Updated 17/16/2016: We applied to the EPIK program in 2013 to teach English in South Korea and taught for a year until August 2014. While the EPIK program continues to wind down in South Korea, this advice is still good practice for applying for jobs overseas.

Last week I wrote the first in a series of posts attempting to demystify the long and often complicated process of applying to be an English teacher in Korea. This section is going to explain a little about the Public and Private school sectors and the pros and cons of using a recruiter.

I will also take this time to tell you that I received my contract in the mail and booked my flight! I fly out on the 18th August (!!) and begin my Orientation training on the 20th- I am equally terrified as I am excited! This next month is going to fly by in a flurry of visa applications, packing, tears and long goodbyes…

Public vs Private Schools in Korea

This debate is a little confusing with different people all saying different things- I have learnt a little about the goings on in each sector but am still no where near an expert. But, I will try to make it as simple as I can.

Public schools are government run and this is the route that Oli, Tom and I have taken. We went with EPIK (English Program in Korea), the first and largest government run program, which concerns most metropolitan and provincial offices of education. There are also more specific programs that deal with only one city or province such as the IMOE (Incheon Metropolitan Office of Education) and GEPIK (Gyeonggi- do English Program in Korea). You can often apply to these programs directly through their websites or, like us, you can apply via a recruiter. These are the positions that are available in September and March.

Privately run schools in Korea are called Hagwons. Available throughout the year, you can apply either through a recruiter or on your own. Dave’s ESL cafe has a great selection of vacancies and advertises hundreds of private school jobs. Rather than filling out an application form online you are more likely to send your CV and cover letter straight to the schools administration team.

Both types of schools have their benefits. Going private you can apply at any time and have more of a choice over where you go. Going through Gone2Korea and EPIK meant that we could only get a place with a particular Metropolitan or Provincial office of education- we won’t know exactly which school we are going to until we get to Korea. With private schools you also have the opportunity to apply to many different jobs. With a government run program you can only give in one application, although they really try their hardest to find you the right job.

Another benefit of the private sector is that you will generally have smaller class sizes, around 10-15 students. In public schools you could have up to 30, though you are more likely to have 20-25.

However, both sectors offer similar salaries. Your salary is dependent on your credentials and also where in Korea you are placed. As an example we will be receiving 2.2 million Korean Won per month, teaching in the province of Gyeongbuk, with a degree and a TEFL certificate. Higher salaries are dependent on full-time teaching experience, degrees in education and masters qualifications, although some variation may be seen across private schools. Both sectors generally pay for your arrival and return flights as well as offering a bonus fee in completion of your contract. Public schools will also pay 50% towards your medical insurance while this is not always guaranteed with a private school. 

The major benefit of teaching in a public school are the hours which are generally 8 hour days with 22 hours teaching per week. The rest of your time at school will be taken up writing lesson plans and preparing classes. Private elementary schools are similar but older classes are later in the day. Therefore, you are more likely to have to work evenings with a private school job, often not finishing until 10pm. You may also have more teaching hours with a private school. In general you will get more paid holiday with a public school jobs. These are the main reasons that we chose the public sector.

The actual application process for applying for a public school job is also be quite different. As they are government run we have had to jump through numerous hoops to get the jobs- they aren’t messing around with their future generations’ education! We not only had to fill out certain forms, we had to make lesson plans and have numerous documents legalised, the costs of which came out of our own pockets. There are obviously official requirements for private school jobs but from what I can gather there aren’t as many.

One final difference is that you are more likely to have another foreign teacher working at your school if you are private which is uncommon in the public sector.

The pros and cons of recruiters.

One major pro of hiring a recruiter is that they offer a lot of extra help at no extra cost. You will have a coordinator on hand (or at the end of an email) whenever you have a query about any aspect of the application process, and indeed anything else concerning teaching in Korea. We found that our recruiter was always very prompt at answering our emails and always gave us as much information as he could. We would have been lost at times without him!

However, despite Gone2Korea being the largest EPIK recruiter, we did find that there were times when we needed more information about the whole process than they could offer. I don’t know if going directly through EPIK would have made this easier. I will be writing a post on all the things that went wrong, and how they might potentially be avoided, at a later date!

Not only do you have the opportunity to talk to someone whenever you need to, you are also given a considerable amount of information to help you in the first place. I obviously do not know what the experience would have been like with other recruiters or without one but we were always sent very detailed emails explaining our next steps, along with extra information on things like interview tips.

What’s next?

Tune in next week for a step by step process of how I applied! And after that… what went wrong!
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