Monday, December 14, 2009

 Teaching English as a Second Language in Korea.

UPDATE (3/2009) added a few new links 

If you choose to make Korea your home for the next year as an English teacher, you will have to jump through a series of hoops to get in the system. It isn't as easy as it used to be (prior to March 2008). First and foremost, one would generally need an E-2 visa. A common exception to this rule is holders of F-4 visas. Those who qualify for an F-4 are of Korean heritage. Otherwise, this post is geared for prospective E-2 holders from America.

To be considered for any teaching position in Korea, you must first qualify under these terms:

  • Hold at least a Bachelor's degree in any discipline
  • Hold a valid passport from either Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, United Kingdom, or the USA
  • English must be your first language
  • People from India, Singapore, and the Phillipines now have hope, too.
Here's an overview for what one can expect teaching in Korea. Another first-hand experience story can be found here. Also, Foreign/er Joy is an English teacher who has a fairly popular, well-written personal blog.
Here's a great checklist for public school teachers made by the good people at Footprints. For that matter, ATEK just published a mammoth 350-page online guide. Check it out (Alternative link).
If there were a sort of checklist for getting ready to teach overseas, it would like a bit like this:
  • Finish four year degree and obtain physical copy of diploma
  • Make notarized copies of your diploma
  • Research possible job positions and working conditions as they vary greatly
  • Apply through a single, reputable recruiter
  • Choose a job position offered to you either directly or posted online
  • Go to local police station and complete a Criminal Background Check (CBC)
  • Get CBC notarized
  • Send notarized CBC results to secretary of state to obtain apostille on CBC
  • Send apostilled CBC, notarized diploma, sealed transcripts, application to either recruiter or new employer in Korea
  • Recruiter or new employer will send you visa issuance (certificate) number
  • Contact local Korean consulate and setup application and interview
  • New E-2 visa applicants must visit in person local consulate for short interview
  • Arrive in Korea
  • Move into new home
  • Get acquainted with new employer
  • Get set up to take a medical and drug check at local Korean hospital (within 90 days of arrival)
  • Apply for Alien Registration card (ARC)
  • Do a good job - you represent your country ^^
Although this list is not comprehensive, it does cover the majority of problems and/or questions one might have. If anyone can think of anything to add, please feel free to comment!
Korea teaching English checklist
Common pitfalls:
  • Don't trust anyone who says you need anything other than a bachelor's degree as bare minimum. AA (Associate degrees) do not qualify.
  • Working conditions vary greatly and do not exactly correspond to how things are done back home
  • If using multiple recruiters for a public school position (e.g. SMOE) your application will likely be thrown out. Those who hire for public teaching positions only want to see your application once
  • Recruiting companies are free of charge on your end. The school that you choose pays them for their service
  • Educate yourself on the common differences between 학원 (academies) 공립 학교 (public school), private, and university jobs
  • Do not submit an online CBC check. Korea no longer accepts these. Get the CBC done in person. Local checks are fine. FBI checks not necessary, but also accepted (more expensive and take much longer).
  • Do not get your CBC more than six (6) months ahead of hiring date as your CBC will be considered out of date. Some even recommend that it be completed as soon as 3 months prior to departure. Play it safe.
  • CBC checks are a one time only deal for first time (and re-ups prior to March 2008 ) E-2 visa applicants.
  • Get CBC check apostilled by secretary of state. There is an alternative method for validating CBC check from within Korea (sworn affidavit) but it is generally easier to do from home country.
  • You must apply for E-2 in your home country. This cannot be done at an embassy in another country.
  • Hold onto your ARC like it's gold. This is your new traveling buddy. Take it everywhere you go and don't lose it.
  • If you quit less than six months into the job, you must leave the country. Your E-2 visa is tied to your job. Lose the job, lose your visa status.
  • If you quit after six months into the job (obviously not advised) seek a new job ASAP. Apply for new visa with new job. Your ARC isn't tied to your job, but it does reflect where you work. New job = need new visa. New visa = need new ARC.
  • Do not take on private lessons. It is highly illegal and is grounds for deportation and/or heavy fines. As an E-2 holder, you can only teach at the place specified in your contract. F-2-1, F-4, and F-5-9 visa holders can teach privates lessons so long as they register with local Ministry of Education and obtain private teaching certificate
  • Even if your recruiter accidentally (or intentionally) misleads you or gives you advice that conflicts with Korean Immigration, it doesn't matter - Korean Immigration trumps anything said by anyone (other than the Labor Board which is a separate entity)
  • Take your time, don't be pressured into anything you are uncomfortable with, and ask plenty of questions. This is your decision to move to ROK, so be informed and be open to jumping through hoops.
  • Have no fear - if you want to attend a Korean language school/university/학원, it doesn't affect your visa status so study all you want
  • Be prepared for a life changing experience.
For more information on living and teaching in South Korea check out Dave's ESL Cafe forum. Topics aren't always safe for work and validity of information varies but overall some good advice can be found here. Here's also an ongoing page devoted to statistics on foreigners in Korea.

Otherwise, here's a great link to get you started: E-2 Video Tutorial - quite comprehensive checklist and video with very practical advice. Make sure if you have any questions, check out this page first as it explains a lot of the nitty-gritty details often overlooked by many applicants. Furthermore, here is an excellently compiled FAQ list from ASK Now, Inc.