Teaching English as a second language is a popular job for many native English speakers to do whether its for a year or two. It allows you to relocate to another country and develop the skill of teaching as an ESL teacher which involves public speaking, planning, adapting to a new country and more! After this experience quite a few end up pursuing further education in education to teach at Universities or international schools or end up pursuing other things and use teaching ESL as a way to grow in certain aspects. I taught ESL in South Korea at a public school with the popular English Program in Korea (EPIK). I tend to get quite a few questions about my time there so decided to make this FAQ page.
What is the English Program in Korea (EPIK)?
EPIK is the English Program in Korea that employs native English speakers from UK, U.S, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa to be guest English teachers in public schools across the country.
What are the requirements to teach with EPIK?
Main requirements are that you need to be a citizen from UK, U.S, Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.You also need have a bachelors degree. To find out more check the EPIK website.
Do I need a TEFL certificate to teach in Korea with the EPIK program? What TEFL do you recommend?
Yes you will for EPIK. On the application form they will ask you about it or ask if you have at least started one and when you expect to finish. There are also hour requirements depending on what city you would prefer such as Busan.
I can personally recommend doing your TEFL with the TEFL Academy which is where I did mine. There are other providers such as tefl.org, premiertefl.com, International TEFL academy etc. You can also do the CELTA or a TESOL certificates which are a bit pricier. I do believe there are exemptions for people who have a degree in education or teaching but please double check on the EPIK website.
Is EPIK competitive?
I personally believe it is. English Program in Korea (EPIK) offers a level of stability since it is a government program and ALOT of people would love to experience living in South Korea. EPIK does not provide numbers but it is definitely popular.
What kind of teaching experience did you have when you applied?
When I applied I had worked part time as a tutor at an education centre for 7 months, so I did not have direct experience but could relate it. Whatever experience you have, you need it to relate it to the fact that you could be a good teacher and can work with children. Have you done babysitting, volunteered with children or something along those lines? I have heard some people apply right after University and get in so I guess it depends on how you can convey your suitability. Also you may be taking the TEFL course or already have taken one which should give you perspective on teaching.
What was your application process like?
I have a blog post on my application process. The application has now moved online but the post can give you an idea on how long it can take to apply and eventually get your visa to teach in Korea.
What grades did I teach and what was my work schedule like?
I taught grades 3-6 as part of my schedule and then grade 1 and 2 for after school club. My work schedule was Monday to Friday 8.40 – 4.40 and I taught 22 classes a week plus 2 after school clubs which I was paid extra for.
What were your vacation days like?
I was entitled to 18 days vacation days for my first days. I took 8 in January for winter break and 10 in August for summer break. For other days where the students were still on holiday I either did some “desk warming” or was teaching summer and winter camp.
Pros and Cons of Teaching with the English Program in Korea?
I have been asked this questions quite a bit and obviously there are pro and cons to everything including the English program in Korea (EPIK).
Some pros of EPIK:
- You are teaching in a public school meaning you are employed by the Korean government so you will be paid on time, have your annual leave days and whatever is stipulated in the contract will be honoured.
- You should have a co-teacher that sets you up with your bank account, phone etc and shows you the ropes.
- You will be given a paid for studio apartment.
- You will have a maximum amount of teaching you can do per week (around 22 hours) and anything over this will be paid as over time.
- On average at least 18 days holiday.
Some cons of EPIK :
- You will not decide where you will be located, you can only put down a preference but ultimately you will be told where you have been placed which can be a city or a province. This means you could be placed in a more rural location.
- You will be the only foreign teacher in your school.
- A more competitive, stringent and tedious application.
EPIK vs Hagwon (private academy)?
I mentioned the pros and cons about the EPIK program above but the other option is to teach at a hagwon (a private academy). There are some popular chains that are in many different cities and some smaller ones. To be totally honest if you research about Hagwons on YouTube, Reddit or FB groups you will find out that they can be hit and miss. Some shady things have happened to people such as not being paid on time, saying that public days are a part of their annual leave days and other things. I have also heard of great hagwon stories so it is not all horror but because they are businesses unlike EPIK which is the public school system, you will be dealing with managers etc and it can be hit and miss.
Some pros of a Hagwon:
- You get to choose your school since you will apply directly and will know its location.
- Hagwons tend to have smaller classes, much smaller than public school jobs.
- You can negotiate your contract along with pay, whereas as EPIK is a standard contract.
- You will more than likely have other foreign English teachers at your school, so you won’t be alone.
- If you prefer starting work later on than 9am you can find a hagwon where you prefer their hours. I have seen 9am, 10am, 12pm and 2pm starts for different hagwons, depending on what age group you will be teaching.
- It is a quicker process than EPIK since it is not a program. You just apply directly to the school you want.
Some cons of a Hagwon:
- Hagwons are essentially businesses so if you have any issues you would need to approach management who may not have anyone else above them. To escalate things you may need to approach the law, there is a FB group called the Legal Office for Foreign Teachers where you can ask questions as there are Korean lawyers in the group.
- Since parents are paying for their children to attend they can be demanding.
- It can be hit and miss depending on management, some people can be paid late or asked to do extra things without extra pay etc.
- Low holidays days – I have seen the average to be 10 days. Although I have seen some hagwons have 11 and 15 days.
- I have heard of some Hagwons firing teachers one month before their contract ends so that they don’t have to pay their severance. This is VERY shady and I have seen stories about it in groups!
If you go the Hagwon route you can check out the Korean black list here to see if the schools you are looking at are on it. Also check out reddit for advice on Hagwons and particular schools.
Another good tip is to use Linked in to see who has worked there now or in the past and message them if you can. If you would prefer to wait until you have passed the interview, ask the school if you can have the teacher you are replacing’s email or FB to talk to.
How was it like teaching as a black teacher in South Korea?
I have mentioned some of my experiences in this video but overall I loved my students and they were very pleasant and funny. Some students needed to warm up to me and I was the first black person that some of them had met. I did have a first grader who would knock on my door and shout “Aprica saram/ African person” and run away. This same student called me a dweji/pig. I reported him to his home room teacher who made him apologise and he never came to my door again.
There is also a FB group for black people in Korea called Brothas and Sistas of South Korea where you can connect with people and ask questions.
What is it like teaching with a co-teacher?
Co-teaching really depends on the person you are teaching with. I ended up having 3 co-teachers. I had one for grades 3+5, one for grades 4+6 and one for grades 1+2 after school club lessons. With my experience I was leading classes for two co-teachers and then was more of an assistant for one. Everyone has a different personality but I would highly recommend making effort (within reason)to get on with your co-teachers because they are your main contact person and will help you out where needed at school and in life, especially in the beginning.
What was your accommodation like?
I lived in a studio apartment that had the basic amenities. you can check out the pictures below!
I am interested in teaching with EPIK, what do I do next?
Overall, I had a positive time teaching in Korea with EPIK and would recommend it for anyone who enjoys working with children, is adaptable and wants to learn more about Korean culture or live in a new country. You will definitely experience lows as well as highs if you move abroad to Korea or anywhere in the world so I hope this post can help you a little bit! Let me know if you have any more questions!
To find out my EPIK application timeline, you can read it here.