There are loads of reasons why a lot of us are looking for ways to incorporate travel into our daily life; the start of a new year, the start of a new week, a bad day, boredom, a travel itch – the list goes on. One obvious way to make that dream a possibility is to land a travel job; a job that allows you to see the world and get paid. Yes, they do exist. This month’s travel job feature falls on Marcus, who moved from England to South Korea, to work as a teacher. He has been kind enough to provide a great insight into his job, advice on how you could do the same and an honest reflection on his new life abroad.
The schedule changes around the school year, but typically I arrive at work at 0830. Lessons usually start at 09/0930, and we normally teach 4 x 40 minute periods scattered through the day until 1400. In between there is a great deal of lesson planning, paperwork, and time to drink coffee. At 1430, we teach an after-school program of 2 x 50 minute lessons.
Q. What are the class sizes like?
They are smaller than in the UK, but more importantly, I am confident that the children are a lot more obedient! That’s not to say that it’s not energy-consuming. Compared to hectic office work that I had been doing before, the school day is quite relaxed. However, the tiredness does creep up on you, even more so than, say, in bar work, which I have also done a lot of.
Working in a Korean office is not without its challenges, and the style of management is very different here. That being said, I am lucky that my office is exceedingly warm and friendly – I have great managers.
Q. What was the process of applying for the job and visa like?
The application process for a job with a state school in Korea, and the visa process, are both very long-winded affairs. I went through one of the government-approved agencies, Korvia Consulting. It all started with a Skype interview early one morning, and ended with a full health check and drugs test a week or so after I arrived. In between, there were about three months of chasing up documents and having them certified by lawyers, trips to the post office, and so on. The paperwork is daunting, but my agency were very helpful.
There isn’t much in the way of training. I arrived in Korea on a Friday afternoon, and luckily had the weekend to recoup. Monday was my first day at work, and I had the chance to observe a few lessons and look around the school. I was then given lesson plans to follow and started teaching on Tuesday morning. So it was very much ‘on the job’. I gather this is the same with most, if not all schools, in Korea, and know a few people who went straight from the airport to their school!
Q. What are the pay and benefits like?
I am on about 2.2 million KRW a month, tax-free. The school pay for my housing and flights to and from Korea. Once you take into account the cheap cost of food and transport here, it is very easy to save a lot of money, and most people do. I have friends sending home almost £500 per month, and they still go out every weekend and live very, very comfortably. Things are changing though, and the new government is making massive funding cuts for foreign teachers in state schools. The demand for foreign teachers here won’t decrease because of earnest parents and a burgeoning private academy sector. But as the appeal of Korea to foreigners increases, the job market is becoming saturated and wages are decreasing. Much the same thing happened in Japan about 15 years ago, where I gather one is not really able to save on an average teaching wage.
I’ve wanted to move abroad for a long time. My mother emigrated to England in the late 70s, and currently my father lives in Mexico, and my sister in Australia, so I suppose it was my turn! It’s a combination of push and pull factors at work – but mainly my MA was coming towards its end and it was important for me to jump right into something else.
Q. What were your first thoughts when you arrived in Korea?
I settled in right away. I was really lucky to make a good circle of friends very quickly, and was immediately meeting new people on nights out and things like that. I think I was most shocked at the price of a pint of Guinness! I do remember my first trip downtown, and the realization that I probably wouldn’t be able to find my way back to the subway station as I hastily tagged onto a fast-moving group of people who I didn’t yet know. Most of the culture shock has come in dribs and drabs in the 18 months since my arrival. It is easy to complain about the cultural differences of another country, and I frequently do, I suppose. But I’m not sure if I complain here any more than I did back home!
It’s great and there have been lots of improvements in my life since I left England. I have gained more professional and personal experience, and I have also learned about the things I love most about England. A lot of foreign teachers become accustomed to the comforts that this lifestyle affords, or become concentrated on saving a lot of money, but part of me misses England, and another part wants to prepare for an adventure somewhere new. I love Korea and my life here, but my ultimate goal is to live somewhere on the continent, in one of Europe’s big cities.
Q. What is it like living in Korea?
The lifestyle here, as well as the opportunity to save, is brilliant. If you like Korean food, it’s very cheap to eat out, and I do so every day. It’s very healthy. The nights out are amazing too. Typically I’d start with dinner at 1900, and then end with another meal at around 0400/0500. There are hundreds of bars and clubs to explore in areas like Hongdae and Gangnam, and it’s a cheap night out compared to London. As you can imagine, you frequently find yourself in hilarious, bizarre and surreal situations. I’m constantly making new friends and meeting people from all around the world. Seoul is very safe compared to other cities of the same size and there is a low crime rate. The transportation system in Seoul is probably the most modern, clean and affordable of any large city in the world, and there’s always something to do at the weekend. Hiking in the mountains that are scattered around the city is brilliant fun, and the natural scenery here is beautiful. It’s easy to save money and to do a fair bit of travelling at the same time – Japan is only a few hours away and a lot of teachers holiday cheaply in the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Yes, I can read Korean quickly and hold a simple conversation, follow directions, ask for something, and get the gist of what someone is saying. I was taking lessons for the first four months or so, and met some very good friends this way. Korean, in contrast to Japanese and Chinese, is relatively easy to learn, and Koreans absolutely love it when you can speak their language. If you say something that’s grammatically incorrect, clumsy, or in an awkward accent, they won’t correct you; but their faces will light up, and they’ll be very impressed at your effort.
Q. What advice would you give to somebody wanting to teach abroad?
Do a lot of research, and don’t be put off by the armies of miserable expats moaning on internet forums. The market is changing rapidly and the best opportunities (economically) are in the emerging markets of Asia. But you can certainly find work closer to home in Europe. Make informed decisions and decide what your priorities are for your time away.
What do you think? Is it something you are considering doing or have done? I hope this post has opened your eyes to working as a teacher in Korea. If you’ve enjoyed this post or have any questions, please leave me a comment and I’ll get right back to you.
*All images courtesy of Marcus.
There are plenty of other options to make your travel job dream a reality. Every month I’ll share suggestions and insights through interviews with real people – people who are actually travelling the world, or part of it, through their job. Visit the ‘Travel Jobs‘ section of Taylor Hearts Travel to discover more.