When you decide to come to teach in Korea you will be faced with the choice of working for a private language school, called a hagwon, or working in the public school system for EPIK, English Program in Korea.
I work for EPIK and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in coming to Korea. Although I have never worked for a hagwon I have friends who do, so even though this information isn’t first hand, it comes from those ‘in the know’.
So, without further ado, here are some comparison points.
The starting salary is pretty similar when you first come to Korea. Expect to get paid in the region of 2.1million.
2. Class sizes
With EPIK you are working at a public school, which means public school sized classes. The average class size in elementary school is 30 students. But it can fluctuate drastically depending on where you teach. Last year I taught part-time at a school that had 22 students. That’s 22 students, total!
At a hangwon you will probably be teaching between 5 and 10 students.
3. Co- teachers and co- workers
In the public school system it is technically not allowed for the Native English Teacher (NET) to be in the classroom alone. Of course this rule is rather loosely regulated at certain schools. But the point is that you can expect to have a co-teacher in the class with you. And if you have a good co-teacher who shares the work load, the teaching and the discipline, your job will be infinitely more enjoyable. Bear in mind that you will more likely than not have a few co- teachers.
All of your co-workers will be Korean and may or may not be able to say ‘hello’ to you. You will be the one and only waygookin sansengnim (foreigner teacher). So you will stick out like a sore thumb and be the last to hear anything.
At a hagwon you will most likely be in charge of your own classes. But your co-workers will all be able to speak English and some will also be other foreigners.
4. Working hours
Schools are open from 830- 430 and these will be your working hours at a public school. All EPIKers are required to teach 22 hours a week, and all overtime should be paid 20 000won/ hour. All free time is used for desk-warming, uhm, I mean ‘lesson planning’.
Hagwon teachers usually go into work sometime around 10am if you work with kindergarten kids, and around 12pm if you teach elementary or middle schoolers. The day usually ends sometime between 7 and 9pm. There are no set times and it will be at the discretion of your boss as to your specific hours.
EPIK is hands-down the winner in this category. All EPIK teachers get 18 days of holiday, 8 to be taken in the summer holiday and 10 in the winter (although this can be negotiated with your school). You can also request unpaid leave during the holidays, but it is entirely up to your school’s principal if you get this.
Hagwon workers get no more than 10 days of holiday, and I have heard of people with as little as 5 days. And a lot of this time you are told when you can take these days. Enough said I think!
EPIK: 11 days paid sick leave, renewal bonus (money + extra holiday), severance pay, automatic pay increase when you renew, paid accomodation with basic furnishings, travel allowance if you work at more than one school, the opportunity to earn overtime pay if you exceed your 22 stimpulated hours.
Hagwon: Every hagwon is different as they are all owned and run seperately, so this is a bit tricky and I am not well versed in the finer details of hagwon contracts. Paid accomodation is standard, although many hagwons especially in the cities will choose cheaper places to save on costs. It is a business afterall.
Whatever you chose just be clear what you are getting yourself into: a contract to work in a foreign country. A country where English is not the first language. A country which opearetes from a completely different perspective than you will most likely be used to and expect. A country with a different culture, a different way of approaching situations, a different way of dealing with issues and a different way of seeing the world.
So either way be prepared!