Travel & Expat Lifestyle Magazine

Teaching English in South Korea: Personal Experience


Many young Americans, especially ones right out of college, are intrigued by the idea of teaching English abroad. It is advertised all over places like Craigslist, and even bulletin boards of colleges. Such ads give promises of amazing-sounding careers, salaries, benefits and experiences, but do not highlight many of the downsides, challenges and difficulties you may face. South Korea has become one of the biggest hotspots for English-speaking expats to teach their language.


Patrick Collins, a twenty-three year old from New Jersey, is currently teaching English in rural South Korea, in Gimcheon. Having graduated from Colby College in 2008, he decided to teach English in Korea because the job market in the United States was so bad. He also felt that it would be a great opportunity to learn about a new culture and pick up a new language.

Collins went through the visa process himself: “The visa process is easy. Once you obtain your contract obtaining a visa is a piece of cake, but obtaining the contract has some difficult steps; you need to obtain your criminal history record, a photocopy of your diploma with an apostille, and your transcript with an apostille. If you don’t know, an apostille is a seal that your state government provides to you at their state building. It can be confusing tracking down how and where to get this apostille, but once you figure it out, it will take about a week. If you don’t figure it out, it could take four months.”

He also warns that programs through EPIK do not know very much about the visa process. Americans should immediately email their state department to get the process going.

About actually living in Korea, Patrick has faced the fact that the culture does exhibit a degree of racism. He says that people will look right at you, point, and shout “Foreigner!” This is especially true in the rural areas. (This is probably influenced by the fact that Korea is a homogeneous nation, that they are one ethnic group with one language and heritage.)

Collins claims that the Korean language is very difficult to learn, even though he is talented at languages. It is very different from English and any other Western language. He enjoys teaching English and says it is easy. He claims that “You have to remember that you are there to motivate students and if you can remember that that is your goal, you’ll succeed.”


Though in a provincial area, Collins has been able to come into contact with many other foreigners, especially other English teachers. In large metropolitan areas, there are a lot of Americans and other foreigners. Seoul, the capital and largest city in Korea, also has an abundance of Western stores, especially in the Itaewon district.

In terms of transportation, you definitely don’t need a car in Korea. It’s a very small country, and the public transportation is excellent. If you travel in Korean cities, Collins says that anyone can get around not knowing Korean, but in the countryside, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the language.


3 thoughts on “Teaching English in South Korea: Personal Experience

  1. I recently started looking for a position to teach English in South Korea, however after the common occurance of discrimination I have faced, and the countless reports of these incidents from other foreigners, I am quite discouraged from choosing this country for a teaching position.

    I am Canadian, born and raised. English is my mother tongue and I have two university degrees in english, both a Bachelor of Arts and a Masters of Arts from the University of Ottawa. I live in the nations capital and work for the federal government. However, my qualifications have been undermined because I do not have white skin. I have been asked by Korean Employers “Where are you from?” despite reporting my country, citzenship, and qualitifications on all of my applications.

    This message is to provide Korean employers who hold this type of prejudice with valuable information: English is the most widely spoken language in the world and in the Western World, a person’s english ablities has nothing to do with skin colour. In my country (Canada), people are not discrimated based on skin colour. Human beings are treated equally, and employment opportunities are based on merit rather than race. I understand that providing a picture helps employers to familiarize themselves with potential teachers who are overseas, however using it for any of the above reasons is highly offensive. I am the female in the attached photo, and my qualifications are just as good as any other canadian with my level of qualification regardless of appearance.

    Unfortunately, the future generations of Korean students are the ones most affected by this type of discrimination. If Korean Employers continue to hold these beliefs about skin colour, the students will inevitably miss out on the chance to benefit from a rich diversity of cultures, and most importantly, learn that rascism is ignorant, inappropriate, and a thing of the past.

    **Educating students begins with educating teachers**

  2. I will have to disagree with you. I’m in South Korea right now, and although my coteachers and random people might make me agrrivated sometimes it is based upon them not knowing our language and us not knowing theirs. It really has nothing to do with skin color. I’m black, yes I’ve heard Miguk and Waygook several times by Koreans but they always smile and I always go English…boo…Korea is such a witty place. They like to play jokes here a lot and though there may be some discrimination (by what other people say…) I only see it with older generations but that’s only because they cannot speak the language. Just today, while I was out with my Korean girlfriend, We asked this elderly man about more walkways around Gwangju National Museum area. He spoke to her because that’s his language, but not to me. It wasn’t that he was rude, he just didn’t know the language. There are many Africans,African-Americans, and other people of color who live and work in South Korea and do very well for themselves. By no means is teaching English a walk in the park, but it really isn’t bad. Being able to work two hours and have free time…you really can’t beat that by how they pay you.

  3. My plan is to teach English first and then transfer to a different career, hopefully one involving my major-physics. I am not too worried about any discrimination with people as much as I would be about the workplace (I want to get my paychecks on time, get what I deserve etc). I’m looking into EPIK for more information; however I do not think I would fully commit until I got a testimonial from another American about the employer. It would be awesome to escape the USA and live in Korea and have a good life but it would also be terrible to go to Korea and get a job that does not pay well, or discriminates etc.

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