Working abroad is a great opportunity to see the world and get paid doing it. While I haven’t been lucky enough to find a job that takes me around the world (yet), I spoke with my friend, Nicole, who spent 18 months abroad teaching English in Korea. With Nicole’s help, I was able to gain a better understanding into this appealing career path. It’s been 12 years since Nicole has taught abroad, but her guidance still provides a solid framework to those who may be interested in pairing their passion for teaching with a passport. I hope that Nicole’s advice is as helpful and insightful to you as it was to me.
What made you decide to teach abroad?
I was unable to secure a full-time teaching position and decided it would be a good way to make some money, travel and gain teaching experience.
What kind of research did you do?
Spoke/interviewed people who taught abroad.
Researched schools on the internet.
Read online reviews about teaching in Korea – the good and the bad.
Spoke with the directors and English teachers from different schools in Korea before choosing a school.
With English-teaching opportunities around the globe, what made you chose Korea?
At the time, the pay and extra perks were the best.
Did you prepare to go abroad on your own or did you get assistance from an organization?
I did not use an organization. I contacted the schools directly.
What kind of certification did you need to teach in Korea? I’ve read that many countries require or prefer the teacher to be TEFL certified.
At that point in time the only certification required was a university degree and proof that you were a Canadian citizen.
Did anyone help you prepare your paperwork? What kind of paperwork were you required to submit?
The school helped me with all paperwork. They also helped me secure my visa from the Korean consulate. It was 12 years ago, so I don’t really remember. I don’t remember having to provide too much info – Resume, References etc.…
How long did it take from the time you decided to teach abroad to you actually leaving for Korea?
I spent a year investigating options before leaving.
Did you sign a contract? What happened if you wanted to break the contract?
I signed a contract for one year. I ended up staying six months longer. If I was to break the contact I would have to pay my own way home.
Did you find it easy to transition into a new culture? Did your new employer assist you in that regard?
The employer was very helpful. We were provided with a really nice apartment, maps, a tour guide and Korean teacher from the school who helped us open bank accounts, helped familiarize us with the neighbourhood and introduced us to other English teachers.
How did you find your accommodations? Were they arranged by your employer? Did you pay rent? Did you have the option to live on your own? Did you share your space? If so, with how many people?
My employer arranged my accommodations. Accommodations and utilities were paid for by the school. I shared my apartment with my friend. She and I went to Korea together.
Were you paid a salary or hourly? Did you find it comparable to North American wages in terms of the cost of living?
We were paid a salary. It was less than what I would have made as a full time teacher in Canada but the fact that the only expenses I had were personal (groceries, entertainment), I was able to save quite a bit of cash.
What was your work schedule like?
I worked Monday to Friday with weekends off. My day began at 10 am and ended at around 6 pm. In the mornings I taught preschool, kindergarten and grade 1. In the afternoon I had grade 6 and 10. Each class had about 10 to 15 kids in it.
How did you communicate with your students? Did they understand English? If not, did you receive assistance from a translator?
All my kids had basic English.
What were some of the challenges that you faced?
I had a hard time adjusting to the food. Spending Christmas away from my family was difficult.
Meeting new people, travelling and exploring Korea.
Holiday’s spent away from my family.
Were you able to meet people? Make friends abroad?
I met tons of people, many of whom I am still in contact with today – 12 years later.
Were you ever homesick? If so, how did overcome it?
I did miss my friends and family but I just kept myself busy, made new friends, socialized a lot, and chatted with friends and family on the phone regularly.
Any advice for other people thinking about teaching abroad?
Three pieces of advice:
Find out how many English teachers will be working at the school with you. You do not want to be the only one. It could be lonely.
Be sure to negotiate the hours you work before heading over. If you are not careful you could end up working very long days.
Make sure you have a way out of your contract. Life happens and you may need to leave early.