Whitney in Korea – Interview with a Teacher

Whitney has been teaching in South Korea for a year, realizing she needed to travel the world while she had the chance.  

Where have you taught and how long have you been teaching for?

I taught in Seoul, South Korea for one year, and I’m planning to teach in Vietnam next for one year. 

What are some tips you’d give a newly graduated student interested in travelling Korea?

Definitely get TEFL certified – it’s required by a lot of schools/companies. Do some research on the culture, and learn to read the alphabet. It’s actually easy to learn and very helpful when you’re over there. I would recommend working with a recruiter to make it easier getting your foot in the door (you should not have to pay for this service) and they’ll help you find legit schools/companies to work for. Always do research into any school you’re interviewing with!

What are some ways to maximize income and minimize expenses while you’re there?

As far as maximizing income in Korea, there’s not much you can do as immigration is pretty strict about not working outside of your contract. However, it’s not impossible to find under-the-table work (at your own risk, of course). You can minimize expenses by not going out and partying all the time or being frugal with travel. Food can be a big expense, especially if you eat a lot of fruits and vegetables or eat Western food all the time. So, you may have to make some compromises there.

If you knew then what you know now, what would you have done differently?

I might’ve waited to see what other jobs I could’ve been offered – I ended up taking the first one, after some convincing. It was for a big company with many locations, but they didn’t know which location I’d be at until well after I’d sign the contract, so it was impossible to speak with someone at the specific branch I’d work for until it was too late. I was assured the branches were very similar… but that wasn’t true, or at least not as similar as the company made it seem. It wasn’t the worst, but I think my experience could’ve been a lot better if I’d gone with my gut and waited. 

What are some tips on avoiding culture shock once you get to a new country, are working, are living on your own? 

One thing you can do is really do your research so you can mentally prepare yourself – that can help a lot. Go into it with an open mind and try to be understanding and respectful of the culture you’re in. Talking with other foreigners is also great – you’re certainly not alone! Also, it’s totally ok to treat yourself to things from home – I used to buy sour cream and onion Pringles and Coke when I was feeling homesick (and sometimes when I was not, let’s be honest). Having some familiar things helps you acclimate. 

How do you deal with what would seem to be inevitable loneliness from being in a foreign country?

Making friends is huge! I was lucky and had an orientation with about 24 other new teachers with the same company, so there was kind of a built in friend pool. I ended up hanging out with 5 or 6 of them regularly throughout my time there. Also, in Seoul and I suspect other major cities, there are endless ways to meet other foreigners. So many Facebook groups and meetups! Take advantage of those, and loneliness won’t be much of an issue. Also, keep in touch with people back home. I wasn’t always good at that, but it is important and helps when the loneliness does creep in.

What made you decide to start? What were you doing beforehand?

I had what you might call a mid-life crisis, if I were 10-15 years older, ha. I was turning 30 (so, a 1/3-life crisis?), and was feeling a bit low and disappointed I hadn’t done as much traveling as I’d wanted to at that point in my life.

I was in a temporary professional job, so the timing was right if I wanted to take a break in my career. I just wanted to see the world and be able to afford it. EFL teaching is arguably the best way to do that. It can be challenging and exhausting, but also fun and rewarding.

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