I finished my first teaching contract in Korea a little over a year (one year and three months to be more precise). This post is an overview of how it began, some highs, some lows, and some general info on teaching in Korea.
Starting My Teaching Career
I graduated University in 2014, and in my last semester, I decided to take a TESOL course. After a lot of Googling, I decided to go with Oxford Seminars. I went with them for a few reasons:
- They had in-class lessons right on my University campus.
- They had great reviews, and job search help
- I had no idea what to look for.
The variance when searching for a TESOL course when you don’t know what you need is massive. Everything from getting your certification online on the weekend to paying for a program in Thailand (or somewhere else) that gives you your certification and a job placement, to full-on college and university courses. The one that I took seemed like a sort of middle ground. I wanted something a little more than just online (besides, how do you know how legitimate it is?!), but that I could get pretty much right away. The cost of the course was
The one that I took seemed like a sort of middle ground. I wanted something a little more than just online (besides, how do you know how legitimate it is?!), but that I could get pretty much right away. The cost of the course was
TESOL With Oxford Seminars
The cost of the course was $999 (CAD), but I got $150 off for signing up well before the classes started. It took place over the course of a few weekends, and then you had to “teach a class” at the end to the other participants in the course. Once the in-class part was over, you had a 50hr online part that focused mostly on grammar. When that test was finished, you received your certificate in the mail. You also have access to their job and support page.
Now the real question is – was it worth it? In short, no. Upon going to Korea, I’ve found that you either don’t need a TESOL (or TEFL or TESL) at all, or it doesn’t matter where it came from. Some companies do want you to have one, and between two people, everything else the same, the person with the TESOL has a better chance, but in general, it doesn’t matter. Furthermore, I didn’t find their job search or support useful, and it was quite expensive for what I feel I could’ve gotten from an online course. However, hindsight is 20/20, and at the time I’m sure it made me more confident in my teaching abilities. If you want to get one you can very easily, and like I said, it does look good, but overall you don’t need to shell out a bunch of money to tell a bunch of kids “A is for Alligator” (or apple, or whatever).
Furthermore, I didn’t find their job search or support useful, and it was quite expensive for what I feel I could’ve gotten from an online course. However, hindsight is 20/20, and at the time I’m sure it made me more confident in my teaching abilities. If you want to get one you can very easily, and like I said, it does look good, but overall you don’t need to shell out a bunch of money to learn how to tell a bunch of kids “A is for Alligator” (or apple, or whatever).
I have my degree, I have my TESOL certificate, now to find a job. Honestly, I wasn’t even set on Korea to begin with. My instructor at Oxford Seminars suggested it, I did some research, and I will agree that it’s ideal for first-time teachers.
At first, I applied for (and received offers from) schools in Hong Kong, China, Japan, and Korea. I nearly went to Hong Kong except for the lack of housing support in the contract – that place is insanely expensive housing wise.
There were companies from China that offered me jobs without even interviewing me, which was a big red flag. The process for applying to Japan was a lot more complicated, and in the interview they wanted me to describe why specifically I wanted to live and teach in Japan – which I didn’t have a good answer for. It wasn’t until I received a call from a man named Donny that I decided to go to Korea.
The English Village
I had sent a resume to a place called Seoul English Village. The ad was intriguing, and it said things like “no dealing with parents, or report cards, and lessons are already planned” and so forth. This seemed great as a first time teacher. The details were a little vague, and that’s when I got my call from Donny, who managed the foreign teachers.
This call turned out to also be my interview, which I didn’t even realize until after I received my contract. It was so casual, and just a back and forth of me asking questions about the school, and him asking questions about me.
I was sent a contract shortly after, and everything looked good. I would live on the campus, I would get free food, no utility bills or anything, and they had an evening shift! So shortly after I signed and went about getting my documents together to apply for my visa.
Visa for Teaching in Korea
As a Canadian, I needed to get a federal level background check (through the RCMP), some passport photos, a notarized copy of my degree, and sealed transcripts. You can get your fingerprinting done at a local police station (and I initially did this), however, it was taking so long, and whenever you call to check your status, you just get a machine.
Due to this, I highly recommend going through a service like commissionaires. They got it done in a matter of days. Then I printed out my E-2 Visa application form from the Korean consular website, and that was it. I had a wait a couple of days for school to have some things done on their end (to get a number that proves they will support your visa), and then I could begin my part.
Once I had everything I needed I drove to the Korean consulate in Toronto – the idea of sending my passport and relevant documents through the mail did not appeal to me. I took a number, waited a few minutes, and then handed in my documents (including my passport and a copy of the contract).
It was a very anti-climatic moment. They gave me a slip that said when I could come back and pick it up – it was about a week or so later. I informed the school, and they booked my ticket.
Off to Korea
I was one of the lucky ones, I got a direct flight from Toronto to Incheon airport, on the wonderful Korean Air. Korean air has to be by far the best airline I’ve ever flown with. The staff was very friendly, the food was decent, and the chairs were comfortable – they even give you a free blanket, pillow, slippers and headset. For a fourteen hour flight, I was very happy.
Once I arrived at Incheon airport, going through immigration is super simple. They just look at your Visa that is already in your passport, and you move along. I collected my bags, and then had to figure out where to go. Donny had emailed me this sheet that told me to look for a bus going towards Dobong/Seongdong but that it may not be spelt like that.
At this point, I had no idea how often things are spelt differently when they’re translated into English – and since they’re not English words originally, nor do they use the same letter system, there is no right or wrong way to spell it in English. Though at the time, not knowing this, this seemed super confusing, to find a bus that may or may not say this, and I didn’t want to get on the wrong one.
I happened to meet a person while collecting my luggage also going into Seoul, and he had never been there either, so we ended up deciding on taking a taxi. I had the address of where I needed to go written in Korean, but no idea how far it was.
Taking a taxi was a terrible decision. The taxi overall was 150,000 won! At least I split it with another person but still. If you are getting into Korea and you’re not getting picked up or met at the airport, DO NOT TAKE A TAXI. Go to the information desk, find the right bus, or at least take the train into Seoul. But, what’s done is done, and I was on my way.
Part 1/3. See part two.