When I first entertained the thought of living abroad, South Korea was never on my radar. Like most young people, I wanted to teach where the money was good, and the nightlife was great! During my brainstorming, a friend of mine tossed out the idea of teaching in Seoul. He had taught there for five years and had nothing but wonderful things to say about it. Because five years is an extraordinary amount of time to spend away from home, I knew there had to be some truth to what he was saying, so I wanted to more about what it would be like to teach in South Korea.
Two months after that conversation, I was on a plane to Seoul and headed for a job that I knew nothing about. To say I was unprepared would be an absolute understatement, but after an adjustment period, I started to understand why he was so passionate about his experience.
If you are considering teaching abroad, one of your options may be South Korea. If that’s the case, here are seven reasons why I believe choosing to teach in South Korea is the best option…
1. Free and Furnished Housing
Let’s start with the most beneficial perks of choosing to teach in South Korea: no rent! Having free housing will save you a great deal of money and stress. This allows you to show up and get situated immediately. This is extremely helpful after a long flight paired with jet lag and the necessary mental adjustment to your new location. Because the school provides the housing, there is a chance that it may not be the nicest and most spacious home. If you’re expecting the Taj Mahal, stay stateside. Often you are provided with a small one-bedroom apartment that has only the bare necessities. This was the case with most of my friends, but everyone seemed to enjoy their setup.
When discussing your future living situation with a school, be sure to ask about air conditioning in the apartment. Unlike many homes in the US, Korean flats do not have central AC but rather a standing unit. Most apartments provided by schools have this available, but it is important to ask.
2. Great Pay When you Teach in South Korea
A big factor in my decision to teach in South Korea was the pay! Although beautiful, many countries don’t pay nearly as well as South Korea in comparison to the cost of living. For a first-year private school (Hagwon) teacher, the monthly salary is around 1.9-2.2 million won, roughly $1,600-$1,900 a month. After my experience, I believe first-time teachers should not settle for less than 2.1 million won. Many schools will assure you that the starting salary is much lower than 2.1 million won, but that is untrue. This is a business deal, and they are merely trying to keep their costs low, so approach it as that: a business deal. If they don’t budge, keep looking. You are valuable and do not need to settle. There are countless teaching opportunities in Korea and, if you give it time, you will find the right one.
One way to ensure that you are paid accordingly is to be prepared with experience and certifications. For more information about that, check out my blog What Is The First Step To Teaching In South Korea?
3. Ability to Travel
This is, hands down, the best thing about teaching abroad. Schools in Korea have designated vacation time for teachers, and it is an excellent opportunity to explore nearby countries. Each school has a different set of guidelines for vacation time, but every teacher I know has had, at some point, more than enough time to travel outside of Korea. Because you have already crossed the pond, flights to some of the best cities in the world are remarkably inexpensive. I have found multiple flights for a little more than $20 from Seoul to Tokyo and flew roundtrip to Cebu in the Philippines for $230! Because the flights’ cost is notoriously reasonable, I have friends who flew to Japan for a three-day weekend to snowboard. How cool is that!? Australia, New Zealand, and Bali are also major hotspots for teachers to fly to during their time off because, well… why not?
4. Great Food in South Korea!
Where do I start!? The food in Korea is undeniably delicious and surprisingly affordable. On an average working day, I would spend roughly USD 1.50 on breakfast, USD 2.00 on lunch, and about USD 3.00 on dinner. That total combined cost for my entire day equals a small sub at a mediocre sandwich shop back home. Aside from being affordable, the quality of food is immeasurable. Unlike in the States, chain restaurants are few and far between in Korea. Many of the places expats eat daily are small, family-run shops with very few foreigners. Typically the ingredients used at these restaurants are fresh and prepared after you order. This, at times, makes for a long wait, but trust me, it’s worth it!
Though the local food is terrific, having a taste of home every once in a while is a must. Thankfully Koreans have gone above and beyond to provide people with a life of ease and created many food delivery apps. The apps need to be set up in Korean so ask a friend or co-worker for help ASAP.
5. South Korea is Extremely Safe
Over recent years, concerns about neighboring North Korea have remained high in the States. As someone who once lived very close to the northern border, I feel that it is an extremely safe place to live despite what people presume. It is difficult to understand the disregard many people have for the possible danger until you live there and experience it firsthand. American military presence is known, recognized, and tremendous. With that alone, the feeling of security is present for foreigners.
The South Korean government has also installed CCTV cameras throughout the country to ensure that its citizens and travelers remain safe and protected. As of 2016, there were a total of 845,136 CCTV cameras across the nation. This may seem a bit big brother, but this system has extraordinary benefits. For example, a previous student was hit by a car while walking home and was left suffering from a broken leg while the driver sped off. Upon hearing the news, her parents contacted CCTV and were able to get the driver’s information and press charges.
According to SafeAround, South Korea ranks 23 for safety out of 160 countries surveyed. Although I have not personally experienced these issues, it is said that pickpocketing and bag-snatching at bars have been reported. This can, of course, happen anywhere, so make sure always to be aware of your surroundings and keep your belongings close.
6. Home Away from Home
Finding my culture away from home was hugely helpful during my adjustment period. Plucking yourself out of your comfort zone and into new and unknown territory can be extremely difficult. There were many times I simply wanted to reference something as silly as American pop culture or crack a few jokes with ease and couldn’t without going into detail. This is where finding your culture is important because it makes adjusting to your new home less stressful.
Itaewon is widely known amongst foreigners in Seoul as Little America. Just about everything in Itaewon is in English, and there are tons of familiar places to eat: Taco Bell, KFC, On the Border, Quizno’s, etc. This is a great place to meet other foreigners and feed any feelings of being homesick. People are typically very friendly in Itaewon, so don’t be surprised if a group of military guys approach you and invite you to tag along.
Another great way to find a group of people from back home is Bumble BFF and Tinder. If you’re interested in my experience with making new friends and a few bad dates, check out my blog ____
7. There’s a Wild Nightlife
Let’s call it what it is. Seoul is absolutely wild! Koreans go harder than any group of people I have ever encountered, and I’m from Las Vegas. That is saying something! Some of my best memories are from late nights spent at noreabangs (karaoke rooms) and dancing on tables with random Korean girls that I had met at a bar. As funny as it sounds, there is a sense of kindness and warmth amongst young Korean party goers that is utterly captivating. The atmosphere at bars and nightclubs is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced elsewhere. Korea caters to this scene so well you can’t help but find yourself lost in the mix no matter how much you try to fight it.
Before you know it, you’ll be with a new group of friends that become your best friends, and you’ll be making memories that will stay with you for a lifetime.
Teaching abroad in itself is an incredible experience, but if you’re looking to make good money, feel safe, and party harder than you ever thought possible, South Korea is the place to be.