Learn about teaching English in South Korea with Valerie & Griffin Stewart. They’ve been teaching in Korea for 18 months experiencing expat life, well-paid work and travel. Plus Valerie has written a book about their findings: Coming to Korea: A Practical Guide For Getting An English Teaching Job in Korea And What To Expect.
Expat Life in South Korea
Valerie and Griffin Stewart weren’t just starting their overseas lives together, they were starting their married life together. Two days after they said goodbye to family and friends at their wedding reception, they flew into South Korea to start life as expat English teachers at a government school in Ulsan.
All those changes at once can be stressful and they have noticed the lack of family support networks when things have got tough. As expats, many of their friends are their own age and are working through similar issues. When we spoke together they were honest about the difficulties, but wouldn’t trade their choice for anything.
They praise the kindness of strangers and their new-found friends in Ulsan. Being able to make a fresh start and develop friends as a couple has been a big advantage of leaving so soon after their wedding.
As English teachers in South Korea they are paid well and are able to save half their income, allowing them to pay off student debt from home. They are also able to easily afford to travel the country, enjoy local hobbies like Taekwon-do, and to buy western food which comes at a premium price.
Teaching in South Korea
Teaching English in South Korea has been a wonderful job in many ways, but there have been times that have been extremely trying.
Valerie and Griffin arrived without any teaching qualifications or experience. The minimum qualifications to teach in Korea, are you must be a native English speaker and have a four-year University degree. Because of this, and the differences in student attitudes and classroom management between the United States and Korea, they struggled. After six months, they decided to up-skill, by doing an online teaching qualification in their own time.
There were also significant differences in the work and corporate culture. The most pressing example is the blase attitude towards the school’s contractual obligations. This is one of the most worrying aspects about considering a teaching job in Asia: the potential for the school to turn around and ignore holiday time, flights home, or bonus payments expected by the teacher.
As a result of their experiences, Valerie has written an ebook called Coming to Korea: A Practical Guide For Getting An English Teaching Job in Korea And What To Expect. The goal was for 100% honesty: it’s not a sales pitch for teaching in Korea, but a practical guide.
As well as outlining the issues they faced in getting work, dealing with teachers, students and others, they talk about pay rates, timetables and holidays. Their own examples are supplemented with input from their friends and colleagues to round out the advice.
At the end of the day, these previously unqualified teachers are well paid. They tell us how they are saving US$2,000 a month between them while living comfortably. That’s a significant saving for those wanting to travel the rest of Asia after finishing a one-year contract.
Favourite travel spots
Teaching in South Korea can be a great launching pad for ongoing travel. Flights from Korea to rest of Asia proved more expensive than Griffin and Valerie anticipated — squashing plans of quick hops to other countries–, but national travel is affordable.
The high-speed train and public transport make getting around South Korea easy for teachers and other travellers. Griffin and Valerie have been able to make good use of their holidays, as well as take part in trips organised and paid for by the local education board.
Their highlights so far:
Visiting the DMZ (De-Militarised Zone)
A surprisingly popular trip from Seoul is to visit the two-kilometer wide swathe of no-man’s land between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea). There are several points at which one can visit on tour or independently.
Historic Capital of Silla: Gyeongju
The capital of the Silla dynasty which ruled most of the Korean Peninsula over 1,000 years ago is an interesting visit. Gyeongju is filled with historic places, burial mounds, temples and palaces, making tourism a main economic driver. Our American interviewees were impressed with the age of artifacts that you can visit.
Current Capital, Seoul
The capital of South Korea, Seoul, is a fun place to visit. Griffin loves the comparison of ancient palaces and temples alongside modern developments. With over 10 million people living in the city, it’s certainly got its fair share of variety!
Coming to Korea
Valerie’s book, Coming to Korea: A Practical Guide For Getting An English Teaching Job in Korea And What To Expect, is now available for sale. She has offered Indie Travel Podcast readers and listeners a specially discounted price with the coupon: WELOVETHEINDIETRAVELPODCAST