Sunday, July 18, 2010

How to Find a Summer Job Teaching in South Korea

Teaching English in Bundang (and Seoul), South Korea- Your FAQ Answered!

It is possible to find a summer job in Korea, but your search will require patience. Summer camps recruit teachers for the summer, as do SAT cram programs. Since money was my priority, I concentrated my search on SAT cram programs, which pay markedly better than summer camps. I was hunting for two to three months of work at 4.0 million won a month (equal to about $3300 U.S. in summer 2010), with airfare and apartment included.

In January 2010, I googled "summer teaching job Korea". What did I find? Not much. I found a few job postings dated 2008, and I found exactly one essay written about a summer teaching experience in Korea. I wrote the author of said essay and asked her how she locked down a temporary position. She replied with this:

"I taught for Elite Educational Institute. They did pay for my flight and housing for just the summer...They mostly hired year-long people but hired some extra help... I think there were 6-8 of us. However, be warned -- they only consider people from Ivy League and similar schools. It doesn't really matter how good of a teacher you are; they mostly care about how they can advertise you to parents. Lovely, right? Welcome to education in South Korea! =)

So, keep that in mind when you email... They'll also ask for a photo at some point in the interview process. They're looking for clean cut."

I found the Elite Academy website and emailed the branch in Bundang. Inquiring about summer positions, I attached my resume and my picture. I waited.

I got no reply.

Before I knew it, it was March 2010. Job postings began to appear on Daves ESL and, more helpfully, on the Facebook forum ESL Teachers in Korea. It was on Facebook where I found the following ad:

Elite Educational Institute is a nationally recognized academy that has been helping students achieve success since 1987. The Apgujung Elite branch in Korea is looking for enthusiastic university graduates to teach our 2010 summer SAT program. Many of the students who attend the boot camp attend international schools in Korea or attend schools in the states and are in Korea for the summer and are bright and motivated students. The academy is located in a prime location in central Seoul, Apgujung, only a few minutes away from Gangnam. This is the perfect opportunity to make money, interact with engaging students and faculty, and experience Korea and its rich culture!

Contract Period: 6/14/10 – 8/6/10
• BA/BS degree
• Native English speaker
• F4 or E2 visa
Experience: previous teaching experience preferred, but not required.
Location: Apgujeong, Seoul. Central Seoul (great location!)
Work Schedule: 120 hours
Pay: 3.0-4.0 million won + Overtime
Airfare: roundtrip airfare provided
Housing: provided
To apply, send an email with a copy of your resume, diploma, and a recent photo.

BAM! This was exactly what I was looking for! I emailed the ad poster, and he penciled me in for a phone interview two days later. A teacher at Elite, he was a Korean-American educated at an American university, and he sounded cool and businesslike over the phone. He asked me a few questions about my past experiences in Korea and with SAT instruction, and about how I handled problems in the classroom. The interview went well; he sent me a contract minutes later. After months of fruitless searches, I had a job!

Or did I?

For the next few weeks, I swapped emails with my soon-to-be supervisor. He asked me for a writing sample and he gave me initial directions on how to go about getting a short-term visa. In April, a month after I'd signed my contract, I received this email:

I sincerely apologize, but the Apgujung branch does not require as many teachers as originally expected. However, the Bundang and Mokdong branches do require teachers. I will forward your information to them and inform them that we already planned on hiring you as a teacher. The other aspects of the position are the same (housing, flight, etc.). Please email me if you have any questions and again, I apologize for the change.

Now I was nervous. My contract didn't feel so certain anymore. I'd been dealing with only one person throughout this process, and this person was no longer in the capacity to directly offer me a job. How could I be so sure that the other branch would contact me?

It was mid-April; summer was approaching. (As a back-up plan, I'd taken the exam for the U.S. Census 2010 job.) Korea was looking shaky, but I wasn't ready to give up the search. So I got creative, searching Craigslist, where I found an ad from New York City-based "Work Abroad with Korean-American Adventures" which offered a juicy recruitement deal: $4,500 per month for a summer of SAT teaching in Korea.

I sent in my cover letter and picture, and heard back quickly. Another interview, this time via Skype video, me on one side, blinking, and a curly-haired American in a hoody on the other side, live from his white-walled New York City apartment. I found it a little awkward, talking into my screen about my prior Korea experience, but I thought I was doing okay. "Alright, Alex," my interviewer said. "Would you mind teaching me a few SAT problems now?"

Huh? Now? I froze.

"Or I can give you a couple days to refresh your memory of the test and we can do it then."

Would it affect my chances for the job if I wanted extra time? I wasn't sure, but I opted to "teach" the SAT to my interviewer later.

Meanwhile, Elite Academy had officially withdrawn my contract: my initial go-to man notified me that neither the Bundang nor Mokdong branch needed new teachers after all.


In between interviews with Korean-American Adventures, I skimmed Daves ESL Job Board and emailed my way towards talks with Princeton Review Korea and EPS Consulting Group. From EPS, I learned the monthly salary offered to their summer teachers was 3.0 million won a month and they offered neither housing nor airfare. The no-housing and no-airfare were deal-breakers. As for Princeton Review, I was scheduled for a 10pm American time interview with Wooyong Shim. He sounded professional in his email. When the agreed-upon time came, I waited by the phone.

Nothing. He didn't call.

"Are you in good health?" I wrote him, unsure if my snarky tone would translate to email. Even though he later wrote me to apologize for the miscommunication, I felt disrespected, a la Rodney Dangerfield. In addition, I'd read on the web that Princeton Review Korea had issues with trying to skirt away from promised salaries by offering bullshit "proctoring" hours to teachers at lower wages. When Wooyong Shim finally did call, I did not pick up the phone.

My second interview with Korean-American Adventures was a success overall, but it was a pressure cooker. I was given three SAT problems to play-act-teach over webcam, but I was not given the correct answers. I had no net. I struggled through the first one, saying, "And the answer is...can I get a time-out?" My interviewer did give me a time-out. As it turns out, I did know the right answer, but my uncertainty blurred my teaching ability. Luckily, he understood, and I made my way smoothly through the other questions.

Because KAA was a recruiting organization and not a school, I was not "hired." Instead, I was put on a roster of teachers. I was a free agent, waiting to be handpicked by a Korean school. If I were to create a video of myself teaching SAT, that would help my chances, or so I was told.

Then I waited again.

On May 14th, finally, I was offered a job. Four days after that, a roundtrip airline ticket was purchased for me: to Korea June 7th, back to America August 14th. I'd done it. I'd landed a summer job in Korea. But it didn't happen through Korean-American Adventures. It happened through Elite Academy: a branch of the school in Yeonhui-dong. The Yeonhui-dong location had received my resume from my first supposed-to-be supervisor, the guy whom I talked to after I found that Facebook ad in March. I was signed up for two months at 4.0 million won a month, 160 working hours a month, apartment and airfare included.

Elite wasn't kidding about the 160 hours. I am working a lot this summer, and some of my classes are ACT and TOEFL, even though my contract specified only SAT. My apartment is tiny, but I have internet and a working air conditioner. The free time I have is relegated to the weekends. However, it's worth it: I sent a bunch of cash to my American bank account just last week.

In short, it can be done. You can find a job with benefits and work in South Korea for the summer. While it helps if you have prior experience, the biggest thing is persistence. Start your search in January, or March at the latest.

Good luck.

A few of my favorite Korean memories:


Friday, July 2, 2010

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Travelogue #59: It's Not Surreal. It's Real.

I'm sitting on a concrete ledge outside Sunae Station near the red-white McDonalds sign.

Please excuse the graphic imagery, but a light breeze is tickling my leg hairs. I hear the chicka-chicka crunch of skates; a twelve-year-old boy is gliding by me into the marble gloss of the Lotte Department Store. Then: the I've-got-some-place-to-be clip-clop of high heels- a young woman in a blue blouse making her way up the subway steps. This is a summer afternoon in Bundang, South Korea. It's gray, and it's busy.

I smell something baked, maybe bread from the nearby Tous Les Jours, the do-we-sound-French? bakery that's in a years-running turf war against Paris Baguette for who can be the Frenchest-sounding bread shop in Korea. Or maybe I smell something fried, from one of the ubiquitious Korean fried chicken joints that will first satisfy you and then roil your stomach into a red-sauced glaze. Now, five schoolgirls in curtainty black bangs are passing by and singing, "Annyong, annyong" like a playground melody. They are arm-in-arm.

I wonder if it's going to rain.

An older woman is wearing a fisherman's cap and a flowerprint shirt, embroidered with light pinks and dark greens. Her pants are very white. I'm looking at her and she's looking at me. She is Korean; I am not. But both of us are here.

Ten minutes ago I was walking through my old apartment building. The last time I'd walked its hallways, it was 4am on a cool October morning almost two years ago. I never thought I'd be back, but there I was in the lobby, which looked exactly how I'd remembered, save for a new clock atop the elevators. I saw a shadow of my reflection in the gold doors. Did I look older? Did I feel different? Kind of, I thought. Kind of.

Fifth floor, I stepped out to see a familiar face. Someone I knew, or someone who knew someone I knew. I'd seen this guy in friend's Facebook pictures but I couldn't remember his name. He's teaching where I had once taught, living where I had once lived.

"Hey, do you work at Leadersville?" I asked, knowing the answer but making conversation anyway.

"Uh, yeah, used to," he said, confused in a do-I-know-you? way. "But today was my last day."

"Do you know Chris?"

"Yeah," he said. "He lives down the hall." The someone who knows someone I know still looked confused.

"Cool," I said.

And that was that.

I walked towards where I remembered the laundry room to be. For some reason, I wanted to see if it was still there.

It was.

Postscript: I haven't been updating this blog weekly as I intended. The reasons are several: one, my institute has me working like a madman. Two, many of my experiences so far have mirrored the ones I tracked on this blog two years ago. I want to be careful not to rehash stories I've already told. That being said, if you are reading this because you're curious about making the leap to teach in Korea, I do plan to update my FAQ for 2010.

Thanks for reading!


Saturday, June 5, 2010

Travelogue #58: South Korea, My Ex

---> Travelogue #59: It's Not Surreal. It's Real.

When I left her in October 2008, I didn't think I'd ever see her again. It felt like not only the end of a chapter, but the end of a book. Close her up. It's over. Done. But South Korea wasn't a set of pages to be turned; no, she was my one-time girlfriend turned ex. I knew it from the way I talked about her with strangers or with friends, the way I'd share my year of anecdotes through a nostalgic nod, as if to say, "The telling is a tease. If only, if only I could show you."

Dear reader. I can see you threatening to roll your eyes, or maybe you've already rolled them. You can accuse me of lapsing into melodrama, but let me explain: for three hundred and sixty-five days, she was with me. I'd hear the chime of her subways, I'd see the silver mist of her faraway mountains, I'd sound out the uh's and yo's of her words and, haltingly, speak the names of her foods. I'd eat her foods, so spicy they made me sweat and smile. My favorite: dak galbi, which Wikipedia salivatingly describes as, "stir-frying marinated diced chicken in a gochujang (chili pepper paste) based sauce, and sliced cabbage, sweet potato, scallions, onions and tteok (rice cake) together on a hot plate."

I'd even smell the kimchi in her trash cans: sour, but mine.

She was with me, my everyday reality. And then, like that, she was just a memory, captured in photographs and videos and blogs. And then, she was a story from a memory, repurposed and retold, a copy of a copy. Where'd she go? Pictures didn't do enough; neither did videos. Talking about her with friends who'd once lived her was close, but damn it, I missed her. Thinking I'd never see her again lent my nostalgia a special ache.

In February I found a Korean restaurant in Maitland, Florida called Seoul Garden. I ordered jayookdopbop (spicy pork and rice) and the Korean server, an older woman ajumma, nodded at me. Jayook was one of my favorite dishes in Korea, partly for its sweat-inducing spice, partly because it would fill me up for $3. I enjoyed the Maitland version; it singed my tongue. The taste was like a kiss I'd forgotten. Then the check came: $20. I wasn't in Korea anymore.

If you've ever read my blog, you know there were things I didn't love about Korea. A year was a long time to be away from my family and my country; in other words, don't count me as one of those Dude-America-sucks-I-don't-want-to-live-there dudes. America is my home. But this summer, from June 9th to August 14th, I'm going back to South Korea. I'll be living in Seoul, in the neighborhood of Yeonheedong, which is sandwiched between the neon-splashed districts of Hongdae and Sinchon. I'll be teaching SAT English, and hopefully, continuing to find cultural experiences to chronicle in this long-dormant travelogue. (I plan to update on the weekends.) My reasons for going to the wild, wild East have changed: In 2007, I went to work and write, yes, but I also went to run away from a lack of clearcut options in the U.S. This time, I'm heading to Korea to save money for my second year of the MFA program at the University of Central Florida. That's my practical meat-and-potatoes reason for going back.

But my romantic, rice-and-kimchi reason? Her, whom I leave with this: South Korea, I know it's been two years, but relax. Don't get creeped out by me. I'm going to hold your hand.

Annyong. (Hi.)

---> Travelogue #59: It's Not Surreal. It's Real.


Monday, March 1, 2010

Flash Fiction "Libertyland" in Hobart March '10 Issue!

Hello earthlings,

Whether you're hunting for travelogues about Korea or Argentina, thanks for stopping by here. If you want a change of pace, do stop over at the online lit mag Hobart, where I got my short story "Libertyland" published for their March 2010 issue! 

- Alex


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Argentinalogue #5: Good-bye, Argentina


Thursday, January 7, 2010