Unlike moving to a European country with the reassuring familiarity of the western way of doing things, South Korea is a long way from home for many English teachers in many ways. With different academic terms, and numerous private and public institutions that hold lessons at varying points of the day, it’s important to know what you’re signing up for.
Setting aside the process of obtaining a visa, you’ll first need to learn how to ask your potential future employer the right questions. Once you have all the information you need, all that’s left to do is check that what has been said aligns with your contract. But what questions should you be asking?
Perks of the job
The majority of the job opportunities in South Korea that you’ll come across, for both public and private schools, will promise teachers specific perks. These are typically the reimbursement of flight costs and the provision of accommodation.
However, it is important to iron out the details of these perks: are round trips reimbursed? Or will the school only pay for a one-way flight to South Korea? As far as housing goes, while the school may cover the rent, you should confirm whether you’ll be responsible for the payment of utilities, and if so, the approximate monthly cost.
The average monthly salary for a teacher who has just started in the industry in South Korea is from $1670 to $2000, so it’s unlikely that any of these additional expenses will make much of a dent. Nonetheless, having a clear idea of how much money you’ll have to play with each month will make it far easier to save or even invest, and plan ahead for future adventures.
Where you’ll be based
Although it’s unlikely that you’ll be expected to work all across the city or town that you find yourself in, it’s never a bad idea to double-check the exact location of all the lessons you’ll be responsible for teaching. Failure to do so could potentially lead to less downtime than you’d been prepared for and more time getting familiar with the public transport system.
While it might not be outlined in your contract, also don’t forget to inquire about how far the accommodation is from your place of work, and what your typical daily commute will look like. The more you know in advance, the less overwhelmed you’ll be upon arrival. For more information on how to prepare for your next trip, check out marketbusinesstimes.com.
Who and how you’re teaching
If it was agreed that you would be teaching a particular age group; be sure that it is also specified in the contract’s wording. This will ensure that you’re not in for any surprises and that you can already get to thinking about what kinds of activities you’d like to prepare and do during your classes.
You should also clarify your average weekly working hours; how long classes usually last, and how your day will be divided. Typically, teachers who opt to work in private schools will work longer weeks, teaching around 6 hours a day. In public schools, the average is 22 hours of teaching a week, while coveted, well-paid university roles only demand 10 hours.
Work-life balance is important no matter where in the world you are; so don’t shy away from asking about how many holiday days you’ll be entitled to. The process for requesting them may vary from school to school, so find out about the school’s policy before signing. While you may have travelled all that way to teach; knowing how to take them will ensure that your time in South Korea doesn’t only revolve around work.
When booking time off, bear in mind that the academic year runs from March – July and then from August – February. There is also no one-size-fits-all when it comes to how many days off a school might offer teachers. Public schools tend to score a little higher on that front though; offering around 18 days, in addition to the national holidays.
Contributions and severance pay
As a teacher who teach English in South Korea; you will be required to contribute 4.5% of your monthly salary towards a pension scheme. Whether that money will be returned to you at the end of the year; will depend entirely on where you’re from, so do ask your school.
Beyond pensions, some schools also offer severance pay or a bonus upon completion of your contract. Read the terms of the contract carefully regarding this; as should you decide to leave your contract early for whatever reason you may no longer be eligible for it.
As with any job, there may come a time that your employer asks you to put in some extra hours. Confirm from the get-go what the school’s procedure is should the need for overtime arise. You will want to know how often you can expect it to happen; whether you will be required to accept additional hours, and, most importantly, if they offer overtime pay.
After you’ve established general expectations; and can see that they are clearly outlined in your contract, the rest is up to you. While some teachers might prefer a little extra cash now and then to put aside for travelling; others might place more value on their free time. Aim to sign a contract that aligns with your needs.
While it may be nice to think that every adventure is meant to be; the reality is you could find yourself a few weeks or months into a teaching job in South Korea and realise it’s not for you. So, what can you do?
The standard notice period is 30 days, nonetheless, read your contract thoroughly to verify this. If you’re staying in accommodation provided by the school; you should also confirm how soon after you’ve given your notice you’ll need to move out.
As your E2 visa is tied to your working contract; once your notice period is up you’ll have 14 days to leave South Korea. It will still be possible to enter the country again on a tourist visa, but in terms of work; you’ll have to start the working visa process over should you want to secure another job.
Overall, so long as you’re as informed as possible before signing your contract there’s no reason why teaching in South Korea can’t be an incredible opportunity to immerse yourself in a new culture. The unknown can be daunting, which employers will be aware of; so as any good teacher knows: there’s no such thing as a stupid question.
In the meantime, to learn more about life in South Korea and what else to expect as a teacher, check out the TEFL.Org’s guide to grow Teach English in South Korea. This guide can provide valuable insights and tips on teaching methods and navigating jobs as English in South Korea teacher in Korea.