Along with being a great place to explore, enjoy entertainment, and witness the footprints of history, Korea also features one of the world’s largest EFL teaching markets.
The good news is that most schools will cover their English teachers' apartment rental costs. Many ESL teachers are surprised by the size of an apartment and the included amenities once they move in. Living spaces provided to teachers in Korea are typically one-room single occupancy studio apartments, much smaller than Americans may be used to. They usually do not include ovens, only stove-tops, though toaster ovens are cheap and easy to obtain.
Often a school will give teachers a choice between having their own private apartment or sharing a larger space with another English teacher; there are pros and cons to both situations. Sharing an apartment with someone else will allow you to make quick friendships with any roommate(s) and their network of friends. There are a lot of things to take into account for an English teacher setting foot on Korean soil for the first time, and having a roommate can help make this transition smoother.
Having a private apartment ensures that an English teacher has privacy and lots of quiet time to prepare lessons and mark assignments. Many English teachers prefer their own apartment. Single apartments are often smaller than the shared counterparts, however, and can be isolating, especially for someone who has just moved to Korea.
English instructors may have the rent for their apartment covered by their school, but most will be responsible for paying the utility, phone, Internet, and other monthly household bills. Bills will rarely cost over 200,000 KRW for a teacher living a moderate lifestyle.
Many Koreans who call an apartment 'home' are not tenants but owners. Apartments are purchased because they are much more affordable than houses and they are close to conveniences such as grocery stores, entertainment, and other common destinations. Many larger private English schools own their own apartments or apartment buildings in which their teachers live.
There is such a high demand for English teachers in Korea that some schools will pay for their teachers' airline tickets to Korea up front, while others will reimburse the cost of the flight (usually within one month of arrival). If a contract is broken before its end date, or within the first six months of the contract, the teacher will often be required to pay the school back for whatever they received in compensation for the flight, and forfeit their return ticket home.
One benefit to teaching English in Korea is a top-notch health care system. The medical system in Korea is similar to most developed nations, and schools are required to pay for half of employee health insurance premiums. English teachers employed in Korea should be enrolled in a public national health insurance plan. Even without coverage, medical treatment in Korea is surprisingly inexpensive. Cosmetic procedures are a common example of inexpensive medical care. Prescription drugs also tend to be very inexpensive. Some teachers enjoy having the added protection of private medical insurance to cover anything not provided by the public Korean system.
'Mandatory retirement' is a common phrase in Korea. This policy allows businesses the ability to reject applications from candidates over 55 without penalty. It is still possible to work in Korea past the age of 55 if a school or business wants to hire you. The legal age of retirement is 60, and it becomes much more difficult to find employment past that age.
In addition to modifying the retirement age of Korean workers, the government also lessened the time of mandatory military service to get younger workers in the job market earlier. The rules concerning mandatory military service have loosened enough to allow many young Koreans an opportunity to get a good post-secondary education.
Technology and Advancement
The technology industry was one of the main elements that turned Korea from one of Asia's poorest nations to one of the world's wealthiest. This transformation, nicknamed the Miracle on the Han River, means advancements in technology are abounding across the country. Popular Korean companies like Hyundai, Kia, LG, and Samsung have products that are well-known by consumers around the world.
English teachers from North America have access to similar technologies in Korea. Modern conveniences such as high-speed Internet and cell phone service are very easy to obtain, even by foreigners. Cell phones work on the tops of mountains as well as in the deepest subway stations.
One of the main reasons many English teachers come to Korea is to sample Korean food, but sometimes it is hard to ignore a craving for food from back home. There are plenty of options for eating American food in Korean cities. Many large grocery stores will also offer western-style products, allowing English teachers to prepare their own familiar recipes at home.
Korea has many of the major American fast food chains in its urban areas; McDonald's has been in the country since 1988. However, western restaurant chains have found that in order to be successful they must fuse their products with Korean cuisine. An example of this hybrid would be the bulgogi burger offered at Korean McDonald's restaurants. In addition to fast food, there are many independently-owned and operated restaurants that offer traditional American foods like burgers, steak, ribs, Tex-Mex Chicken, etc. Eating at these restaurants is generally more expensive than eating in traditional Korean restaurants.
Many ESL teachers find taxis to be a quick and safe way to get around the city. As time passes, more and more drivers are able to speak English. When it comes to getting a taxi there are two methods: waiting at a taxi stand (found in larger cities), or hailing one on the street. If an ESL teacher is in a rush, they can use a phone and call for a taxi; however, rates are much higher this way.
When riding in a taxi, don't be surprised if the driver stops and picks up other people. Most cab companies in Korea have a shared cab system; the driver will pick up other customers traveling in the same direction. Calling for a 'mobom' (known as model taxi or high-end taxi) could be an option if money is not a concern and one is looking to travel in style. These cars are more expensive than a normal taxi but offer much more comfort and speed. Often used for business, moboms are black with a yellow sign on the top of the car.
Standard taxis in Seoul are generally orange, whereas silver-colored vehicles are more common in other regions. A blue sedan in Seoul likely indicates an electric taxi, which typically offer the same fares as standard taxis. Bright yellow-colored taxis in Seoul, Pohang, Gyeongju, Daegu, Gumi, and Gwangju are operated by Taxi Cooperative Network, are considered co-op taxis, and the base taxi fare is also similar to standard taxis. If you’re in a group of travelers, taking a van taxi might be the best option. These vehicles can accommodate six to 10 passengers, but fares are similar to deluxe taxis.
Some taxi drivers are excited to practice their English skills with native English teachers, while others may shy away from conversation. Don't be surprised if taxi drivers don't stop to pick up foreigners, as it is likely that their English ability is limited and they are saving both the driver and the passenger the difficulty of trying to communicate.
The train system in Korea is one of the world's finest. The railway is used for both commuting and for moving goods across the country and abroad. The railroad has changed since its beginnings at the end of the 19th century, as much of it needed repair after WWII and the Korean War. Over time, rail connections across the North Korean border have been severed, but the Korean rail system continued to grow into the modern enterprise it is today. Korea's railway system is maintained and managed by the state-owned company, Korean National Railroad (Korail).
ESL teachers can take advantage of routes that connect Seoul to other major Korean cities, running every 15 to 60 minutes. There are four main types of long-distance travel trains in Korea:
The subway system in Korea is another important part of the Korean transit system. The first subway system was built in Seoul in 1974. Currently, there are six fully functioning subway systems operating in Korea. Commuters in Seoul, Incheon, Busan, Daegu, Gwangju, and Daejeon can get around town via the underground train. A huge advantage for ESL teachers taking the subway is the fact that there are many English signs explaining each stop at subway stations. Even above ground, teachers use subway stops as helpful landmarks and often carry a subway map to get from place to place.
Most towns and cities in Korea have access to a bus transit service. Many English teachers find traveling by bus harder than by subway due to the language barrier. Buses are not known to have a lot of route information in English. There are two different types of buses to choose from when traveling in a Korean city:
Koreans find buses to be a great way to not only travel around the city, but to commute longer distances. Bus services vary from region to region, but there are two major types of long-distance busing systems:
Other Modes of Transportation
Traveling by riding a bicycle is a popular way to get around Korean streets, but it is not as popular as in other Asian nations. The Korean Home Affairs Ministry estimates that one out of every seven people ride a bicycle as their primary form of transportation. Bike paths and bicycle racks on streets are common, making bike-riding a great transportation method; however riders should be wary of automobiles when on the road, as they don't always follow traffic laws.
The '80s were a time of growth for Korea, evident by the massive upgrading of the Korean roadway system. During this decade, dirt-covered roads were paved over and massive freeways were built. ESL teachers interested in driving while living in Korea should be warned that Korean roads are known for being crowded and full of aggressive drivers.
Foreigners staying for a short period of time are able to use an international driver's license, which can be purchased in one’s home country. Americans who decide to get a Korean driver's license will find the process to be much easier than in many other countries. Drivers can get their American licenses converted by submitting a passport, current driver's license, Alien Registration Card, photos, and fee. NOTE: License holders from the US states of Oregon and Idaho may be required to sit for a written examination. For more information about obtaining a Korean driver's license, visit the Driver's License Agency. It is recommended that ESL teachers obtain an international driver’s license before leaving their home country.
Like in most nations, displaying proper etiquette in Korea is an important element to career success and the ability to effectively communicate.
North Korea and the Kim Dynasty
Citizens of today’s Korea have seen their nation transform itself from the images of the Korean War to that of a thriving economic leader in Asia. In recent history the world has focused on the negative attention generated by North Korea, its leader, Kim Jong-un, and his father Kim Jong-il before him. There have been American soldiers stationed in Korea since the end of the Korean War. Tensions tend to fluctuate during times of military exercise and South Korean elections. Both nations met in 2007 and signed an agreement that aimed for peace, open borders for transportation including rail, and joining elements of their separate economies. This agreement has kept the situation civil but there are times of uncertainty that the Korean people have grown accustomed to.
Although it borrows some from Chinese, Japanese, and even English, the Korean language is truly Korea's own. There are even differences in the way Korean is spoken in South Korea compared to across the border in North Korea. The Korean language can be found around the world in China, Japan, the Philippines, as well as in Canada and the United States. South Korean culture has certainly made its mark in North America in recent years through a boom in Korean skincare products, as well as the popularity of the K-pop band BTS which inspired the McDonald's BTS meal, and the smash Netflix hit Squid Game. Korean has even influenced the Oxford English Dictionary, with the OED recently adding 26 South Korean words and revising another 11 in its September 2021 update. Some examples of the Korean language can be found below:
Korean cuisine has elements of Buddhist, Chinese, and Japanese food, but possesses its own unique flavor, making it well-known around the world. Like many countries, the dishes in Korean cuisine vary from region to region, each area adding their own local ingredients to their dishes. Many of the recipes for popular Korean dishes also offer little direction, which allows for a lot of the creativity and diversity a single dish can obtain across the country.
Some historians believe that the first humans to prepare rice for food were in fact from the Korean Peninsula, debunking the traditional belief that the Chinese were the first to eat the grain. Many people around the world think Korean food is spicy due to the cultural reliance on seasonings such as peppers, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, mustard, and vinegar.
Citizens of Korea are surrounded by water, and this is made evident in many Korean dishes featuring a wide assortment of seafood. Koreans are also known for having a good mix of fresh produce, grains, and meats. Many dishes feature tofu, vegetables, rice, and noodles. A typical Korean diet consists of many meats including fish, pork, and chicken. Occasionally beef is eaten, though it is generally more expensive and thus usually reserved for holidays. Some regions still have people also incorporating dog into their diet; nationally, it is not nearly as popular as other meats, and is often consumed on holidays only.
One thing that makes Korean food stand out from the cuisine of other nations is the amount of banchan (side dishes) served throughout the course of a meal. The banchans are usually meant to accompany plain steamed rice. This ensures that ESL teachers will experience a wide range of flavors, and enjoy the amount of time a good meal can last.
Some of Korea's more popular dishes include:
Koreans frequently endure debates and protests about whether or not eating dog meat is cruel, or if it is an acceptable part of Korean culture. While it is true that dog meat is still eaten in some areas of Korea, it is not as controversial as some North Americans may think. Traditionally popular during the summer months because it is believed to have a cooling effect on the body, some Koreans still believe that food which includes dog meat has medicinal purposes, especially concerning male fertility. Many dishes that traditionally featured dog have now been modernized to include chicken or other meats as substitutes.
The Korean government asked Koreans not to prepare dog meat during the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul and the 2002 FIFA World Cup because they were afraid that this would injure the nation's animal rights activism and blossoming modernization. ESL teachers have no need to worry about eating dog. Due to the public outcry against it, the majority of Korean restaurants will not serve it and many never would, regardless of public resistance. It usually takes an effort to find restaurants that serve dog. In fact, a 2020 poll conducted by Nielsen for Humane Society International found that 84% of South Koreans have never consumed dog meat or say they do not want to consume it in the future, and the government is mulling a ban. Like in Canada, most dogs are simply household pets, not food.
The weather in Korea is temperate, meaning that there are four unique seasons in a year. Summer months are warm with high amounts of rain and winter months are cold. Spring and fall seasons are ideal for traveling and sightseeing, with the occasional light rain. There are some regional differences in weather, as Korea’s southern coastline has warmer temperatures in the winter compared to most of the nation, while mountainous areas experience snow.
Natural Disasters in Korea
Korea is in a region of the globe that experiences a summer typhoon season. During the typhoon season, it is not uncommon to see flooding due to an increase in rainfall. Hurricanes occasionally make their way to the Korean Peninsula; however, ESL teachers should not let the Korean climate stop them from teaching English. Upon arriving in Korea, be sure to pay attention to local weather forecasts and take weather warnings seriously.
Korean holidays reflect the love Koreans have for a good time, being with loved ones, and remembering the nation's past. The country uses the traditional Korean calendar, which is lunisolar, as well as the Gregorian calendar to mark time. Koreans may not have as many national holidays as other nations, but some of their holidays last for three days at a time.