Landing a University Job Teaching English in Korea

A reader with a graduate degree, currently at a university in the USA recently asked:

What’s the best way to get a university position in Korea?

The best way to land a good university/college job in Korea is more about method than a specific school (most are fine).

Find a good list of schools and apply to all of them. It is probably advantageous to apply via regular mail also as English departments at universities/colleges tend to regularly rotate the chairmanship among the faculty.

That way your package of information can just be addressed to the Chairman/Chairperson of the English Department rather than going to a specific individual’s email address who might even be on sabbatical or away from campus for an extended period.

If you are really serious . . .

To get your foot in the door it would be worth going in person to Korea and working a specific area or city.  If you are new to Korea, take a good look at some of the secondary cities. Due to the good public transportation system you are never really far from Seoul, Busan, Daegu or Daejon, so look for universities just outside those cities.

So many teachers want only to be in Seoul that the schools there tend to have their pick of people.   It is the secondary and tertiary cities that are your best bet for a first university position.

Landing that first university job in Korea can be difficult without an introduction or at least a face-to-face meeting.  That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, it just is easier in person or with connections.

Look around your current university for Koreans studying for advanced degrees.  You never know who might be able to connect you.  It really is a culture of personal contacts.

Informational Interviews

If you showed up in person doing “informational” type interviews right about March 1, you would have likely have luck somewhere.

The academic school year starts in early March – not September – so March is the best time to show up. There are always openings as some teachers fail to show up, others arrive and bail out and that  leaves schools looking for someone to put in place quickly.

Korea typically wants some prior tertiary level teaching experience, but if you are at the right place at the right time . . .

China as an option

A lot of people go to China to get their university experience then move on to places that pay more. That’s a good option too.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  University jobs are not difficult to land if you have a graduate degree.  An undergrad degree is fine for university positions in China.

Teaching Internships in China

Korea or Thailand? Starting your TEFL Career Abroad

A reader recently asked:

If you were starting off – would you go to Thailand or South Korea?

Personally, I would recommend starting out in Korea.  But – the right answer for me is quite possibly not the right answer for you.

Two major issues need to be considered and you need to move to your strengths and avoid your weaknesses – at least with your first job.


Thailand’s advantage is a warm and hospitable culture of friendliness.   It is perhaps one of the easiest countries in the world for a foreigner to live in and comfortably adapt.  Add to that wonderful weather, beautiful beaches and – well – what more could you ask of a country?

Koreans can seem a bit distant and unfriendly, perhaps just a bit wary of foreigners.   Add to that some really cold weather and even hot and steamy summers and well, all of us should be heading to Thailand!

If you have never lived abroad before and are concerned about your ability to adjust and succeed in a foreign culture, then Thailand might be your best bet of the two countries under consideration here.

BUT – I said I would go to Korea!  Why?

The second major factor in your decision making for choosing a country is:

Teaching Setting, Requirements and Expectations

On this issue, Korea comes out far ahead of Thailand.

In my opinion, Korea asks far less of newbie teachers and pays and provides far more.

Most teachers in Korea will teach 25 or fewer classroom hours per week and classes, especially in language schools, are usually kept quite small.   There is a strong cultural respect for teachers that helps smooth over any mistakes or major gaffs you might make.

In Korea, teacher training is not required to obtain your legal working papers (a good TEFL Certification is required in Thailand).  While I think teacher training should be mandatory everywhere, not everyone can afford a good course when first starting out and schools in Korea are flexible enough to let you learn on the job.

To Korea’s advantage add in the ability to be hired directly from abroad without having to go there, reimbursed airfare, paid accommodation and a few other benefits such as being able to save (fairly easily!) up to US$1000 a month on the job and I think Korea is hard to beat.

Thailand – on the other hand – almost always hires on the scene, does not usually offer airfare or accommodation, and you will earn enough to live well on the local economy, but you won’t be paying off debts or saving any serious money while working there.

Of Taiwan, Korea, Saudi Arabia or Thailand – my experience was that Thailand asked more of a teacher and paid less than any of the other countries.  Saudi asks a lot – but pays accordingly.

Add in Thailand’s required teacher training which means another four weeks without wages plus US$1200-2500 in tuition costs and Thailand can be an expensive place to get started.   Oh yeah, add in airfare to get there and a two-month security deposit plus the first month’s rent for your apartment, and your costs can really start adding up before you have even received your first wages.

TED’s Tips™ #1: If money is not a consideration and you have the seed money to get started, Thailand might be your best option.  But if you have concerns about large classes and working more hours – Thailand may not be a good option for you.

TED’s Tips™ #2: If money is a driving force in why you want to head overseas – Korea is your best bet by far, especially for newbies.  But if you are concerned about culture shock or just can’t tolerate frigid winters – then Thailand might be your best option.

TED’s Tips™ #3: China can be a good middle ground. Scout the market a bit before making a final decision.

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