The Pros and Cons of Teaching English in Korea (with EPIK)
Choosing where you want to relocate your life as an English teacher can be one of the most stressful decisions you’ll make on your EFL journey. I spent hours researching the ins and outs of every country and position before committing to teaching English in Korea (with EPIK).
And as popular a program as EPIK is, there were so many confusing and contradictory things about what being a teacher with EPIK was truly like. It’s difficult finding clear information online!
So below I share some insight into what I feel are the main pros and cons of being an English teacher in South Korea through the EPIK program. If you’re looking to teach in Asia, I hope this helps you with your decision!
**This is from the perspective of a TEFL certified teacher without a degree in education and formal experience – aka my experience 🙂
The PROS of Teaching in Korea with EPIK.
Salary + Bonuses.
South Korea offers one of the best benefit packages to inexperienced native English teachers. The amazing base salary on top of free rent on top of an abundance of bonuses (seriously, it’s a lot of bonuses) is a perk that’s tough to beat! For a deeper dive into what EPIK teachers are paid, check out My EPIK salary for more information.
From what I can tell from job ads and friend accounts, the total package of salary, bonuses and benefits EPIK offers is (in my opinion) overall a better deal compared to private English academies here in Korea.
An 8:30 – 4:30 Schedule.
Public school teachers in Korea work 8:30 – 4:30, which I absolutely love! If you opt to work for private academics, you’ll most likely be teaching nights and possibly even weekends as supplementary instruction for students outside of their normal schooling.
EPIK provides free and fully furnished accommodation to all employees, a perk not many other countries or programs offer TEFL teachers. I think this one goes without saying – free rent, sign me up!
A Sense of Security.
As an EPIK teacher, there are a lot of regulations, rules and laws in place to protect you. Having what is expected of you, benefits and terms clearly written in a contract with a government entity offers great peace of mind – which isn’t provided with private academies. No fear of being taken advantage of with EPIK!
Paid Vacation: 18 days + 14 National Holidays + 11 Sick Days.
English teachers in EPIK receive 18 days of paid vacation time. It’s an amazing perk and may be some of the best paid time off offered to TEFL expats in Asia. South Korea also happens to celebrate quite a few national holidays and that means more paid time off for us!
An Affordable Standard of Living.
EPIK pays a very decent wage and coupled with free rent and an affordable standard of living, life in Korea is quite comfortable. I frequently take weekend trips, have two international vacations planned, pay my $770 monthly student loan payments and have saved a fair chunk of change, all on my EPIK salary.
Travel Around Korea Is Easy and Fairly Inexpensive.
South Korea is a country well connected by numerous airports, trains and buses. The abundance of public transportation options make travel around Korea easy and affordable. The ability to explore Korea without headache really breaks up the monotony of an otherwise standard week at school!
A Helpful Support System.
For some other TEFL programs, you may be expected to figure out everything on your own; from setting up utilities, figuring out a phone plan, setting up your bank account – and in a foreign language no less! The EPIK program sets teachers up for success by pairing them with a Korean teacher who offers support and mentorship during your entire contract. I speak VERY little Korean so I cannot stress enough how helpful my co-teacher has been – she is a godsend!
The CONS of Teaching in Korea with EPIK.
Hours of Desk Warming.
With EPIK, you’re only contracted to teach for 22 class hours per week. This leaves 18 hours for lesson planning and anything else your school may need you to do. With vast numbers of resources online (like waygook.org – a teacher’s best friend), you don’t really need the full 18 hours to lesson plan. This extra downtime can be a perk, but too much desk warming can also become tedious.
No Summer or Winter Break.
Education is serious business in Korea. Even when school goes on break, most kids spend their time off studying at camps or private academies. This means EPIK teachers are expected to run English camps and talking clubs during school breaks.
Usually these extracurriculars don’t run the entire holiday, but regardless if you’re teaching or not, you’re required to come to school for your normal hours. This means you could be stuck at your desk all break, all alone, with nothing to do.
There are many other TEFL jobs in different countries that offer their English teachers the same vacation time as students. So if having summers off is a priority, I recommend considering teaching in a different country!
Inflexible Vacation Dates.
While the amount of vacation time given in Korea is actually pretty decent, there is limited flexibility as to how and when you can take it.
As EPIK teachers, we must take our vacation days during the school breaks, and usually divided up as 8 days during the summer and 10 days during the winter. Your ability to choose exact dates may also be limited as your school may need you to teach English camps on their schedule. You’re at the mercy of what your school needs and expects from you.
Travel to Other Countries Can Be Expensive.
Before actually living in Korea, I had this naive idea that travel to other Asian countries MUST be cheap because Korea is in Asia too. Sadly this isn’t necessarily the case. Travel during peak season – when most EPIK teachers take their vacation – only increases the cost of international flights from Korea.
Thankfully with many budget Korean airlines, it’s possible to find decently priced flights with some insane early planning and research.
No Time off for Christmas (or Other Western Holidays).
If spending time with your family over Christmas is something that is extremely important to you, you need to be warned that Christmas and other western holidays aren’t a big deal in Korea, nor many other Asian countries for that matter. As EPIK teachers, we only get one day off for the Christmas holiday, which means no time to go home and visit family.
No Choice in Placement.
When you apply through the EPIK program, you’re only allowed to list one main preference for where you’d like to live and teach. Obviously the majority of applicants have their eyes set on Seoul.
Teaching in Seoul with EPIK is very competitive and I’ve been told it’s like winning the lottery. Unless you have stellar teaching experience and extensive formal teacher training, chances are you’ll be placed anywhere but Seoul.
It’s also important to know that when applying to EPIK, you should be open to the possibility that you could be placed somewhere rural. There are a limited number of positions in the city and teachers are expected to go where there’s need! Flexibility is a virtue when considering living and teaching in Korea (see below).
Everything Is Last Minute.
If you choose to apply to EPIK, be forewarned that you may not receive your acceptance until a month to even a week before you need to fly to Korea. And your school placement isn’t given until the last day of orientation (the day before you’ll move there). Prepare yourself for a long and anxious waiting period!
This last minute attitude also carries over into everyday teaching plans and schedules. You’ll no doubt encounter many Korean surprises in your time as a teacher – from last minute class cancellations to last minute lesson additions, anything goes in Korea!
Could Go Either Way:
As I mentioned above, being flexible and having the ability to roll with the punches is key when considering the EPIK program. No two applicants have the same experience, and even when the stars align for a picture perfect set up, one thing may cause a negative experience, and vice versa.
Your experience at your school is dependent on so many factors such as:
- Where it is in relation to your apartment. Is it within walking distance or a long bus ride?
- How new or old the facilities are.
- What type of resources are available to you.
- Your assigned number of schools.
- The number of students who attend your school – large class sizes or small?
In Korea, everything is a mixed bag and all scenarios are possible!
Your Relationship with your Co-Teacher(s).
I was very lucky and work with wonderfully helpful co-teachers and have yet to have a disagreement or dispute. However, this may not be the case for everyone. Sometimes you may have personality differences, differing teaching philosophies or issues establishing a solid connection with your co-teacher. This is standard in any workplace and like anything, it just depends!
As a teacher, your relationship with your students is key to the job and can be affected by the teaching environment you’re both placed in. I teach at two schools; one with 30 students/class and newer facilities, and the other with 15 students/class and older more rural facilities. Both are completely different experiences.
Korea also has the reputation of having wonderfully studious and intelligent students – I came with the same starry-eyed expectation. But kids are kids, no matter where you are in the world. Some classes are total angels who love to learn, some classes are too cool for school. Again, it just depends!
If you’ve seen those beautiful EPIK apartment tours online, let me tell you to not get your hopes too high. Depending on where you’re placed, your apartment will most likely be older and show signs of former tenants.
EPIK does a great job making sure you’re comfortable with the essential amenities. However, you are receiving free accommodation and what you get is what you get. My place isn’t perfect, but overall I’m quite happy with my studio.
Teaching English in South Korea is an amazing opportunity, and is an experience that will differ from person to person. Make sure you come with an open mind and a willingness to be flexible. Your time in Korea totally depends on your situation and how well you go with the flow!
Are you planning to apply to the EPIK program? Check out my How To Apply, The Cost of EPIK and My EPIK Salary posts for more information!