For anyone who is reading this and wondering if teaching English abroad is a worthwhile idea, I give you a resounding answer of YES YES YES!
Over the past nearly 4 years I have worked as a Native English Teacher. For 3 years I was based in Seoul, Korea working for SMOE/EPIK, and for the last two school years I have been working as a Language & Culture Assistant in Madrid, Spain for the Spanish Ministry program.
Both countries are extremely different, but both are a great chance to get your feet wet to see if teaching is your calling, or to just get out there and explore a world other than your own.
Teaching English in Korea was the hands down most amazing experience I’ve ever had. I can’t speak any more highly of it. I can’t necessarily say the same for teaching in Spain, however, I’d be crazy (especially as an American) to say this was a horrible move. After all, I am living and working legally in Europe, which is damn near impossible for us yanks.
Now let me give you a little breakdown of what I know based off my teaching experiences, that way you can make your own educated decision about where to transplant your eager-eyed self.
For starters, if you play your cards right, you will be able to leave the country at the end of your contract with a hefty sack of pennies in your pocket. And, that’s whether you’re a spectacular saver along the way, OR just jumping ship when you’re done with your pension and severance funds. Not to mention, you will be able to pay off debts back home, travel and live anxiety free while still carrying on a very lively life over here.
As a first time teacher, you have a few options when coming to Korea ~
Public (EPIK): You are the Native Speaking English Teacher in a public school, where you teach alongside a Korean English speaking co-teacher during the hours of 8:40am – 4:40pm. There are 22 contracted hours per week, plus overtime for each additional hour worked over the 22. 21 days paid vacation, an additional 1 week paid vacation if renewing your contract, 15 sick days, paid round trip flight allowance, housing or housing allowance is provided, national health insurance, and pension is paid into each month for a hefty take away when you leave. Pay begins at 2.0 million won in Seoul, 1.8 million won everywhere else. Seoul requires you to have a BA in any subject and TEFL/TESOL certification of at least 100 hours. Most other cities/provinces do not require certification, but this may have changed since I applied. You are also granted an E-2 visa and restricted from private tutoring. SO many people do it, but if you are caught you can be deported and blacklisted in Korea.
I worked as teacher with SMOE (Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education), within the EPIK program, and while it’s quite a hefty process leading up to attaining the job, it’s so streamlined and secure that I don’t know why anyone would come here any other way.
Here’s a blog post I wrote with a timeline of my entire application process from start to finish.
Private (Hagwon): Hagwons are private after school academies that nearly all students attend after their regular public school is over each day. There is a ton of money to be made the hagwon route, but at the expense of insanely long grueling hours. Typically you get 10 days paid vacation, sometimes sick days are offered, sometimes they aren’t and pay is prorated during that pay cycle, and housing is provided. They can also be very blatant about the kind of teacher they’d like (only white female, only American, only British, etc). There is no regulation on racism in the job hunt.
University: To teach in Seoul, a Masters degree in any subject is required, or an F visa. Salary depends on the hours you work, so pay can be good or bad. Vacation is always amazing, in that 5 months is pretty standard and split between summer and winter. Housing allowance is provided, or you can choose to live on campus if it’s provided. Contracts can be for 1 or 2 years.
After school Program: I don’t know too much about this route, but from the few I’ve heard from, it can be excellent, or so-so. They usually provide housing allowance so you can find your own apartment, and pay is usually pretty high. However, a lot of times health insurance and pension are not covered. Hours are after the public school classes end and on a public school campus. Classes are also usually pretty small. Sick days aren’t usually offered, so pay is deducted for those days, and vacation generally follows public holidays.
Some Other Useful Links
EPIK English Program in Korea ~ you can apply directly through their website.
Korvia Consulting Agency ~ the recruiting agency I went through. They were excellent!
Dave’s ESL Cafe ~ tons of other ESL job listings both in and outside Korea.
Worknplay ~ job listing site within Korea.
Waygook.org ~ a wealth of job and expat information, along with teaching materials. SO USEFUL!
I currently work as a Language & Culture Assistant with the Spanish Ministry’s Auxiliares de Conversación program. You have the option of choosing wherever in the country you would like to be placed for one school year, however you will never EVER speak to a human being during the application process. Everything is done via their online server PROFEX, which is easy, but a pain in the you know what. Not to mention, everything is entirely in Spanish, and the foreigners card attainment once over here is an even bigger eSpain in the ass! But, that comes later.
As an Auxiliar, you are paid 700euros if you are anywhere outside of Madrid, whereas if you’re in Madrid you will be paid 1000euros to compensate for the higher cost of living. This money is essentially a grant, as we are legally able to work here since we are on a student visa. Ah ha! A loophole to the system! For this pay, you are contracted for one school year, 4 days a week, totaling 16 hours per week. In the grand scheme of things, this is quite generous pay. However, when you back up a sec, you will see that nothing is paid for for you. Meaning, your flight is out of your pocket, and your rent each month must come out of that 1000 or 700euros.
An upside to the above is that we are able to tutor on the side, which definitely brings out the hustle in me. If you are wanting to travel during your time here, or save a penny here and there, clases particulares are the way to go. But keep in mind you may really stretch yourself thin (as I have found out). BUT, I’m bout dat hustle! All in all, I’ve been able to stretch my 1000euros with the help of my private lessons, so living on this budget is definitely doable.
Wholeheartedly I can not say this program is great, but I can say that the opportunity to live and work in Europe is a trade off I’m willing to take. You’ll scour the internet and find horror stories, many of which I can attest are true. BUT, at the end of the day, you’re living in Europe as an American and THAT is a difficult thing to come by!
I hope these two first hand accounts help you out just a teency bit, and of course, if you have questions about either program don’t hesitate to reach out!