What It's Like Teaching English in South Korea

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asked Sep 20, 2021 in H&E by travelandteach (120 points)

South Korea is a pastoral scene from a painting full of rich flora, angelic children, and adults who know the difference between present continuous and present perfect tenses. OK, while the former is true (seriously, Korea’s landscape is breathtaking,) the latter isn’t.

Just as in other countries, some children want to throw scissors at their friends and adults don’t have infinite time to perfect their English. As a former EPIK elementary school teacher and a current adult English instructor in Seoul, I have experience with both age groups and others in-between. But, I’ve found that while Koreans are no more perfect than other students around the world, Koreans are extremely dedicated to their studies and are a joy to teach at any age.

Considering teaching English in South Korea? Decide which age group is best for you before making your move. Doing so will better both you and your students’ experiences inside of the classroom and out.

Teaching Children in South Korea

Most of the English-teaching jobs available in South Korea are for teaching children in schools from kindergarten through elementary school, which is fantastic news because Korean kids are adorable. But before you jump in, there’s a few things to keep in mind.

English teaching jobs in Korea with children will vary depending on your area and the age of your students. For example, kindergarteners through third-graders usually adore sing-alongs, but fourth-graders might roll their eyes if you YouTube, “Baby Shark.”

And, while first-graders in Gangnam might ask you in English about your hobbies and your hometown, first-graders in rural areas might not know their ABC’s. In short, you should keep your lesson plans flexible for various English levels until you’re familiar with your student’s needs. Here are a few other important things to keep in mind:

Korean Kids are Overworked

Korean kids work hard during public school and often have to go to one or even two hagwons (after-school academies) afterward. While the real educational race doesn’t usually start until middle school, even elementary students have full schedules. Unless you incorporate games, songs and crafts into your lessons, your kids will doze off or doodle Pororo in their notebooks. If the students look really uninspired, try incorporating K-Pop and videogame references into the lesson. For example, a lesson on English phone etiquette is much more interesting to middle schoolers if they can pretend they’re talking to EXO, not their mom.

Establish Rules & Be Patient

Although discipline in Korean elementary schools used to be strict, nowadays (especially in Seoul) there’s an emerging attitude that, “Kids should be kids.”

While you shouldn’t let bad behavior go, you should remember that your expectations likely differ from their homeroom teacher’s. Be patient, continue to give reminders, and follow through with punishments (or, better yet, reward systems.) Sparkly stickers work well with 3rd grade and under, while point systems work best with older Korean children.

Have Flexible Personal Space & Boundaries

Like children in any country, Korean kids love attention. Younger ones want to hold your hand, give you lots of hugs, and share their food with you. Plus, as a foreigner with traits different from their own, they’ll be extra-interested; I’ve even heard stories of young students “petting” foreigners’ arm hair in amazement because their parents don’t have arm hair. Depending on how dear you hold your personal space, this can be endearing or extra creepy. In addition, be prepared for “intrusive” questions, such as the following I’ve really been asked by Korean kids:

  • Are you married?
  • Why aren’t you married?
  • How old are you?
  • Are you a Christian?
  • How much do you weigh?
  • What’s your blood type?

While these types of questions might be off-limits in your country, these questions are quite tame for Korea.

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