What’s Wrong with Teaching English in Korea?

A KBC member sent me the following question last week:

Hello Steven,

Thank you for this website.  It's an extremely valuable, interactive and informative place for people like me looking for work in Korea.

I'm 38 Korean American who came to the States when I was 14 (back in 1988).  I served in the U.S. military for 4 years, completed my undergrad in business administration and have been in IT support positions for past 12 years, but mainly in desktop support, network operation center and currently helpdesk.  Not exactly the most sought-after IT positions even in the States these days.  

Based on my limited research, reading many discussions and contents on your site and along with visiting many expat blogs, I'm beginning to appreciate how tight the job market is in Korea and how difficult it can be to achieve and maintain a decent standard of living on a salary man's earning………let alone save enough to buy home (which does not seem to be possible for most).

I've checked out a few job sites such as Indeed, Myjobs.kr and other online job boards.  I got one call back after responding to a tech support job and was told that I'm too old (in a nice way).

My reason for wanting to work in Korea is a personal one:  I met someone.  She lives and works in Seoul.  
My Korean is fluent (even though my writing and typing skill sets are rusty).  

You've been in Korea longer than me.  In your own experience and exposure to fellow expat as well as Korean Americans in ESL industry, do I have a decent chance to find a work teaching English considering my age?

I read one of the forum where [one member] talks about being careful with switching career field just for the sake of finding work in Korea.  It hit home and yet I'm seriously considering doing just that.

My head tells me that I'm about to make a huge career suicide, but honestly, I won't miss leaving my current field.  Coming to Korea isn't about making money or career.  And I doubt that I'll look for long-term work beyond a year at most.  Then again, I have no idea where I will be in another year.  I never thought I would think about working in Korea at the beginning of this year.  

My apology for long email, but I wanted to hear from someone who's been there and done that for over 20 years in Korea.  Please feel free to be as brutal and direct as you need to be.

[KBC member]

The crux of this member's question is whether teaching English in Korea can be a valid stepping stone to other opportunities in Korea. Here's what I replied:

[KBC member] – Thanks for the note.

In the case of the member referenced in your email, he already had a career track, so coming to Korea to teach English would not have moved him forward; it would have put serious question marks on his commitment to his field. But as you mentioned, you aren't particularly attached to your current occupation and so you've got less to lose.

Sure, an English teaching position isn't exactly prestigious, but it is easy to get and will pay the bills. And so if you really want to come to Korea and you haven't found a better option, then why not? 

Good luck!


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