Teaching English in Korea: Cons

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Teaching English in South Korea

Disclaimer: I’m not a total hater. I just talked about the other side of the coin in this post: Teaching English in Korea: Pros.

But, today we’re going to go down the road to the negative stuff. The reasons why Korea is not such a fabulous place to teach English.

Learning Korean is Kind of a Waste of Time

Let’s be real-learning Korean, in most cases is a total waste of time. Although it can help you while you’re actually living here, it’s totally useless the second you leave.

You’d be far, far better off learning French, Spanish, Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese, blah, blah, if you have an eye on that helping you get a job in your home country. Mandarin in particular is a huge one and if you use your time abroad in China to become fluent, well, your future might be paved in silk.

Don’t call me a hater. I really do think all foreigners in Korea should learn at least basic Korean in order to be able to function in life reasonably well, but beyond that? Only do it if you’re interested but it’s truly not necessary or useful.

Salaries are Stagnant

Salaries in Korea for English teachers have remained basically the same for the past decade or so. All the while, costs for just about everything have increased. There are no signs of salaries rising, as teacher qualifications have been increasing on the whole and good jobs are becoming more and more scarce. See this post for more details: Salaries are on the Serious Decline in Korea. 

However, despite the stagnation, it really is still possible to put away about $1000 a month without a whole lot of effort. So, it could be good for some with weak job prospects back home.

Competition for Good Jobs is Fierce

It seems like just about everyone and their BFF is doing an MA TESOL.  This means that even the lesser uni jobs and good public school jobs have some serious competition. When I first came to Korea 10 years ago, I was friends with a bunch of teachers at the big Christian university down the road from me in Cheonan.

They quite literally got hired straight out of university with a BA and no English teaching experience or teaching certifications. Those days are long, long, long gone. Even someone with an MA and teaching experience kind of has to know someone on the inside to get a university job in many cases.

What are the Requirements to Get a University Job in Korea?

Demographics = Grim

The stats vary, but basically Korea has had an extremely low birth rate since around 2000 and it’s in fact one of the lowest in the world as of today. There are no signs of things getting better despite some rather weak government efforts. These efforts include making a 5 day work-week and giving additional holiday days if a national holiday falls on the weekend.

This basically means that there are fewer and fewer jobs for teaching children. There will also be fewer jobs for university teachers in less than 5 years. The writing is on the wall and there’s basically nothing anyone can do about it. 

Xenophobia = Alive and Well

Please don’t hate on me for this one but Korea really isn’t an easy place to live for expats because as one stereotype begets another, Koreans are often quite xenophobic and don’t think that highly of foreigners. They most certainly don’t respect us as teachers and often don’t really respect us as people either.

Of course, foreigners in Korea sometimes aren’t the most stellar of people and we perhaps deserve at least part of the terrible reputation we have. But, the part that I hate most is that I (and the 100s of stand-up expats that I personally know) get lumped together with the few bad ones.

It’s not like it’s terrible but living in Korea makes you grow a really thick skin because ridiculous S&*# goes down just about every single day you live here and even though you don’t notice it anymore doesn’t mean that it’s not happening. Some days, I can’t even be bothered to leave my house because I just don’t feel up for dealing with it, and like I’m actually quite a social person who generally likes being out and about.

I bought a car a few years back almost entirely because I loathed dealing with the crazy that always seemed to go down on public transport here. I’d far, far rather take my chances with the mostly incompetent drivers on the road.

What are the negatives to teaching ESL in Korea?

Let’s Sum This Up: Teaching English in Korea

Teaching English in Korea: not a terrible idea. Also, not as great as it was about 10 years, or even 5 years ago when money for English seemed to be floating around in a kind of whirlwind just waiting to be plucked out of the air by all-comers.

You Can’t Resist Teaching English in Korea?

You’re going to come to Korea to teach English no matter what? This is the book you need to make your life as awesome as possible. I enlisted the help of around 25 of my long-term expat friends to give me their #1 tip for living in Korea.

How to Thrive in South Korea: 97 Tips from Expats

What Do You Think about Teaching English in Korea?

What are the negatives about living and working in South Korea? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

Also be sure to give this article a share on Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter. It’ll help other teachers, like yourself find this useful resource.

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  1. Jo

    “Some days, I can’t even be bothered to leave my house because I just don’t feel up for dealing with it, and like I’m actually quite a social person who generally likes being out and about.”

    I couldn’t agree more. In a positive way I could say every time I leave the house it’s an adventure but…in the negative way, I don’t want unnecessary comments and attention around me. Sitting down and trying to enjoy my lunch in a restaurant while I have to listen to the people next to me analyze me in Korean because they think I don’t understand. Not always easy~ nice post!

    1. admin

      Cool…I’m happy that you totally understand where I’m coming from. I feel like kind of a recluse sometimes when I just stay home but I know it’s good for my mental health.

      My Korean isn’t that stellar but like it’s so, so obvious when you get keep hearing the “wayguk” over and over again, and for me as well, it’s always the “namja? yeoja?” thing which is kind of ridiculous.

  2. Ardie

    Really like your honesty in this. For a moment I thought it would turn into a cutesy cheese article that would be all satiric. So I appreciate your frank writing of Korea and these are certainly true issues we ‘waygooks’ face. The Xenophobia a big one and the uselessness of learning Korean I especially agree with. I am however, thankful of Korea for giving me my first ever full time job after Uni and teacher experience as I’d like to teach back home when I’m done here – plus, being paid these past few years to travel and live here is pretty awesome as well. I don’t see the xenophobia thing changing much, esp as the government is trying to get rid of us all… and has already started… I guess I’ll be one of the few to say that we were here in the “good old days”.

    good read, keep it up

    1. admin

      Thanks Ardie, I really appreciate it and am happy that you enjoyed the article. I am terrible at writing satire so just stick with what I know-the truth, as I see it.

      The good old days are for sure done and it’s what I’ve been saying for the past few years. I am mystified that it’s not just common, basic fact that everything acknowledges!

  3. love this post. Been struggling with these for awhile. It is funny that even when you have over a decade of experience, a masters, and a stacked resume you are still lumped with teachers fresh off the plane. It is a sad state and one that is fading fast might have to follow your lead and get a trailer soon.

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