The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Teaching in Korea

Teaching in South Korea has become an increasingly popular option for English speakers looking to experience life abroad while building their careers.

The Land of the Morning Calm offers a unique blend of ancient traditions and cutting-edge technology, making it an attractive destination for educators from around the world.

However, like any major life decision, choosing to teach in Korea comes with its own set of advantages, challenges, and potential pitfalls.

In this article, we’ll explore the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of teaching in South Korea, providing a comprehensive overview for those considering making the leap.

The Good

1. Cultural Immersion

One of the most enticing aspects of teaching in Korea is the opportunity for deep cultural immersion. Korea boasts a rich history spanning thousands of years, and its unique customs, traditions, and way of life offer endless opportunities for learning and personal growth. From participating in traditional tea ceremonies to exploring ancient palaces and temples, teachers in Korea find themselves on a constant journey of discovery.

For those interested in improving their English or Korean language skills through online English learning platforms(화상 영어) like AmazingTalker offers flexible options for both teachers and students.

The Korean language, while challenging, is also a rewarding pursuit for many teachers. With its logical structure and phonetic alphabet (Hangul), it’s possible to make significant progress in a relatively short time. Many schools offer language exchange programs or discounted Korean classes, making it easier for foreign teachers to integrate into local communities and forge meaningful connections with their Korean colleagues and students.

2. Professional Development

Teaching in Korea can be an excellent way to kickstart or advance your career in education. Many teachers find that the experience helps them develop new skills, adapt to different learning styles, and become more culturally sensitive educators. The Korean education system’s emphasis on technology in the classroom also provides opportunities to become proficient in using various educational tools and platforms.

Moreover, the high value placed on education in Korean society means that teachers are generally respected and valued members of the community. This respect can translate into a sense of professional fulfillment and motivation to excel in one’s role.

3. Financial Benefits

One of the most attractive aspects of teaching in Korea is the potential for financial gain. Many teaching positions, especially those in public schools or reputable private academies (hagwons), offer competitive salaries, free or subsidized housing, and round-trip airfare.

With a relatively low cost of living compared to many Western countries, it’s possible to save a significant portion of one’s income or use it to travel and explore Asia during vacation periods.

Additionally, Korea’s national health insurance system is efficient and affordable, with employers typically covering half of the monthly premium. This comprehensive coverage can provide peace of mind for teachers concerned about healthcare costs while living abroad.

4. Safe and Convenient Living

South Korea is known for its exceptionally low crime rates, making it one of the safest countries in the world. This safety extends to all aspects of daily life, from walking alone at night to using public transportation. The country’s efficient and extensive public transit system, particularly in major cities like Seoul and Busan, makes it easy to explore without the need for a personal vehicle.

The convenience of daily life in Korea is another major plus. With 24-hour convenience stores, high-speed internet, and a culture that embraces technology, many teachers find that Korea offers a quality of life that rivals or surpasses what they experienced in their home countries.

The Bad

1. Cultural Shock and Adjustment

While cultural immersion is often cited as a positive aspect of teaching in Korea, it can also present significant challenges.

The stark differences in social norms, communication styles, and workplace expectations can lead to frustration and misunderstandings, especially during the initial months of living in the country.

For instance, the concept of “saving face” is deeply ingrained in Korean culture, which can sometimes result in indirect communication that may be confusing or frustrating for those accustomed to more straightforward interactions.

Additionally, the hierarchical nature of Korean society, particularly in professional settings, can be difficult for teachers from more egalitarian cultures to navigate.

2. Work-Life Balance

The intense work culture in Korea can be a shock to many foreign teachers. Long working hours are common, and there’s often an expectation to participate in after-work social activities with colleagues.

While these gatherings (known as “hoesik”) can be enjoyable and help build relationships, they can also feel obligatory and impact personal time.

In hagwons (private academies), schedules can be particularly demanding, with split shifts and weekend work being common. Public school teachers generally have more standard hours but may be required to teach at English camps during school vacations.

3. Homesickness and Isolation

Despite the many positives of living in Korea, feelings of homesickness and isolation are common among foreign teachers. The language barrier, cultural differences, and physical distance from family and friends can take an emotional toll, especially during holidays or important life events back home.

While expat communities in Korea are generally welcoming and supportive, some teachers find it challenging to form deep, lasting friendships due to the transient nature of the expat lifestyle. This can lead to a sense of perpetual impermanence that some find unsettling.

4. Limited Career Advancement

While teaching in Korea can be an excellent stepping stone, some teachers find that long-term career prospects within the country are limited. Many positions, particularly in public schools, have contracts that typically last only one or two years. While renewals are possible, there’s often a cap on how long a foreign teacher can stay in a particular role.

Furthermore, advancing to higher positions within the Korean education system can be challenging due to language barriers and preference for Korean nationals in management roles. This can lead to a feeling of career stagnation for those who wish to remain in Korea long-term.

However, some teachers find opportunities to supplement their careers by teaching English at English Academies (영어 학원) like AmazingTalker, which often provide additional income and professional experience.

The Ugly

1. Contractual Issues and Legal Disputes

Unfortunately, some teachers encounter serious issues with their employers, ranging from contract violations to outright scams.

While many schools and academies are reputable and treat their teachers fairly, stories of withheld wages, sudden contract changes, or refusal to provide promised benefits are not uncommon.

Navigating legal disputes can be particularly challenging for foreign teachers who may not be familiar with Korean labor laws or face language barriers when seeking help.

While resources and support systems exist, dealing with these issues can be stressful and potentially damaging to one’s experience in Korea.

2. Discrimination and Stereotyping

While Korea has become increasingly globalized, instances of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, or nationality still occur. Some teachers, particularly those of non-Western backgrounds, report facing prejudice or stereotyping in both professional and social settings.

Additionally, there have been cases of job advertisements specifically requesting teachers of certain nationalities or with a “native English speaker appearance,” which can be both frustrating and demoralizing for qualified teachers who don’t fit these narrow criteria.

3. Mental Health Challenges

The combination of culture shock, work stress, and potential isolation can take a significant toll on mental health. While mental health awareness is growing in Korea, there’s still a stigma surrounding mental health issues, and finding English-speaking mental health professionals can be challenging, especially outside of major cities.

Some teachers report feeling unsupported when dealing with mental health concerns, with employers sometimes lacking understanding or flexibility in these situations. This can exacerbate existing problems and lead to burnout or early contract termination.

4. Pollution and Environmental Concerns

In recent years, air quality has become a significant concern in Korea, particularly in urban areas. Fine dust pollution, sometimes exacerbated by yellow dust storms from China, can reach hazardous levels, forcing residents to wear masks and limit outdoor activities. For teachers with respiratory issues or those coming from areas with cleaner air, this can be a significant and unexpected challenge to their quality of life.


Teaching in Korea offers a unique blend of opportunities and challenges. The chance to immerse oneself in a fascinating culture, develop professionally, and enjoy financial benefits are balanced against the potential for culture shock, work-life balance issues, and more serious concerns like contractual disputes or discrimination.

For many, the positives far outweigh the negatives, leading to enriching and life-changing experiences. Others may find the challenges too daunting or the lifestyle incompatible with their long-term goals. Ultimately, the decision to teach in Korea is a personal one that requires careful consideration of one’s own goals, adaptability, and tolerance for adversity.

Prospective teachers should thoroughly research their options, connect with current or former teachers in Korea, and carefully review any contracts before making a commitment. With proper preparation and a flexible, open-minded attitude, teaching in Korea can be an incredibly rewarding adventure that offers personal growth, cultural understanding, and memories to last a lifetime.

While the path may not always be smooth, those who embrace the experience often find that the good far outshines the bad and the ugly, leaving them with a deep appreciation for Korean culture and a broader perspective on the world. Whether it’s a short-term adventure or the beginning of a long-term love affair with the Land of the Morning Calm, teaching in Korea remains a unique opportunity for those willing to take the leap.


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