After getting certified to teach English as a second language, I could’ve thrown a dart on a map and said, “Ok, I’ll go THERE.” However, I chose to do some research and instead, wound up setting my eyes on the country of South Korea. Here’s why.
I’ve never been to Asia. Before deciding to teach abroad, I never had much desire to venture into the Far East. However, the more I read, the more I liked. I was also excited about living and working in a part of the world that geographically, socially, linguistically, and gastronomically, was totally the opposite of where I’m living now.
Especially alluring is the country’s convenient geographic location. While I’m over there I plan to do a ton of traveling within the country. However, it’s hard to not take advantage of the fact that Japan and China are practically within spitting distance, and Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam are just a short plane ride away too.
South Korea is also one of the few countries that offers awesome benefits to first-time teachers, including: provided housing (you just pay utilities and internet), provided round-trip flight, entry-level salary of around $1,900, 15-18 paid vacation days, 50/50 healthcare (they pay half, you pay half), and a severance equivalent to one month’s salary upon completion of your contract. With the exception of the amount of vacation time, these benefits are true for both public and private schools. More on the difference between them HERE.
Additionally, South Korea is a highly developed, first-world country with kick-ass public transportation (both intra-city and long-distance), wifi in every place imaginable (along with cutting edge technology), and all the other amenities of modern life. Yet, the cost of living remains so low! The stingiest of the stingy can save up to $1,000 from their salary every month. Cha-ching!
The country is gorgeous. Wanna go climb a mountain? Ok, there’s one over there. Wanna go to the beach? Ok, it’s right there. Whatever you wish to see or do, chances are you’ll be able to do it during one of the country’s four beautiful seasons; and you can get anywhere within hours at the longest. Thank you, KTX bullet train!
South Korea is internationally revered for its educational system as well. In the early 50s, the country’s literacy rate was below 30%. Today, it’s inching closer and closer to 100%! Students have a reputation for being hard working and respectful (at least as a whole). Some might even say they’re too hard working (most students spend all day at school, run home for a quick 20-minute snack, and then head over to private academies called “hagwons” for the rest of the evening til 10 or 11 pm. Then they go home to do more homework and catch a few hours of sleep before waking up to do it all over again. And you thought YOU had it rough as a student.).
Last but not least, the language–Hangeul–is relatively easy to learn (with it’s phonetic alphabet) and the culture offers a rich mix of the old and the new. The “Korean Wave” is the term for the rising international popularity of Korean dramas, movies and music. But, in keeping with their yin and yang philosophy, the rapid forward motion of this pulsating, innovative economic giant is balanced out by a profound amount of respect for Korean history and customs.
With all of these and more aspects of Korea calling me to teach there, how could I say no?