Land of mystery
Korea has got bad reviews from many who have passed through her busy streets. It’s a pity, as the country has lots to offer. It’s true that the people are proud and sometimes difficult to understand, but that’s half the fun of traveling around, isn’t it? Korean people are stubbornly proud of their heritage and culture, with good reason. Once you get a glimpse of the ‘real’ Korea, there is much to love about living here.
Korea was occupied by Japan from the beginning of the twentieth century up to the end of the Second World War, after which a republic was set up in the southern half of the Korean Peninsula while a Communist-style government was installed in the north. During the Korean War (1950-1953), U.S. and other UN forces intervened to defend South Korea from North Korean attacks. An armistice was signed in 1953, splitting the peninsula along a demilitarized zone at about the 38th parallel.
Thereafter, South Korea achieved rapid economic growth with per capita income rising to roughly 18 times the level of North Korea. South Korea remains an economic power house.
South Korea’s climate is temperate, with rainfall heavier in summer than winter. The terrain consists of mostly hills and mountains, with wide coastal plains in the west and south. It is a stunning landscape worthy of the pride the Koreans have for it.
- Area: 99,373 sq km
- Population: 48 million
- Capital City: Seoul (pop 10.3 million)
- People: Korean
- Language: Korean
- Religion: 25% Christianity, 25% Buddhism, Confucianism, Shamanism, 50% none.
- Major Industries: Shipbuilding, cars, machinery, electronics, chemicals, textiles
With an onward ticket visitors from almost anywhere - except countries not recognised by South Korea ( Cuba, Laos and Cambodia) - can stay in the country for 30 days without a visa. If you're from western Europe, Australia or New Zealand, you can get up to 90 days visa-free. Canadians receive a six-month permit and citizens of Italy and Portugal receive 60-day permits. Everyone else has to extend after their first 30 days.
To get a valid work permit you must have a University degree. Work permits are issued at consulates outside Korea. It is common for teachers to enter the country on a tourist visa and begin work then later take their documentation on a “visa run” to a consulate in a nearby country, usually Fukuoka, Japan.
- Time Zone: GMT/UTC +9
- Dialling Code: 82
- Electricity: 220V, 60Hz
- Weights & measures: Metric
The currency of South Korea is the Won. (Currency code: KRW)
Coin denominations are W10, W50, W100, and W500.
Banknotes are W1,000, W5,000 and W10,000.
Foreign banknotes and travelers checks can be easily converted into the Korean Won at foreign exchange banks and other authorized money exchangers.
- Budget: W2300-3400
- Mid-range: W3400-12000
- High: W12000-20000
- Deluxe: W20000+
Temporary, per night
- Budget: W8000-23000
- Mid-range: W23000-45000
- High: W45000-70000
- Deluxe: W70000+
Renting apartments and houses is easy and best done through an estate agent. Prices for apartment start at around 2 million Won, but sharing is a good option. Cheaper places can, of course, be found, but you may need help from the school. Many schools offer accommodation as part of their package to teachers. Most contracts are 2 years. You will be expected to pay the first month's rent, a security deposit, key money, and an agent's fee. You can expect some steep move-in costs. Have a local on-hand can help to make things run smoothly and keep things legitimate.
A cheaper option is that of ‘boarding houses’ where you get a room in a house shared by others. These cost around W500 000 including 2 meals a day and can be comfortable and cosy, as long as you get along with the other people in the house. A slightly more private option is that of a private rooms, or jachui. These are cheaper and can be more spacious, but don’t include food. These are best found through a Korean speaking friend.
The demand for native speaker English teachers in Korea far outstrips the supply, so competition for jobs is much less acute in Korea than in Japan. More than two-thirds of the work available is teaching young children and adolescents so any native speaker with enthusiasm for working with children will have a large choice of job offers.
The main TEFL regions are Seoul & Pusan but jobs can be found throughout South Korea.
The main types of teaching are:
- Private English Language Institutes (Hagwons): General English, Business English
University Academic Departments: General English, English for Specific Purposes (ESP).
- Some universities also have their own language institutes.
- Government & Private Research Institutes: General English, ESP
- Corporate in-house Language Programs: General English, Business English
- State & Private Kindergartens: English for Younger Learners
Salaries typically range from US$1600 to US$1800 a month, with 5 – 10% taken for tax, depending on the location. Contracts run from 6 to 12 months. Teachers must be native English speakers and university Degree holders.
Hagwons can be found all over the country – some are well-known chains while others are small, family-owned operations. Hagwons employ a foreign teachers for conversation and occasionally for writing classes. Hours range from 20 to 30 hours per week. Split shifts are common, with teachers expected to teach adults from 7am to 9am (before office hours) and school students then adults from 4:30 to 9:30. Class sizes can range from 5 to 25, depending on the success of the institution.
Most large corporate groups (chaebol) have their own in-house language programs. The typical instructor can expect to teach more than 30 hours per week, with teaching hours spread from early morning to late at night. Most are intensive residential programs where the students study for three to six months. Some employers provide full benefits including housing.
Major universities in Seoul, as well as some provincial universities, operate foreign language institutes. These institutes tend to have the highest hiring standards in Korea; most instructors have MA degrees in TESOL, and years of teaching experience. The pay, status and benefits offered by these institutes are among the best in Korea. As a result there is very low turnover.
Universities also employ full-time English conversation instructors to teach on their academic programs. University classes tend to be large, with little personal contact with the students. Most instructors teach between ten and 15 hours a week. These posts include three to four months of paid vacation per year.
Universities in the provinces generally provide better housing, working conditions and salaries, and tend to treat foreign instructors as part of the faculty. The better working conditions, however, should be balanced against the cultural isolation a foreigner may encounter living in the Korean countryside.
Many government agencies and some private companies operate research institutes. Most of these institutes hire foreigners who have degrees in the humanities, economics or business administration as full-time editors. Editors proofread correspondence and research publications, write speeches, and occasionally teach. Most institutes pay quite well, and some provide housing. Because these institutes tend to be government-run or affiliated with corporate groups, their instructors seldom experience problems in obtaining work visas.
Another option for teachers interested in working in Korea is KORETTA/EPIK, a government-sponsored program which places native speakers in every school district in Korea and presents a unique opportunity for the adventurous to live far from tourist routes and population centers. Recruiting and training are performed professionally, but teachers’ living and working experiences vary considerably.
Things to do and see
The first day of the first moon is Seollal (lunar new year; January/February), when South Korea grinds to a halt. The Cherry Blossom Festival in Jinhae in the province of Gyeongsangnam-do usually falls in early April (if the weather and trees cooperate). Lantern parades are held for Buddha's Birthday, celebrated in late April or early May. In Seoul, there is an evening parade from Tapgol Park to Jogyesa on the Sunday prior to the actual holiday. June sees processions of shamans and mask dances at the Dano Festival, and in September the National Folk Arts Festival showcases Korean culture. South Korea's biggest holiday is Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving). At this time (September/October), cities throughout the country empty as people return to their family homes to pay homage to their ancestors.
Public Holidays 2005
1 January: New Year’s Day
3 February: Folklore Day
26 February: Taeborum
1 March: Independence Movement Day
10 March: Labour Day
5 April: Day of Trees
5 May: Children’s Day
24 May: Buddha’s Birthday
6 June: Memorial Day
15 June: Tano
17 July: Constitution Day
15 August: Liberation Day
18 September: Mid-Autumn Festival
3 October: National Day
25 December: Christmas Day
Things to see and do
Korea is a country of amazing beauty, but the cities are often uninspiring and depressing.
In Seoul, Tongdaemun (east gate) and Namdaemun (south gate) both have interesting markets and inexpensive shopping. Insadon-gil, a street in north Seoul, features antiques, folk crafts, art galleries, and several good restaurants. Hye Hwa is a college area, where you're likely to find coffee shops, several theaters, and inexpensive restaurants. Other places to visit include Kyongbok Palace, Nam San Tower, National Folklore Museum, Chogysea Temple, the War Memorial Museum, and Lotte World.
The areas around Seoul also have several areas of interest: you can go hiking, or visit Inch'on, a town on the east coast that has a fish market and amusement park rides.
Pusan has a lively night scene and a large expat population. Places to visit in Pusan include Pusan Tower, Chagalchi Fish Market, Taejongdae Park, Pomo-sa Temple, Yongdusan Park, Haeudae Beach Resort, and Tongnae Hot Springs.
Kwangju is beautiful, clean, organized, and has a good reputation with Koreans and foreigners alike. You can visit Chomsongdae ( Star Tower), which is the oldest known astronomical observatory in the world, royal tombs, P1unhwangsa Pagoda, and Sokkuram Shrine, a "stone-grotto" shrine that holds a large granite Buddha. Kwangju National Museum is also worth a trip.