Teaching in South Korea: Whatever you do, Don’t be that Guy

Teaching in South Korea

Teaching in South Korea for 1-3 Years: Have Fun!

During my time in Korea, I’ve met a number of people who I could only really classify as “ridiculous.” Let me qualify that. If you’re in Korea for 1-3 years, this doesn’t apply to you. Have fun, enjoy life, travel the world, do whatever!

It’ll probably be the best couple years of your entire life because South Korea is a great country to live and work in (See: 10 Things I Love about South Korea). Then, go back home and start life there, build a career, go to grad school, etc.

But: a cautionary tale! I thought I was just going to teach in Korea for a year or two and I ended up here for ten! My story is not the exception.

Teaching in South Korea for┬áLonger: What “That Guy” Looks Like

No, who I’m talking about are the people who’ve been here for 4+ years but are still living like they’ve only been here a month. By this, I mean that they often still have significant student loans or credit-card debt. After three years in Korea, assuming you can save around $15,000 USD/year, that’s $45,000. There aren’t that many people who come to Korea with more debt than that, especially the non-Americans.

Or, they are living day-day, with no thought whatsoever about what life after ESL in Korea is going to look like. Perhaps they have even thought about it, but it’s too scary, or difficult, or not fun to get where they want to be so they just put it off and plan to think about it another day. Then another day comes and they kick it down the road a bit further.

And, after five or seven or nine years in Korea, teaching English here has become their career. Except they often have an unrelated degree of some kind and have done nothing to get the paper qualifications to go along with their experience. They often have a vague notion of going home, and doing “XYZ” related to whatever their undergrad was in.

But, people they graduated with have been working in that field for the past five or seven or nine years, getting experience and making some serious connections in the field and they’ve just been doing some random, unrelated thing on the other side of the world, losing touch with all the people that could help them get a job. The reality is that it’s going to be extremely difficult to get a job in the field your degree is in after you’ve been teaching in Korea for 5+ years.

Here’s the Person you Don’t Want to Be: A Summary

I hope that you don’t wake up one day after years in Korea and realize that you’re stuck in a dead-end job (basically all jobs teaching English in Korea would be considered such), with significant debt and no plan or prospects for the future. I’ve met plenty of people in this situation and it’s pretty grim, let’s just say that. Even talking to them for 5-10 minutes stresses me out and I often wonder why I seem more worried about their situation than they are. It’s scary stuff.

Here’s how to Avoid being “That Guy”

  1. Pay off your debt ASAP. It’s possible to save $15,000-$20,000 in Korea, so take advantage of this to kick your student loan or credit cards payments into high-gear. Just because you can pay the minimum amount, or defer your payments, doesn’t mean you should.
  2. Save a pool of money. A pool of money = choices. Going home with less than $5,000? Certainly not recommended. $100,000? Happy times and you have a ton of options.
  3. Consider your future career. If you like teaching English, get some paper qualifications to go along with your experience (see: Doing the Celta in Korea + Doing the Delta in Korea). If you like teaching children, become a certified teacher which opens up possibilities in international schools. If you don’t like teaching, but are just here for the money (see: Doesn’t Everyone Come to Korea for the Money?), make a plan for life after ESL in Korea.
  4. Get yourself some practical skills. The world cares about real skills and not fluffy stuff like, “I’m a good person,” “I can communicate cross-culturally,” or, “I speak survival Korean.” See: 6 Harsh Truths that Will Make you a Better Person-specifically point #6. Computer programming? Copy-writing? Editing? Social media management? Podcasting? Whatever! Just think “rock-solid practical” and get away from “fluffy”

Teaching in South Korea: I Wasted too Many Years

I wasted my first five years in Korea watching TV, taking vacation after vacation and drinking beer with my friends. While all those things aren’t inherently bad, especially the hanging out with friends, I wish I’d done them in moderation and used the rest of the time to do something much more productive.

The good news is that I eventually woke up and started to get some paper qualifications to go along with my teaching experience. I became involved in professional development stuff. I began to get way more serious about blogging. I wrote some books. I made some websites. I started to learn everything there is to know about doing business online. Imagine the possibilities if I’d done this stuff years sooner.

Don’t be that person I meet when I’m out and about and that cause me to feel stressed about their future, okay? Take some action and make a plan for awesome, post life in Korea. Use your time teaching in South Korea to set yourself up for the future, whatever that looks like for you.

Some Resources to Help You Out

The Wealthy English Teacher: It’s the first and only personal finance book written specifically with English teachers in mind. Learn all about paying off debt, investing in the stock market, and advancing your career. Turn your time teaching in South Korea into some financial awesome.

Life After ESL: If you’re teaching abroad, but are totally clueless about what to do for work when you go back home, this is the book for you. I interviewed 55 people who’d made the transition back to their home countries and gleaned every single little bit of wisdom I possibly could. And then I did a bunch of research to add even more wisdom to the book.


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