Living and traveling abroad is an adventure that many people dream about but relatively few actually do.
If you’ve considered doing this, you might have wondered how you could actually make it happen. One way that I mentioned in my post about careers in adventure, is for native English speakers to take advantage of their ability to speak English and turn it into a job.
Korea offers a great mix of modern luxury, a unique and ancient culture, free housing, and a high salary relative to the local cost of living. It’s possible to save a lot of money working in Korea. But don’t take my word for it. Check out my interview below with Sam from Nomadic Samuel and Audrey from That Backpacker.
Interview with Nomadic Samuel and That Backpacker
What made you decide that teaching English overseas might be a good idea?
Audrey: I had been toying with the idea of teaching ESL since my second year of university. I had experience working as a tutor and a camp counsellor so I thought teaching might be something I could do well. By the time I graduated I was aching to travel and live overseas so I decided to get my TESL diploma, and make things happen.
Sam: Many moons ago, when I was still a student in University, I started tutoring Korean students on campus. I forged some great friendships with some of my students, and it was during this time, that seeds were planted regarding teaching English in Korea being a viable option after graduation.
Of the many countries to teach English, what drew you to Korea?
Audrey: Honestly, I applied to a number of teaching opportunities from Japan to Burma, and Korea was the first country to bite. I was open to living in a new environment, so I left it to chance and I’m pretty happy with the way things turned out!
Sam: Initially it was because of my experiences mostly tutoring Korean students but later on I realized Korea paid better than most other countries and with perks such as a free apartment and return airfare it became a no brainer. I have really enjoyed my experiences in Korea and would recommend it to others; however, I must admit, that if similar opportunities (in terms of salary and working conditions) were available in a country such as Thailand, I would try somewhere else.
Do you have any tips for navigating the application process smoothly?
Audrey: The application process for teaching English in Korea is pretty straightforward. Your placement agency or future employer in Korea will give you a list of all the documentation you need to gather ahead of time. This usually includes a certified copy of your university degree, university transcripts, a recent criminal background check, passport-sized photos, and in some cases reference letters. So long as you have all your documentation ready ahead of time, it will be a very smooth process.
Sam: Completing the application process for an E2 teaching Visa in Korea is fairly straightforward process; however, it is time consuming and somewhat of a meticulous procedure, so budgeting enough time is paramount. The typical process involves getting in touch with a recruiter, submitting University transcripts, reference letters and your resume along with a criminal record check and notarized copy of your degree. It typically takes several weeks to months to complete the process, so if you’re thinking of starting work in September, it would be a good idea to start the ball rolling in late May or early June.
What elements make for a good English teacher?
Audrey: I think a good teacher needs to be very engaging. Korea is a country where children are bombarded with education. Aside from regular school, most kids also attend a number of academies to study math, science, Chinese, or do sports like Taekwondo and baseball. By the time my students get to English academy they are already exhausted, so I try to keep my lessons very fun and upbeat.
Sam: If you want to earn the respect and attention of Korean students you really need to be equal amounts entertainer as you are teacher. Games are a necessity. It’s important to remember most of your students don’t want to be there in the first place. If you lessons are not fun and engaging you’ll quickly lose control of your class.
Can you give an example of a funny or awkward “Engrish” moment?
Audrey: I have awkward Engrish moments in the classroom on a daily basis. I recently wrote a post called “Shit my Korean students say”. Everything from sexual innuendos to politically incorrect observations… I have to say, teaching gives me a good laugh!
Sam: Sometimes giving your students a ‘carte blanche’ type of assignment can turn out to be a mistake. Recently, I gave my students a project of creating their own comic strip using a blank template. Some of my students submitted some lovely entries. A few other students really took the piss out of the assignment. One clever little guy drew a comic depicting him taking a shit off of the top of a building. The wayward turd landed on the ground and caused a major traffic accident which was reported on the National News broadcast. I couldn’t help but chuckle.
“I live in an officetel (office + hotel) which looks the same as a studio apartment.” – Inside My Korean Apartment by Audrey
Was there anything about teaching you were nervous about that turned out better/worse than expected?
Audrey: Before I started teaching I was nervous about being thrown into a classroom where students wouldn’t understand a word of what I was saying. What would I do if they stared at me with blank expressions throughout the whole lesson?! Thankfully, we’ve been able to communicate – even if it involves a lot of animated gestures and facial expressions with the beginners.
Sam: I was extremely nervous when I first started teaching. Fresh out of college, I was used to sitting down and listening and suddenly I was thrust to the center of the classroom expected to lead students in a lesson. Over time, I relaxed and became more confident with what I was doing. Now it totally feels natural.
Overall, how was your experience teaching?
Audrey: It has been a learning experience. I had a lot of fun teaching a wide range of levels from beginners to advanced speakers, but there were also a few struggles when I first started off – especially when it came to dealing with rebellious preteens who didn’t feel like being at English academy at 8PM on a Friday…I can’t say I blame them.
Sam: It’s been a mixed experience. I’ve enjoyed most of my classes but I’ve always encountered students who did not want to study English and were forced to be in the classroom. I really enjoy teaching motivated students but I’m not as thrilled as trying to motivate those who do not want to be there. I suppose being a good teacher involves one being as much of an entertainer/ motivator as any other role. At some of the schools I’ve taught at I was not provided with proper teaching materials or a solid curriculum which was problematic at times; however, when I’ve had good teaching resources, co-workers and students I loved my job.
Overall, how was your experience in Korea?
Audrey: While there were a few challenges in the classroom my first few months here, it was a good year in hindsight. I enjoyed the opportunity to live in a an environment that was completely foreign to me, I had some incredibly talented students that I will be sad to say goodbye to, and I also got to explore so many parts of the country.
Sam: Overall, my time in Korea has been positive. I’ve gained valuable experiences overseas and I’ve funded most of my backpacking trips via the salary I’ve earned teaching ESL. Although I feel I’m ready for new challenges, I’ve appreciated what I’ve been able to obtain while living in Korea for over three years.
Samuel and Audrey are the wacky bloggers behind the recently created Backpacking Travel Blog. Individually, Samuel Jeffery is best known for his posts on Nomadic Samuel and Audrey Bergner can be found blogging over on That Backpacker.