Are you in your 50’s or 60’s and are wondering if teaching in South Korea may be right for you? Then you’re certainly in the right place. Keep on reading for all the details you need to know.
How Old is too Old for ESL in Korea?
A reader question from Blair, wondering how old is too old to teach in Korea He’s tried EPIK, as well as some recruiters and has gotten the same response from all of them, “You’re too old,” or no response at all. His question is whether it is worth it to apply to unis in Korea and China, and if yes, how to go about this. He wants to work for 6 months-1 year.
Ageism in Korea: Alive and Well!
I’d deal with the age thing first. I’ve had a couple coworkers who were in their 50’s or 60’s and I’ve met some foreigners teaching in various kinds of jobs that were that old as well. So, it certainly is possible.
However, in most places, it’s the younger and the more handsome/beautiful, the better teacher you must surely be. If you’re willing to work in the countryside, then you would have a much better chance at getting a job but being the only foreigner within 50 square kilometers is not so appealing to most people.
If public school and hagwon hiring is any indication, school generally prefer to hire the fresh off the boat blond/blue eye girl from North America than someone with years of teaching experience in their 30’s, 40’s or even older.
My theory is that Koreans generally don’t see foreign teachers as “real” teachers so experience doesn’t really matter. Why not have someone pretty to look at?
Universities are kind of the exception to this and experience and qualifications actually do matter at getting the job.
Do I sound jaded? I am. But, it’s also the reality for English teachers in Korea.
Older Teachers Abroad Face Discrimination
What about China or Japan?
Well, China is certainly a much bigger place so I’d say your chances are higher of getting a job there. I would venture a guess and say that there is probably not a lot of demand for those 4000-6000 RMB jobs which you see all the time of ESL Cafe.
Learn more about teaching in China vs. Japan here.
6 Month Contracts?
NEVER say that you only want to work for 6 months on your application to Korea. This is because all places want a minimum 1 year contract. Break your contract if you must, but it’s far better to just finish the year because of the return airfare and bonus money. I have seen various places in China offering 6 months contracts so that might be a better option for you.
Some types of university jobs (unigwon for example) may be more open to hiring an older teacher than others.
How to Apply?
Blair is wondering if he should just send a package to every uni in Korea and China (there are lists out there somewhere). This is kind of a waste of your time.
For one thing, unis in Korea generally don’t hire out of country applicants. Secondly, unsolicited applications don’t get much attention (I’ve been there and done that in Korea!).
You really should read this book about getting a university job in South Korea. How to Get a University Job in South Korea: The English Teaching Job of Your Dreams. It’ll answer all these questions, and more.
Based solely on my perusing the China job boards, it seems that unis there will hire from out of country so that might be a better choice for Blair. Or, just work hard before the age limit and save your pennies in a big way!
You may see some jobs ads for university jobs in Korea that mention a time limit. Three (if one year renewals) or four years (for 2-year contracts) is quite common.
Why does this kind of thing happen and is there a way that you can get around it? Keep on reading to find out all the details you need to know!
A Reader Question: Time limit at Korean Universities
“I recently was offered and accepted a full-time English Professor position at *** University in Seoul. However, I found out that the maximum amount of time that non-tenured, foreign faculty such as myself can be employed there is four years.
As a result, I am considering Seoul-area universities in the future that don’t have any limits on length for employment and was wondering if you might know of any universities that would fit this description.”
My Answer: It’s all about the Pension
There are some universities in Korea that have this rule and some that do not (maybe 50/50). It has to do with the amount of pension money your school would have to pay you in your 5th year and beyond being significantly more than the amount required for the first 4 years.
We’re talking here about the Korea Teacher’s Pension and not the Korean National Pension so don’t get confused between the two. Private universities are on the former and public universities on the latter. It’d be very rare to see this kind of rule at any public university.
Maybe 4 Years is Enough for Teaching at a Uni in Korea?
That said, working for 3 or 4 years at a place is a decent amount of time and it’s probably still worth it to take the job, if it’s a good one. Being stuck in a rut is bad news, so you can just think of it as a mandatory kick in the butt to get yourself moving upwards and forwards in your ESL Teaching career to bigger and better things.
Seriously, once you get a few years under your belt, it’s much easier to find a job in better city. Or, something with fewer hours and better pay. Perhaps more interesting classes, or better students. The sky is the limit here.
I worked at my university out in the Korean countryside for 5 years and was most definitely ready for a change. I’ve been at the new place in Busan for 3 years and love it, but am starting to feel the itch, you know?
Of course, I’m not one to settle in somewhere for decades. If you are, don’t take a job with this time limit and you should be fine!
Some solid advice on factors to consider when deciding which ESL teaching job to take: The Wealthy English Teacher: Teach, Travel, and Secure Your Financial Future. It’s the first and only personal finance for English teachers book on the market.
I’m a Really Good Teacher, Will They Keep Me Anyway?
Okay, so what about if you’re working at a university with a time limit, but you’re one of their top teachers (usually measured by student evaluations). Will they bend the rules and keep you?
In my experience, probably not and I’ve never actually heard of this happening. Unis are big bureaucracies and exceptions to rules are extremely hard to come by. It would likely have to go up the chain of command all the way to the university president. So, the people on the bottom that you’d actually talk to likely wouldn’t even let it get this far.
A rule is a rule and Korean administrations are simply not that flexible. It’s similar to how it would be in many countries with regards to this, so I’m not just picking on Koreans!
What Do You Think about How Old is Too Old for Teaching in Korea?
Are there age limits for teaching in Korea? What’s the oldest you’ve heard of? Leave a comment below and let us know. We’d love to hear from you.
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