Teaching English in South Korea

Teaching English in South Korea can be a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the culture. My friend Grace spent three years teaching English in South Korea, and wrote this below post. ESL stands for English as a Second Language.

Here’s what you need to know about teaching english in South Korea

Living abroad has lots of benefits. Once you’re living overseas, you can make lots of short trips. Plus, your time in the classroom and actually living in the country can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Surprisingly, you don’t need to already speak the language in that country to teach English there.

South Korea is a great place to take a gap year abroad or teach English in a foreign country.  Here is a short overview of the main teaching positions offered to native English speakers.

Two education systems in South Korea

There are generally two education systems that hire native English teachers in Korea: Hagwon and Hakkyo.

teaching english in South Korea - ESL classroom fun
ESL Students in the classroom in South Korea



Hagwon private school in South Korea

Hagwon institutions are privately owned and operated businesses. They offer students tutoring in core subjects like English, math, and science.

There are many hagwon institutions in Korea. If you perform a job search on the Internet, you’re likely going to find a hagwon job.  Hagwon jobs pay well. Most offer similar benefits (medical insurance, housing allowance, round-trip flight reimbursement).

However, the contracts are made between the native teacher and the business.  It is important to do your homework and make sure you work for a reputable hagwon. Some have been known to fall short of their promises and/or don’t treat their employees well.

Generally, you teach alone in the classroom. The work hours are in the afternoon and evenings, like 1pm to 9pm. The classes are smaller (up to 20 students), and you’ll likely have 5 -6 classes (~40 minutes long) each day.

Some hagwon institutions close on national holidays and vacation is usually 10 working days.  The better hagwons require a degree in English or English literature.

Hakkyo public school in South Korea

Hakkyo is the public school system.  Korea has many public schools. There are native English teachers at all three levels (elementary 1-6; middle 7-9; high school 10-12). However, there’s a stronger presence in elementary schools.

You can be hired directly by a school. Or, more commonly, you can be place by a government-sponsored program called English Program In Korea (EPIK).

The contracts pay well, and offer good benefits like the Hagwon institutions. This nice additional benefit is that they also offer pension. There’s also other monetary benefits when you renew your contract.

The contract with Hakkyo offers more vacation days (almost double). However, if you work for EPIK, there are other requirements you’ll have to fulfill. For example, you may have to teach “summer/winter camp” classes, and the contract is rather restrictive.

The work hours are usually 8:30am to 4:30pm, the classes range from 30 to 40 students, and you’ll be allowed to work up to 22 hours per week at the discretion of the school.

Classes are taught with the help of a Korean English teacher who can help translate and manage the classroom.  The Ministry of Education is tightening its belt on native English teachers in general. Hundreds were cut from the program in Seoul this year. More cities are likely to follow suit. They now have higher standards for academic credentials.

teaching english in South Korea - ESL classroom fun - the boys
ESL class in South Korea – the boys

Grace’s experience by EPIK

I was hired and assigned to a public middle school in Daegu by EPIK.  Aside from some of the nuances in the contract, I prefer hakkyo.  It was a huge leap of faith to quit my job and move to Korea. Thus, it was a comfort to know that I would have a contract with the Korean government, not a private business.  I haven’t heard too many bad stories about hagwon institutions. However, I have been relieved to know that I have my contract to protect me in some instances.  

Additionally, EPIK brought me in and put me through a 9-day orientation program with other native English teachers in my city.  It was a great way to get to know other native teachers (88 in my class).  Some of my closest friendships in Korea were formed there.  

Living in Korea

Korea, as a place to live, is great.  There’s a vibrant Western-influenced culture in the major cities but still a strong presence of traditional Korea.  Korea is quite beautiful with a lot of mountains, coastlines and islands.  There is a lot to do and see in South Korea. It’s easy to travel around.    
teaching english in South Korea - students in ESL classroom

Traveling from South Korea

One of my reasons for coming to Korea was the opportunity to travel.  Korea is a great gateway of sorts to countries in Southeast Asia.  Travel from Korea to countries in Southeast Asia is cheap. Places are easy to get to.  In the two and a half years I’ve been here, I’ve taken about 15 trips outside of Korea. I’ve been to more than a dozen countries in Asia.

Cost of living difference

There is also a huge economic benefit of coming to Korea.  Although the salaries are not as high as the United States, the cost of living is low. You’re able to save a lot of money if you choose to.  It’s easy to find things to spend your money on – for me, it’s travel. However, many people come here to pay off school loans and save money.  This really adds up. I often hear that people save between $1,000 and $1,500 a month (!).

teaching english in South Korea - ESL students
Drop us additional questions about teaching English in South Korea (or any other country) in the comments section below. We’ll try to get them answered for you!

Helpful websites:

Teach English in Korea – additional resources –

Good luck!! 

One thought on “Teaching English in South Korea”

  1. 2 words: Air Asia! There’s now daily flights from Seoul and Busan to Kuala Lumpur so traveling around SE Asia is now easier than ever.

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