Korea: Don’t Waste your Time | Side Gigs for ESL Teachers

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Korea, don't waste your time

How Can I Use My Time in Korea Wisely?

A question from a reader, E.J.

“I am now beginning my second year of teaching  in Korea. I was calculating  how I’m doing with my student loans and how long it might take me to pay them off (which is looking like quite a while). That got me thinking about.. well, everything. Specifically, I want to make sure I’m spending my time wisely while I’m here in Korea. As a teacher, I have a nice chunk of free time and I try to use that in the most meaningful ways possible.

I heard that you will soon be moving to Canada, leaving behind, what, a 10+ year career of teaching here? What I want to know is, what advice do you have for teachers like me who are just beginning their career and who will probably be here for a significant amount of time? What things should I be doing now to be ready for whatever I might do after Korea? Do you have regrets or things you wish you had done? I am considering the possibility of becoming a copy writer or something like that if I ever move back to the U.S., so I have begun to think about how I can build experience in that area while I’m here.”

I’ve Been Thinking about this Stuff, a Lot

I got this question from E.J. via email and thought it was such a good one that I’d write an entire blog post about it. I give you a virtual high-five for thinking about this stuff so early on during your time in Korea. Let me start off with a quote from How to Thrive in South Korea by one of the stalwarts of the teaching scene here. I agree with him completely.

Better than I could say it Myself

“There are two aspects to professionalism: the first one if you want to make teaching a career and the other one if you don’t. First: start your teaching career right. Whichever teaching job you are in, however they treat you, take class preparation and classroom performance seriously. Your next job may come from those who see you in your current job and your students deserve your best. Recognize that in Korea, you are a teacher 24/7, so your dress and behavior off-campus can impact perceptions of your professionalism. Participating in professional/academic societies is an excellent way to demonstrate to others that you consider yourself a professional.

If English teaching isn’t your long-term future, OK. But be a teacher, not a vacationer who teaches to pay the bills. Start working towards whatever that non-teaching future may be. Read books. Practice your skills. Maintain contacts in the professional community (discussion lists, Facebook groups, alumni associations). Be ready to hit the ground running when your teaching term ends. Don’t make this a blank year on your resume that sets you back when you return home. You will just be a year older, and further from the most current education versus those you will be competing against for your next job.”

Don’t Waste your Time in Korea

Basically, it comes down to this: Don’t waste your time in Korea! I don’t mean that teaching in Korea is a total waste of time. Mostly, I mean that teachers have a lot of free time and shouldn’t waste it.

I spent a lot of years in Korea being a consumer-cruising around on English teacher forums, watching TV and movies and wasting time on the Internet. I kick myself and can only imagine the possibilities if I’d gotten serious about writing books and building websites 5 years ago instead of 1. Better late than never, but these days, I spend a lot of time trying to encourage other teachers to not waste their time and to get their side-gig on, whatever that may be.

Become a producer instead of a consumer.

Korea waste of time

Forget about TESOL Qualifications

For your specific situation, it sounds like you have ambitions outside teaching, so while you should spend time planning lessons and do a decent job in the classroom, don’t worry too much about getting TESOL certs, etc. You’ll mostly be wasting your time and money, especially in Korea where this kind of thing isn’t really valued.

Good News for E.J

The good news for you is that you mentioned copy writing. This is certainly something that you could get started with even before you leave Korea because most of that stuff happens online. Reach out to some of your favourite bloggers and offer to write 2-3 articles for free as a means of portfolio-building. See if you like doing it and could picture doing it as a career.

The key is to get started as soon as possible and to build up your reputation while you’re still teaching here so when you do eventually go home, you can hit the ground running and not have a bunch of down time.

For more details about how to make the transition home, check out  Life After ESL. I did a lot of research on foreign teachers who’d returned to their home countries and I think you’ll find it useful.

Pay off Those Loans

Debt is kind of like this ball and chain that hangs around and keeps you down. A lot of the unhappiest people I’ve met in Korea are those that feel trapped because they have a lot of debt back home and think that working in Korea is the only way to pay it off because they don’t have the skills to make it in their home country’s job market.

If these people didn’t have a ton of debt, they could work here for another year or two, save up some money and then go back to school. Except they most often can’t.

Frugal Living Tip for English Teachers Abroad

Money in the Bank = Options

So, what I’m saying is that it’s always a good decision to pay off your debt and I again give you a virtual high-five for getting that all figured out. My advice is to pay it off as soon as possible because money in the bank = options.

You could go home and not worry about being unemployed for a few months. You could go backpacking for a year. Or, you could go back to school and study something totally unrelated to teaching. You could teach on some remote tropical island for a pittance. Perhaps you could do an unpaid internship to get your foot in the door. You could buy an apartment complex and become a real estate mogul. There are a lot of options available to you that simply aren’t when you have debt.

More Details about Paying off Debt

I talk about paying off debt in excruciating detail in The Wealthy English Teacher. The system that I recommend is Dave Ramsey’s snowball method. You can read all about it in The Total Money Makeover. He’s my #1 financial guru and I highly recommend his book.

A little short-term pain = a lot of long-term gain

Forgoing a night out at the expat bar once a week is going to be huge for you in terms of paying off your loans. A stay-cation in Korea instead of a jaunt around Thailand is just like money in the bank. Cooking at home instead of being lazy and going out all the time takes a bit of work now, but it’s going to pay off big-time for you later. Just make it happen. Power through it.

Side-Gigs for Teachers: Get Started!


If you’re looking to make some extra cash while teaching abroad, you’ve certainly come to the right place! Side Gigs for Teachers: Ways to Actually Make Money is the book you need to help you get started.

There are a ton of great ideas for things you can do in your spare time to make some extra money. How would an extra $500 a month change your life? Could you pay off your student loan in 2 years instead of 5? Maybe you could save up for a down payment on a house.

Some ideas are passive (and require time or money up-front) while others are active and require just a bit of sweat equity. You’re sure to find something that work for your specific situation.

The book is available on Amazon in both print and digital formats. The (cheaper!) digital one can be read on any device by downloading the free Kindle reading app.

Check it out for yourself today:

—>Side Gigs for Teachers: Ways to Actually Make Money<—

How about You?

What action are you going to take today to make your future better? Bite the bullet and pay off those loans? Write that book you’ve been thinking about for years? Learn a new skill? Do some work to build your resume? Read the Wealthy English Teacher and get informed about finances? Start an MA?

Leave a comment below and tell me what you have going on. Nothing says action like writing it in a public place.


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  1. Jackie, as with other posts I’ve commented on, I couldn’t agree with you more. The article about why Korea not being a good place for real teachers hurt but that’s because there was some truth to it. Having taught EPIK, university, elementary schools, afterschool programs and camps, time FLIES. Get a degree, network and get your finances in order so when the time does come to go home, you’ve got money in the bank and a plan.

      1. Patrick

        Jackie, the issue I had(as well as some others) with your article in Korea not being a place for serious teachers(I agree in part) is that you aren’t really qualified to make that broad assesment. You(from the article at least) have never taught back home and dealt with the multitude of issues that affect teachers in public school in the UK/SA/NZ or even with the issues working in the Middle East. Plenty of teachers back home sit and question if this is what they signed up for when they chose to enter the profession. You came off as a bitter teacher trying to flog thier blog/website. If you’d perhaps been a tad more balanced in your article and didn’t come off as a jaded expat the response might not have been so negative.

        What happened to the passion you started with all those years ago?

        1. admin

          One of the best comments: “The article about why Korea not being a good place for real teachers hurt but that’s because there was some truth to it.”

          And, like my one friend on Facebook said to me, (People are so mean and vile)…”cos they filter everything thru themselves. So what they are reading, in their head is:

          Oh fuck,
          I am in a dead end job.
          My wife has me by the balls.
          I am never going to escape this place.”

          So, thanks for unsolicited advice, I guess.

  2. Hi Jackie!
    I’d like to suggest one small word change, and an added term. You wrote:
    >> “you have ambitions beyond teaching”,
    I’ll suggest “ambitions outside teaching”. No need to infer that teaching is less than something else!

    As for another term, I refer to “Portfolio-building.” Especially for those engaging in written or illustrative fields (including editing — before/after is illustrative).

    Finally, there’s no such thing as a time-out in your career-building. You are marching forward or falling behind! So get stepping! 😉

  3. Jackie, I love your blog and I enjoy all the advice you give. As for editing, my degree is in English and I was an intern editor for the Alumni Magazine at Illinois State University. I would love to help you edit things in the future!

  4. Hello Jackie. Thanks for this blog post in response to my email! I did find it to be insightful, and I’ll be taking some of your advice for sure. I have your book “The Wealthy English Teacher” on my tablet and have read through about half of it (the other parts I will finish once I’m in a postition to start investing, etc). The book inspired me to make a detailed plan to pay off my loans. I’m now working out more specific goals as to how I can spend my free time building up my writing portfolio, etc. Perhaps in the future I can take you up on your offer to help out with anything related to writing! Thanks again!

    1. admin

      Well, I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s it sheer madness, but it kind of depends on your long-term goal. If it’s to retire abroad/be a digital nomad, etc., then go for it.

      If you want to do it for a year or two or adventure and then come back home, also go for it.

      But, going to Korea for 10 years and then hoping to come back to the USA to resume your career? It won’t work that well. And, it’s gets increasingly difficult to find jobs in Asia the older you get.

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