Teaching English abroad has become more popular than ever. And while there is a panoply of employment options to consider, university positions in South Korea remain some of the most coveted jobs among foreign English teachers—and for good reason. The perks and benefits of university jobs seem unusually generous compared to those typically offered in the education industry. For this reason, these positions are in very high demand.
- In general, positions outside of Seoul are less competitive.
- Apply early. Recruitment starts three to six months before start dates.
- Applicants residing in Korea have an advantage.
- Check out a list of colleges and universities in Korea here.
Typically, universities prefer applicants with a master’s degree or higher. Additionally, university job advertisements often include a scale whereby to measure applicants.
- Master’s Degree and 1 year of university teaching experience
- Bachelor’s Degree and 2 years of university teaching experience
Most universities require previous teaching experience, especially for applicants without advanced degrees. Nevertheless, they can be flexible in this area.
Maybe you are wondering: But how did someone with only a bachelor’s degree get experience in the first place? In the past, the bar was lower, and there was less competition. However, the industry has evolved due to the rising number of applicants, which gives hiring managers the prerogative to be selective. The pickier schools specify “university experience”, while others accept experience teaching at the primary and secondary education levels. In fact, some (but not all) employers won’t even count teaching experience at private language academies or hagwons.
Side door: People who have worked as tutors at a university could possibly circumvent the university teaching requirement. That’s because university tutors are technically university employees engaged in educating students, albeit in a different capacity. Therefore, someone with university tutoring experience might qualify for a university position.
Salary: The pay is generally similar to the figures given in the other posts related to teaching: Teaching English in South Korea: Adult Academies and Teach English in South Korea: Private Academies for Kids.
Housing: Universities typically provide teachers with on-campus housing, including free utilities and Internet access (e.g., free campus Wi-Fi).
Vacations: Many universities offer teachers between 3 – 16 weeks of paid vacation per year. Therefore, some teachers only work eight months out of the year, but get paid a full salary every month. Additionally, some universities offer teachers the opportunity to earn extra money during this time by teaching summer or winter classes.
Note: Due to the relatively long vacations, low work hours, overtime opportunities, and rent-free housing, university teachers have access to great savings potential and leisure time as well.
Overtime: Anything beyond the minimum teaching load is considered overtime. Employers specify the hourly overtime rates, which can vary, but anything between 20,000 won and 50,000 won per hour is typical.
There are potentially other additional benefits to living on or having access to a university campus that might not come to mind until you are actually working on one.
Universities campuses are basically large compounds which feature many useful, well kept facilities. Most campuses, even the smaller ones, have basketball courts, tennis courts, soccer/football fields, and running tracks. Instructors usually have access to these facilities during off hours, when they are not in use by classes or teams. So if you like sports, it’s very convenient to use these facilities in the evenings after you finish teaching.
Free gym access is a huge bonus with some university jobs. Campus gyms can be nice, but they’re even nicer when you get a *free membership. Plus, the gym managers, personal trainers, and other staff can assist you with things like selecting fitness programs and purchasing protein powder and other supplements. If you work out often, you’ll get to know the workers very quickly.
*Gym memberships can cost from about 50,000 won to +80,000 won per month at private health clubs. Therefore, a free campus gym membership adds up to potentially +600,000 won/year in savings, plus there is no commute.
University libraries are book repositories. They house thousands upon thousands of books in English. Teachers have access to books, dvds, and other media that libraries have on hand. Also, if they don’t have a particular work, it’s sometimes possible to request that the library purchase it. This is a nice perk to have for anyone who is a diehard bookworm, since it can get expensive buying the English versions of books online, and having them shipped to Korea.
During the holidays, many universities give their employees gifts—nice gifts. Some of the gifts might be a little surprising, while others are practical. Presents can include food items like tea, large cases of Spam, uncooked rice, boxes of pears, and ginseng. And they can also include clothing items like high-quality hiking gear, which comes in handy during office hiking trips. Overall, the items usually range in price from about 50,000 won to over 200,000 won, depending on the department and how generous the budget is for the period.
Universities hold festivals at different times throughout the year featuring food, drinks, music, and other entertainment. These events can be fun because the university students—usually student clubs or departments—create mini restaurants. These vendors sell just about everything, from grilled meat to street food (e.g., tteokbokki). On top of that, there are open air concerts every night. These festivals are usually open to the public, too, so anyone can attend and join in on the food and entertainment.
Every job has different requirements, but a typical schedule will generally look something like this:
Teaching: *12 – 16 hours/week
*Instructors may teacher fewer than five days per week (e.g., M-Th).
Office hours: 2 – 4 hours (sometimes this is not required)
Meetings: Teachers should expect to attend at least one or two meetings per month.
Trips: Some, but not all, English departments take instructors on short weekend trips, like working vacations, to places like Jeju Island, about once or twice per year.
Universities may require instructors to perform other miscellaneous duties outside the classroom. Though it’s work, some of these activities are sometimes very fun and enjoyable.
- Activities like bowling, hiking, and brief daily outings with students
- Participating in university festivals
- Analyzing and creating new tests or testing methods
- Contributing to research and publications
- Participating in ESL conferences, events
Additionally, English departments may also host social activities involving food, games, and films. These functions allow students to interact with teachers in a less formal setting, giving them the opportunity to practice their English speaking skills.
Do Your Research
If you do get offered a university position, do your best to research the institution making the offer. Ask the hiring manager to put you in contact with current employees so that you can find out what the office environment is like. It’s best to have as much information as possible about the position and department that you could potentially be joining. If you are not sure about something, don’t be afraid to ask questions and get the answers that you need, so that you can have realistic expectations about the job.
Not All Programs Are Equal
In some cases, universities might have multiple English programs, with each one offering a different pay package to employees.
Sky University has two English programs: Program A and Program B. Program A instructors must teach a minimum of 12 hours per week, and only work from Monday to Thursday. Moreover, they receive eight weeks paid vacation. In contrast, Program B teachers have a minimum teaching requirement of 22 hours per week and work from Monday to Friday. They get four weeks paid vacation. Both departments pay teachers the same monthly salary.
Many teachers are disheartened to find out that English teachers in other departments work half as much as they do, but receive the same wages and even more vacation.
Just like any other place of employment, universities can be very political at the department level. For example, managers occasionally require teachers to attend “meetings” that are nothing more than lunches or dinners, or “team building” hiking trips on the weekends with coworkers and other staff members. Making the effort to participate in these activities can go a long way socially, and it can make the adjustment process go more smoothly. Avoiding these activities might distance you from the management. Furthermore, managers often incorporate these activities into their calculus when deciding whether to extend a teacher’s employment contract; these activities are therefore not trivial.
Tip: Just Show Up
Quite frankly, employees can accumulate a tremendous amount of goodwill and social capital in the workplace by simply spending some time in the office, off the clock. For instance, something as simple as showing up to the office early and shooting the breeze with the staff every now and then will demonstrate that you are invested in your job/university/team. This is not hard to do if your working situation involves teaching only a few hours each day. You have plenty of free time to spare.
Since university teachers typically have plenty of free time, they have numerous opportunities to visit local museums, join group/clubs, and take short trips throughout the year. Personally, I think this is the biggest benefit given to university employees. For many people, it’s almost like having the campus experience of an exchange student, but getting paid for it.
It’s not easy to get a university job in Korea, so it is a big deal if you do manage to get one. English departments expect instructors to work hard, but in return they are afforded exceedingly more favorable employment conditions compared to others in the education industry. Keeping that in mind makes it much easier to stay motivated when things get tough.
- The bar is higher for university teaching positions than it is for other jobs in Korea. These days, universities usually require applicants to possess an advanced degree plus university teaching experience. However, there are exceptions for other types of experienced candidates.
- Salaries are in line with industry averages, but the workload is less demanding, and vacations are significantly longer compared to non-university jobs.
- There are potentially other benefits like free gym memberships, seasonal gifts, and access to various sports facilities on university campuses. Living on campus adds an element of student life to the job.
- Teaching schedules are favorable, ranging from about 3-5 hours per day, and some universities do not require teachers to work every day. However, every position and department is different.
- Some departments require instructors to participate in extracurricular events and activities.
- Job seekers should get as much information as possible when job hunting. Having realistic expectations about a university job is as important as the job itself.
- Being aware of office politics and making a conscious effort to fit in can make your work life a lot easier.
- Time is perhaps the highlight of university jobs. Having a lot of it to spare provides teachers with ample opportunities to participate in cultural activities and learn more about Korea.