Wednesday, February 15, 2012

So you want to teach English overseas....

Deciding to go to a foreign country and teach English is a big decision and should not be undertaken lightly.  There are many things to consider before you take the plunge.  One thing you need to decide is where in the world you are going to go - there are many places where English is still in hot demand and you will be able to find work.  Each place has its pros and cons so my advise is to do your homework - decide what you want and then find the place that best meets all of your needs.

For me South Korea was the most attractive because of the benefits it offers, while some countries offer a higher pay rate like Japan and the Middle East, most jobs in South Korea will offer airfares to and from your country, paid housing and a bonus on completion of your contract. I was also interested in exploring a country that to most people is unknown.  If you ask someone what they know about Korea the usual answer is  - the Korean War, the separation of the North and South and that they had the Olympics there a while ago. There is of course a lot more to Korea, it is a place of rich history and interesting culture.

There are also many volunteer opportunities for teaching English which you may like to explore, this is where you get paid a very small amount to live on and you may be provided some accommodation living with a family in country. Its a great way to give back and you could have some really unique experiences.

You will also need to take into consideration the requirements for teaching in the country that you wish to go to.  Most jobs will have as a minimum that you have attended an English speaking high school and that you have at least a Bachelor's degree from an English speaking university.  While there are some people who have managed to get a job without a degree, it does make it much harder and it may not be a very reliable position. Another thing is whether or not to do a TESOL course. Many jobs do not require it and lots of people will say not to bother, however if you do have one it can open up other opportunities that may not be available to people who only have a degree.

I myself did a TESOL course about a year before I came over to South Korea and I am very thankful that I did.  I had no idea what I was getting myself in for and no real concept of what teaching was like, doing the course really helped me to understand what I would be doing and gave me a chance to get prepared for my time in the classroom.  I looked at a lot of the courses available both online and in my country and decided that I wanted one that had at least a small part of the course taught in the classroom.  That limited my options to courses run from New Zealand and I narrowed it down to two options - they both had information sessions which I attended where they tell you all about the course, what they will be covering and what you can expect to walk away with.  In the end it came down to the fact that one offered a practical teaching component as part of the requirements and it also helped that the presenter was really passionate about her experiences and really good at conveying that passion. 

The course I chose was run by an Australian company called Teach International and it has a number of location and course options.  The certificate that I did included a one week in class component scheduled around a full time working week, after 5pm and on the weekend.  I was still employed at the time and would not have been able to get the time off so this worked out really well for me.  There was also an online component where you had to complete a compulsory unit of grammar (a great reminder and I even learned some new things) and two elective units.  The other part to the course was the practical teaching component, this was a bit harder as the company had not set up any work experience places in Wellington where I did my course.  I ended up sorting out my own placement just by contacting a local English Language School, they were only too happy to help out and I really learned a lot. It was great to have that chance to get up in front of a real class and see what it was like.

I would very much recommend Teach International if you are thinking about doing a TESOL course from New Zealand or Australia. They also have some options where you can do the course in a foreign country like China or Turkey which sounds really exciting. It is a lot of money to put up but I think that it was well worth it and it can open doors when it comes to finding a really great teaching job.

Once you have decided on the country that you are going to go to you can start looking for jobs and do some research on the country. You will need to know the visa requirements for living and working there. Its a good idea to make sure you know some background information about the country that you choose as it may come up in an interview for a job.  They might ask you what you know about the country or why you want to visit. If you have done your research you can let them know that you have been actively learning about their country and have your answer all prepared so that they feel like you are really interested and eager to get involved.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Suwon, South Korea

Suwon (수원) is a city about 30 kilometers south of Seoul.  Its is located in the Gyeongii-do province of which is is the capital. Suwon is a major city of over one million people and 14 universities. The city is divided into four districts or gu - Gwonseon-Gu, Jangan-gu, Paldal-gu and Yeongtong-gu. In turn each of these gu are divided into smaller neighborhoods called dong.

Suwon is home to the Samsung Electronics headquarters and factory.  There is an increasing number of  foreigners living in Suwon and because of Samsung these are not just English teachers.  You can find quite a mix of nationalities for example there are many Indians and Eastern Europeans.

Suwon is famous for Hwaseong Fortress it is the only remaining completely walled city in South Korea so it is a very popular tourist destination. Built in 1796 the wall is 5.74 kilometers long, there are four main gates and numerous other structures along the wall. Hwaseong is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Galbi is the city's most famous dish - it is marinated and grilled short rib.

Suwon is connected to Seoul and other nearby cities by the Seoul Metropolitan Subway system and numerous buses, trains and the KTX also makes some stops on services from Seoul to Busan. Suwon is on the dark blue Seoul Subway Line 1 and has numerous stations namely Sungkyunkwan University, Hwaseo, Suwon and Seryu.

Transport within Suwon is very easy to find with the green city buses being numerous, frequent and cheap.  There are also many taxis available which are also reasonably priced.

All in all Suwon is a really nice city to either visit or to live.  When I was originally looking for a job, while still back in New Zealand, I was only looking at Seoul.  I am a very picky eater and knew that I could not go anywhere rural where the options would be more limited.  Seoul as the capital is very metropolitan so I figured I would be able to find numerous amounts of western food should I not like the Korean options.

However as many of you will know it is quite hard to find a job in Seoul, not impossible but it can take a while.  I turned down a few options before I took the job I have now and I am very glad I did, I was not confident in them and the job I have is really good compared to some of the horror stories I have heard.  When looking at the job I figured that it was close enough to Seoul to be a reasonable trip and I was right.  I often go into Seoul to go shopping or to meet up with friends.

Suwon is big enough to be have a really great city life but its also not too big. I also think that the air is a bit better out here, the first time I went to Seoul I really noticed the pollution. I don't really notice it much now but that first time I remember coming out from the Subway station into Itaewon and being very glad I lived in Suwon.

(Suwon Information Reference: Wikipedia)

Thursday, February 9, 2012


Hi my name is Amy and I am living and working as an English teacher in Suwon, South Korea.  I am originally from New Zealand and I have been in Korea for about one year now.  I am just in the process of re-signing my contract to stay for another year.  I thought that while I was here it would be good to keep a record of what I have seen and done and maybe even put up some useful tips for anyone new to Korea or even those just thinking of coming over. 

I have not done a lot and I still have heaps to learn but I found that it was hard for me to learn these things when I first got here so I am hoping that I can help out some first timers.  It can be really daunting in a new country - the different culture, the different language and just general 'newbie' feelings that come with such a huge change.

When I first got here I thought that I would be one of many foreigners at the school and it would be easy to make friends with all the other expats.  I soon found out that I was the only foreigner at my school - while I work for a huge company with lots of branches in and around Seoul my school is a bit smaller and so far only needs one native teacher.

Suwon is a pretty big city, especially on the scale of New Zealand.  Its connected to Seoul by the Subway and regular buses so transportation is relatively easy.  There are apparently quite a few expats here in Suwon but I have not really had a chance to meet many people yet.  I am hoping that as I get more adventurous I will be able to meet some new people from around my area. 

My New Year's resolution was to get out and do more stuff (also to give up caffeine - I'm a bit addicted to energy drinks).  So hopefully this blog will be the start of something new and positive.

More Soon