Updated 17/16/2016: We applied to the EPIK program in 2013 to teach English in 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.
This is 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. I’m going to try and break it down into a series of easy to follow steps and this first one regards all the things you need to think about before you even start an application. If you get all these things started, you will be in a great position to begin applying and then teaching in Korea.
First off, when to apply?
As a rule of thumb there are two major hiring sessions for both the Public and Private sector, these are February for the September semester and August for the March semester. As we wanted to start teaching in September we began the application process with a mediating recruiter at the end of February and, to be even more specific, one recruiter advised applying between the 15th February and the 10th March. However there are positions available all year round and the best place to go for these is somewhere online like Dave’s ESL Cafe to look at the individual job listings rather than going through a recruiter.
What do I need in order to apply?
Most importantly you will need to have, or currently be undertaking, a degree. My degree is in Psychology, Oli’s is a joint honours in History and Anthropology and our friend Tom’s is in Geology. We all got jobs so it goes to show that any degree is seen as an asset to being an ESL teacher (English as a Second Language). What will make you stand out even more is if you can prove why your particular, seemingly irrelevant degree is an asset, i.e. what you have learnt from studying it etc.
Which brings me to my next point about specialising your CV and writing a cover letter. If you were like me and haven’t updated your CV in a few years since you had that Saturday job as a teen, then now is the time to do it! Remember, you are applying for a teaching job so you need to really focus in on why you would be good at it. The schools don’t care much about the fact you worked in a pub for four years! We spent a good two evenings working into the night on ours so don’t rush it, and work together if you are applying with someone else. Here is an example template, similar to how I wrote mine:
Teaching Experience (with bullet pointed sentences on what was involved)
Education and Qualifications
Skills (A few key words along with descriptions)
Other Employment History
The next step is writing a cover letter where you can go into more depth about your relevant experience and skills. This is a harder thing to give advice on, as cover letters are very personal, but if you are struggling then please leave a comment below. What I will say is that if you take a bit of time to think about it, many experiences can be relevant if you word it right. Don’t forget the importance of any work experience or volunteering as well. And let your excitement and enthusiasm shine through!
Almost as important as having a degree these days is having a TEFL certificate. There are hundreds and hundreds of variations and different organisations offering Teach English as a Foreign Language courses and they differ wildly in price. A friend of mine found a deal for me on LivingSocial which had an incredible 90% off and thus I went with this cheaper option. What I got for less than £50 was a 140 hour online course with TEFLINK which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Although this is obviously well worth the money and absolutely fine for applying in South Korea (they simply ask that you have 100 hours or more), we later found that other countries such as Vietnam wanted you to have a in-class component, so our online courses were not valid. This is something to take into consideration if you are thinking of applying to other countries as well or later.
Do a little research and make sure you check websites like Groupon and LivingSocial for their offers. The courses also differ in how long they take to complete and how long they give you to complete them. I did mine slowly over 2 months but it is definitely doable even in a week if you have the time. While most recruiters allow you to be undertaking the course while applying, if you have time I would recommend just getting it done as early as possible. That way it is one less thing to worry about!
So once you’ve made a start on these things then you can start thinking about applying! We applied through an online recruiter, Gone2Korea, which I will tell you more about next week.
At this point you may also want to start thinking about where in Korea you might like to be placed. Slap bang in the middle of the crazy capital city of Seoul? Or maybe Seoul’s more chilled out, beach-side sister Busan? Or, if like us you are applying with more than one person, then what about central Daegu where positions are high but applications are a little lower?
Do a bit of research online and see where tickles your fancy. And what about who you want to teach? Do a little research online, read some blogs or peruse a Lonely Planet for inspiration.
Just remember, things don’t always go to plan (like they didn’t for us!) so be prepared and open minded!
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