $50 a month, but it’s the fastest in the world, and you get 500 GBs a month. In your own country, you would only get about 30 GBs for the same price.
You will also have internet access at the school you are working at.
Part 14: Technology in Korea
Some of the world’s most famous companies are Korean, such as Samsung, LG, and Hyundai.
And Korean companies have built some of the most famous buildings in the world.
Part 15: Electrical outlets
The electrical plugs in Korea are different to the plugs you have in your country. The plugs in Korea are round and have 2 prongs that are wide apart.
You can buy an adapter in Korea, so you can use your computer, and whatever else you decide to bring. An electrical converter costs about $30.
Part 16: Dealing with Jet lag
Korea is on the other side of the world, and when you get there you will suffer from jet-lag.
It will take about 2 weeks for your body clock to fully adjust. Be patient. You are going to feel disoriented and tired until it does.
Part 17: Culture shock
Culture shock is a very real phenomenon, and will contribute your feelings of disorientation when you first arrive in Korean. Expect it.
I felt like Alice after she fell down the rabbit hole. Everything you think should be one way is another. The faster you realize this, the better.
Remember you are in another country. They don’t do things the way you are accustomed to. Don’t say things like “They don’t do this in my country”.
You are no longer in your country and the same rules don’t apply. Koreans have their own way of doing things.
In Korea, couples are not publicly affectionate. You don’t see men and women walking around holding hands or kissing. This is all kept behind closed doors.
However, you will see men walking holding hands with other men. You will see women walking arm in arm with other women. They are not gay. Men/women show affection with the same sex in public. Sometimes you may even see a man sitting on another man’s knee. This just means they are good friends.
Men in Korea even wear pink! Koreans don’t consider pink a “women’s” colour.
Koreans defer to elders. Older women will cut in front of you while you are at the store. This is completely acceptable in their culture.
When you go to dinner with someone older than you, the older person always pays. Always hang out with older people.
If it is your birthday, the Korean custom is to treat all of your friends to dinner. Maybe you should keep your birthday a secret.
If you write a student’s name on the white board in red marker, it means they are dead. I learned this one by experience! Don’t do it.
When you share a toast with an older person, the top of your glass should touch the bottom of their glass. This is a sign of respect.
You should bow when you say “hi” and “bye”. When you bow, your eyes should be looking down as a sign of respect.
Koreans speak to elders formally. You always need to show respect.
Koreans will not eat any food unless kimchi is present at the table. If you are inviting a Korean friend over for dinner, make sure you have some kimchi at the table or your guest will leave hungry.
You know that old trick where you say to a kid, “I got your nose”, and then pretend to take their nose? Then you stick your thumb under your index finger so it looks like a nose? Well that gesture of the thumb under the index finger is swearing in Korea. Do it with one of your students, and I guarantee you “a lost in translation” moment that will not make your director happy.
Never forget that you have tumbled down the rabbit hole.
Part 18: Drug testing
You will undergo drug testing when you get to Korea in order to keep your visa. You will be screened for illegal drugs and HIV. You will do a blood and urine test.
If you fail the drug test, you will lose your visa, and you will have to pay your own way home. If you suspect you may fail the drug test, do yourself a flavour and don’t bother applying. It will be an expensive trip home.
Even certain prescription medications can be a problem so please notify us of any medications you are taking before going to Korea.
Don’t do drugs in Korea. Even Marijuana use is considered serious in Korea, and will result in the loss of your visa.
Part 19: Teacher Training
During your first few days at the school you will observe another foreign teacher in their classroom, so you can see what is expected.
This is all the training you will get. For this the reason many teachers take the TEFL program to ensure they feel confident in their abilities.
Whether you take the program or not, you will soon learn how to teach through trial and error. Just sweat it out!
The curriculum is set by the school, and all books will be provided for you. You will generally teach a page out of your book each day.
Part 20: Dress code in the classroom
Korea is a very conservative country. And you are being hired as a professional. Always keep this in mind.
Schools prefer men to be clean shaven and have short hair.
Female teachers need to dress like their Korean counterparts. Korean women wear shirts that have a high neck line, long skirts. They also wear padded bras because it is less revealing.
Don’t wear see through clothing.
And please, keep tattoos and piercings hidden.
Part 21: Private schools
Remember that you are teaching at a private school. Private schools are businesses. They receive their money from parents. These parents are usually professionals.
They have the money to pay for quality private education, and they expect their child to receive it. If they feel the school is not providing it, they will enroll their child in another one. If your director thinks that you are the reason that students are leaving, you may be replaced.
Part 22: Teaching tips
The key to keeping your students happy, and therefore their parents and the director, is providing enjoyable lessons.
A good ESL teacher is both an educator and an entertainer. Your lessons need to have a purpose but they should be fun and entertaining. If your students find your lessons boring, they will go to another school.
Part 23: Lessons planning
A good teacher takes time to think about what they need to teach each day, and how they can augment the lesson plan to make it more interesting, memorable, and fun. Do some research. Get creative. Play games. Sing songs. Remember your students are kids. Kids crave fun.
Part 24: Your students
You will teach students ranging from kindergarten to middle school.
You will teach small classes—generally 10-15 students in each class.
Korean students are good students—well behaved and eager to learn English. But be aware, they can also be brutally honest. For example, at some point a student is likely to tell you look like Pinocchio. (Western noses are a lot pointer than Korean noses).
It’s important for you to remember that your students have very busy schedules. They go to public school all day, and then attend several private schools in the evening. One just happens to be the English school where you see them.
After you see them, their school day is not over. After English school, they will attend other private schools (Math academy, Science academy, etc.) –until 10pm. Then they will go home and do homework until 1am.
Next day it’s the same thing. So be nice to them. They are tired and often under tremendous pressure. Their parents spend up to 60% of their income on their children’s education.
Part 25: Co-workers
You will be partnered with a Korean teacher who will teach your students on alternative days. For example, you will teach a class on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and your Korean co-worker will teach the same sets of students on Tuesday, Thursday. (On Tuesday and Thursday, you will teach another set of students).
The Korean teacher’s job is to go over what you have taught, in Korean, to make sure the students understand your lessons.
Your Korean co-worker will be working from the same book as you and you will both be teaching the same page. Soit’s important to co-ordinate things with them. Also you can discuss how your students are doing.
Part 26: Communication
If you have a problem while teaching in Korea, you should address the problem immediately. Don’t bottle it up. This leads to resentment, and often to over-reacting later.
Approach your director like a professional, and seek a solution to your problem. With clear communication most problems are easily solved.
Part 27: Working with other Foreign teachers
There may or may not be other foreign teachers working at your school. There are pluses and minuses to both situations.
If you are the only foreigner at your school, you will be the super-star. All the students will love you.
You will be the one and only. (But you won’t be lonely because you’ll likely meet lots of foreigners in your city).
If you are working at a school with other foreign teachers, you will get less attention from the students.
If you work at a school with many foreign teachers, it could be a chance for you to make new friends. However, it may turn into an episode of survivor if you aren’t careful. Anything you say or do can be used against you. Don’t tell anyone any information that may jeopardize your job. Remember big lips sink ships.
Part 28: Language Barrier
Even though you are going to Korean to teach English, be aware that very little of it seems to be spoken anywhere. Signs, menus, etc., are all in Korean.
Take a phrase book with you. This will help you get around in Korea.
You will find out that universal body language comes in handy. Pointing, gesturing anything you can do to get your message across.
Part 29: Learning Korea
Since you are in Korea, and most Koreans don’t speak English, this is a great chance to immerse yourself in another language. Usually your school provides you with free Korean lessons.
Even if you don’t want to take classes, you will still pick up a working knowledge of Korean just by living there and being exposed to it every day.
The Korean language is not a complicated language to learn. They only have 24 characters in their alphabet. It is just a matter of memorizing the sounds of each character.
Part 30: Your contract
You will teach 30 hours a week. You will teach 6 hours a day. Each class is an hour long.
You will teach 12 different classes. On Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, you will teach 6 classes and on Tuesday and Thursday, you will teach 6 different classes. As I mentioned previously this gives your Korean counterpart the chance to go over the material with your students in Korean.
You will be required to become in a few hours early to plan your lessons.
Your contract is for 12 months.
You will get a bonus of one month’s salary when you complete your contract.
You will get 5 days off in the summer and 5 days off in the winter. You will take your vacation days around the school’s schedule. You will also get 15 paid nationality holidays off so you will get a total of 25 days paid holiday.
The school will pay for 50% of your medical insurance and you will pay the other 50%. It works out to about $80 a month
You will be provided with free accommodation.
The school will pay for your round trip flight upfront.
Part 31: Teaching private lessons
Teaching private lessons is illegal. You will get to know many people in Korea. They may try to convince you to give them private lessons under the table. You should not do this under any circumstance. If you get caught, you will be deported from the country. It is a very serious offense.
Your E2 visa only allows you to work for the school that hired you, and often only at a specific location. If the director has schools at other locations you might violate your visa conditions by working there. Please check your visa carefully.
If you want to make extra money, ask your director if overtime work is available.
Part 32: Life in Korea
Let’s face it, you’re going to stand out like a sore thumb. If you ever wanted to feel like a celebrity, you will now. You will be noticed everywhere you go. Your every move will be followed. Everywhere you go, you will hear someone say, “Look there is a foreigner!”.
But on the bright side, they will be excited to see you and will want to talk to you. Random strangers will come up to you and say hello. Some may even ask to take a photo with you. They will want to know who you are and what country you are from.
Interact with the people you meet. Koreans are the kindest people I have ever met, and
I experienced some random acts of kindness while in Korea that really touched my heart.
For example, one day I took a taxi and after I arrived at my destination the driver told me I didn’t have to pay.
Another time I was walking down the street, and a stranger put money in my hand and insisted I take it.
You are sure to experience your own random acts of kindness while in Korea. And I hope you will commit your own when the opportunity arises, like I was lucky enough to be able to.
One day when I was walking to work, I noticed an older lady carrying a pail of water. She looked like she was struggling with it, so I decided to carry it for her. We couldn’t talk to each other, so we simply walked along in silence.
I had no idea where she was going and why she was carrying a pail of water but I carried it for her until I reached my school and we parted ways. I had wondered if that was her first experience with a foreigner. I hope I left her with a good impression of us. Regardless, I was happy I could help her.
Another day, as I was walking to school, I happened to pass a bunch of elderly grandmothers having a picnic. “Hello!” one called out. I smiled and said “hello” and kept walking. I kept walking and heard all the grandmothers take turns calling out “Hello!” It always surprises me how eager Koreans are to learn English and speak to foreigners – young or old.
Part 33: Romantic relationships with Koreans
If you start dating Koreans, be very careful. Koreans are not very accepting of Korean/foreigner relationships. It can cause potential problems with your employer.
Also keep in mind that Koreans are less casual about relationships. Koreans date with the intention of getting married. .
If your school has adult classes, don’t date any of these students. You could lose your job.
Part 34: Transportation
Public transportation is so cheap in Korea that many Koreans don’t even own cars. For example, a ten minute taxi ride will only cost about $1.50.
Many foreigners use motorcycles or scooters to get around. You can buy one fairly cheaply in Korea, but it is not something I recommend (though I owned a motorcycle) because it is dangerous and many foreigners get into accidents.
You can buy a car in Korea, but they are expensive, and so is insurance. But buying a car might be the right thing to do if you are planning to stay in Korea for a few years. A driver’s licence from home is all you need to obtain a Korean one.
But, for most people, I recommend sticking with public transportation, because it is so cheap and convenient.
Part 35: Fun things to do in Korea
In Korea you will discover one of my favourite things: the singing rooms. They are sound proof rooms with a karaoke machine. They are called “nora bongs” in Korea. “Nora” means singing. “Bong” means room. For $5 an hour, you can rent one of these singing rooms.
They are large enough for you and your friends. They have tons of English songs, and you can buy alcohol there. You will even find a tambourine in the room, if you want shake it and dance.
Going to the singing rooms was one of my favourite things to do in Korea and a great stress reliever. There is nothing better than belting out a few tunes.
Many teachers study Taekwondo, the Korean national sport. I did, and received my black belt during the three years I was there. It was an amazing experience.
Taekwondo lessons are cheap, and sessions are held Monday-Friday, for one hour a night. It’s a great way to stay in shape.
Foreign teachers often form their own sports teams. I played on a touch rugby team when I was there. It was a ball and great exercise.
There was also an ultimate Frisbee team that was created by some teachers.
Part 36: Public baths
Koreans go to public baths to bathe. At the public baths, there are several little pools with different temperatures of water. One may be extremely hot, one warm, one freezing cold, etc.
The idea is that you take turns sitting in the pools. It is a shock to the system going from one to another.
There is even a sauna there. You can buy salt and rub it all over your skin. It opens your pours and cleanses your skin.
Oh, I forgot to mention that everyone at the public baths is completely naked. Also, when a foreigner walks in everyone stops and stares at you. But they are friendly.
Men and women bathe in separate areas. So don’t worry—or get too excited.
Often you see women there with their daughters and mothers. It’s a family event.
The grandmothers even help scrub their daughters and granddaughters.
One day a nice grandmother took pity on me seeing me, because I was alone, and scrubbed my back for me!
You can even get a haircut at the public bathes, if you don’t mind being naked at the time.
You can get a facial/scrubbing/massage service. For $12, you will get cucumber face pack, scrub and massage. The whole procedure lasts about 40 minutes. You will have to be completely naked lying on a bed. First they will do the cucumber face pack. They will spend about 20 minutes scrubbing your body all over with an abrasive cloth and then you will get a 10 minute massage.
It’s not designed to be a soothing experience. The massage will be the most painful experience of your life. And when you react to the pain your masseuse will look at you like you are a wimp.
Part 37: Types of Religion in Korea
Buddhism is the most popular, religion in Korea, and you will see temples everywhere.
But, I was surprised to meet a lot of Koreans who were Christians. Sometimes it seemed like every other person I met was a Christian.
Confucianism is also popular in Korea, but I don’t know much about it.
Part 38: Korean food
Korean food is absolutely delicious. It’s my favourite food in the world. You’ll probably agree.
Kimchi is a staple of every meal. It’s spicy fermented cabbage, and believe it or not, it’s great.
Each meal Koreans eat a main dish, that usually includes rice, and several side dishes.
They often eat their meals at a short table, and they sit on the floor. It takes a while to get used to sitting like this. You may find it uncomfortable at first
Soju is a popular alcoholic beverage and there is even a traditional way to pour it.
Part 39: Eating out
Eating out in Korea is very cheap. You will be able to afford to go to a restaurant everyday if you choose, and you should, because the food is so delicious.
Many restaurants will even deliver right to your house. They bring your food to your house in real dishes. When you are done eating, they come back later and pick up their dishes. This is also inexpensive.
Part 39: Grocery stores
You will find lots to buy at the grocery store. You can find fruits, vegetables, milk, bread, eggs, etc, though some things may look different than you are used to.
Sometimes you can find western products, but they will be more expensive.
I found that it was so cheap to eat out, that it didn’t make any sense to cook for myself.
Part 40: Honoring your contract
Honoring your contract is very important. Breaching your agreement with the school destroys any chance you have of teaching in Korean in the future.
I know of someone who was teaching in Korea when he got accepted into law school. He told the school he had a family emergency, and left Korea. After he completed his degree he decided he wanted return to Korea because he had enjoyed teaching and couldn’t get a job back home.
Unfortunately no school wanted to hire him, because he didn’t honour his original contract.
So try your best to stick it out. Remember, you will receive a bonus of one month’s salary when you complete your contract. There’s added incentive.
If you must leave your contract early, you need to give the director a few month notice and refund the cost of your flight. You also need to pay your apartment bills before leaving. This is how adults handle situations.
Someone teachers have done a “midnight run”–packing up and shipping out overnight without giving anyone any notice. I have never understood people who do this. I have heard about it and have even known a few people who have done it. These are the kind of people that have no communication skills so their solution is just to run away.
The irony is that most people who do midnight runs later decide they want to teach in Korea again. Unfortunately they get blacklisted and can’t return to Korea. It doesn’t matter how much they beg, plead or regret their actions.
Part 41: Getting good references
Many teachers assume that once they have finished their contract they can easily get a job at another school. It is not that easy. If you do not have excellent references from your first job, it will be hard to get another job in Korea.
Korean directors keep in touch with each other. They will ask for you past director’s phone number and they will call them directly to ask about your performance. If they feel you did a less than satisfactory job at your previous school, you will not be hired and it will be next to impossible to find another job in Korea.
Okay, I’ve covered everything I think you need to know for now. I don’t want to spoil this adventure for you. Part of the fun is going and discovering on your own. I hope you have a wonderful time in Korea and I am glad that I could be part of your adventure.
Also remember life is what you make it.
Owner of ESL Teacher Recruiter