I thought I would put together this post to answer any questions on how to teach English in a foreign country(especially from a South African perspective) and what to do and think about if it’s something you want to do. When I first started thinking about the idea of teaching English, I had so many questions and I didn’t know where to start. So I started by reading blogs, watching youtube videos and speaking to some friends who had taught English abroad. There are many things and tips I have learnt along the way so here they are.
Getting started- TEFL certificate
Once you have an inkling that you want to teach abroad, the first thing you should do is get a TEFL qualification (or another equivalent, like CELTA). Once you have started your TEFL course, then you can start researching countries you are interested in and looking at recruiters. Dean and I did a TEFL course through a UK company called i-to-i TEFL. The course was online (we chose the longest 140 hour course) but also had a practical component. While it may not be the cheapest course out there, it was really well-done and I can definitely recommend it. We did look into the practical-only courses but the online courses are just so convenient so we went with it instead.
While you are doing your TEFL course, it is a good idea to start organizing your documents as some of them take ages to get ready and you need to start doing them about 3 months before you want to leave. This particularly applies to the criminal record check. This is what you will need:
- Valid passport
- Apostiled bachelor’s degree (any degree will do)
- Apostiled criminal record check
- Sealed university transcripts
- Updates resume
- Health check (generally just a form from the country that you fill in yourself and you have a full health exam when you arrive in the country)
Kinds of jobs
So the next big question is what kind of job do I want? There are 2 main job types, namely working at a public school or working at a private school (called hagwons in Korea). If you want to work at a public school you need to go through a program like EPIK, GEPIK or one of the offices of education. There are also quite a few recruiters that also work with EPIK. For Dean and I, the choice to work at a hagwon was an obvious one because the only couple jobs at public schools are for married couples. Most of our friends work for EPIK and love it but there are perks for each kind of job. As I can only really talk from my experience, I will talk about hagwons. My advice is to do a quick google and find the perks of both the jobs and think what you are really looking for and what your priorities are.
How to find a hagwon job: recruiters and Dave’s ESL
Once you know you want a hagwon job, you can start to look for a recruiter. There are so many out there and there is a big debate on whether you should use a recruiter or not (by the way, you don’t pay recruiters!). As there are so many nightmare hagwon stories, it is often the safer option to use a reputable recruiter as they tend to know the schools they work with.
Initially we decided to use one of the more popular recruiters and we went with AdventureTeaching but other well-known recruiters include Aclipse and Footprints. Adventure Teaching is a well-organized company and they help you with everything along the way and tell you what to do, and we really liked them (they also have a great website to find out a lot about teaching in Korea). However, as we wanted a job together, either at the same school or in the same town, it was really difficult for them to find us one. I had a few interviews but there was never a job that would be suitable for us together. So after about 2 months of waiting, we took matters into our own hands and used Dave’s ESL café. If you are only 1 person looking for a job, I think Adventure Teaching would be a very good company to help you do so, they are great people and I would recommend them.
So, Dave’s ESL café is a valuable resource amongst foreign ESL teachers. On the site you can search for jobs, find teaching material and post questions to other teachers. We put an advert out on Dave’s café that we were looking for a job and we were suddenly inundated with emails offering us jobs. It was rather overwhelming! Some of them seemed a bit suspect (as they are generally non-English speaking people who are 1-man recruiting companies) but as we were getting desperate we sort of just went with one of the better looking contacts- Atop recruiting. Things happened very fast and we sort of took a plunge getting the job. We hardly had a proper interview and only spoke to her briefly over the phone. Next thing we knew, 2 weeks later we were on a plane to Korea. We were so lucky how things worked out for us, which leads me on to my next point…
Do your research!!
As we found our job through Dave’s ESL café it was very important that we did our background research on the job and our local recruiter. We managed to skype the couple we would be replacing and that is how we were happy that our job would be ok. The previous teachers told us everything and gave us lots of advice. It is also important to remember that you are dealing with people who don’t speak your language and have a different culture on handling these kinds of things. Speaking to western teachers will really help you to understand the job and what you can expect.
I definitely recommend researching as much as you possibly can!! Exhaust the internet, it is full of resources. Find out about the country you want to go to, the area you will be in, be prepared for the style of living and the apartments, research the school’s name on Dave’s, check the hagwon blacklists and just research research research! It will help you be prepared and make sure you are happy with your job and choice. Dave’s ESL café and bloggers are valuable resources, you can always contact people to find out more and there is lots of easy information out there.
For us, we knew that we wanted to work in an Asian country and have a very different cultural experience to what we are used to. ESL jobs are available all over the world but jobs are definitely more prevalent in Asia. We originally set our sights on Japan but soon realized the only way to teach there seemed to be the JET program (similar to EPIK), we then played with the idea of Thailand and then eventually decided on South Korea.We barely knew anything about Korea, except that good old Kim Jong-Un and North Korea seemed worryingly close, before we started researching. It is a shame that people often don’t know too much about Korea as it’s a wonderful country with lots of things to do, it is one of the safest countries in the world and the people are very kind.
As far as ESL teaching goes, Korea is definitely one of the most popular choices. There are many benefits that come with the job, some of which include
- Provided housing
- Return airfare
- Higher salaries than most Asian countries, meaning lots of saving potential
- Extra month’s pay for severance at the end of your contract
- 50% Health insurance and pension is included
So, in my opinion, Korea is a great choice and we are definitely enjoying our time here!
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, I’m more than happy to help and give advice.