Teaching English in Dongtan, South Korea: Q&A with Kendall Lisa

ITA alumna, Kendall Lisa, talks about starting her life teaching English in Dongtan, South Korea this year as she grapples with living halfway around the world from her family and enjoying all that Korea has to offer.

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What is your citizenship?
United States

What city and state are you from?
Atlanta, Georgia, USA

How old are you?

What is your education level and background?
Bachelor's Degree.

Have you traveled abroad in the past?
I've traveled to South Korea, France, and Germany.

What sparked your interest in teaching English abroad?
Traveling to South Korea for the first time. I fell in love with the culture. I have always loved helping people as a psychology major -- I think it’s a part of our morals to want to help people. The first year after school, I was working as a behavioral therapist and I really enjoyed this work, but I wanted more structure. I wanted to be able to really teach something more tangible, and help students in a school setting because I had never really done that before and thought I would really enjoy that. I found out South Korea had amazing benefits for teaching as well, so it just made sense for me. I wanted an exciting change. I believe life is about having fun and taking risks. We only have one life so you might as well do something you will love. 

What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
I was concerned about the process and how long it would take. I wanted to leave my job as I had gotten burnt out so I wanted to make sure I could do it in a timely manner. I was also concerned that my paperwork such as a background check would not come back in time and delay the process. Of course, I was also worried about adjusting to a new culture not knowing many people in South Korea, and being away from my family as well. I think this served as motivation for me to learn the language (I still have a long way to go!) but it helped immensely with adjusting.

What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
My family was overall very supportive! However, they were a bit concerned about me being so far away from them. They realized I would only be able to talk to them in the early morning or late evening due to the difference in time zones. My dad took it the hardest, and he was extremely emotional. I’m the first of the family out of five kids to do something like this along with being their only daughter, so it was a hard adjustment for them. Overall though, they want me to be happy and have encouraged me to experience new things and live life how I want. They knew this decision was coming, I think, because after I went to Korea for the second time I signed up with International TEFL Academy while ON that trip so they knew I was really serious. They just needed time to get used to the idea I think.  

Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?
When researching about certifications it seemed like International TEFL Academy was the most accredited. ITA had a class time that worked with my busy working schedule as well and even had specific courses in the country and about South Korea. I found blogs by teachers who used ITA and were placed in South Korea only months after, and I knew this would be a great fit for me. The price was also reasonable compared to other providers, especially considering you get so many benefits like job search guidance and help with documents. Researching about teaching abroad always led me back to International TEFL Academy so I knew it was right! 

Which TEFL certification course did you take?
I took the 11-Week Online TEFL Course.

How did you like the course?
I really liked the course! It felt like I was in college again and I honestly missed that feeling. The instructor left such detailed feedback and I learned so much. The assignments were not tedious, and I loved having the ability to communicate with my classmates and trade feedback with them as well. The practicum was the most impactful thing for me. I was able to complete it in about one and a half months, and I did it at the same time as the course which I know is not common. I met amazing people doing this and made great connections. I stepped out of my comfort zone and got such joy from helping people to communicate in English and I truly loved the experience so much. I was able to use what I learned in class as well during the practicum. Lesson planning and other resources helped me so much! 

Kendall Lisa teaches English in Dongtan, South Korea

How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
It equipped me with the ability to be confident in front of a group, as well as have background knowledge and different teaching methods that I often use in class. Some of the in-class activities I learned about and how they are effective with different populations are also things I use daily. I love being able to remember different things such as how changing seating arrangements or making the class have group work activities. Knowing why those methods are important is always in the back of my mind. The training made me become a more effective teacher. 

Where did you decide to teach and why did you choose this location?
I have been teaching English in Dongtan, South Korea since 2024. It's now been over four months, but  I plan to stay for at least 3 more years. It’s outside of a big city (Seoul) but close enough that I can visit often. It’s only about an hour away. My boyfriend also works in this city so it made sense for us after being long distance for so long. 

What school, company, or program are you working for?
I work for one company, YBM ECC.

During which months does your school typically hire?

Did you secure this position in advance of arriving?
Yes - I interviewed via Zoom.

What kind of visa did you enter on and what was the visa process like?
I got the E2 Visa which is a teaching visa in South Korea. First, I had to get fingerprints done, and then I got a background check in the US. Then, I had to get my degree and background check apostilled. Once I had my interview I sent my documents to the school after they decided to hire me. After signing my contract, I finally applied for my visa by taking all these documents to the Korean embassy in Atlanta, eventually receiving it a few weeks later. The entire process took about 3 months, with the longest being my apostilled background check. 

What are the qualifications that your school requires for teachers?
Bachelor's Degree, TEFL Certification, and a native English speaker.

What is the best way to apply?
A recruiter. I used Yuna Recruiting, who helped me land the interview and get a job in the city I wanted within a week of interviewing! 

Tell us about your English teaching job!
I work for a Hagwon which is a private English academy. School starts at 9:30 am and goes until 6:30 pm with a lunch break from 12-12:50 pm. There are other random 40-minute breaks at the same time on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and a different time on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I make 2.5 million won every month ($1800 USD) and I work with children ages 7-11 years old. My vacation time is 5 days in the summer and 5 days in the winter. The lesson plans are already made for us, so we just follow them! We don’t have to lesson plan. You eat lunch with the children typically if you have a class at that time. Lunch is provided for free and it’s traditional Korean food and it is so yummy.  The morning is for kindergarten students and the afternoon is for the older students.

There is an official break from 2:20-2:50 pm where we can go outside and do whatever we please. After the break, afternoon classes begin which are all 40 minutes long. There are field trips each month and special events as well which are really fun. I enjoy it so much!

The school pays my apartment rent so I am able to save about 1 million won each month ($720 USD). I could honestly save a lot more, but I like to buy food and clothes, go to theme parks and cafes, and check out fun places with my boyfriend. Korea is so affordable compared to the US. I spend about 300,000 won each month on food ($215 USD) but I could honestly spend less. It is really easy to save money here, and I don’t feel any stress to make ends meet or anything like that.

Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc...
Korea has such an amazing culture that is dominated by food and spending time with the people you love. The food in Korea is undoubtedly some of the best food you will ever have in your life, and the prices are completely unbeatable. There is a culture of respect for older people, and the language of Korean is built on this so if you want to learn Korean, which I highly recommend, you have to learn how to address different people such as a professor or your friends. There is such a variety of things to do in Korea, and if you have any kind of interest, you can definitely find a place to do that. You can go to archery courses, and pottery classes, and even learn how to do a K-pop dance. There are so many great things to do, and my personal favorites are going to a café as well as playing badminton. On top of that, anything you want to do is just a bus ride away.

Korea is not a big country, so everything is usually within an hour away from you, unless you wanna go to the coast such as Busan or Jeju Island. Obviously, those places are a few hours away by train, but the main cities are all very close to each other. You can travel so easily in Korea and like I keep mentioning, everything is so affordable. 

What are your monthly expenses?
Rent = $0 (Paid for by my school!)
Utilities= $140
Food= $200 (I usually don't spend more than $15 a week on groceries)
Phone bill = $18
Annual Gym membership = $250
Social Activities: Around $50 (tickets to places are pretty cheap, and I mostly go to cafes or restaurants with friends, so that goes in the food category)
My other expenses are beauty and skincare and Korea is like number one for these in the world.  

TEFL student Kendall Lisa in Dongtan, South Korea

How did you find somewhere to live?
My school provided my apartment. My apartment is about an 18-minute walk from the Hagwon. I could take a bus too, but I enjoy walking. The location is amazing with so many cafés and so many things to do. There are many families living around here, and it’s just a really wholesome and great area to live in. This is a new city as well, so everything is really clean, new, and exciting and tailored towards young people like me.

How would you describe your standard of living?
I would say I have a relatively high standard of living. I like things to be clean and orderly, and I want access to many things such as cafés or different places where I can buy things I need. The neighborhood I live in meets all of those needs and my apartment is small but easy to clean. I can decorate it well, and I think my standard is met really well here. I don’t suffer because my apartment isn’t huge and I don’t cut corners so I can make ends meet. I had to adjust my standards a bit coming from a country where I had a bigger space to live, but honestly, I feel really comfortable and appreciative of my space here. It’s easier to manage and I have everything I need right at my fingertips. 

In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
In Korea, about 2 million won ($1450 USD) I would say. I make 2.5 million won and live extremely well, and am able to do and buy truly anything I want without any stress. Korea is such an affordable country. If you pay rent it would be different, but most ESL teachers here do not have to pay this so I think two million is enough!

A view of Dongtan, South Korea

What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching in your country?
I would one million percent recommend teaching in South Korea. The benefits for teachers are incredible and the demand is so high. I got my job after an 8-minute interview and landed the job only a week after meeting with my recruiter for the first time. Korean schools almost always pay your rent too so I say go for it!

You will undoubtedly have an unforgettable experience that will enhance your life in ways that you won’t even understand until you’re there. You should do your research on teaching English abroad and really understand that this process takes a little while along with taking some elbow grease. The process will feel like a lot of stress, but it is so worth it. You need to do research on the country you’re going to as well. Understand the culture, be respectful, and try your best to mitigate culture shock. If possible, I would recommend going on a trip to the country you want to teach in beforehand just to get a feel for it as well. To get the most out of the experience, I would say stay away from just hanging out with other expats because you should really immerse yourself in the culture, and stay out of the bubble you left back home. You’re in a new country after all!

Make sure you read your contract and use a recruiter too who can alert you if there are any red flags along with helping you land at a school that meets your exact needs and wants. Overall, this is an amazing opportunity to move to an entirely new place (perhaps across the planet like in my case) and get out of your comfort zone while doing something that will make you such a more well-rounded and culturally aware individual. 


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