Hello, and welcome to my FAQs! The following are frequently asked questions, including questions I had when I started this journey, as well questions that my family and friends had of me. I figured it would be a good idea to put everything in one spot, thus working as a resource for prospective teachers as well as bringing together important posts from my blog.
If you have a question that hasn’t been answered here, please feel free to leave it in the comments below or send me a message. As I get more questions, I’ll update this page.
Deciding to teach English abroad
There are a few qualifications, of course. Being a native speaker is one, and having a four-year degree (in anything, your major doesn’t matter) is the other. Depending on where you’re hired, you may or may not also need a TEFL certificate and teaching experience. (see: “Should I get certified?” below)
Teaching English abroad could be a great gap year experience, an exciting opportunity if you’re floating aimlessly, or a legitimate entrance to a TEFL career.
But wait! There’s more! If you get a job as an English teacher in South Korea, your school will pay for your plane ticket, give you free housing, and most likely offer a settlement allowance. They’ll also help you with health insurance, and you’ll get a bonus if you complete your contract.
With all of the benefits and your salary combined, you’ll be making at least the equivalent of $30,000/year in South Korea. Oh yeah, and if you’re a U.S. citizen, you get to keep all of it because that money is tax-free.
Applying to EPIK
There are many pros and cons to both, but overall, the public school jobs offer the best benefits package and the most security. You’ll work a regular 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. schedule, Monday through Friday, with all holidays off and 18 days paid vacation, and you’ll be paired with Korean co-teachers so you’re not all alone in class. However, you will probably be the only English teacher in your school, and your classes could be pretty large.
Here’s a good rundown of the benefits of working with EPIK: ILoveESL.com: Why EPIK?
By contrast, hagwon teachers work whenever the public schools are closed, meaning your working hours will be in the evenings and possibly on the weekends, and you’ll only get 10 days paid vacation, which will often be chosen for you and cannot be used consecutively. You’ll also be alone in the classroom, and you’ll be subject to intense parent pressure, all of whom want their children to get the most of this paid education. However, you might have many other English teachers in the school with you, and because you’re teaching more classes than a public school teacher would, your salary could be higher.
The biggest difference between public schools and hagwons, though, is that public schools put learning first (since they’re funded by the government), while hagwons put business first (since they must fund themselves). There shouldn’t be any moral weight attached to either, but by working for a hagwon, you’re at risk of being completely stranded should the business go under. Aside from that, there are good and bad hagwons, and by going the hagwon route, you really, really, really need to do your research to make sure you don’t get screwed over.
If you don’t feel comfortable going through the initial application process on your own, go ahead and use a recruiter. They’ll hold your hand through the entire application, give you a mock interview, and will always be available to answer your questions. Plus, if you don’t get accepted to EPIK, they’ll be there to help you find a different TEFL job.
See that third box, the one that says “documents received by EPIK office”? That’s the big one, the one that will take the most time and energy. All gathered up, those documents are going to be a massive stack! Here’s the list off all the documents you’ll need to get: EPIK Required Documents
If you’re a U.S. citizen, I can tell you from experience that you’ll want to do your FBI background check as soon as possible, but not too far in advance. You’ll have to get fingerprinted, then send them in for your background check, then wait around 4-6 weeks to receive your background check, then send your background check to the U.S. Department of State to get apostilled, then wait another week or two to get it back. Once issued, the background check will expire after 6 months, so time it just right to make sure you’ve got a bit of leeway before you intend to step into a classroom. For me, since I’m part of the spring intake, I know I’ll start teaching March 1, so I sent in my fingerprints in the second week of September. That gave one week, plus the 4-6 weeks processing time, as my leeway.
Getting to South Korea
Take note: if you plan to have any friends or family come visit you while you’re in Korea, they can stay with you for up to 90 days without needing a visa (that is, if they’re a U.S. citizen – other nationalities may have different restrictions).
The best place to check flight prices, in my opinion, is Google Flights. If you’re flexible, you can look ahead to see when flight prices are cheapest. Just click the “Lowest Fares” icon, and it will show you a graph going as far as 11 months into the future. Awesome!