A Day in the Life of an ESL Teacher in Korea

So I know most people that read this blog probably think we just gallivant around the world and do fun things all the time, but we are actually working full-time over here (I promise!). In fact, the novelty of being in a “new” place kind of wears off quickly when you are just doing normal, everyday things like going to work, buying groceries, going to the bank, and paying bills. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget we are even in Korea.

In case you are curious as to what the day-to-day bits of our lives look like, here is a collection of photos that make up a typical day for me. These photos actually aren’t all from the same day, but overall they give a good impression of what my 8-5 existence entails.

8:15 a.m. — Walk to school. My walk takes about 10-15 minutes…and I almost never actually make it out the door by 8:15. Lately, I’ve been walking along the river to school instead of going on the streets–it’s a much quieter and a less crowded walk!

Gwangju-si

The view if I walk on the streets to my school.

River in Gwangju-si

The view if I walk along the river to school.

9:00 a.m. — I arrive at school at 8:30, but don’t start teaching until 9. Each one of my classes is 40 minutes long, with ten minute breaks between. I typically have four classes before lunch.

Life as an ESL teacher in Korea

ย 12:10 p.m. — Lunch! I eat the school lunch with all of the other teachers. Typically, there is rice, kimchi, soup, a meat option and some side dishes.

Korean school lunch

1:00 p.m. to 4:30 — Most days I have one more 40 minute long class after lunch, and then I have free time for the rest of the afternoon.

4:30 p.m. — Time to go home! I see tons of students on the way home, both at the school and in the streets. They are typically shocked and super excited to see me–I don’t think they realize until they see me walking around that I actually have a life outside of teaching them. By this time in the afternoon, there are also a lot of street vendors out, selling clothes, street food and fresh fruit.

Life as an ESL teacher in Korea

Some students on the playground outside my school.

cherry blossoms in South Korea

street vendors in Gwangju-si South Korea

Gwangju-si

4:45 p.m. — Arrive home at our apartment building, which has recently been given a facelift and looks bright, shiny and new now!

apartment building in Gwangju-si South Korea

apartment building in Gwangju-si South Korea

apartment building in Gwangju-si South Korea




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32 Responses to “A Day in the Life of an ESL Teacher in Korea”

  1. Rowan May 14, 2012 at 9:14 am #

    9 til 1 isn’t full time! ๐Ÿ˜›

    • andreasherrodd May 14, 2012 at 10:37 am #

      True, but I just meant we have to be at work full time ๐Ÿ™‚ I do the standard 22 hours (plus one extra class) of teaching time a week, and the rest is “planning” time.

  2. Spiritual World Traveler May 14, 2012 at 9:17 am #

    I can relate to what you said about the daily activities that become so mundane you forget you are in a foreign country living your dream! Maybe that’s what makes a travel addict… that craving for the “un-mundane!”

    • andreasherrodd May 14, 2012 at 10:38 am #

      I think so! I’m definitely a junkie for new experiences. We’ve been in Korea 7 months now, and I’m getting itchy to move on!

  3. Lori Finley May 14, 2012 at 9:33 am #

    Your apartment is so high! What floor are you on? Some must have amazing views!

    • andreasherrodd May 14, 2012 at 10:40 am #

      We’re on the 14th floor–our view is one of my favorite things about Korea! We have three sun porches on two sides of the building too–so we can see the sunrise and the sunset from our place ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Rachel May 14, 2012 at 12:58 pm #

    We are approaching 9 months here now… you can bet I’m really ready for the next thing! I totally agree, I often sort of forget I’m in a new country…

    • andreasherrodd May 15, 2012 at 8:47 am #

      I’m looking forward to reading about your next adventures so we can get pumped for ours! ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. waterfallsandcaribous May 14, 2012 at 1:51 pm #

    Wow, you’ve been here exactly the same amount of time we have! We’re definitely itchy to move on too…we’ve had some great experiences but on the whole are ready to embrace somewhere a bit bigger than our tiny village! It was interesting to note the differences between public and hagwon teaching – we basically teach the same amount of hours per week but we’re not expected to at school for the whole day. We do everything – teaching, planning – in a 5 hour stint. No breaks, no lunch but the whole thing is over very quickly.
    Looking forward to the next adventure though! Where do you think you guys will head to next?

    • andreasherrodd May 15, 2012 at 8:49 am #

      That’s nice you don’t have to sit at school all day! My job is so easy, but I hate just sitting around when I have nothing to do (which is most of the time). But overall, this is a pretty good gig!

      Next up, we’re planning a big backpacking trip through China and SE Asia, then on to Australia to get a tourist working visa. From there, who knows! If we still have money after that we’d like to go to India and Eastern Europe. What are your future plans?

      • waterfallsandcaribous May 15, 2012 at 10:03 am #

        We’re flying out to Malaysia in October to spend a week there eating our way through the capital, then doing a trip around India for 7 weeks…after that, we’re not too sure yet. Looking at a few ideas at the moment ๐Ÿ™‚ So hard to narrow down which of all the places we want to go!!!

        You’ll love Australia, its amazing. Make sure you pop over to NZ as well – you can see the lot in a relatively short space of time and it should NOT be missed.

        • andreasherrodd May 15, 2012 at 11:28 am #

          Sounds awesome! We will definitely hit up New Zealand too, I’ve heard it’s ridiculously beautiful there ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Gram Anne May 19, 2012 at 6:58 am #

        Wow! Andrea and Matt, what exciting plans! Gram Anne

        • andreasherrodd May 21, 2012 at 5:40 pm #

          We’re definitely looking forward to what the next few months will bring ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Steph & Tony Investigate! May 14, 2012 at 11:33 pm #

    That’s not too shabby! I am a graduate student (well, for two more weeks and then I am done!), so I have learned not to judge how other people spend their time, but it seems like you have a really nice set-up that allows you to work a completely respectable amount of time, while also having enough time to really enjoy life. I have been intrigued about the possibility of teaching English overseas, but I’ve only known people personally who did so in Japan, and they were working RIDICULOUS hours while they were there and it did not sound appealing at all!

    • andreasherrodd May 15, 2012 at 8:52 am #

      It completely depends on the school, but in my experience, public schools are more reliable about hours than private schools, because everything is regulated by the government. We have free afternoons to plan, but I really don’t have anything to plan because we go straight from a national textbook. Overall, easy gig! If you are interested in teaching in Korea I can send you some additional information, just let me know!

      • Beccy April 9, 2014 at 3:15 am #

        I’d live to know more about teaching English in Korea. I’m considering coming over. I’m a fully registered teacher of 4 years experience. While I do have a tesol cert, I never put it in practice when I got it. So I have no esl teaching experience as such except for a few extra kids in my NZ classrooms.

        Any advice?

        Beccy

        • Andrea April 11, 2014 at 1:49 pm #

          Hi Beccy! Thanks for reading! And yes, I have many pages of advice! Enough that I made a whole section on the blog about the topic ๐Ÿ™‚ Here’s the link to the kind of “page of contents,” let me know if you have any more questions! http://www.world-walk-about.com/teach-esl-in-korea/

  7. mindonmissions May 15, 2012 at 11:35 am #

    This makes me so excited to be an ESL teacher! I am about half way through my degree so I’ve been reading peoples’ accounts of their experiences overseas…I was recently reading the not so pleasant stories about teaching in Korea so this is encouraging that not all public institutions are that way. I can definitely identify with the wanting to constantly go to new places though, I just want to get out of the States and be finished with my degree already

    • andreasherrodd May 15, 2012 at 1:59 pm #

      I’m glad you’re excited, but definitely read my newest post too…haha, Korea is not all good! But overall, we are enjoying ourselves here. My advice would be to do a lot of research on your particular school, and if you can, talk to some past teachers. The public schools are (in general), less shady than the private schools, plus you get more vacation time. You sacrifice a small amount of pay, but for me, the vacation time is worth it, along with the peace of mind that everything at the public school is government regulated. Whereabouts are you thinking of teaching?

      • mindonmissions May 16, 2012 at 1:07 am #

        I read that post as well. I personally have always had a heart for Spanish-speaking countries all of my life, but I am open to new places. I’ve been to Colombia and Chile so far and fell in love with their cultures, and I am going to help out at an ESL camp in Ukraine this summer.. I just started looking into teaching in Asia because another site recommended a program in Korea that I would be interested in if I didn’t want to wait to finish my degree…Except I looked further into it and found out that it was illegal..haha, but I most likely will stay with Spanish countries since I love my personal space and Asia does not believe in that. Thanks for the advice; I don’t think the guy who suggested the program was at all concerned with safety, especially me being a woman traveling alone.

        • andreasherrodd May 16, 2012 at 3:57 pm #

          Korea is actually incredibly safe–they have almost no violent crime here. Some neighborhoods in Seoul are a bit rougher around the edges, but it’s the second biggest city in the world, so that’s only natural. Ukraine will be interesting! I like Europe, but I’ve never been to Eastern Europe. You’ll have some adventures for sure!

  8. Shay M May 16, 2012 at 3:20 pm #

    Nice read. I’ll be teaching over there VERY soon. I’m excited, but I do realize that I will be working. I wish I could find something where I could travel, get paid and not work lol. That would be the life.

    • andreasherrodd May 16, 2012 at 3:53 pm #

      That would be the life! If you ever figure that one out, let me know. ๐Ÿ™‚ And anyway, depending on your school, you might not be working very much…it’s a pretty easy gig!

  9. Gram Anne May 19, 2012 at 7:03 am #

    This is all very interesting to a mostly stay at home gram. Nancy and I did fly to Phoenix, to have a nice vacation. That was fun! Gram Anne

    • andreasherrodd May 21, 2012 at 5:44 pm #

      Glad you had fun in Arizona! Our day-to-day lives actually aren’t that exciting, we mostly go to work and stay at home in the evening! But we try to make up for it with fun things on the weekend. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Vanessa April 11, 2015 at 7:40 pm #

    thank you so much for sharing all this info. My husband (newly wed) really really wants to move back as he truly enjoyed teaching in Korea but I am more than a bit reluctant. I live in Dubai and have a very comfortable life here but am originally Brasilian/American from Cali and Florida. He hates it here in the Middle East and I’ve agreed to try Korea for him. I am not a language teacher and will most likely not be working much to my dismay. I am a total workaholic! Any advice on what there is to do while he is working?

    • Andrea April 13, 2015 at 3:02 pm #

      Hey Vanessa, thanks for stopping by! ๐Ÿ™‚ One of our friends in Korea didn’t have a four-year degree and therefore couldn’t teach English, but he still managed to find odd jobs under the table to fill his time while his girlfriend taught English. Things like English tutoring, doing voiceover work for various projects that needed an English speaker, modeling, etc. Even if you have no experience teaching, if you have a four-year degree you can get a TESOL certification and could probably get a teaching job (I had no experience either). You might also be able to get a job as a nanny or babysitter, a lot of people want native English speakers around their kids so their kids can learn faster. What do you have experience in? And do you know where in Korea you’ll be living? Good luck!

    • Andrea April 13, 2015 at 3:10 pm #

      After I sent the last message I realized your url says you’re a chef. Awesome! If you’re going to be in Seoul and if you can get the proper type of working visa I don’t see why you couldn’t attempt to get a job in your own field. There are a lot of up and coming foreign restaurants in some parts of Seoul. You’d probably have the best luck in the neighborhoods Itaewon, Gangnam or in the Hongik University area. Check out this Facebook group and pose your question there, maybe you can get some better insights! https://www.facebook.com/groups/2370296695/

  11. Tami September 2, 2017 at 7:46 pm #

    Hi Andrea,

    I’m considering going abroad to teach English myself. Your blog is a huge help. I have taught at a Primary School for 12 years but for 9 of those years I was an assistant teacher for kindergarten and the last 3 years I have been the Art teacher! I haven’t had much practice in teaching English though. I have a degree in Education and I am currently getting my TEFL certification. Can you share what exactly you did in the classroom? If it would be easier to chat via email…that’s cool with me.

    Tami

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