Tag Archives: ESL

About the job-hunt

I have no idea why but in the last seven days I have had four people, all from different parts of my life, ask me questions about coming to Korea.  I fully acknowledge that I am not an expert on all things (or anything) Korean, but I have about eight months worth of knowledge that I did not have when I was starting the job hunt.

The first thing to do if you think you want to come to Korea to teach is consider if Korea is the right place for you.  You can make and save a lot of money with relatively little effort in Korea and all you need to have is a university degree, a passport from one of seven eligible nations, and you must be a native English speaker.  That said, if you have a B.Ed then I would recommend doing more research because there are a lot of places where you can teach ESL (Hong Kong, Taiwan, Dubai . . . ) and make comparable, if not better, money than in Korea.

Let’s assume now that you’ve decided that Korea is right for you.  Now you have to decide if you want to teach in the public school system or in a private cram school, called a Hagwon.  There are pros and cons to each. I think that the pay scale for public schools starts a little lower but public school teachers get A LOT more holidays.  In contrast, Hagwons often offer slightly better salaries but most of them will squeeze every contracted hour out of their employees in order to get their money’s worth. (I lucked out in this department; I have awesome hours.) If you enter the public school system then you will probably be given training, which is a great way to ease into the job and to meet fellow teachers. If you’re working with a hagwon then there is a very good chance that you will be teaching students within 16 hours of stepping off the airplane.  There are a lot of pros and cons to each side. Ultimately, for me, timing was the deciding factor. The big hiring season for the public schools only happens two times a year and it didn’t mesh with my desired schedule.

I am going to talk about hagwons from here on in, as that’s the only thing that I know much about but the principles are generally the same. It might seem like a good idea to just get on a plane and find a job upon landing in South Korea. However, E2 visa regulations require you to have an interview in your home country if this is your first time teaching in Korea. It is also worth noting that in Korea your work visa is attached to your job, not to you.  If you quit or get fired from your job you must leave the country.  This is a pretty intimidating prospect and if it’s a deal breaker then you might want to look into other countries. Japan, for instance, grants teaching visas that are independent of specific jobs; if you leave one job you can stay in the country and look for other work.

Since you’re likely conducting your job hunt from home then you’ll need to go through a recruiter (even if you’re applying to the public school system).  Recruiters are businesses that are hired by schools to find teachers.  As a teacher you should NEVER pay recruiters.  You will have to pay other costs associated with your visa and work documents, but none of that money should go to the recruiter.  After you contact a recruiter they will get in touch with you to conduct a pre-interview.  They’ll ask all the questions you would expect to be asked in a teaching interview: Why do you want to go to Korea? What is your experience working with children? What would you do in situation x?  Blah blah blah.  Then they’ll start sending you job opportunities via email.

It’s a good idea to work with a few recruiters.  I think 3 or 4 is a good number; too many can get confusing and overload your email inbox.  Some recruiters will be very choosey and will only send you jobs that match your criteria.  Others will just send you anything they have. For example, I specified that I didn’t want to teach Kindergarten and I wanted to be in a city with more than 500 000 people. I worked with one recruiter that sent me multiple kindergarten jobs in rural Korea. (I ended up dumping that recruiter mid job-search.)  Remember that recruiters are only paid once they successfully match you with a school. Some recruiters will push you towards accepting a job and it’s important that you stand up for yourself if you are not happy with the jobs being presented.  I don’t want to name specific recruiters on this blog but if anyone wants to know the companies that I worked with then feel free to send me an email.

This post is obnoxious and long. On the plus side, at least you're not a samurai dog!

Once you get a job in your inbox that seems like a good fit then the recruiter will set up an interview. If you’re in North America then you need to be prepared to do interviews at all times of the night. The earliest interview I had was 11:30 pm and the latest (or earliest?) was at 6:00 am.  That’s just the harsh reality of time zones.  The interview with the school can be a really funny experience. Often the person conducting the interview will speak limited English; that’s why the recruiters do pre-interviews.  The schools really want to hear your accent and make sure that you are a real person. I have friends who were asked things like “what is your favourite colour?” in their school interviews because that was the extent of the interviewer’s English.  Don’t be too nervous; if the school is interviewing you then you already have a good chance at getting a job offer.

Do remember to ask questions during your interview. Ask about housing. How far is it from the school? What is public transportation in the area like? Ask about the school. How many teachers are there? How many of those are foreigners? What is the work atmosphere like? Ask about training.  Ask about how long the school has been in business.   Ask for the contact information for the current foreigner.  Any school that is worthwhile will not hesitate to provide that info.  (Although it’s normal for them not to have it on hand. They might have to send it to you through the recruiter later.) Ask the foreign teacher everything I mentioned above and also ask him/her about pay.  Does the school pay on time? Is it easy to talk to management? Did the school help him/her with getting setup in Korea?  Why is he/she leaving the school? Speaking with a foreign teacher at the school is not guaranteed to avoid problems in Korea, but I think it’s the best you can do.

So let’s assume that several schools want you. Congratulations, you’re a superstar! Now you get to be picky.  Read the contracts that they send you carefully. Don’t accept anything that doesn’t include National Health Insurance (paid 50/50 by the employer and the employee) and National Pension. These are required by law and if the school doesn’t offer them then something might be fishy.  The contract should also talk about your housing.  It’s a good idea to make sure that air conditioning is mentioned. It seems finicky, but I can tell you that I would not have survived July and August in Korea without my A.C.  The contract should also talk about airfare. You should be given round trip airfare to/from the closest international airport.  If you have any questions or concerns about anything in your contract talk to your recruiter. I found that this was the point when I started feeling pressure from recruiters to accept jobs, but remember: you have to live with the contract that you sign for twelve months.  It’s a lot easier solve contract issues beforehand through a recruiter than it is to deal with issues in Korea with school managers who do not speak English.

Once you accept a job then you get into the visa application process. I won’t get into that too much because this post is already inexcusably long. I write a bit about visas here and tons of info can be found elsewhere on the internet.

I’ll finish up by stressing how great it is that we live in the age of the internet. Not just for finding information about visas and the job search, but you can get a ton of info about your Korean neighbourhood and maybe even your school before you ever get on an airplane.   Some of the funnier or more useful sites are:

Eat your Kimchi : a blog by a Canadian couple teaching in public schools. They make videos about everything from applying for public school jobs to ordering McDonalds in Korea.

Dave’s ESL Cafe : A place to look for jobs. There is also an “idea cookbook” where you can get ideas for games, discipline ideas or other general teaching tricks. The forums here can be useful but I find them to be overrun with gross trolls.

Roboseyo : This blog is run by a guy who has been in Korea for a long time now. He offers really accessible and readable advice on how to make your time in Korea a positive experience. Scroll down the right side of his blog to see popular/uesfull entries, as well as a good list of noteworthy K-blogs.

Roketship: an online comic strip about an expat’s life in Korea.

I was planning on adding more links but I’m tired. And I know that you’re all very capable of Googling. If anyone has more questions send me an email or leave a comment.  I am by no means a sage, but I have gone through the Korean job hunt once and I know how intimidating it can seem.

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An (admittedly misguided) excuse to use the words “y’all”

Disclaimer: The following is a post in the true cliché spirit. I realise that everyone who writes a blog about moving to Korea includes a post like this one. However, this is also a post in the spirit of keeping y’all up to date on what I’ve been up to. Other cliché posts that you can bet on seeing soon:  “Ohmygosh the plane ride was soooo long!” and “Hey guys! Check out some pictures of my teeny tiny Korean apartment!”  Yeah, I know. Just try to contain your excitement.

So, you may be wondering: Hey Meagan, just how does one go about finding a job in Korea? What’s that? You weren’t wondering? Well, allow me to tell you anyhow.

The easiest way to find a job while you’re still at home is to find a recruiter to match you with a school.  The schools pay recruiters once they have successfully matched a teacher with a job. I worked with a few recruiters, increasing the number of offers, but I also had some pretty specific requests — I did not want to teach kindergarten and I did not want to live in a city with fewer than 500 000 people — that made finding a job a bit trickier than it would have been otherwise.

It is also worth noting that right now is not the best time to be going over to Korea for the first time and it might take a bit of time to find a job. Because of the recent economic downturn, there are more foreign teachers choosing to extend their Korean contracts rather than returning home to joblessness. There is also a larger number of newbies, like me, trying to find jobs in Korea than there might be in a better economic environment.  That said, I remain convinced that if you are willing and qualified (i.e. If you are a native English speaker, have a university degree, and have a pulse) then you will find a job.

The interview process can be difficult, especially for North Americans, because of the time difference.  I had interviews at all hours of the night and early morning — anywhere from 10:30 pm to 6:00 am.  I went through a few interviews before I found a school that seemed like a good fit. It’s a Hagwon (a private institute that students attend after their normal school to get extra lessons in English and math etc.) near Ilsan, about 30 minutes by subway from Seoul.  After the school had made its decision, they emailed me a copy of the contract and I mailed them a signed copy, along with my university degree, criminal background check, and university transcripts to start the visa process. Once I knew that my FedEx parcel had safely arrived in Korea, I played the waiting game.

After a few weeks of hearing nothing, I did hear back from the recruiter with a visa confirmation number. Once I had that number it was my turn to take action again. I filled out a visa application and sent it and my passport to the Korean consulate in Toronto. A few days later, I visited the consulate to have my face-to-face interview and retrieve my passport, stamped with my visa.

It’s strangely disheartening and satisfying to be able to summarize the last four months of my life in less than one page, but that’s really the gist of it.  Throughout the visa process there was a bit of uncertainty regarding what would happen with my job, as the school found itself in a situation where they needed me to arrive before I was able to. However, it seems to have been settled. I have a ticket from Toronto to Seoul for December 27th. And that, my friends, is when the real adventure will begin.  Y’all.

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얄 쇠 룰 방 에 두 고 나 와 바 럈 아 요 ?

When I was in Paris last March I rented a small apartment for a week because it was cheaper and more comfortable than a hostel. I spent my days and nights exploring the city and just generally marvelling at the fact that I was in Paris. I kept meaning to pop into a store to buy a cell phone, but there was always something shiny to distract me. (You know, like the Eiffel Tower, no big deal.) I arrived back at the apartment the second night, stuffed with pastries and baguette and apricot jam and ready to sleep away the remaining jet lag.  However, when I put the key in the door an turned it, nothing happened. I turned it left and right and then around and around. It just kept spinning and not opening.  I had already suffered a bit of embarrassment with this door, so I was sure that there must just be some trick to opening the door. I jiggled it and wiggled it and in the end I must have done the entire hokey pokey with that lock, which still refused to cooperate.  I didn’t have a cell phone yet, and I was alone. In Paris.  I was alone in Paris and locked out of my apartment.

After about five seconds of panic, I decided that there was not much I could do until the next morning. I thought I would sleep in the hallway in front of the door (yes, a little like a hobo) and then wake up early the next morning and deal with the door situation. Unfortunately, after about half an hour of trying to get somewhat comfortable, I realised that the reason I was chilled was that I had left the window in the apartment open and that there would be a draft coming from under the door all night.  I thought that perhaps a walk would clear my head. So I wandered around the neighborhood and eventually I found a cheap motel. (“Cheap” is, of course, a relative term when in Paris.)  The concierge didn’t know what to make of this single Canadienne who didn’t even have a backpack. But he gave me a room and I had a warm bed to sleep in for the night.

The labyrinth lock from the inside

The next morning I spent more money than I had intended on a cell phone and I called the apartment rental company. After a while I spoke with someone who assured me he was on his way to help find out what was going on.  Excellent. I slumped against the door and waited. Before anyone from the rental agency arrived, one of the neighbours came out of his door and asked me if I was having trouble with the lock. He explained that it was because of the old locks in the building, that they always cause havoc.  He got a paper clip from his apartment and showed me how to use the paper clip and my key to open the lock when it was causing grief. Poof. Just like that, a little poke with a paper clip, and a hard push with the key before I turned it and the door popped right open. I was so grateful to this neighbour, and I felt so vindicated. It wasn’t only me! So I called the rental agency and explained the situation, including how to fix it, in case they have similar calls in the future. And that was that. I went inside, changed my clothes, and carried on with my adventure.

I didn’t tell the full door story to many people. At the time I thought that the experience had been not only nerve wracking, but also embarrassing.  I hadn’t wanted to provide any fodder to the unambiguously judgemental people who had told me that travelling alone was dangerous. Looking back on it though, it’s one of the funnier untold stories of the trip. (Seeing a couple break up at the top of the Eiffel Tower still tops the list. I’ll have to share that story sometime.)

I’m also telling the story now because I have just accepted a teaching position in Korea. If things go at least remotely as planned, then I should be moving to the Goyang area in January.  I’ll be in the neighbourhood (dong) of Hwajeon, a few subway stops away from Ilsan. I’m told that I will be about 30 minutes from Seoul by subway.  I would by lying if I said that I wasn’t nervous. I’m moving to the other side of the world, to start a new job in a country where I do not speak a word of the language. There are some pretty significant challenges and obstacles ahead of me, I’m certain.  For the moment, however, I am more curious than I am afraid. The reality is that, despite having done a lot of research, I still know very little about Korea. Sure, I could tell you little about the country’s history and perhaps its socioeconomic construction, but the stuff that really matters — like how the doors work — is still a complete mystery to me.  Still, I have confidence that it will all work out for the best. And, if things do take an unfortunate turn, I have my phrasebook.

얄 쇠 룰 방 에 두 고 나 와 바 럈 아 요

I’m locked out of my room.

Edit:  Ha! I just typed the Hangul text into bablefish to see what it turned up. Apparenlty it translates into “[yal] In the iron rule room two comes [lyass] Oh.”  Oh, indeed.  Crikey, this will be an adventure!

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