Hello! I’m Emily, a previous Peer Educator at UMD Career & Internship Services. I’m writing as a guest blogger today to share information about teaching abroad. Currently I live in Ulsan, South Korea with my boyfriend and fellow UMD alum, Danny. We teach at a hogwon, which is a private school that operates during after school hours. So, how did we get here?
After graduating UMD with art degrees (BFA Photography and BA Theatre) Danny and I have both jumped from job to job trying to find something we loved. I landed for a brief period of time at the Minnesota Children’s Museum in St. Paul, where I met a co-worker who had taught English in South Korea and Brazil. Both of her experiences seemed extraordinary and I asked for the name of her recruiter. After some follow up research, Danny and I submitted an application to a recruiting agency based out of Minneapolis called ESL Joblink. The more we sought out past and present ESL teachers in our own workplace and communities we found more people who had gone through ESL Joblink. All of them had or were currently having a rewarding experience teaching abroad at reputable schools. Danny and I soon met and interviewed with our recruiter, Don, began an online TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) class and started our visa paperwork. Our recruiter was able to connect us with the director of a private school in Ulsan, South Korea and after a phone interview we were hired, as a couple, to teach abroad.
Danny and I in Kyoto, Japan
Why should I teach abroad?
Since coming to South Korea we have been able to explore parts of Japan, Thailand, and Cambodia. By the end of our year, we will have traveled to Vietnam, Taiwan, Morocco, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Depending on how you plan your trips, traveling can be extremely affordable in Southeastern Asia. In Cambodia, for example, a large dinner can cost anywhere between 2-5 dollars and your accommodations can be just as cheap. If you want to see the world, teaching abroad makes traveling easier and affordable.
Traveling is my favorite part of teaching abroad, but I cannot stress enough that you have to enjoy working with kids and have an interest in teaching. I teach long and difficult hours everyday and I find it equal parts rewarding and exhausting. Nothing in my life has been as challenging as being an ESL teacher. Many of my students are overworked and tired (some go to school from 8 am to 10 pm, even on Saturday and Sunday) and they deserve the best teachers to energize and engage them in learning. Unfortunately, foreign teachers in South Korea have a bad reputation for not actually caring about their jobs, but for being backpackers. I can’t imagine enjoying this experience at all if I were only going through the motions, waiting for my travel breaks. This job is ninety percent teaching kids, so if you don’t have experience in teaching, or working with kids or saying, “Sit down, stop that, listen carefully, no hitting, indoor voice, hands to yourself” like a broken record, try it in the United States first before you hop over the pond.
Why South Korea?
Minimal research done online will show you that South Korea is one of the best locations to teach abroad. After signing our contract, our airfare was paid for, our housing provided, and a few household items/ utilities were given to us for free. Since our accommodations are located close to work, we spend little on transportation, which means at the end of the week our biggest expense (besides our student loans) is groceries. In Korea, you will be paid well and, without airfare and rent payments, you can save up a sizeable amount that you can then use for traveling or for other things. Even with student loans, it is completely possible to save up to $1,000 dollars a month.
Stay tuned for part 2 where I talk more in-depth about how you secure a teaching abroad position.
All photos are by Emily.