Teaching English Abroad


Maybe you have a passion for teaching and an interest in foreign culture. Or maybe you just need to get the hell out and experience the vast world, NOW…and you happen to speak English. Either way, teaching English abroad is definitely a career worth considering.


Where should you teach English as a second language? It depends on your needs, interests and what you want to get out of the experience. If you have always wanted to learn one of the romance languages and you fancy the idea of nap time then think about Europe! If you have a lot of student debt to pay off, I’d recommend a country in Asia or the gulf of the Middle East, as they often pay much higher salaries.

There are numerous programs to apply to in each country however, the only ones I have personal experience with are the EPIK progam in South Korea and the Auxiliares de Conversación program in Spain. Below I will talk about the pros and cons, that I have found there to be, of teaching in each country. So without further ado let’s begin with the obviously most important topic…


The money is much better in Korea 


With the EPIK program your salary will be around 2,000,000 KRW a month, which is a little under $2,000 USD. If you have previous teaching experience you may get 100 or 200 KRW more a month and if you are placed in Seoul you’ll get 100 KRW more. About 50 KRW a month will come out of your account for medical insurance. A little bit comes out each month for your pension, almost like a retirement fund, but you get it back with interest at the end of your contract. At the end of my one year contract I got between $1,000 and $2,000, (I can’t remember exactly).

EPIK will find you an apartment and pay for your rent. All you have to pay for is your utilities, which may be around $100 by the time you pay for internet and a cell phone plan. If you want to find your own apartment instead, EPIK will give you a monthly housing stipend of 400,000 KRW.

Last but not least this program also flies you into the country, as well as back home when you have completed your contract. They basically give everyone a 1,300,000 KRW reimbursement a month after you arrive or depart, no matter how much your ticket costs. If you’re able to buy your ticket in advance you can profit off of this quite a bit.

{If you go through a private hagwon you will make a similar salary, with similar benefits, but you will work one or two more hours a day and have half the vacation time.}

There are also similar public school programs to EPIK that place you in more rural areas. You may make a little bit more and have one or two more weeks of vacation. Look into the JLP program. Korea is so small that where ever you are, a big city is only one or two hours away by bus! Same goes for the beach.


With the Auxiliares program your salary will be 700 Spanish euros a month, which is about $750 USD. If you get placed in Madrid you get 1,000 euros a month and are required to work a few more hours a week. You do get free medical insurance which completely covers average doctor appointments. 

There are other programs such as CIEE and BEDA, however you will probably not find the salaries you could in Korea, China or Japan. However, you can apply directly to international schools which tend to pay higher salaries and come with more responsibility.

 Unless you find a killer opportunity….

 Your apartment is not paid for.  Your flights are not paid for.


You work fewer hours in Spain


With EPIK you work forty hours a week with a typical nine to five, Monday through Friday, schedule. On an average day you only teach for four hours in the morning. After lunch in the school cafeteria, you go back to your office for the next three or so hours and “lesson plan”. I use quotation marks because you usually only need one hour to plan your lessons and the other couple of hours can really be used for whatever you want. It’s great because you get paid for forty hours a week and you could easily be taking an online class or building a writing portfolio for ten of those hours. On the other hand it can be frustrating that you have to stay in the office; shared with other teachers who don’t feel like turning the AC on when it’s ninety degrees fahrenheit and you’re sweating through your Korea approved work attire.


In the Auxiliares program you work twelve hours a week, which makes the measly salary less horrible. Once you are done with your teaching hours for the day, you can leave the school and do whatever you want. If you are placed in Madrid you work sixteen hours a week. A lot of people tutor another five to ten or so hours on the side and some get a second job at an after school language academy, (basically the Spanish equivalent of a hagwon). I worked at one of these for three months and earned an extra 400 euros a month, but it was a much more stressful job than the one at my main school. If you are able to make money online this could be a great setup for you because this program will give you enough money to get by and a legit visa to live abroad, yet enough free time to develop a project on the side.


Spain is more laid back


You are expected to be a little more professional as a teacher in Korea. Basically along the same expectations as in the United States with some different rules regarding dress code. You’re expected to get to school a half hour before your first class and hang out in the teacher’s office until then. You should be on time to all your classes, dress some what nice. Honestly, jeans and a hoodie are fine but Korea is stricter on the dress code when it comes to the torso area. Neck lines are much higher and you may find that nearly all your shirts seem slightly less appropriate than your co-workers’. (Skirts are allowed to be pretty short though.) There are also a lot of school customs you have to get used to and become a part of. Taking off your shoes and wearing slippers in the school, sucking at volley ball with your co-workers once a month, bringing in a snack for your office once a semester and awkwardly having chit-chat coffee time with other teachers who are really shy around you. You will also go on a school outing once a month, in which case you will likely be given no warning until an hour or two before. The best is when you end up at a traditional restaurant, where you sit on the floor, and you have worn a pencil skirt to work. (For some reason, your coworkers telling you about stuff at the last minute goes for everything in Korea).


The work culture in Spain is much more laid-back and includes less responsibilities. Supposedly you are seen more as a teacher’s assistant, though some schools will still have you lead the class and plan the activities. Generally, it’s okay to be five or so minutes late to class and you would never be expected to get to school any earlier than when class starts. The real teachers don’t even do that! Dress codes are basically like…don’t wear a swim suit. I work at a catholic school and it’s completely acceptable for my secondary students to wear crop-tops. (I am placed in Ibiza though, so other parts of Spain may be different). In Korea, I had to teach by a text book but could add or change some activities. Some Spanish schools will ask you to do the same however mine basically let’s me do whatever I want, which sounds cool but becomes daunting when I run out of ideas. In Korea I was more often told that I had to change something in the lesson plan, while in Spain my co-teachers really don’t seem to care what I do. You might spend an hour or two through out the week planning activities on your own time, but it’s not too bad. Spanish schools will have a staff dinner or a sports day every once in a while and you are welcome to attend but you’re not really obligated like you would be in Korea.


It’s a bit easier to get into Spain


In order to be accepted by EPIK you must:

1. Have a four-year university degree (in literally anything).

2. Have a TEFL or equivalent certificate with at least twenty in class hours and one hundred online. (TEFL requirements are always increasing so check each year before you apply and choose your course. I believe if you have majored in education or English you don’t need a TEFL.) 3. Be born in the US, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa etc. or have gone to a school conducted in English since the 7th grade. So if you’re German but went to an international English school you could be accepted. 

If you are from another country but literally grew up with English as your first language, such as the Philippines or Singapore, sadly EPIK doesn’t consider you a legit native English speaker. I know of people from these countries who applied directly to international schools and hagwons and were accepted, so not all hope is lost.

The whole application, as well as the interview, is organized in English. You have to make a sample lesson plan, write three very short essays, have a letter of recommendation, send in some paperwork like criminal background checks and such, (you’ll need these to obtain the work visa anyway), and have a skype interview with an EPIK coordinator.


In order to be accepted by the Auxiliares de Conversión program you must:

1. Have a four-year degree or be in the process of getting your degree. This program can be treated like a gap year, before you start your senior year.

2. Be from one of the English speaking countries listed above, however I’ve heard this program weirdly does not accept South Africans!

-TEFLs are a plus but not required

Umm just have to put it out there: The whole application process is in Spanish, instruction packets will be sent to you in Spanish and then when you are genuinely confused about something and email coordinators asking a question, they will respond to you in English like, “All the instructions are in this packet, here we’ll send it to you again ”. #FACEPALM

It’s not really TOO bad, you may just have to copy and paste line by line into google translate and ask questions in the Facebook communities. (If you’re one of those people who isn’t on Facebook, you should probably just get one because it will make your life applying to these programs a lot easier). At least there is no essay, lesson plan section or skype interview. You basically just put in your resume, a letter of recommendation and tick some boxes.


It’s easier in Korea


Transitioning to life in another country always comes with hardships and struggles, however the fact that most Korean programs find you an apartment, help you set up a bank account and walk you through the process of obtaining your alien registration card, makes the transition so much easier. It will depend on what program you go through and what city you’re in, but in the Gwangju section of orientation we literally all sat together in a room with our coordinator and filled out bank papers and registration card papers. This brings me to the next point, (if you go through EPIK) there’s an orientation! When you arrive at the airport in Korea, there are 500 or so other English-speaking lost souls and you all find each other and freak out together. Then you get on a bus and go to live on a campus in Daejon for a week. You take lectures about teaching, take an intro Korean language class, explore, and go through the same stomach and jetlag woes together. The English teaching community is very big in Korea and there are so many blogs, videos, meetups, expat-lead yoga or art classes and other resources, which make starting your new Korean life easier. There are even specific companies catering to english-speaking expats with services such as providing sim cards, ready for you upon arrival at the airport, and hotlines that help you figure out how to set up internet in your apartment.


YOU ARE ALL ON YOUR OWN! Which is why you anti-facebook people need rethink your lifestyle. You basically arrive in Spain with a few nights booked at a hostel and just start running around trying to figure out how to get an apartment before your first day of work. There are a lot of facebook communities that make it easier to find apartments, which is how I set up some viewing appointments a week or so before arriving in Spain. There are also websites like Idealista, but Facebook just ended up being easier for me. There’s no orientation or anything, other than a day of lectures (in Spanish) around two weeks after you start working…where you leave more confused than you came. Ibiza’s orientation was really helpful as it was in Catalan, so even those of us who spoke Spanish couldn’t understand. You have to go by yourself to set up a bank account which isn’t too bad, however the process of getting your TIE card usually ends up being frustrating and involving at least a couple trips to the police station.


Both are okay

My knowledge of living costs in Spain may not be the best…As I live in Ibiza, however winter-prices aren’t so bad. Gwangju on the other hand is a fairly medium city and probably an okay place to base Korean living costs off of. I’d say either way, rent is the same or cheaper than most places in the United States…Unless you live in Iowa or something. During the off season in Ibiza Town’s center, you can easily pay $300-400 USD a month for a room in a shared apartment, (that’s from October to the end of May). Around the same goes for Madrid. If you are in a smaller town in mainland Spain you can find rent at MUCH cheaper prices! Gwangju was around $400 a month for a nice but small studio apartment.

Transportation prices always depend on the city, however I’m pretty sure Korea has the most affordable taxis out of any first-world country I’ve been to! Clothing seems to be about the same all around. Though, I did notice designer brands and athletic / camping gear to be a little more expensive in Korea.

House stuff seems to be around the same…Here in Ibiza there are “chinos” everywhere selling cheap stuff and in Korea there are Daisos everywhere, so you can always find an affordable french press. I find eating out to be a little cheaper in Korea, while I find produce to be cheaper in Spain. Both countries sell bottled water at cheaper prices than the US. Spain has cheaper AND BETTER beer and wine…Then again Korea has soju and makgeolli…Then again let’s not drink our lives away and choose a country based on its alcoholic opportunities!


Depends…but possibly easier in Spain

Of course this will be different for everyone, depending on your personality and interests, however I’d say Spanish people are generally more laid-back and accepting of foreigners. I’ve talked to a lot of expats who have lived to Korea for years and though they have made Korean friends, they still feel like outsiders. Once you get out of Seoul, there is not as much diversity and if you are not Asian looking, it’s pretty obvious! If you don’t have Korean blood you are treated like a foreigner. This isn’t necessarily a negative thing, if you’re okay with being stared at a lot it’s really not a big deal. I found it pretty entertaining when people were afraid to sit next to me on the bus…more room for me!

Many Koreans are shy to interact with foreigners, however some are really interested in us waygooks and will go out of their way to help you when lost. Korea also tends to have a homogeneous feeling when it comes to style and mannerisms, outside of the bigger cities. Everyone dresses the same, (though very fashionably I must say), people are often on the reserved, professional and respectful side. Spain has a more everything-goes vibe. You never have to worry whether your outfit is appropriate…someone else’s shirt will be more revealing than yours. You don’t have to worry about hiding your nose ring for a job…someone else will have snake bites and a full sleeve. There will always be someone edgier and crazier than you so whatever your scene is, you’ll probably fit in.

Spain is also a more ethnically diverse country. Yes the majority of people are white or Mediterranean looking but people of other ethnicities are often born in Spain so it’s less of a big deal to be a minority than it is in Korea. I found it so funny when I kept getting treated like a local my first week in Spain. More than a few times, a Spanish person came up to me on the street and blurted out a question about directions in rapid Spanish and had no idea I was a foreigner until I stuttered, wide-eyed, “Ummm uh nnno sayyy….no soy de akeee, lo siento”? Only then would it click for the Spanish person like, oh this betch doesn’t even know Spanish! I was so used to obviously sticking out in Korea, where this scenario would never happen. Though old people would come up to me on occasion and continue to tell me a twenty minute story in Korean, after explaining to them I have no idea what they are saying. Sometimes you just have to politely laugh and nod.

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