I have talked about how to find a teaching job in Korea and what it’s like to work at a private academy (hagwon) —but I want to share a bit about my experience teaching at a Korean university for two years.
A lot of college graduates come to teach in Korea for a new experience and/or the hope of saving a lot of money. A university job in Korea is ideal because you work less hours (12-18 teaching hours a week) and have a fantastic amount of paid vacation (3-5 months of the year). These days, university jobs are very competitive; it’s based on who you know and how great your resume is.
Every contract and school is different. I was lucky to have my own student assistant (to make copies and do grading), my own office (with a sweet view of the ocean), decent pay with full benefits, a ton of flexibility with picking books and teaching materials, a nice staff, great students, money paid into a private pension, and the opportunity to do research I was semi-interested in.
I have a master’s degree and taught public speaking at a public university in the U.S., so I did have prior university teaching experience. Also, I taught at private academies and a public elementary schools in Korea, as well, so I had experience with teaching in Korea. So, why would I leave my cushy university job in Korea?
1. I hated my commute. Yes, I only had to go to school for seven months of the year. Some semesters, I only taught four days a week. I didn’t want to live near the university and my students, which were far from downtown, so my commute was 80-minutes of walk, subway, and bus twice a day. For two years, I accepted a housing stipend, which was small and only covered half of my rent and commute costs. Choosing to commute was my decision, but I didn’t want to do it anymore.
2. No flight or severance pay. All full-time teaching jobs in Korea should pay for your flights (coming and going) and an extra month of pay, after completing a year of teaching. Private universities fall into some loophole and my school didn’t have to pay these two things to me. This really pissed me off, given that…
3. The pay was minimal and didn’t increase. My university paid everyone the same, regardless of what kind of experience or teaching degrees you had.
I have been teaching in Korea since 2010. I have seen housing and school + academy costs increase while foreign teachers’ pay remain stagnant. Also, there are no pay raises. Having life expenses increase while salaries remain the same (regardless of how hard you work) is really demoralizing.
Many times, my school put way too many students in a class, at all varying levels, and yet, under-paid teachers. No one benefits this way.
4. It’s kind of a dead-end job. No matter how great of a professor you are at a Korean university, there is literally nowhere to move professionally but sideways or down. It’s impossible to get a tenured position and if you can get a “head teacher” position, it usually involves a lot more work for no extra pay.
Also, given the poor academic integrity in Korea, you will be given very little respect from international universities. Korean universities are world-famous for cheating, plagiarism, lying, grade-fixing, and bribery. I don’t publish anything academic from my Korean university for a reason.
5. This job may not exist in five years. Korea has an extremely low birth rate and, in fact, it’s one of the lowest in the world today. From 2013 to 2023, the number of university students in Korea will decrease by 160,000. Each year, there are fewer university age students in Korea and there are no signs that this will change in the future. It’ll likely just get worse.
While the median age of Koreans increases, the need for foreign teachers is decreasing. The market here is over-saturated with native English teachers —many of them with no experience, fresh out of college, who accept pretty much any pay. Granted, those teachers won’t be getting jobs at universities, but if you lose your university job that’s who you’re competing with for another teaching position in Korea.
If you’re interested in teaching in Korea, at a university or otherwise, think about why and for how long. And, always keep your options open.