Why Do People Come to Korea to Teach?

People come to Korea “Land of the Morning Calm” for many different reasons. Some are looking for teaching experience. Others are recent graduates looking for an adventure before they become part of the rat race.  Others come primarily for financial reasons – to help pay off loans or debts or to set themselves up for some other venture. Other, more seasoned travellers use teaching in Korea as a base to finance future adventures.  Most people though are just looking for a change from everyday life i.e. something different. South Korea is different, very different. From the food to the language to the Confucian mindset, it’s an entirely different culture.


What is Korea Like?

South Korea is a country of relatively small size yet it has a population of almost 50 million. The cities are big and bustling but somehow the countryside remains picturesque and unspoilt.  The rapid growth of the South Korean economy in recent years means that Korea’s ancient culture has become intrinsically entwined with hi-tech modern living.  It is not uncommon to see a bent over old woman pulling a rickety cart full of eggs down the street, stop in the middle of traffic, pull a minuscule cell phone from her pocket then proceed to have a conversation on the phone apparently oblivious to the impatient drivers blasting their horns all around her.  More common still are the market women sitting on the pavement in all weathers cleaning bean sprouts or gutting fish all the while munching on a deep fried corn dog slathered in tomato ketchup.  Such everyday encounters make living in Korea a fascinating experience. If you choose to come to Korea to live and work it is essential to keep an open mind and to respect Korean culture.


Settling In

Life in Korea is different. From the food to the language and the culture, it can all seem pretty strange to those new to the country. Moving to a foreign country invites a certain amount of trepidation however, for me at least, excitement far outweighed any negative feelings. Being suddenly immersed in a foreign culture is a truly fascinating experience. Some people experience a period of culture shock on arrival in South Korea. Thankfully, that didn’t happen to me. In fact, the only culture shock I experienced was on returning to my own country. I found myself taking my shoes off at the door, bowing my head, speaking Korean, and giving and receiving things with two hands (a polite custom in Korea) - much to the amusement of my friends and family.  It is likely that you will be living or at least working with other foreigners (NB: you are a 'foreigner'). The more experienced teachers usually take pride in looking after ‘newbies’ – showing them where to have lunch and how to order a beer. A new teacher brings a hive of excitement to a school and you can expect to be asked a plethora of questions by the Korean teachers who will want to know everything about you. As in any other society some people will be nicer than others but in general Korean people are very friendly and helpful.  When going to Korea for the first time try to relax and take it all in. You will discover something new everyday. After six months of being in Korea I was still waking up in the morning thinking ‘Wow! I’m in Korea! ’.


Adapting to Life in Korea

Not understanding the language is a little unnerving at first. It sounds odd and a little harsh. Everyday conversations can, to the untrained ear sound like blazing arguments - especially among the market women! You will be surprised at how quickly you adapt to life in Korea and pick up the language. After the initial excitement of being in Korea wears off and teaching is as easy as tying your shoelaces, you will find that life is pretty sweet. If you work at a private school alarm clocks will become a thing of the past as it is unlikely that you will have to work mornings. You will be paid way over the Korean average income and because you don’t have to pay for your accommodation or travel costs to school, you will be pretty well off.  Vacation days in Korea can seem quite few and far between but these are supplemented by many Korean national holidays and you’ll learn to make good use of them. Travelling in this part of the world is very cheap and easy. In time you will think nothing of taking off to Thailand or Vietnam at the drop of a hat.


Meeting People and Making Friends

The best source of advice and information on what life is really like in your town or city is other native English speaking teachers. You will discover early on that teachers tend to gather at the weekends to socialise. You will meet people from every corner of the English speaking world and although you may initially think that you don’t have much in common with them you will quickly find that you have. The mere fact that you all made a decision to take off and live and work on the other side of the world means that you already have a common bond.  Please be prepared to learn to understand how Koreans think and work.   Things will not necessarily run as they would in a western culture.  You will without a doubt have to make compromises and adjustments but it is well worth it in the end. Teaching English in South Korea is an unforgettable experience that will change your life forever.

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