If you’ve looked into teaching English as a foreign language (commonly referred to as TEFL) you might have noticed that not only does every country have different requirements for employment the pay rates vary drastically. After the United Arab Emirates, South Korea is the second highest paying country for English teachers. Not only that, they also pay rent for your apartment so you just have to buy food. Not a bad deal.
So how do you get this gig? First you need a Bachelor’s degree. It can be in any subject, but some of the more prestigious schools would prefer a degree in English or Linguistics or something like that. Mine is in history. Second, there is something called a TEFL/TOFEL/TESL certification which may or may not be necessary to get a job. I was under the impression that I would need it, so I paid about $1000 for a class through Oxford Seminars and got certified. The class itself did very little to prepare me for teaching, but Oxford offers job placement assistance and I was able find a job in Korea very quickly. (They also had a few contacts in Germany when I taught there as well)
Once I was in Korea I met other teachers who didn’t have a certificate, so it’s not a requirement of the country, but of some schools. Mostly the schools require you to be a native English speaker. Some schools even go so far as to only hire teachers from North America without regional accents.
Once you get a job, you have to get a working visa. There is a ton of paperwork involved, including getting your Bachelor’s degree notarized, getting a FBI background check, and getting the background check notarized. All of it then needs to be mailed to Korea so they can take it to their visa office. Then you’ll get a number from the Korean government that you will then take to the Korean Embassy in your state to get a visa put in your passport. You have to leave your passport with them which is a little scary but when you come back to pick it up you are now legally allowed to work in Korea.
Now that you’ve got your visa, things get pretty intense really quickly. They only reason you are waiting to move is because you are waiting for your visa. Now that you have it your school will want you to be in Korea as soon as possible. Which means that you either should have been preparing to move all this time or you better pack fast. It took me about a month to receive my visa, getting it after the Embassy was closed for Memorial Day. I left on June 3rd.
The flight to Korea from LAX is about 14 hours and you end up a day ahead when you get there. Going west from California you fly over the international date line, but time zones go the opposite direction. So Seoul is 16 hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time. This is another important thing to remember when you move to Korea because finding a time to call home is a bit tricky.
The last step to being official is to pass your medical exam, which all foreign teachers have to take. It’s more than just a drug test that you might be made to take in the States. First we were taken to a room where they took my chest measurement, my male coworker’s waist measurement, our height and weight. Then they checked our hearing, our vision and took our blood pressure.
Next it was downstairs to check our teeth. The dentist literally stuck the mirror in my mouth went all the way around once and said, “clean!” And that was it. The next thing was a urine test. In America, we use a designated bathroom and pee in a plastic cup with a screw on lid that we place in a turn around window, never to see it again. In Korea, you go to the regular restroom, pee in a paper cup with no lid and bring it back it back to the nurse who puts it on a tray with the rest of the samples right next to her desk. I was careful not to run into anyone or anything to avoid a pretty horrible accident.
Then my least favorite – the blood draw. Thankfully this nurse was the most skilled I’d ever had up to this point. She did it quickly and only needed a small amount. I only freaked out a little, not wanting to cry in front of my new supervisor and colleague. the last thing was the chest x-ray. I had to take off my shirt and “top underwear” as they called it and put on a snazzy wrap around shirt that was actually made of cloth and hanging up in a little locker room. They had me basically hug the x-ray machine so they could take the picture.
After having your health checked out and everything comes back clean, the last thing you’ll need is your resident card, which we call a “green card” in the States. However, in South Korea’s case they are blue, not green. This will become your legal form of identification, so you don’t have to carry your passport around with you.
And that’s it! Easy-peasy.