How To: Teach English in South Korea

So far I have focused mostly on what my adventures in South Korea have been, not how I actually got here.

I got here by plane. Duh.

That was a joke. Albeit a bad one.

Anyway, I was able to come to South Korea through a fabulous government program called EPIK. (EPIK stands for English Program In Korea.)

EPIK is a branch of the Korean Ministry of Education (think like the Department of Education in the US). EPIK’s sole purpose is to recruit, hire and manage Native English teachers from 7 countries, (USA, Canada, Ireland, the UK, South Africa, Australia & New Zealand) to teach English in classrooms in elementary, middle and high schools all across South Korea. Majority of EPIK teachers will teach elementary school. Middle school still common but less so, and high school is straight up rare.

Now you can either apply to EPIK directly or through a separate recruiter. (Note: You should pay NOTHING to use an EPIK recruiter, if you are PAYING an EPIK recruiter it’s a SCAM.) I went through the recruiter Korean Horizons. And if you decide to be an EPIK teacher I would recommend Korean Horizons 110%. Seriously. I can’t emphasize how much easier using Korean Horizons made my experience.

Your recruiter acts as your on-the-ground advocate with the EPIK office while you are getting your application together outside of Korea. Korean Horizons went above and beyond for me, answering all my questions, helping me with the interview, meeting me at the airport, providing accommodations for the first day, setting me up with a transport card, a phrase book, and an outlet converter. Again I can’t recommend them highly enough.

With the basics out of the way, here is the step-by-step guide for an American to become an EPIK teacher:

  1. Decide you want to be an EPIK teacher
  2. Decide you want to use a recruiter
  3. Decide you want that recruiter to be Korean Horizons
  4. Apply to and be accepted by your recruiter
  5. Follow your recruiter’s instructions so I don’t have to detail how to do it in this post

Okay, okay if you’re stubborn and you’re thinking, “No, Laura I want to do this MYSELF, I am applying directly to EPIK.” Fine. Here are the real instructions:

  1. Make sure you meet the requirements to be an EPIK teacher. They have gotten a bit more stringent in the past few years as this is a very popular program with foreigners.
    1. Be a resident of an English speaking country
    2. Have a Bachelor’s Degree. Literally. It can be in anything, education major not required. Just have one.
    3. Have a TEFL/TESOL certificate. I got mine online but mine also required at least 20 hours of in-class instruction. (EPIK does not currently require the 20 hour in-class component, but I know for a fact that they are thinking about changing that soon and making the in-classroom portion mandatory.)  
    4. Be under the age of 62 (lol not kidding)
    5.  Be healthy
    6. Speak English (this is a different requirement than being a resident of an English speaking country in the Korean government’s eyes apparently.)
    7. Be willing to give Korea a shot
  2. Next download and fill out the application.
  3. Play the waiting game. The South Korean government loves to push this EPIK application process down to the wire. It will be stressful. You will worry. It is the nature of the program. But someone will get in touch with you and you will have an interview scheduled.
  4. Have the interview. I shouldn’t have to say this because it’s a job? But treat the interview like another job interview. Dress nice, speak professionally and sell yourself.
  5. Wait to get recommended to an office of education. But while you are waiting start to get your documents together.
    1. Two sealed transcripts.
    2. An apostilled copy of your diploma. You get this from your state capital. Depending on where you live you may have to mail it.
    3. An FBI background check. This then must be federally apostilled. So you must send it in the mail (use channeler, if you just send it to the state department it could take months). Or if you live close to DC, just take it there yourself.
    4. Two original letters of recommendation. Make sure they have ink signatures.
    5. A copy of your TEFL
    6. A copy of your passport page
    7. A passport photo
  6. As soon as you get the the offer after your interview, express ship all of the documents to Korea.
  7. AS SOON AS YOU GET THE OFFER AFTER YOUR INTERVIEW, EXPRESS SHIP ALL OF THE DOCUMENTS TO KOREA.
  8. AS SOON AS YOU GET THE OFFER AFTER YOUR INTERVIEW, EXPRESS SHIP ALL OF THE DOCUMENTS TO KOREA. I know I am beating a dead horse but you can not be recommended to an office of education until you do this. And you can not get your visa until you have been recommended to an office of education. If you get your documents to Korea towards the end of the application cycle there is a LARGE chance you will be either put on a wait list or pushed back to the later intake. (If you apply for Feb you’ll be pushed to Aug and vice versa.) I can not tell you how many sob stories I saw about how people just missed placement because they sent in their documents late. I also met plenty of people that applied for August and been pushed to my intake in February. So it is not uncommon and it does happen. So GET YOUR DOCUMENTS IN.
  9. Get recommended to an office of education (yay!) but now you must wait for your contract and notice of appointment to arrive from Korea before you can apply for a visa. I was still without a visa 3 weeks before I was supposed to leave. I know people who were without a visa 48 hours before they were supposed to leave. So they really can push this to the very last minute.
  10. Get your contract and notice of appointment then apply for your visa at your nearest consulate. Again depending on where you live you may need to mail this. Which adds more time to the visa process. The visa takes about a full work week not including any extra time it may spend in the mail.
  11. Once your visa is in hand, congrats! You’re going to Korea! Buy your plane ticket! (Or if you are confident you will get a position you could buy a plane ticket when you are first recommended aka step 9. I did this and was fine.)

And there you have it. How to actually get to Korea. Boring, right? I’ll plug the recruiter again because it really did make all the difference. Korean Horizons.

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