Teaching English in Incheon, South Korea: Q&A with Laura Kempton

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Where are you teaching English abroad?
I am teaching English in Incheon, South Korea.

What is your citizenship?
United States

What city and state are you from?
Noblesville, IN

How old are you?

What is your education level and background?
Bachelor's degree

Have you traveled abroad in the past?
Studied abroad

If you have traveled abroad in the past, where have you been?
Central African Republic, Grenada, France, Kosovo, Jamaica, Singapore, and Malaysia.

If you have studied abroad in the past, where did you study?
New Zealand and Australia.

What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?
I have been interested in teaching since I was little; it was what I wanted to be when I grew up for most of my life. I pursued a different degree in college, but it wasn't a perfect fit for me. I was bitten by the travel bug at the age of 11 when my family went on a missions trip to the Central African Republic. Teaching English abroad seemed like a good fit to see if I wanted to pursue teaching as a career, and pursue my love of learning and traveling.

What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
I wanted to make sure I would be able to work legally in the country under a working visa; I wanted to make sure I would have a decent salary (I have student loans to pay back); and I wanted it to be somewhere that had a fairly well established program and system in place for foreign teachers.

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What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
My family was initially apprehensive about my safety and welfare, but once I educated them about everything, they were very supportive. My friends were encouraging and supportive, and excited about the great opportunity.

Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?
I have taught non-academic things before (gymnastics and swimming), but I wanted to make sure I was ready and prepared to teach English. I also knew that many countries wanted to know you had a certificate to teach English. I chose ITA because they have a lot of resources that are available, I liked that I could do an online course as an in-class course wasn't very feasible for my situation, and they were a well established and respected company.

Which TEFL certification course did you take?
Online TEFL Cours

How did you like the course?
I liked that the course had deadlines for assignments (I tend to procrastinate), but I could also work on things as they fit my schedule with work and family commitments. The tasks built on each other, which was helpful, especially as the last project was creating a whole lesson plan. It was broken down well into different aspects of teaching. I especially liked learning about the different education philosophies and approaches. The instructor provided helpful feedback and was easily accessible. The practicum was easy to complete with ITA's school resources.

How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
It has given me a great foundation for how I approach my classes. It was great to work through lesson planning and understanding the different levels and needs of the students so I could frame what I expected of my students.

TEFL South KoreaWhich city and country did you decide to teach English in and why?
I decided to teach English in South Korea in the city of Incheon. I decided on this location because Korea has a well established system and program for English teachers. Korea also offers great pay and benefits to foreign teachers, which was very appealing. I also wanted to teach children and not adults, and in Korea that is possible. I chose to teach English in Incheon because it is a large city, but not as large as Seoul. The particular part I am in has a lot of parks, and is quite an international area. Therefore, I am easily able to get many things I am used to from the States. I also like it because while I am in a major city, it is not very crowded, and it has easy access to Seoul.

How long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay?
I have been in Korea for one year and I plan to stay for at least one more year.

During which months does your school typically hire?
My school hires year round, but primarily for September and March start dates.

Did you secure this position in advance of arriving?

How did you interview for this position?
Skype/Phone Interview

What kind of Visa did you enter on?
South Korea Work Visa

Please explain the visa process that you went through.
Through ITA's job search resources, I found out about what the visa process was like which was helpful in understanding what I would need to do and have. My recruiter also told me exactly what I needed as far as documents. I just had to gather everything and send it to him, who forwarded it to my employer, and they took care of submitting it and actually applying.

What are the qualifications that your school requires for teachers? Please check all that apply
 - Bachelor's degree
 - Native English speaker

What is the best way to apply?

Tell us about your English teaching job!

  • School/students: I work at a hagwon (private language school) where I teach kindergarten in the morning until early afternoon, and then it switches to elementary (1-6 grade). The elementary students come after their regular elementary school, so it's like an after school program.
  • Hours: I work Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9 am-7:30 pm. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I work from 9 am-6:40 pm. I have three prep periods which are 40 minutes, a break for lunch, and we have 10 minute breaks for kindergarten between each class and 5 minute breaks for elementary. Each class is 40 minutes. For kindergarten, there is a Korean co-teacher there in the classroom.
  • Salary: I make 2.8 million won (approx. $2,250 USD) each month, which is a little higher than average, but that is due to the amount of classes I teach. Housing is also provided.
  • Savings: I am able to save about half of my paycheck each month. I would say that I am living very comfortably.
  • Vacation time: We get all of the Korean national holidays plus 10 vacation days which are set by the school. We always have a summer and winter break of five days.

How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like? Do you have roommates?
My school provides housing. It is like a studio apartment, and is very nice. I live by myself and it's just a five minutes walk to work. I only have to pay for utilities. My school provided some basic furniture like a bed as well as some dishes, pots, and pans, and bedding. I have a washer in my apartment (dryers aren't really a thing in Korea), and my school provided a closet (clothes closets aren't really built into apartments in Korea).

Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc...    

  • Cultural aspects: Korea has a culture of respect towards elders, and it even influences the way friends of different ages interact and what words they would use. Bowing is accompanied by hello, thank you, and goodbye. Koreans in general are very friendly and eager to know you and your opinion on Korea.
  • Public transportation in Korea is great! There are a lot of buses, and especially in Seoul, there are a lot of subway lines and stops. Even in Incheon there are a couple subway lines. I'm about a 10 minute walk away from one subway stop, but I usually take the bus into Seoul as there is an express bus, so it goes from here to Seoul with no stops in between.
  • Nightlife: Korea has plenty of nightlife, especially in Seoul. People often stay out until the subway and buses open up again at about 5 or 6 am. Soju is extremely popular and extremely cheap and will be the main drink of choice for most Koreans, and during hwesik (company dinners).
  • Social activities: There is a lot to do and see, and there are many tour groups that arrange activities within and outside of Seoul where you can meet foreigners and Koreans. Hiking is extremely popular among all ages, and there's a lot of it to be done.
  • Food: The food is delicious. Whenever you eat at a Korean restaurant, your main dish will always be accompanied by banchan--side dishes--which is standard. Koreans love meat, especially pork, and you'll find a lot of BBQ places. I'm vegetarian, so it is a little difficult to find food, but not impossible. There are quite a few vegetarian (and vegan) restaurants in Incheon and Seoul, and it's possible to find meat-free dishes in regular restaurants as well.
  • Expat community: There is a very large expat community, especially in Seoul in Itaewon. People are very helpful and supportive, and there are many Facebook communities to join.

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What are your monthly expenses?

  • Rent/Utilities: My school provides housing, so I don't have to pay rent, but I do pay utilities which are about 150,000 won ($140 USD) per month.
  • Phone/internet: My phone and internet combined is 66,000 won ($60 USD) per month.
  • Transportation is cheap. The buses are about 2,500 won ($2.35 USD) and the subway is about 1,300 won ($1.25 USD). You can use the same transportation card for both and transfer between them.
  • Food: Dining out is fairly inexpensive. Depending on what and where you are eating, a meal would be about 10,000-20,000 won ($9.50 - $20 USD). Groceries vary on prices. If it is imported, it's going to be more expensive than it would be in the States. Fruits and vegetables can be expensive if you buy them at one of the big grocery marts, but if you get them from a market, they're cheaper.
  • Activities: Many tourist activities are free or very inexpensive to visit. If you are going on trips outside of Seoul, the average day trip is about 50,000 won (just under $50 USD) depending on the activity, or 100,000 won ($100 USD) for an overnight trip, and that includes everything except food (often at least one meal is included for overnight trips).

How would you describe your standard of living?
My standard of living is very high. While I try to live on the cheaper side so that my money goes further and I can save more, I also don't watch every cent. I am definitely able to do the things I want to do, go on trips within and outside of Korea, support myself day to day, and still send a good amount back home to pay off student loans.

In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
The salary in Korea is really high. Usually the lowest is about 2 million won (about $2000 USD), but realistically to support yourself in Korea you probably only need about $1000 USD per month and you would be living comfortably.

What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching in your country?
DO IT! Teaching English in Korea has been one of the best experiences of my life. I have learned so much about myself, this country, and the world around me. It has been really rewarding in so many aspects. Korea is very foreigner friendly, which makes settling in and feeling comfortable pretty easy. I would just say learn as much as you can before you go, not only about what teaching will be like, but also about the country's culture and history. Be open to everything when you're there. You never know what it could lead to or what wonderful things could happen.


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