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Teaching English in Incheon, South Korea - Alumni Q&A with Stacy Sullivan
Written by: International TEFL Academy
Last Updated: December 18, 2020
What is your citizenship?
What city and state are you from?
Chicago, IL, USA
How old are you?
What is your education level and background?
What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?
I worked at the Chicago Tribune for 3 years as an account planner for digital advertising, and was tired of working at a desk 24/7. I decided to volunteer one day with a local non-profit in Chicago called Open Books, who offered a reading and writing program to undeserved public elementary and middle schools in the Chicago Area. Every Tuesday/Thursday before work I'd go to a middle school on the south side and worked with students on reading and writing prompts. This really sparked my initial interest in teaching. Last summer (2018) I was going down the YouTube rabbit whole, and saw a video pop up of someone teaching English abroad in Asia. And the rest was history!
What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
My biggest concern before leaving was missing my friends and family back home. I had a few close friends who were getting engaged and married, and didn't want to miss out on the events. But they could not have been more supportive. They really reassured me that I needed to go and do this for myself, and see if teaching was really something I wanted to pursue long term.
What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
My friends were so excited for me. My parents were a bit apprehensive at first, but they jumped on board pretty quickly. They always knew I'd end up traveling for work, and were really excited to see me head down this path.
TEFL CLASS INFORMATION
Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?
I chose International TEFL Academy after researching the requirements to receive a TEFL certificate online. International TEFL Academy exceeded all of the requirements I read about on requiring the correct certification, and they had a lot of great feedback online.
Which TEFL certification course did you take?
I took the Online TEFL class.
How did you like the course?
I loved the part-time online course. It allowed to me keep working at my day job, and went at a great pace. The instructor was super helpful and gave great feedback in each of our assignments. The practicum was a bit scary to complete at first, but once you find a place to complete your hours, it's super easy to complete. And it gives you some great initial contact with teaching before leaving for your chosen country.
How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
A lot of the content and skills taught in the course were very useful when I first arrived in Korea. I was able to use these tools to create fun and engaging lesson plans when I first started. The course really does prepare you for the basics in teaching and how to handle daily lessons and activities.
How long have you been in South Korea and how long do you plan to stay?
I moved to Incheon, South Korea in January of 2019. I have been here for 5 months and will be staying until January of 2020.
Why did you decide to teach English in this location?
I decided to teach English in South Korea because of the culture, pay, and overall work lifestyle. Teaching in South Korea seemed like the best option to still make money while working and paying off my student loans.
What school, company, or program are you working for?
I went the private route instead of public route, and work at a hagwon. It's a private institution that students go to for learning English specifically.
During which months does your school typically hire?
Since my school is a hagwon, the peak hiring time is centered around when teachers are hired. Right now, we are currently hiring for an August start date. Our next available date will most likely be in 2020 sometime.
Did you secure this position in advance of arriving?
Yes, I was hired about 3 months in advance of arriving.
How did you interview for this position?
I had a Skype/Phone interview.
What kind of Visa did you enter on?
I entered Korea on an E-2 teaching visa.
Please explain the visa process that you went through.
The visa process was pretty easy. I received my job through a recruiter (Korvia), and they helped process all of my documents with the school. I completed my background check and apostilled documents on my own, and took my required documents to my local embassy. Luckily I lived in Chicago at the time, and worked near the building, so I was able to take my documents in person. From there I just waited to receive my passport back with my visa in it!
What are the qualifications that your school requires for teachers?
Native English Speaker
What is the best way to apply?
Through a recruiter.
Tell us about your English teaching jobs!
I work about 40 hours per week. My schedule on Monday/Wednesday/Friday is 9:30-6:20, and on Tuesday/Thursday 9:30-5:30. My school starts a bit earlier than some hagwons, since we offer kindergarten classes. Part of the day is working with 5-7 year olds, and the other half is with elementary students. What's really nice about my school is all of the field trips we take. At least once a month we head to a kids cafe, theme park, museum, etc., with our kindergarten classes, and have just run around with them.
We receive 10 days of paid vacation, not including national holidays. I'm able to save about $800 a month after my bills. I'm currently paying off a student loan back in America, which is why my monthly savings is a bit lower than others. It's super easy to save money here, as your housing is covered, and the cost of living is much lower. If you're looking to save money and still live a fun lifestyle, I highly recommend coming to Korea!
Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc...
Korea is definitely different from where I grew up, and it did take some getting used to when I first moved here! There's definitely a lack of personal space, and there's really no standard of politeness. Things like holding the door, exiting an elevator, getting on the train, it's really just a free for all. And it's not them being rude at all, it's just how everyone operates here! Just be sure to try and be polite when you can, as you are a foreigner and should respect there culture and actions.
One thing I thought would be lacking when I came here was the dating scene. People kept saying it's virtually impossible as a foreigner to date here, but I couldn't disagree more. If you're open to dating here, then I don't think you'll have any problems. There's so many options, especially if you're open to dating apps. So don't be shy, and put yourself out there! You never know who you'll meet. I was lucky enough to find someone really amazing, when I least expected it.
The food here is absolutely AMAZING! Everything from Korean BBQ, to friend chicken, kimchi, pigs feet, sea food, and intestines. It's all amazing. If you're not a picky eater, and enjoy meat and seafood, then you'll enjoy the food here. There's also tons of fast food chains from America everywhere. Burger King, Papa Johns, McDonalds, the list goes on. And if you're craving Chipotle, they have a place called Cucharra in Seoul that taste EXACTLY like it.
What are your monthly expenses?
Rent: Free (paid for by my school)
Utilities: Roughly $150 - My building has as maintenance fee that is quite high. My area is a bit more expensive to live in, so the cost to keep up the apartment is where most of my utility bill comes from.
Lunches: Free, our school caters in food that the teachers also have.
Food: $20-$70 a week. I eat out quite a bit, so if you buy groceries and cook, you'd probably save even more money.
Social Activities: $20-$100 a week. Again, it depends on what you're doing that week. Some weekends I don't do anything. Others, I go on a massive shopping spree and head out to the bars. But the drinks are relatively cheap, as well as the clothes, so you're still saving money in the long run.
Phone: $50 a month
Transportation: $15 a month. I walk to school everyday, so this price is mostly from taking the train into Seoul on the weekends.
How did you find somewhere to live?
I live in a studio apartment that was provided by my school. It's about a 2 minute walk away from the school, which is amazing! I love where I live, the apartment is very clean, and my school provided me with a table and chairs, bed, and appliances.
How would you describe your standard of living?
My standard of living here is much higher than back in Chicago. I am able to go out more, enjoy meals and drinks, much more than I did back home. Because my rent is paid for, I'm able to save a lot more money. This allows me to go buy new clothes, go out for drinks, and have more fun than I did back home.
In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
To live comfortably, you would need to be making about $1,500 a month. That's if you don't have many bills back home in the states. Like I mentioned before, I'm paying off a student loan, so I don't save as much money. But this would be an easy amount to live off of very comfortably.
ADVICE FOR PROSPECTIVE ENGLISH TEACHERS
What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching in your country?
My advice to someone planning on teaching abroad. is to just go for it. There's nothing to lose. You'll gain new experiences and grow as a person from this experience. Whether you decide you love or hate teaching, this experience will really help you build new skills and give you a new outlook on life.
Founded in 2010, International TEFL Academy is a world leader in TEFL certification for teaching English abroad & teaching English online. ITA offers accredited TEFL certification classes online & in 25 locations worldwide and has received multiple awards & widespread recognition as one of the best TEFL schools in the world. ITA provides all students and graduates with lifetime job search guidance. ITA has certified more than 25,000 English teachers and our graduates are currently teaching in 80 countries worldwide.
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