Update Interview With “Mike” In Korea

About six months ago, I had the opportunity to do an email interview with “Mike”, who is finishing up his first year teaching in Korea. He also shared some tips for working in Korea based on his experience. If you remember his interview, you might remember that while he was happy with the interaction with his students and his salary, he was working under some pretty difficult circumstances, including rotating between single long shifts (either 6:45 – 15:00 or 13:45-22) and split shifts (6:45 to 11 and then again from 17:45 to 22:00, five days a week).

I got back in touch with him and asked him how things were going, and if he had any additional tips after he’d made it through most of his year. In short, his work sounds extremely trying. I don’t know “Mike” personally, but it strikes me that while he is in a very frustrating and difficult work situation, he looks at it quite objectively, acknowledges the positive points too, and has managed to stick it out for the whole year he committed to. I think it’s important to share interviews with people who haven’t always had the most pleasant experience, because those experiences are also a very real part of TEFL – and I thank “Mike” for his candidness here.

“As far as the job, no, nothing’s changed. I still feel exploited. There is still a really high turnover rate. The best anyone can seem to say is “well, it could be worse.” And while that may seem like a defeatist attitude, there is a lot to be said for that here in Korea. The jobs will exploit you. You will almost certainly have to work more than your contract implies. There will be numerous shenanigans of all sorts. If you have a job where you get paid on time and an apartment with a roof and a bed…well, it could be worse. Working in Korea has been as much or more work than I thought it would, with far more headaches and frustrations than I ever imagined (and I AM a traveler, so I envisioned a lot…) but at the end of the day (and the year as it may be) I was able to save a lot of money, and occasionally even had a good time here and there. While my job doesn’t give any vacation time, I was still able to see a little bit of the country and I learned a lot about the country and culture from my adult students. It was a difficult and at times painful experience, but it was a good experience. As long as you can view unpleasant experiences as being valuable, Korea can be a worthwhile place to teach. It is a lot of work, though, and really frustrating at times, even for a seasoned traveler.”

There is a nice light at the end of the tunnel though:

“When I finish up, I plan to take all the money I saved and travel – and if everything goes as planned and I get my bonus, I should be able to do so for about a year and a half.”

As far as “tips or tricks” he’s gleaned since then?
“… I don’t know. The people who came to my company from other places where conditions were horrible seemed to appreciate the job more than I did. Maybe remembering that if your basics are taken care of and that you’re getting paid, then you’re doing better than many teachers in Korea. Come here with the understanding that you will be working a LOT – even more than your “contract” will say. Contracts are a one way thing here – they are rigid for you and flexible for your boss. Being prepared to be exploited, lied to, and manipulated will help take the shock off when it happens. And it WILL happen.

It sounds negative, but that’s how I feel about working in Korea. In the end, though, I would consider doing it again for another year sometime. The savings potential is better here than anywhere you don’t need a masters degree to teach. Korea is a great place to save a lot of money. It’s a difficult place to live and work.”