It’s been a while since the start of the Teach and Travel series, thanks to ongoing internet complications then an extended trip to Vietnam. Apologies to you guys the readers, as well as those of you who have set contributions. I am back on track now though but to refresh your memory, check out Teach and Travel Part 1 and Part 2 of the series so you know where we are at 🙂
In this post, we hear from Nicole, originally from Scotland and now teaching in South Korea (and blogging at Wee Gyspy Girl). As with Sarah’s interview in Part 2, Nicole shares her qualifications and the route she took to end up teaching in South Korea. She also talks about her experience there and plans for the future. Let’s find out what her teach and travel experience has been like!
Where are you teaching?
At the moment, I’m teaching in Changwon, a city in one of the most Southern provinces of South Korea.
What qualification do you have? How long did it take?
The main requirement for working in South Korea is a bachelor’s degree, which can be in any field. I have a degree in music – completely unrelated to English teaching! I also have a 120 hour TEFL certificate. This isn’t actually a requirement to work at a private academy in Korea, but is compulsory for public schools. I spent a week doing the 20 hour in-class component and did the other 100 hours online, which took me around a month. I would recommend you to do the course, regardless of whether you need it for your job. The skills that I learned have been so useful in the classroom!
How much experience do you have?
This is my second year teaching in Korea. I’m currently working in a public school but last year I taught in a private language academy. Before coming to Korea, I had volunteered at a school for students with special educational needs through my university. I also spent a month volunteering in an orphanage in Kenya after I graduated.
How much have you managed to travel and/or save money?
I’m quite strict with my spending so I manage to save at least half of what I get paid each month and this all goes towards travelling. I usually take 2 trips around Korea each month but I’ve also managed to do a fair bit of exploring around Asia in the school holidays!
The opportunity to save in Korea is huge since the living costs are so low but our wages are high
Were you a teacher before this or did you specifically train to travel and teach?
Back home in Scotland, I was working as a merchandising assistant for an outdoor clothing company. Completely different to what I do now. Like a lot of people, I was never really sure about what I wanted to do after university. I had considered teaching, but at the time, I didn’t want to go back and study for a post grad. Especially when I wasn’t really sure if it was the right career path for me! Teaching English overseas was a way for me to get a taste of what it’s like to be a teacher, while also exploring a new country and getting the chance to travel. It seemed like a good deal to me, and it has been so far.
Why did you choose your current destination?
I would love to tell you that I’ve been obsessed with Korean culture since I was a little girl and that I wanted to eat kimchi and try on a hanbok and listen to KPop, but that would be a lie. I came for the money, and all the benefits that English teachers can expect in Korea.
I had wanted to travel to Asia for a long time, and originally I had been researching Japan but was put off by high living costs. I started reading about teaching in South Korea and the potential to save. It was also close enough to Japan for me to fulfill my dream of travelling to Tokyo, so I was sold!
Teaching in Korea has provided me with an amazing opportunity to discover Asia and save more money for whatever I decide to do in the future.
How long have you been there / do you plan to be there?
Next month will mark my 2 year anniversary in Korea. The time has gone so quickly, I can’t believe it! However, all good things must come to an end and I’m planning on leaving at the end of my current contract in September! Life in Korea is so comfortable, and I can understand why people stay here for so many years but I want to be pushed out of my comfort zone and experience teaching in a different part of the world. I never intended to stay here forever, so it is time to move on and see somewhere new!
What are the best parts of teaching overseas? (and specifically in South Korea?)
For me, the absolute best thing about teaching in Korea is the potential to travel and save. This year I’m on track to saving 10,000GBP which I could never have done in the UK! Another amazing thing about teaching in Korea is the huge expat community so I’ve managed to make many friends from all over the world – I even have a boyfriend from South Africa! I’ve learned so much about their cultures and I love telling them about my country, Scotland. I feel like I have a global family, and no matter what continent I’m in, I’ll have a friend in the same time zone. It’s amazing.
What are the worst parts of teaching overseas? (and specifically in South Korea?)
No matter how great a teacher you are, and how great a relationship you have with your students, your experience teaching in a Korean public school will depend greatly on your coworker. Some coworkers will take over the whole lesson and just ask you to read words out loud to help students with pronunciation. Other coworkers will leave you alone in a room with 35 students who can’t speak English! Of course, there are also coworkers who will be supportive of you and open to trying new ideas and teaching method. It really is luck of the draw, but it can have a huge impact on your experience teaching in Korea.
Please share a story from your classroom.
Last week it was my birthday and a few girls from my new third-grade class made me little Scotland flags with lollipops attached to them. I was so confused how they knew it was my birthday but later found out that they had written it down during my introduction presentation at their orientation! Moments like this make me feel so valued as a teacher and so grateful to teach such kind and lovely students.
What advice would you offer to someone wanting to teach and travel?
If you want to do it, go for it. It is definitely the best way to see the world without inheriting money from rich relatives! In most countries contracts are, at most, a year long which is the perfect amount of time to start feeling like a local and learning more about the culture. Maybe it won’t be for you, and if it’s not, at least you have tried it. You will never know unless you go!
What is one piece of advice you would offer for an interview?
The recruiter wants to make sure you aren’t going to be miserable and do a runner! They want to know that you are an adaptable person and you’re open to new cultures. I think this is the same all over the world, so do your research and learn about the country before your interview. Try and think of a few examples of times that you’ve adapted to new environments and how you managed to do that. This is exactly what they’re looking for, and they’ll be so impressed by this amazing skill that you might have otherwise taken for granted!
When I was being interviewed for my current job, I was really surprised at the lack of questions about teaching. The interviewer was much more interested to find out how I would cope with culture shock, how my relationships had been with my previous coworkers and even how much I liked Korean food!
What is something you’ve learned while teaching overseas?
Over the past 2 years, I’ve really managed to myself immerse into Korean culture and have learned so much about the way of life out here. Getting to know Korean people- my Korean friends, my students and my coworkers, has taught me so much about this society. Much more than I could ever have learned from a guide book or 2-week long trip.
What are the benefits provided by your position according to your contract?
The public school programmes in Korea have a lot of great benefits. For starters, you are reimbursed 800GBP/1,200USD for your flight about a week into starting your position. You then get a 180GBP/260USD settlement allowance, to help you with all the essentials in your first month. My school gave me another 180GBP/270USD to help me buy new things for my apartment. Plus, my apartment is paid for by my school so I don’t need to pay any rent. Each month I get 90GBP/135USD on top of my wages because I travel between 3 schools.
The starting wage for new teachers is 1,270GBP/1,790USD which goes really far in a country with such a low cost of living. When I end my contract I’ll get a settlement payment. This basically means I’ll get paid double in my last month. Plus, I’ll also get an exit allowance of 840GBP/1,260USD to cover my flight home.
It goes without saying that the benefits are pretty amazing in South Korea!
What opportunities to travel have you had?
The amount of holidays you are entitled to really differ between public and private schools. Last year when I was working in a private academy, I had 10 vacation days, plus public holidays. I was really determined to visit some other countries, so I fitted in 3 trips to Japan and one trip to China over long weekends.
At public schools, we’re entitled to 20 vacation days and also public holidays. I took 10 days in January to go and visit the Philippines which was amazing! It was so great to go away and relax somewhere with a completely different climate for a long period of time, rather than take a few days to rush about and discover a city. I’m thinking about being naughty and taking one more trip to Japan before I leave – I’ve got a bit of an itch for Japan that never seems to go away!
Where are you planning to go next?
The next stop is going to be Latin America, which I’m so excited about! My boyfriend and I are hoping to get jobs in either Colombia or Chile and I can imagine it’s going to be a completely different experience to teaching in Korea. We are well aware that we can’t expect anywhere near the same amount of benefits as what we get in Korea, but we’re looking forward to immersing ourselves into a new environment, learning a new language and experiencing a completely new way of life. And of course, we’re also looking forward to some better weather!
I don’t know about anyone else but I am rethinking my idea of leaving the classroom and considering jumping on a plane to South Korea! If you are thinking of, or are currently teaching overseas, I would love to hear from you in the comments section. Do you think teaching overseas is a great way to travel the world, or at least to save money to explore? Maybe hearing from someone who is doing it has made you think twice about the challenges involved…
Over the next few posts, I will be talking more about the different types of teaching overseas as well as how to get a job overseas and we will be hearing more from those who are doing it right now! Don’t forget to sign up to receive my posts straight to your inbox, or follow me on social media to make sure you don’t miss out on hearing more on how to #TeachAndTravel
Nicole is the face behind Wee Gypsy Girl, a travel blog focusing on expat life, living abroad and tips on making travel affordable and accessible to everyone! If you want to learn more, check out her blog, or follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest or Twitter.