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Top 10 TEFL Tips for Teaching English in Korea!

1. Meeting the eligibility requirements

The requirements for teaching English in Korea are a bachelor’s degree in any field and nationality of the UK, USA, South Africa, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or Ireland. For teaching with EPIK, applicants are also required to have a 100+ hour TEFL certificate if their degree major is not Education or English related, if they don’t have 1+ year of full time teaching experience or if they don’t have a Masters degree. For private schools, due to increasing competition for placements, it is often beneficial to take a TEFL course which will improve the chances of being hired.

2. Do your research prior to starting an application

There are quite literally thousands of teaching jobs in Korea. So, it is important to try and get beyond the noise of the various competing teaching job advertisements and focus on the core of exactly what is being offered. Does the position offer a regular teaching schedule? Are the jobs stable financially? Does the school have testimonials from previous ESL teachers in Korea? Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions before signing a contract with the school. When applying for a job, ask to see a sample teaching schedule from the school, request to talk to other foreign teachers currently working at the school and ask them about their experiences teaching there. It is advisable to try and get as much first hand information as possible about the employment conditions at the school before signing any contract.

3. Creating your resume

Although jobs in South Korea are plentiful, due to the economic downturn and increasing attractiveness of upping sticks and teaching abroad, there is more competition than ever for teaching jobs in Asia. So, one of the best ways to increase your chances of securing a placement is to create a strong resume that will be attractive to potential employers. If you have some teaching experience or experience working with young people, it is worth mentioning this on your resume even if this experience was on a voluntary or very short term basis. It is also a good idea to keep resume content concise and to the point. A well formatted synopsis of your employment and education history, including bullet points summarizing your responsibilities and contributions to each role, is what employers are looking for.

4. Submitting a photo for your application

When applying for teaching jobs in South Korea, it is important to remember that Korea has quite a conservative and formal culture, with a strong emphasis on smart appearance, particularly in the workplace. Therefore, it is a good idea to submit a formal head-shot photo along with your application. We would recommend a passport style, head-shot photo wearing smart attire; shirt and tie for guys or blouse for girls. This will go a long way to showing prospective employers that you are sensitive to Korean culture and so will help get your application to teach in Korea off on the right foot!

5. Don’t be put off!

Teaching in South Korea is a huge industry. There are around 22,000 ex-pats English teaching there. Whilst there are undoubtedly some unscrupulous directors and negative experiences, this is not the norm for Korea teaching jobs. It is worth bearing in mind that for every complaint, there are hundreds of very positive experiences. Again, we would always recommend thoroughly researching the school or agency that you are applying to and never being afraid of asking questions!

6. Preparing the required documents successfully

There is a lot of paperwork required to teach English in South Korea. So much so that applications should be planned well in advance of the actual arrival date. For those who are considering teaching with EPIK, it is worth noting that optimum times to begin preparing the required documentation are mid August (for the February in-take) and mid February (for the August in-take). For private schools in Korea, many employers hire at the last minute and so will only consider applicants who have their visa documentation to hand and ready to submit. In both cases (public schools in Korea and private schools in Korea), forward planning is essential so as not to miss out!

7. Preparing for a successful interview

When interviewing, the interviewer is most likely assessing your ability to work with children and teenagers as the vast majority of teaching jobs in Korea cater to these age ranges. One of the main things interviewers look for is lots of energy and enthusiasm. Therefore it is vital to remain cheerful, upbeat and approachable throughout the interview. You should also focus on why you have chosen Korea as opposed to teaching English in other countries. What has attracted you to South Korea specifically? Share your thoughts and enthusiasm on the country and your reasons for wanting to teach there. Also, sell your ability to work with young learners. If you’ve had experience coaching or tutoring children or adults, talk about it! Interviewers for TEFL jobs also want to know about your ability to adapt and live in a different culture. So, if you’ve had previous travel experience - perhaps you’ve studied overseas for a semester or done a gap year - these things are definitely worth mentioning when interviewing.

8. Things to consider for English teaching in Korea

The two most common routes to jobs in Korea are either public schools or private schools. The public schools comprise the EPIK program and GEPIK program, the private schools are known in Korea as hagwons. Private schools are run as businesses and offer additional English language tuition for enrollees. Teaching at a private school often involves 30 contact teaching hours weekly as opposed to the 22 weekly contact teaching hours at a public school. Holidays at the private schools are generally shorter than at public schools. However, class sizes at the private schools are usually smaller and the private schools can sometimes offer slightly more pay, in particular those private schools who offer opportunities teaching English in Seoul.

9. Understand things will be different!

To know Korea is to teach Korea! It really does pay to try to be open- minded and suck in the experience. Things don’t always follow the same protocols as in Western countries but this is part of the enjoyment of moving to the other side of the world to teach English for a year! Koreans are non confrontational and so it’s best to avoid raising your voice and getting angry if things don’t happen as expected. Also, Koreans have a ‘bali bali’ (hurry hurry) approach to getting things done. You might suddenly find yourself teaching a new class at the last minute, you might be asked to present a school talent contest with little or no prep time, you might have 10 more students than expected in your class! Ad-libing and going with the flow are useful skills to employ when teaching English abroad.

10. Prepare for culture shock

The goodbyes have been said, family and friends left behind, you arrive in Seoul, one year’s worth of belongings packed into a suitcase, ready to teach. What happens next? Chances are jet-lag will set in, you won’t be given much time to get your head straight and there will be an overwhelming feeling of ‘What did I just do’?! Knowing that these feelings are going to occur and being ready to deal with them is a major hurdle to cross if you want to work in South Korea successfully. It can be easy to freak out and jump on the first plane home but patience is critical in overcoming the initial bumps in the road. If you feel lost, check Facebook for groups of local ESL teachers in Korea, join clubs and societies, try and learn a little of the language. Stay active and the feelings of homesickness should soon subside!

ESLstarter are now accepting applications for EPIK and EPIK Seoul public school positions starting February 2014. To apply on-line, visit: