This is a question from someone who read my book, How to Get a University Job in South Korea: The English Teaching Job of Your Dreams, found it helpful and left a 5-star review (as did many others! In fact, the only negative reviews are from the Internet haters who didn’t even read the book).
Doctorate Degree in Law + Teaching English in a Korean University
“I am currently working as an attorney in the US. I have a Doctorate degree in Law and a BA in English. In both college and law school, I did some tutoring and mentoring. My fiancee is also an attorney, and has a similar background with respect to sporadic teaching. I know from your book that having a master’s degree is helpful, but am wondering if having a doctorate-level degree might help make up for the fact that we are not in Korea presently/at the time of application and don’t have experience teaching in Korea. We are very committed to teaching in Korea and of course would be willing to come to Korea for in-person interviews, but as we are both working as attorneys currently, we don’t have the complete flexibility to move to Korea before landing a position.”
My Answer: I Get that You Want a Change of Pace
While I appreciate the fact that you want to have a change of pace and a bit of adventure, I’m not sure teaching ESL in Korea is the best route for people with such good job prospects back home.
ESL in Korea = Basically a Dead-End Job
Teaching ESL, and especially in Korea is basically a dead-end job with no real chance for advancement into decent “career” kinds of jobs that give you more than a one or two year contract unless you make it happen for yourself such as getting into publishing or through Internet ventures.
I myself am leaving mostly for this very reason. I’ve made it to the top of the Korean ESL world and there’s nowhere to go but sideways or down, which is a pretty grim and demoralizing prospect for someone who is only 35 years old. In a lot of cases, even though I’m extremely well-qualified and experienced, most universities here will pay me the exact same amount as some newbie, fresh off the plane with one year experience at a hagwon. I can’t actually think about this too much or I start to feel stressed out.
Stellar Teachers Get Punished
Quite seriously, it’s terrible and you actually get punished by being a stellar teacher and employee because you’ll get promoted to head teacher which involves way more work for often no pay. Or, you’ll get all these extra high-level classes dumped on you which require tons of prep but you won’t get compensated fairly for that. Or, you’ll end up editing some crap from a PhD student, or professor at your uni for way less than the going market rate. Those are only the examples from the top of my head that I came up with in like 3 seconds.
Korean Uni Interviews via Skype
If you must come to Korea, it really is quite difficult to get a university job from abroad. I estimate less than 10% of Korean universities are willing to do Skype interviews. Having a PhD might help you get a foot in the door, but it also might be a bit of a red-flag because hiring committees will wonder why you would ever want to teach in Korea and you will probably have to spend a good bit of the interview process explaining this. They are used to people with Masters degree in things such as English, TESOL, humanities or arts. You’ll need to spend some time thinking about a good answer to this question.
Frugal Living and Early Retirement
Not to be too presumptuous and offer advice that wasn’t asked for, but have you thought about just working hard for a few years in America, living extremely frugally, getting yourself set up with investments and then “retiring” and traveling and doing whatever adventures you want to do? If you’re both lawyers, you could certainly do this with 5 more years of working.
One of my biggest regrets in my life is that I didn’t study something more useful in university and set myself up for a situation like that.
Check out these websites for some inspiration:
Freedom Through Passive Income (it’s mine!)