The number one question I got when I told people I was going to teach English in Korea was this:
Fair question. If you’d told me five years ago that I’d spend two years teaching in rural Korea, I’d have laughed at the suggestion. I knew nothing about Korea, and even less about teaching. But it happened, and here’s why.
I’m American, and my fiancé is Australian. At the time, we’d been dating for 2 years and we were running out of options – we wanted to live and work in the same country but we weren’t ready to get married and go through the visa rigmarole. I’d already worked in Australia for 1 year and it was near-impossible for him to come to the US. Korea was an appealing choice, because we were both eligible.
Most working holiday visas are limited to applicants between the ages of 18 – 30, but there is no such age restriction for teaching in Korea. All you need is a bachelor’s degree and a passport that shows you’re from one of seven English-speaking countries: the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, South Africa, or Ireland. As a college graduate from the US who was pushing 30, this was perfect for me.
Let’s not sugarcoat it: I needed the money. If I’d just wanted to break even on the cost of living, I’d have gone to Thailand or Central America. But I had a student loan to pay off, and I wanted to have some new experiences while I did it. South Korea has one of the highest pay rates for English teachers, starting at 1.8 million won per month. I had a TEFL certificate and a master’s in travel writing, which meant that my starting pay was 2.3 million won per month – about $2,100 USD.
My employer reimbursed me for my flights at a flat rate of 1.3 million won each way, as well as giving me a 300,000 won settlement allowance. For the first year, I got paid 2.3 million won on the 25th of each month, plus an extra 100,000 a month as a ‘rural bonus.’ When I renewed for a second year, I got about 2.3 million won for severance pay and a 2 million won renewal bonus, plus I was bumped up to the next level on the payscale. Not to mention the five weeks’ vacation (which became seven weeks in the second year), the free housing, health care, and pension refund.
I’m fully aware that I will never have it that good again.
As I said, I knew nothing about Korea, and that was appealing. Yes, I knew that it was close to North Korea, but that didn’t deter me because here’s the thing: it’s not North Korea. It’s a small country full of scenery, culture, and generous people, and it’s really coming into its own as a tourist destination. Korea seemed just as random as Japan or China, so why not go to Korea? In the end, I couldn’t have made a better choice.
Now for the disclaimer: I taught for EPIK (English Program In Korea) in Gangwon Province. Pay and benefits can vary widely depending on where you teach and what program you teach for. There are a huge variety of available teaching positions, from public schools to privately owned academies, and the application process can be very confusing. The eligibility criteria can change without warning, so do your research to make sure you know what to expect.