Teachers Share their Experiences While Living Abroad!

Teaching in South Korea vs Teaching Back Home: What's the Difference?

Posted on Thu, Dec 05, 2019 @ 12:00 PM

In comparing one job to another, there is a lot to take into consideration. Obviously, there will be a set of pros and cons to each one, and it can be difficult to sift through them each fairly. Also, there is a certain aspect of it all that is very personal and objective. The following comparison is between my experiences teaching stateside and the experience I have so far teaching in South Korea. I have loved every job I have ever had teaching, but I hope to shed some light on some of the struggles that you are able to avoid by teaching abroad, specifically with Chungdahm Learning and the Aclipse program. 

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I have boiled this comparison down to a set of Key points: the students, the environment, salary/livability, and Requirements/Expectations of the Job. Each of these are what I consider to be the most important aspects of a teaching position, and so I will be sharing my views on each of these points in regards to teaching in both Korea and America. 

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Firstly, let’s discuss the types of students you may encounter in each of these countries. While teaching English in Korea I have been introduced to students that feel a deep desire to learn and put in their utmost best effort to do so. Of course there will be the occasional student that just feels the urge to try your patience more than others. However, the difference is that these are the exception to the rule rather than the majority. I have never seen such a large number of children so well behaved and dedicated in all my life. Most of the behavior issues I have come to believe to be inseparable from the classroom are just not here. I rarely, if ever, have to repeat myself more than once. Students work hard and go above and beyond in every task given to them… And I mean at every age… I’m quite blown away by this.  Students in America, on the other hand, are often not as interested in learning. Coaxing them into doing so is quite a chore, and they often put in as little effort as possible. Again, this is not every child. That would be an overgeneralization and would not be fair or accurate. However, a large majority of students that I have personally dealt with in the states feel very differently about their education when compared to the students I have met in Korea. They are not driven in the same way, which I am sure is due to the difference in parenting styles and culture. We encourage our children to be children for as long as possible. We try to encourage play and rest, whereas in Korea it is mostly about doing your best and becoming better. (Again, this is an overgeneralization and of course it does not apply to every single individual parent or student of either culture.) I have been fortunate to always have pretty well behaved students both in America and in Korea, but even then the students in America were never quite as respectful as the ones I have known here. 

Next, there is the environment of each of these great countries to consider. Obviously part of the appeal to teach in Korea is that you are in Korea. This is such a beautiful country with so much to offer in regards to food, sights, and experience the ability to see this beautiful country while living and working here is admittedly one of the greatest parts of the opportunity. There seems to be no end to all of the old temples, cafes, and amazing art to be found around the corner of every street! However, on top of all of these great incentives, in my own area the commute to work is no more than a 5 minute walk. The school is filled with kind people with great dispositions and students that are respectful as well. ALL REQUIRED MATERIALS ARE PROVIDED FOR YOU, by the way. I just felt the need to say that, and to say it loudly. The United States is a beautiful place to live, of course, with a great deal to offer. However, it is very large and each new attraction is miles and miles apart. Everything is extremely expensive to even get to, much less to have the time to go see. Also, to be honest, I am familiar with it. I personally wanted to see new places and try new things, and as much as I love my home country, that was just not on the table. Schools there, though, are filled with all kinds of people and they are lovely to work with. I will happily come back and deal with all of the trials and adversities that they pose one day, but for now, I am too pulled to far away places and new languages and cultures and foods and all that there is to see abroad.

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I won’t go too much into the details of salary of course, but I can say that it is enough to cover your expenses and more. This is especially true due to the fact that rent, utilities and other bills are so very cheap and that housing is often provided by the school. I have been paying off school loans and saving up money while being able to take trips all around South Korea on the weekends. The salary for teachers is pretty low in the States, which is made more difficult to live with due to the high living expenses. Between rent, utilities, and phone bills, and car insurance, and health insurance, and groceries, and gas, and school loans to pay off, and all of the other hidden expenses of “#adulting,” there just isn’t enough left over to really do much of anything except try to breathe when you have time. Eating out, traveling, or saving just isn’t nearly as easy to do… if possible at all. 

Lastly, the requirements are both very similar for a teacher in both of these countries. And yet, they are so very different at the same time. Lesson Planning for Chungdahm Learning consists of looking over the provided materials and making sure you are familiar with the topics to be discussed for the day. I often plan games, classroom procedures, behavioral incentives, and extra activities as well. This does not take more than perhaps an hour or two a day though due to the way that the curriculum has been set up. Grading is mostly done automatically for you, except for the occasional writing or speaking assignment. A portion of the grading may even be shared with the Korean staff depending on your branch. You do not get much time off, but the time that you do have is actually off… Its not being used to grade or lesson plan or play catch up… Or take courses for extra certifications. Lesson planning used to take up most of my days, my weekends, and my nights. Of course after a while you might get the hang of it, but I was still a new teacher and am always determined to have my classes done right. On top of this, the grading seemed endless. Considering how large each class is, and that each and every assignment needed feedback, grading, and filing… It just seemed like too much for one person at times, especially as an English teachers. There are, admittedly, ways to get used to this as well. I, however, was still new to the field and it takes some time. Speaking of time, you do get many holidays and even the summer off for vacation. The trouble with this is that those days often become completely swamped with all the work you have to catch up on, try to get ahead of, or the certifications and extra classes you need to take or give during those times. 

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Of course I love to teach in any capacity that I can, and every job will have its ups and its downs. However, for the time being, I find that teaching with Chungdahm Learning has been ever so very rewarding. It is much more freeing, while providing you opportunities for growth at the same time. I am able to earn a living that I can live comfortably on. I am surrounded by students that love learning and by people that are helpful and kind and push for excellence. As much as I loved my previous positions, I am sure that anyone could agree that it would be tempting to never leave Korea at all. 

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Alecia Alford is a secondary English education major with a taste for traveling, languages and ‘eating all the foods.’ She graduated from Northwestern State University and spent some time abroad in South America where she learned Spanish and discovered her true love: seeing and tasting all that the world has to offer. Alecia has dreamt of teaching all her life, but was surprised at how inexplicably inhospitable the living conditions were for a teacher in the states. Things weren’t necessarily impossible, but they certainly were not exactly easy, nor were they travel friendly back home. Looking into ways to teach abroad, she was pleasantly surprised at the number of options and opportunities out there that combined her two great passions. She now teaches with Chungdahm Learning in Pohang, South Korea and intends to continue the pursuit of traveling and teaching for as long as she can. 

Tags: preparing to teach in Korea, Teach English in Korea, Teach Abroad, Teach English overseas, English teacher in Korea, teaching at CDL, career

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