I saw this blog post pop up on my Facebook feed: Why South Korea isn’t the Place for Serious English Teachers.
I read it and then started writing a Facebook comment that kept growing and growing, so I realized it was probably better as a blog post.
With that said, if you've taught in Korea, I think it will hit a nerve. He's in it now as he mentions he's planning to finally leave Korea. You can identify with his frustration, and he's hitting on some very real points. What's interesting is someone I know who still lives in Korea reached out recently. I'd not been in contact since before I left and this wasn't someone who was in my inner circle. I moved back in 2009, so it's been at least seven years since I've been in contact with this person. He and I were exchanging messages, and I had to excuse myself to get back to work as I was up late. He replied that he had a class coming up soon, and I realized he's been an ESL teacher in Korea for years upon years. Nothing wrong with that, but he's pretty much going to have that "best dead end job" that the author mentions for as long as he can pull it off.
I had that job too. In terms of career prospects when you're in Korea, that's close to it. I know some people including non-Koreans and foreign born Koreans who've gotten into entertainment through radio and TV. I also met other foreigners there who were with the military or were there for business. But if you want to stay on the teaching track, that's pretty much it. The top of the ladder is teaching at a Korean university or college. Beyond that there is no career track or professional development because you're supposed to do the job for a handful of years and then move on.
Teaching English in Korea has always been set up as a temporary gig and was never meant to be anything more than that just by the way it's structured because of the required yearly visa updates/renewals along with mostly yearly contracts (some schools might do more, but most don't.) One of the many reasons I chose to move home was being over having to get sign off from immigration for any project that came up. At one point I had both a student via and a teaching visa simultaneously. If you didn't, you're in violation of your visa and, trust me, a lot of people take on other projects.
I have some friends who've made it work or have pushed themselves onto another track by getting a PhD. I have a couple of friends there now who are professors in other topics, but they've put the work in. They're basically experts in some aspect of Korean culture or history and, of course, are fluent in Korean.
I was there for my own set of reasons:
- post law degree and trying to figure things out
- getting time to travel and see a bit more of the world, which I did
- healing and patching up my soul after losing my parents within 5 weeks of the other and reconciling that with being adopted, which also requires a certain level of healing and patching up