AN UNOFFICIAL GUIDE COMPILED BY
AMERICAN CITIZEN SERVICES, U.S. EMBASSY, SEOUL
Over the last few years the U.S. Embassy has received many inquiries
about teaching English in Korea. We have prepared this unofficial guidebook to give
teachers basic information on the business of teaching English here so that they can be
better informed before committing themselves to a particular job.
Unfortunately some American citizens come to Korea under contract, with
promises of generous salaries, bonuses and other amenities, only to find themselves in
tenuous situations, often lacking funds to return to the U.S. The Embassy, by regulation,
cannot enter into any case, conduct an investigation, nor act as a lawyer in legal or
contractual mishaps experienced by U.S. citizens. We can neither investigate nor certify
employers. It is up to each individual to evaluate potential employers before signing a
We hope this information will prove useful. If you have any problems
please contact the American Citizen Services Branch at the U.S. Embassy, 82 Sejong Ro,
Chongro Ku. Our telephone number for basic information is 397-4603 or 397-4604. Please
press 0 at any time during the message to be connected to an ACS staff member. Our Fax
number is 02-397-4621. Our office is open for walk-in service every weekday, except
Wednesdays, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. The Embassy is closed
on official American and Korean holidays.
Many Americans have enjoyed their teaching experiences in Korea; others
have encountered problems. The key to happy and fruitful employment as a language
instructor in Korea is to be employed by a reputable school and to negotiate a
well-written contract before leaving the U.S. We advise anyone considering accepting an
English teaching job in Korea to carefully review the terms of the contract regarding
working and living conditions. It would also be useful to ask for references from persons
familiar with the institution, especially American former employees.
The KOTESOL teacher's association is a good source for up-to-date
information on teaching in Korea. Information about this group can be found in the section
entitled 'SOURCES OF INFORMATION.'
The following pages will discuss the types of positions available in
Korea, visa matters, contract considerations, sources of information, cultural pitfalls to
consider, tips on adapting to Korea, and how the Embassy can help.
TYPES OF ESL POSITIONS AVAILABLE IN KOREA
Most English teachers work in language institutes ("hakwon" in
Korean). There are, however, positions available in several types of institutions:
- private foreign language institutes (hakwons)
- corporate in-house language programs
- university language institutes- university academic departments
- government/private research centers
- editing/public relations, advertising companies
- private teaching/informal classes
HAKWONS: Private language institutes are found all over Korea.
Some institutes are well-known with many branches while others are small and short-lived.
The ESL market in Korea is extremely competitive and many institutes fail. Most hakwons
employ a number of instructors for conversation and occasionally for writing classes. The
typical employee can expect to work 20 to 30 hours per week. The majority of classes are
conducted early in the morning and in the evening, so many instructors have free time in
the afternoons. Most classes have between 10 and 25 students. Pupils may be grade school
or college students, or businessmen who are contemplating overseas assignments. Some of
the better institutes will provide housing for instructors. The average salary is
currently about 1.5 million won per month (US $ 1,850).
PRIVATE BUSINESS PROGRAMS: Most large corporate groups
("chaebol" in Korean) have their own in-house programs. The typical instructor
can expect to teach more than 30 hours per week, teaching all day from early in the
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, but the
instructor may be required to either live on campus or commute long distances from Seoul.
The average salary for these institutes is currently between 1.5 to 2 million won per
month (US $ 1,850 to US $ 2,500).
UNIVERSITY INSTITUTES: Major universities in Seoul, as well as
some provincial universities, operate foreign language institutes. Some pupils are
university students, but the majority of students are businesspeople. 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.
UNIVERSITY DEPARTMENTS: Most universities in Korea employ
full-time English conversation instructors. University classes tend to be large, with
little personal contact with the students. Most instructors teach between ten and 15 hours
a week. Academic standards in Korean universities tend to be somewhat lax. Leftist,
nationalistic and sometimes anti-American attitudes may prevail among some students. Most
universities in Seoul do not provide housing, and some do not provide the benefits
required by law. Monthly salaries currently tend to run about 1 million won (US $ 1,300)
per month, with three to four months of paid vacation per year.
Provincial universities 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.
GOVERNMENT/RESEARCH INSTITUTES: 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 closely affiliated with powerful corporate
groups, their instructors seldom experience problems in obtaining work visas.
EDITING/PR/MEDIA: Quite a few public relations and advertising
companies in Korea hire foreigners to work as copy editors, and occasionally as teachers.
These positions are very hard to obtain as they are quite popular with the resident
English-teaching community. There are also opportunities to appear on television programs,
movies and radio. Most of these positions pay quite well and some provide housing
KORETTA/EPIK KOREAN GOVERNMENT PROGRAM: This fairly new,
Korea-wide, government-sponsored program 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. While recruiting and training appear to be performed quite
professionally, teachers' living and working experiences vary considerably. Some are
welcomed with open arms and treated extremely well. Others, arriving in areas where the
program has been forced upon reluctant, underfunded schools, are not wanted and this is
made clear to them from the beginning. Housing, benefits, reliability of pay, and access
to ombudsmen is steadily improving, but still has a long way to go.
PART-TIME EMPLOYMENT: Many full-time English teachers teach
part-time as well, either at another institute or with privately-arranged classes.
Extra-contractual private instruction is illegal; however many English teachers do take
private students. Part-time instruction at a second institute is legal only with
permission from the sponsoring institute and Korean immigration authorities. Private
students pay more per hour, but some instructors have found it hard to maintain long-term
private classes. One should arrange for private lesson fees to be paid prior to each
class. The Embassy reminds teachers that they are personally responsible for any
violations of Korean teaching and immigration law they might commit.
EMPLOYMENT VISAS: In order to work legally in Korea, one must first
obtain the appropriate employment visa. The Korean government tightly controls visa
issuance for employment, and sometimes teachers have been unable to obtain visas. A person
who wishes to work in Korea must obtain the visa outside Korea. One can, however, come to
Korea on a tourist visa, obtain sponsorship documents, and apply for the visa in a nearby
country. Depending on the job and other factors, it can take between one week and two
months to obtain the appropriate visa. A teacher arriving in Korea with a teaching visa
must register with Korean Immigration and obtain a residence certificate and re-entry
permit within 90 days of entry.
(NOTE: Employers, on behalf of Korean government agencies processing
your case, may briefly need your passport for visa or permit purposes. Despite what some
employers may tell you, you are not required to hand over your passport to your employer
for the duration of your stay. It is your passport; keep it yourself.)
Korean Immigration offices require the same documentation that was used
to obtain the visa, so one should make plenty of copies. The Embassy has a complete
listing of the various visa categories and fees, as well as contact information for Korean
Immigration offices and for Korean consulates in the United States. Visa categories and
fees may change from time to time, so they should always be confirmed with Immigration or
Most English instructors are granted either an E-2 visa (conversation
instructor), an E-1 visa (professor at educational institution higher than a junior
college), or an E-5 visa (professional employment with a public relations firm or
corporation). Dependents of diplomats stationed in Seoul can work as English teachers by
obtaining a work permit from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This can be handled through
the Embassy personnel office. An individual who is married to a Korean citizen can also
acquire permanent residency and the right to work under the F-2 category.
REQUIRED FORMS: In order to obtain both the visa and the
residence permit (which must be obtained within 90 days of entry) the following documents
must be submitted to either a Korean consulate or the Korean Immigration office:
1. sponsorship guarantee form (notarized) (shin won pojunso)
2. contract, not less than one year and not more than two years (ko
3. certificate of employment (chaejik junmyungso)These documents are
supplied by the employer and should be arranged one month in advance to allow for mistakes
and other mishaps.
In addition, the authorities will probably require the following:
4. statement of purpose
6. driver's license-size photos
7. original of college diploma plus copies
The Ministry of Education, which also must approve the visa and the
residence permit, requires English teachers to register at the U.S. Embassy and to submit
Embassy-notarized copies of their resumes with their applications for residence permits.
Registration at the Embassy can be accomplished quickly. Notarial services cost $10 per
document, payable in either dollars or won. The Embassy cannot accept personal checks.
CHANGING EMPLOYERS: Korean Immigration must approve changes in
employment. This is accomplished through leaving Korea and entering under a new visa with
a new sponsor. Changing one's employer while in Korea is quite difficult and requires
written consent of the original sponsor. Even with such consent, many teachers have found
it nearly impossible to effect such a change while in Korea, and some have even been
arrested and deported for overstaying their original visas while still involved in trying
to change employers within the country. Questions on this procedure should be directed to
the nearest Immigration office or Korean consulate.
LEGAL WARNING! Some Americans have run into serious legal
problems with Korean Immigration because they either work as English teachers while in
Korea on tourist visas or they accept part-time employment or private classes without
obtaining the proper permission. Violation of Korean immigration laws can result in severe
penalties including imprisonment, fines of up to 100,000 won ($120) for each day of
overstay, or deportation with a ban on re-entry for up to two years. It is your
responsibility to understand local laws and to obey them.
If you violate Korean visa laws, the Embassy cannot assist you other
than to provide you with a list of attorneys.
NATURE OF CONTRACTS IN KOREA: Foreign instructors in Korea
occasionally have contract disputes with their employers. In the Korean context, a
contract is simply a rough working agreement, subject to change depending upon the
circumstances. Most Koreans do not view deviations from a contract as a breach of
contract, and few Koreans would consider taking an employer to court over a contract
Instead, Koreans tend to view contracts as always being flexible and
subject to further negotiation. Culturally, the written contract is not the real contract;
the unwritten, oral agreement that one has with one's employer is the real contract.
However, many employers will view a contract violation by a foreign worker as serious, and
will renege on verbal promises if they feel they can. Any contract should be signed with
these factors in mind.
BASIC FEATURES OF MOST TEACHING CONTRACTS: Contracts for teaching
positions should include provisions for the following: salary, housing, tickets home,
working hours, class size, severance pay, taxes, and medical insurance. If these items are
not included, one should negotiate until they are. Information on these topics is given
below. When in doubt, ask; get it in writing, and remember that only the Korean-language
version of the contract is legally binding in Korea.
SALARY: Most contracts provide for either a set monthly salary,
or for a salary based on the number of hours taught. In any event, a guaranteed monthly
remuneration should be included in the contract. Payment dates, methods, and currency
should be specified in advance.
HOUSING: Few contracts provide for housing in Seoul. This can be
a serious problem as housing in Seoul is among the most expensive in the world. Housing
options include key money (yearly deposit), monthly rent, shared housing, dormitories,
lodging houses, and inns. If your institute does not provide housing, it should at least
be able to help you in finding housing, and in negotiating the appropriate rent and
utility payments. Teachers who have been promised housing might want to request photos,
floorplans or furniture inventories in advance. Koreans have very different ideas of what
'western' and 'furnished' housing mean. 'Furnished' might only mean a linoleum floor and a
2-burner stove. 'Western' usually just means an apartment with an indoor bath. Koreans
measure housing space in 'pyong'. One pyong is approximately 36 square feet. Pyong
measurements usually include the front porch, utility room, etc. Monthly rents can run
from U.S. $1500 to U.S. $4000 for a modest apartment.
KEY MONEY SYSTEM (CHUNSEE): Key money (chunsee) is a year's rent
paid in advance; with no monthly rent payment. At the end of the contract period, the
renter receives the chunsee back without interest. Chunsee can be risky because property
ownership may change in the middle of the contract period, or the owner may simply decide
that the foreigner is in no position to fight for the chunsee. One can reduce this risk by
having the employer agree to pay the chunsee. Chunsee payments run from a minimum of 20
million won (US $ 24,000) for a studio in a less desirable part of town to 500 million won
(US $ 650,000) for a small apartment in one of the richer neighborhoods.
Wolsee is a variation of chunsee. The renter pays a certain amount per
month plus an initial deposit which he receives back when he moves out. The same caveats
apply as with chunsee.
DORMITORIES, LODGING HOUSES (HASUK) AND INNS (YOKWANS): Yonsei,
Ewha, Seoul, Hanyang, Konkuk, and Hankook Universities all have dormitory accommodations
available. In addition, the Korea Research Foundation runs an International House for
foreign students. Sometimes these dormitories can accommodate foreign instructors, but
they usually only accommodate their own regular faculty. Shared housing is a popular
alternative, but be careful in choosing roommates and spell out financial arrangements in
Lodging houses (hasuk) are popular with young Koreans in college or just
starting out in their professional careers. Single rooms run about US $ 500 per month, and
include Korean-style breakfast and dinner, and sometimes include laundry service. The
disadvantage is the lack of privacy.
Another option is staying with a local family. This can be an excellent
opportunity to experience Korean life and culture, but again the lack of privacy can be a
disadvantage. Most instructors who live in such homestays eventually move into more
Finally, some people rent rooms in yokwans (inns) on a monthly basis.
This is similar to staying in a lodging house, at about the same cost with no food
provided, but offers far less security and less privacy as well. Some yokwans cater to
short-term clients and criminals, so staying in a yokwan may cause some Koreans to treat
you with a lack of respect.
TICKETS HOME: Some institutes promise to provide tickets home
upon completion of a contract or to reimburse teachers for the trip to Korea. One should
be aware that sometimes this commitment is not honored. Consider requesting an open-ended
round trip ticket in advance.
WORKING HOURS: Most institutes require foreign instructors to
teach five to six hours per day, Monday through Friday, and some also ask instructors to
teach Saturday morning as well. Universities will usually require 10 to 15 hours per week
plus participation in student activities such as editing school newspapers. Research
centers usually require 40 hours per week, with occasional uncompensated overtime.
Saturday morning is a normal part of the Korean work week. Teachers may have to teach
early morning or late evening classes to accommodate working students.
CLASS SIZE: This is usually not spelled out in the contract.
Private institutes usually have classes of between 10 to 20 students, while universities
can have as many as 100 students in a class.
SEVERANCE PAY (Taechikum): The Embassy receives many inquiries
and complaints about severance pay issues. It is a good idea to broach this subject early
in your employment, and to be prepared for resistance. By Korean law, discussed below, all
full-time employees, Korean or foreign, are entitled to receive severance pay of one
month's salary for each year of employment. Employers cannot ask you to waive this, nor
can they get around it by employing you on an 11-month contract. However, Korean courts
have ruled that unless a Hakwon instructor actually TEACHES 40 or more hours per week, as
spelled out contractually, he is NOT 'full-time' and is NOT eligible for severance pay.
The Ministry of Labor has jurisdiction over severance pay matters. The
Severance Pay Division can be reached at (02) 503-9727. The Ministry of Labor's general
number is (02) 500-5543/5544. The International Labor Policy Division of the Ministry of
Labor (Tel: 02-504-7338) may, at your request, call employers to remind them of their
legal obligations. The Ministry of Education may, at your request, call employers to
remind them of their legal obligations. If you have exhausted all other avenues and feel
that you need to take legal action, the Embassy can provide you with a list of local
Severance pay rights are covered by the Labor Standards Act of the
Korean Legal Code. English language translations of the Code are available at the Kyobo
Bookstore, located near the Embassy. The key provisions of the Labor Standards Act as they
relate to severance pay include the following:
Article 28: (Retirement Allowance System) 1) An employer shall establish
a system by which average wage of not less than thirty days per year for each consecutive
year employed shall be paid as retirement allowance to a retired employee. Provided,
however, that this shall not apply in cases in where the period of employment is less than
Article 5: (Equal Treatment) No employer may include any discrimination
in the terms of labor conditions because of nationality, religion or social status.
Article 10 (Scope of Application) stipulates that the act applies to all
enterprises except small family businesses, domestic servants, and those exempted by
KOREAN TAXES: Most foreign employees are required to pay Korean
income taxes, which are generally withheld and paid by the employer. Teachers working for
colleges or universities are sometimes entitled to an exemption from paying Korean taxes
for up to two years because of the U.S.-Korea Tax Treaty.
Article 20 of the Korean tax code states: An individual who is a
resident of a contracting State, and who at the invitation of any university, college, or
other recognized educational institution, visits the other contracting State for a period
not exceeding two years solely for the purpose of teaching, or research or both at such
educational institution shall be taxable only in the first mentioned State on his
remuneration for such teaching or research.
The Tax Office maintains a list of institutes that are tax exempt. This
provision applies only to teachers employed at universities, research centers, or
university-operated institutes. (Teachers at hakwons and at private companies have to pay
taxes.) The General Affairs section of the university or research center should be able to
apply for the exemption. If the institute wrongly withholds taxes, it is required to pay a
For guidance on these matters contact the Korean Tax Office, as they
have been helpful in arranging compliance with these provisions. They also publish an
English language Income Tax Guide for Foreigners. This guidebook comes out in April of
each year, and is available free from any tax office. The Korean tax year runs from May 31
to the following May 1, with May income estimated. In most instances, one's employer files
the appropriate tax forms, but if they do not file, the individual must do so.
If you believe that your employer is not complying with Korean tax laws,
your first step should be to discuss the matter with him or her. If that does not work,
you should discuss the matter with the Korean Tax Office, International Taxation Division,
397-1346/7, or the nearest Korean Tax Office. If the problem is still not solved, you may
wish to contact an attorney.
PENSION PROGRAM: Foreigners living in Korea are required to pay
into the national pension plan, just as foreigners living in the U.S. must pay into Social
Security. No mechanism exists at present for refund of these payments, although an
agreement between the two countries may be negotiated within a few years.
U.S. TAXES: Americans residing abroad are not exempt from filing
requirements, but are, under certain conditions, entitled to exclusions on foreign-earned
income. More information on overseas income and filing is available from the IRS
publications "Tax Guide for U.S. Citizens Abroad" and "Overseas Filers of
Form 1040." These and other Federal tax forms are available at the Embassy.
IRS representatives are available year-round at the IRS regional office
in Tokyo. They may be contacted by mail, phone, or fax:
U.S. Embassy, Tokyo
10-5, Asasaka 1 Chome,
Minato-ku (107) Tokyo Japan
MEDICAL INSURANCE: Foreign instructors are entitled to Korean
medical insurance through their employer. This should be clarified at the time of
acceptance of employment. Employers often buy the minimum policy required, which provides
about 400,000 won (about $500) worth of coverage. Those desiring more coverage should
negotiate with their employers or buy their own.
Medical care in Korea is generally good, but, while not as expensive as
in the United States, can still be costly. Many practitioners and hospitals will not
accept overseas health insurance, and may require payment before treatment. It is
therefore very important for individuals to make sure that insurance or funds are
available in case medical care is needed. The Embassy maintains a list of English-speaking
medical and dental care providers in Korea, as well as a list of insurers willing to write
policies for Americans residing in Korea.
SOURCES OF INFORMATION
The Embassy does not keep a comprehensive listing of foreign
language institutes nor does it provide assistance in finding employment. In Korea,
English-teaching jobs are filled either through word of mouth or through advertisements in
the local English newspapers. Occasionally, the better institutes will hire through
advertisements in the TESOL Newsletter, or at job booths at TESOL conferences. They also
occasionally advertise through college placement offices and newspapers in the United
RECRUITING AND PLACEMENT SERVICES: Most English teachers hired
from the United States do not get their jobs directly through the institute where they
work. Instead, they are recruited by a placement service. These services recruit on campus
and in U.S. publications. The embassy has received complaints about a number of
recruiters. Those considering working in Korea should deal with recruiters carefully: many
of them do not know at which hagwon in which area of Korea the teacher will be placed;
very few of them, to our knowledge, will accept responsibility for a placement that is
contrary to the original terms of agreement or contract. Prospective teachers should keep
all of the advice in this publication in mind when discussing employment terms with a
Once you arrive in Korea it is a good idea to subscribe to one of the
local English language newspapers, The Korea Herald or The Korea Times. Both are published
daily except Mondays, and cost 7,000 won per month. Both are available in Seoul at some
street newsstands, but outside of Seoul are generally only available through subscription.
The Herald can be contacted at 727-0404, fax 727-0677, and The Times at 724-2828, fax
723-1623. Overseas subscriptions are available.
KOREAN YELLOW PAGES, OTHER DIRECTORIES: The Korean Yellow Pages
is a very useful English-language phone directory. It is available at most larger
bookstores. These stores also sell other business directories. The U.S. Foreign Commercial
Service and the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea jointly publish a Korean business
directory. These directories contain a wealth of information, including addresses and
phone numbers for universities and Korean government offices. The Korean Research
Foundation publishes a pamphlet on studying in Korea that contains information on all the
universities in the country.
KOTESOL: KOTESOL is an independent, national affiliate of TESOL,
an organization of teachers of English to students of other languages. KOTESOL was founded
in 1992 as the union of two separate national organizations. KOTESOL is a not-for-profit
organization established to promote scholarship, disseminate information, and facilitate
cross-cultural understanding among English teachers in Korea.
KOTESOL has active chapters in Seoul, Taejon, Pusan, Taegu, Kyongju and
Chongbuk province. Chapters hold individual monthly meetings, and sponsor educational
activities in their areas, as well as participate in an annual conference in October. The
Seoul chapter meets on the third Saturday of every month. The time, date, place and topic
are announced in the local English newspapers about a week prior to the scheduled meeting.
For, more up-to-date information, contact other English teachers.
DIFFERENT EXPECTATIONS: Many types of people teach English in Korea.
Some are professionally trained with degrees in TESOL; some hold graduate degrees in other
disciplines and teach in Korea because they want to experience another culture; some teach
English while doing other things, such as research; some teach while looking for other
jobs; some are merely seeking any kind of work to help pay school bills; some are just
Teachers have differing expectations. They bring their own unique
perspectives to their jobs, as well as their own individual reactions to new
circumstances. Some expect to be revered and are shocked when they are not; others expect
to make a lot of money but later find they actually earn about what a unionized bus driver
in Seoul does; some expect to receive a large Western-style house and are disappointed to
find themselves living in a modest room. Some teachers have been dismayed to find that
their rooms were not air conditioned, and that they would have to work on their birthdays.
Having realistic expectations and a flexible attitude prior to starting employment as a
teacher in Korea will help prepare you for the inevitable stress and possible
disappointment you may encounter.
SHORT-TERM INSTITUTES: The Korean ESL market is extremely
competitive. There are over 100,000 institutes of all types in Korea, most of them
small-scale, marginal operations. Due to the competitive nature of the ESL business in
Korea, many institutes do not survive long. They open their doors, hire the first
foreigner they can find, advertise, teach for a month or so, lose money and close. Most of
these cannot and will not pay their teachers for work performed, or for contract-specified
repatriation, leaving teachers broke and stranded.
FOREIGNERS ARE NOT KOREAN: Korean society in general makes a
great distinction between one's inner circle of family, friends and business colleagues,
and outsiders. One should always treat one's inner circle with complete respect and
courtesy, while one treats strangers with indifference. Korea is not an egalitarian
society; one is either of a higher or a lower status than other people. How do foreigners
fit into this scheme? The simple answer is - they don't. Foreigners are completely off the
In recent years, less than 10 percent of Koreans traveled abroad, most
often on group tours with other Koreans, or on business trips. Even now, with outbound
tourism high, most Korean travelers still visit only friends, relatives or Korean
neighborhoods, or travel in groups of other Koreans. Thus, Korean society remains very
inwardly focused. For most Koreans, foreigners exist only as stereotypes, and are not
always liked. Living in Korea as a foreigner requires patience and fortitude. Many
foreigners have found Koreans can be quite friendly and warm, but a foreigner will seldom
be accepted as part of the inner circle; he will almost always be an outsider looking in.
SOCIAL STATUS OF TEACHERS: Teachers are usually treated with great
respect in Korea. However, it is also important to exhibit the kind of personal qualities
and behavior that help maintain that respect. A foreign teacher who does disrespectful
things, such as dressing or behaving too casually or informally, or losing his temper with
a boss he considers unreasonable, would be held in great disdain by most Koreans, and runs
the risk of getting into serious trouble with both his employer and the Korean Immigration
Office. In other words, one should always present a mature, discreet, dignified and
respectful manner. As a foreigner in Korea you will be highly visible, and you may find
living here to be like living in a fish bowl, with everyone around you watching what you
do with great interest. Remember that Korean society is more conservative in many ways
than American society, and abide by local norms.
THE ESL PROFESSION IS NOT CONSIDERED PROFESSIONAL BY SOME KOREANS: By
and large, Koreans do not think teaching ESL is a professional occupation. In fact, many
believe any native speaker will do. This of course is based partially on reality - many
ESL instructors in Korea have not had any professional training.
KOREAN BOSSES: Korean society is extremely hierarchical. The boss
is the boss; he is never questioned or criticized. The same mistreatment you may feel you
have received from him is probably not limited to his foreign employees. He probably
reneges on contracts and makes 'unreasonable' demands of his Korean employees, too. As a
result, one should be careful in how one deals with one's employer. When discussing issues
that might become difficult, one should make sure does not to lose one's temper, raise
one's voice, or speak in less than respectful language.
LACK OF CLEAR COMMUNICATION: Neither Korean society nor language
is very precise. Many things are left unsaid, but still are understood. Of course,
foreigners often do not understand. It is important that one understand what is expected
and what is required up front, and that any misunderstanding be solved early on. Otherwise
problems may develop.
ADAPTING TO KOREA SOCIETY
(This section of advice was written by KOTESOL, the local English
CULTURE SHOCK: When first arriving in a country, one is usually
excited and eager for new experiences. After a while, the newness wears off, and
homesickness begins. Do not judge yourself too severely at this point. It happens to
everyone. "I will never understand this place. I want some real food, some real
friends, a real apartment. Why do Koreans do X?"
There is hope and it is usually just a matter of time. As you continue
to cope with the realities of living here, you begin to take things for granted which used
to annoy you. Life becomes pleasant enough that you no longer care about the
inconveniences. You suddenly find that you like kimchi. You realize your students are
interesting people to know, that helping them improve their English just adds to that
interest; you begin to understand your boss who was such a pain when you came; you make a
few good friends who are willing to show you the Korea outside of the foreigner's
community, you begin to try and learn some Korean and use it. There are many foreigners in
Korea who have come to and remain at this point, - not so much assimilated, but a part of
the country in their own niche here, and who want to spend a long time in Korea.
For many others, however, the feeling eventually comes that it is time
to leave. With luck you will realize it before it affects your life too deeply. It is time
to leave when you begin to be negative about the country and its people. When you no
longer want to go to work; when you dislike your students; when you become irritated with
everything and everyone and have angry discussions with others of like mind, it is time to
HOW THE EMBASSY CAN HELP
Just to reiterate, the Embassy, by regulation, cannot enter into any
case, conduct any investigation, or act as a lawyer for any personal mishap or employment
dispute experienced by a U.S. citizen. We cannot investigate, certify, or vouch for
employers. It is up to each individual to evaluate an employer before signing a contract,
and to use common sense when traveling this far, including keeping sufficient funds
available to return home should the situation become untenable.
The Embassy can assist Americans in a variety of ways. The Embassy
offers notary services, renews passports, assists with absentee voting registration, and
stocks basic IRS tax forms. We can provide phone numbers of Korean government agencies you
may have to deal with. If you find yourself in need of legal help, we can provide a list
of attorneys; however, we are unable to recommend any specific lawyer from this list. In
case of a financial emergency, we can receive and disburse funds sent to you from a source
in the U.S., usually much faster than a bank or wire transfer. Finally, we encourage all
U.S. citizens to register with the Embassy. Registration allows us to contact you in the
event of a family emergency.
We hope that this handbook has been useful. If you have any further
questions, please contact the American Citizen Services Unit. Good luck, and enjoy your
stay in Korea.
February 5, 1997