Anyone who has a TESOL certificate knows the amazing feeling of being able to leave the country and theoretically find a job anywhere in the word. It’s like your professional passport.
But of course that’s only the beginning.
I am going to Korea in February to start teaching but I had originally planned to start in August. Which means that since I first decided to move to Korea almost one year ago, I have spent countless hours on the internet looking through online job boards. My blood sweat and tears have been spilt over on Dave’s ESL Cafe.com sifting through the overwhelming number of things that get posted there. Sometimes I check that website before I check my emails or texts in the morning.
Luckily for me though, teaching jobs in Korea can be found online. Because depending on which country you’re looking to teach in (Vietnam and Thailand for example), there is a possibility that you will just have to show up in that country, empty-handed, and begin the job search then.
So after hours upon hours of reading English teaching job descriptions online, I’ve come to realize that there are some serious pitfalls to the system. Here are just a few of the struggles of finding an English teaching job online.
#1 – Sifting through the thousands of overly advertised, way too eager, job titles.
This is a screen shot from that website I mentioned earlier. And while I credit this site for almost every single job lead I’ve ever had, it’s kind of a nightmare to navigate. If you feel like there may be more hashtags, stars, music notes, and exclamation points than there are actual words, then you’re absolutely correct!
Expect to acquire an incredible wealth of useless TESOL in Korea related vocabulary.
Here’s a cheat sheet.
-Gyopo 교포 = is an ethnically Korean person who has lived their life in another country. Generally speaking I believe that the word has negative connotations, like a person who is Korean but has lost touch with their true “Korean-ness” as a result of living abroad. But in job searches it usually jus means they want someone who speaks Korean, or personally understands Korean culture.
-Hagwon (sometimes hagweon or hakwon) 학원 = is a Korean after school academy meant to supplement the regular schooling students receive. I’m sure there are plenty of good ones in Korea, but you have to really be careful with these jobs because they can very very easily take advantage of you.
-E2/F4 Visas = An E2 Visa is for a foreign person working in Korea and an F4 Visa is for people of Korean heritage. You’ll often see that word Gyopo used with an F4 visa.
-Split Shifts = This is basically what it sounds like. Often if you take a job teaching adults this will be the case. Because regular adults work during the day time, you will likely have two shifts. One in the early morning before they go to work, and one in the evening after they get off work.
-KRW = this is just the abbreviation for Korean Won, the currency of Korea. Typical jobs will offer anywhere from 2.0 million – 2.8 million per month for a first time teacher. (That’s roughly $1700-2300 USD per month.)
Hopefully that will be useful to some.
#2. – The Recruiter Pitfall
Okay so to be frank, I am a little biased here. I used a recruiting company to apply to EPIK (English Program in Korea, sponsored by the Korean government) for the last intake. And I was perfectly happy with their services right up until the moment that I got an email out of the blue, despite having been encouraged to think to the contrary, that EPIK was no longer giving placements and that I’d have to wait 6 months and apply again. This was after having been reassured repeatedly that my summer graduation wouldn’t be a problem. Turns out it was. And that would have been nice to know.
If you are looking for hagwon jobs then a recruiter might be the way to go simply because they might have access to larger job databases then we do from this side. But I would still consider that a strong maybe because even I have applied to plenty of hagwons directly and had lots of success with out the help of a recruiter.
If you do go with a recruiter be sure to be very firm about what you want. Know what you want going in, because they’re going to be able to make every single job look like a great opportunity. When in reality you’re teaching like 10 hours a day, until 10pm, living in a crappy apartment that’s “10 minutes away from Seoul!” Funny how it seems like every job I see is advertised as being “10 minutes away from Seoul.” Seoul isn’t even 10 minutes away from Seoul.
#3. – The Scams.
This is the lingering, ever-present question. When ever I’m contact by a school that seems, shall we say eager, to hire me my first thought is always, “okay but is this real?” And after almost a year now of job searching, I can tell you that there is always a chance that it might not be a real job.
I was contacted once by a hagwon that claimed to take the students on trips around Asia and to the US so all of my travel with them would be paid for. Sounds great right?!
Then on Jun 17th I received this email.
“I need to be completely frank. We have several in-country applicants but we like your resume. If you would like the position, we need to be certain that you will follow through. We need a teacher for early July.
I know that that is pushing it. Hope you can make it work. Would like to work with a fellow American for a change 😛
Let me Know.”
Pushing it? Yea that would mean I’d need to acquire all my visa documents in 2 weeks, a feat which has taken me almost 2 months recently when I wasn’t trying to finish up my last semester of college.
And I wasn’t completely sold on the professionalism of someone who would use 😛 in an email.
So I sent back this email.
I appreciate your honesty, and it would be comfortable for me to work with other Americans as well.
However on the advertisement that I saw for your school it mentioned the starting date as being in August. My current teaching job ends at the very end of July so I would not be able to be in Korea before then. If that is a make or break issue then I apologize.
Taking English camps abroad sounds amazing, and the lesson style of your school sounds fun as well. However to consider taking a position I would need some more information. If you could send me a link to your website, what the specific working hours during the day are, and if you could put me in touch with some current or previous teachers that would be amazing.
Thank you so much for your time, I hope you’re well.”
I never received a response.
I also, despite even asking my Korean friends to help my search on Korean search engines, could never find an website for them. Or any proof the school even existed.
But I digress. Moral of the story, if a school is pushing you to make a decision faster than you would are comfortable with, it’s probably because they know you won’t like all the facts once you’ve really had time to look through them.
#4. – Being simultaneously over and under qualified
This is more of a struggle that I have found personally, but I imagine there are other people who feel this way as well.
My ESL teaching experience is all at the university level. My students have mainly been from the ages of 17-40 and during my TESOL internship they were all Ph.D. candidates. I taught for 4 semesters at my university’s english language institute, and it was honestly the most amazing thing I’ve ever done. I fell in love with TESOL and communicating with non-native english speakers. I am coming to Korea because this is what I want my profession to be for many many years.
That being said, and please don’t hear this as patronizing in any way, but a large majority of people who come to Asia to teach English are not in it for the long haul. And that’s okay, it’s a great way to make money and experience another culture, and as long as you try your best to do right by your students then okay. I can handle that.
But many people come to party, to have fun, to make good money at the expense of a country that assumes that because you natively speak english that means you can teach it. That is not the case.
Anyway all that to say, my dream job is teaching at a university for which I have the experience but lack the masters degree. And so the jobs that I am competing for are against some people with no experience or qualifications. So I’m kind of stuck in the middle.
But I see you Second Language Acquisition Masters, I’m coming for you eventually.
Anyway, I’d love to hear from other people who have gone through this as well! For the record, I have been accepted into EPIK again, sent my visa docs off, and am now just waiting on a placement. So all’s well that ends well.
It’s a tricky thing navigating TESOL online job boards. Let me know what your experience has been like!
Thanks for reading, hope this helps someone!