Dear Korea

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Korea is being very stubborn about accepting me back into its loving arms. I’ve shot off close to fifty applications to various hogwans (private schools) of late, and so far have yet to hear anything back. Maybe I’m being impatient, or maybe I’m applying too early for the notoriously disorganized hogwan owners, but it’s getting a tad frustrating.

James was a bundle of energy

So frustrating, in fact, that I’ve bitten the bullet and submitted an application to return to Korea through EPIK. For those not in the know, which I’d assume would be most of my readers, EPIK are the organization that handle the hiring of teachers for Korea’s public school system. I say bitten the bullet like working for a public school is a bad thing, but that’s far from the truth. While it does mean having to work regular 9-5 hours rather than the cushier 1-9pm hours that most private schools offer, it also means much longer holidays (four weeks compared to two weeks), having an employer you know will pay you on time, and having a co-teacher who can (ostensibly) help you control your class if they get a little unruly.

Fallon worked at a public school during her time in Korea and many of my friends still do. Why then, would I be against them? The simple fact is that their application process is ridiculously involved and there’s no guarantee you won’t be placed in a random locale you don’t want unless you apply on day one. Now I, fool that I am, have left it until over a month after applications opened to submit my application – so there’s every chance I’ll end up in a village somewhere out in the more backwater areas of Korea.

Twigim - Best drunk food in the world

Lately I’ve been giving a lot more thought to China. I was offered a role there working for Disney English last week, but turned it down after speaking with one of their employees. While she had great things to say about their classroom set up and the quality of the syllabus, she advised that if I wanted to have free time and to travel, they wouldn’t be the employer for me. Most private schools average around 20-30 work hours a week, but Disney English was asking for 40 while paying only marginally more than the average Chinese employer. It all sounded a little too much for a carefree traveler like myself, and so I turned the role down.

A week on and I’ve just come off another promising phone interview with a prospective Chinese recruiter. The main appeal of teaching in China is obvious – it’s China. The Great Wall, the Forbidden City, close to India and Mongolia etc. etc. There are countless thousands of travel stories just waiting to be written about my time there, and it’s a very tempting prospect. I was lucky enough to spend a week in the southern Chinese province of Hainan in 2008, and while it wasn’t ‘authentic China’ like you see on TV, I definitely came away with an appreciation of the country and its people. Getting a chance to live in China would be fantastic.

Dear China - These are not French Fries

The drawback? The pay. I’m looking at taking home only about $900 Australian a month, and while accommodation is included and the income isn’t taxed, I’d still be earning around $1000 less per month than I would be in South Korea. The cost of living is a little cheaper, it’s true, but that’s still going to make saving up for future adventures difficult. I’m reluctant to give up my drinking budget entirely, you see.

Still, the role would set me up well for future roles in other countries handled by the same recruiter. Their list just happens to include Thailand, which is where I want to study for my CELTA and one of the countries I must see before I give this traveling game up.


But for now I will continue to apply for Korea in earnest. In truth, applying in November for February jobs is applying too early. My last two Korean jobs have been a case of applying on the 1st of the month and being there before the end of the same month. As I said, they’re notoriously disorganized in the hogwan game. Ideally I’d like something tied down before I jet off to New Zealand and Fiji so I can plan for it – but at the end of the day, I’m just going to be more likely to touch down on January 15th and begin packing for a job I only applied for on the 14th. That’s just how they roll.

Before I go back to sending out applications and tracking down the documentation necessary to apply to have my degree replaced (long story involving a past Korean employer) – I’ll leave you with this cheerful little ditty. Just be warned: If claymation creeps you out, maybe stay away.

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  1. Though it was run by deceitful criminals, one benefit of Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education (SMOE) having control over their own hiring was that you could guarantee that you got a spot IN Seoul, rather than in some random far off town. Now thanks to EPIK taking over, I can see where that might be a little more difficult.

    Now, I’ve never taught for a hagwon, but I have to put in a plug for public schools. Though our schedules say 8:40am-4:40pm each day, at elementary schools we just work in the morning. Contracts are for 22 teaching hours a week (a teaching hour is 40 minutes long), so I am done M/W/F at 12:10pm, and T/TH at 1:30pm. You have all afternoon to hang out, “plan” lessons, mess around on Facebook and…dare I say it…comment on people’s blog entries. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve brought work home. In fact I can count it on two fingers. And those times were just because I chose to watch TV at work rather than lesson plan.

    Middle school and high school teachers definitely do more work to prepare their lessons that we do in elementary, but they also have huge gaps of not working- there are 2-week periods they don’t have class for midterms and finals each semester. There are benefits to both, obviously. And, really, the vacation can’t be beat. 21 days of actual vacation means four glorious weeks off, sure. But then keep in mind that during winter and summer breaks the rest of your time you’re doing camp, which is three weeks of half-days. My camp last summer was totally sweet, we came, taught, played games, were fed lunch, and I was home by 1:00pm. Sure you can’t jet set off anywhere, but you do have a lot more time and freedom on your hands.

    Oh, and that background check thing got pushed back a year, so no luck there for it jamming up the applications process.

  2. Since writing this entry I have had two interviews for jobs in Korea. Clearly people respond to a well timed blog post.

    Incidentally, this is already the second most read blog entry I’ve ever had.

  3. You don’t have to accept an EPIK offered placement, you can contact the school or website (my tiny, rural school as a website – not that I’ve ever been there) and can tell EPIK to keep looking. Say that too frequently and they might opt to not place you but you do have more wiggle-room that it first appears. It can also mean waiting longer for placement. The other thing with public schools is the majority of their placements coincide with the start of the new school year in Feb/March. You might want to be targeting late Feb/early March as your return date.

    Also, with everything in Korea it literally a game of Stop, Stop, Stop… GOooooooooooo! Nothing happens until the avalanche is trigged and suddenly everything needed to be done yesterday.

    I wouldn’t sweat it, rather do what you can now and amp it up when you return from Fiji. Hagwons are always hiring.

  4. Aye, did it really not publish my comment?! Let’s try again … (sorry if this posts twice!)

    I’ve heard rumors that Kid’s College in Namcheon (beach area of Busan) is losing around 6 foreigners in February. I don’t remember who I heard it from, so that’s all the information I have …

    I just read on that Pukyong University (party area of Busan) is hiring for March 1st. The ad is on the 2nd page of the jobs ad if this link doesn’t work:

    And, finally, EPIK is requiring all Americans and Canadians to have a national background check so that just might be holding those applicants up while giving you a chance to get all of your documents in. Like you said, everything about Korea is last minute, so you’ll probably end up with a job in January. Fighting!! 🙂

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