Teaching ESL Archives

You are a Celebrity in Korea: You can speak English, and therefore everyone will want to talk to you… Be nice.

After 3 and a half years in Korea I would say the amount of times that a random kid said hello to me was in the tens of thousands.  In a big city like Seoul or Busan this won’t happen often, but in smaller or mid-sized cities children will be excited to see you walking towards them on the street and they will almost always say hello, and sometimes ask more questions.  Sometimes their parents will even tell them in Korean, “look, a foreigner, practice your English…”  You don’t need to stop and talk to them of course, but smile and say hello. It may get annoying over time, but enjoy the celebrity and try not to get annoyed; they are just so interested in seeing non Korean because it is so rare for them.  The impression you give them will result in how they view westerners, so be nice, especially to the kids.

People with more advanced English skills may want to have conversations with you, or ask you within 1 minute of meeting if you can be their friend (seriously). They aren’t trying to be creepy; they just probably don’t know any other foreigners and want to practice their English.  I was on the bus one time and had my headphones in. The young guy next to me would not stop starring at me, so I took off my headphones and said hello. The first thing he asked was, “can I have your phone number?” Then he told me I looked like David Beckham and I must have many girlfriends. Flattering stuff like this happens all the time. haha. It is not worth getting an ego over however, but enjoy it because it probably won’t happen back home.  🙂

Post Credit: Mitch Benvie 


How much money can you save teaching English in Korea?

With the high cost of an education, most of us finish University with a hefty debt for our troubles. After four years of studying hard it would be nice to travel, but how could you possibly afford it when you are in so much debt? South Korea offers a unique chance to travel, see the world and experience a new culture, all while earning a competitive salary.

Now it really depends on how you want to live your life, what you do on weekends and how much you travel to other countries on vacation, but most people tend to put away $500-$1000 per month.

Personally, I ate out 4-5 times a week, went to the bars 2-3 times a week and travelled to other countries on all of my vacations. I enjoyed life to the fullest in Korea and saved about $500 per month.  The great thing about the salary in Korea is that on your last day you get your last month pay, plus a bonus month pay in addition to your pension (if you are from North America). This all adds up to around $6000 in your pocket the day you leave Korea. This could all be used to save, pay off debt, or go on one amazing vacation!

I will break down things assuming that everyone makes, or will make $2000 per month. Many people make much more than this with extra classes and private lessons, but none of those things are a sure thing to have.

Here are your typical mandatory monthly expenses while living in Korea so you can figure out how much you might save based on how you want to live. These bills are estimates based on what I spent, as well as what my friends spent.



Phone Bill- $50

Utilities- $100 (sometimes much lower when not using AC or heat)


Groceries- $300


With a typical salary around $2000 a month, minus these basic necessities, you have $1500. Theoretically you could save this much per month, but everyone needs to have some extras.  After what you spend on eating out, drinking, and other entertainment, you can save the rest.

Things like transportation are much cheaper in Korea as well, so this does not add much to your budget. A 30 minute taxi might cost you $20, while the city bus costs $1 and a 1-2 hour bus or train trip to another city costs as little as $5.

You can also save a considerable amount by shopping at local markets rather than big grocery stores. Eating out can also be inexpensive if you go to the right places, especially in University areas. A meal with meat, rice, soup and some side dishes can cost as little as $4.

Drinking alcohol and going out for the night can also range in price depending on where you go. Most western style bars will charge up to $5 for a bottle of beer, while you can go to other more Korean style places and get pitchers of draft for $10 and other Korean alcohol at much cheaper prices. These Korean style bars are everywhere and can be great fun with the right group of people.

Post Credit: Mitch Benvie 


Valentine`s Day, White Day and Black Day! Huh?

Valentines ESL English

Valentine`s Day, White Day and Black Day! Huh?

Valentine`s Day. Just another holiday where the guy must spend his hard earned cash to show his significant other how much he cares about her right? Flowers, chocolate, dinner and a movie; that is an expensive day!

Well guys, if you are wondering where our special day is, look no further than South Korea! Koreans celebrate Valentine`s Day opposite to the rest of the world. On February 14th, the woman must buy her significant other chocolates. Nice! It is also common for the woman to hand make chocolates for her boyfriend or husband.

Now don’t worry ladies, of course the women get their own special day one month later on March 14th! This day is called White Day. On this day the guy must buy the girl candy. Of course chivalry is not lost and this day usually includes dinner and other gifts along with the candy.

So the guy has his day and the girl has her day, so what about all those people who are single? Well, those lucky people have Black Day on April 14th. Don’t think that this is some sort of special day; it is actually a day that some people dread. On this day, if you are single, you should eat some special black noodles.  Of course not everyone follows this tradition, and the noodles actually do not have a bad taste, but even students in middle school do not enjoy being single on this day!

Post Credit: Mitch Benvie 


Big Bang Theory: A Teacher’s First Day on the Job

Coming to Korea provides, for many, a steep learning curve, not only because of its differences in culture and language, but because it is often their first opportunity ever to teach English to children. Most people will see this as a unique but exciting challenge, with plenty of ups and downs from day one. Like many teachers, I remember my first day at school not for what I taught but for what I learned.

I had been given three days of training the week before and, though not fully confident in my abilities, was comfortable enough with the foundation I had to work with. As this was my first chance to meet the kids, it was meant to be a casual lesson and a time for us to get to know each other. Yet, half-way through my first class, standing over 8 wide-eyed seven year-olds, I was already finding myself at a loss.

We had been doing introductions, with each kid telling me their name, age and what they liked and didn’t like. While, admittedly, I was having trouble remembering who was who, what stood out most to me were two simple words:

“So- Big Bang?” I asked again. This was the fourth student who’d told me they liked something called ‘Big Bang’, and I was beginning to question whether or not I was in a class of budding astronomers. Given their age, there wasn’t much hope in inquiring further about galaxies or the origin of the universe. I was struggling to find common ground and was already glancing at the clock, hoping for time to tick by faster. So, with eight pairs of brown eyes quizzically staring back at me, I just asked, “What is Big Bang?”

One student, immediately reaching into his bag for his mp3 player, quickly answered my question. As it turned out, Big Bang was the biggest pop group in the country at the time- the Korean equivalent to the Backstreet Boys, but perhaps even more popular. Beyond giving the students something to be passionate about, Big Bang also used a variety of colourful English expressions in many of their songs, all of which we were able to discuss and laugh about then and in later classes.

With time and effort, my skills improved, but much of that improvement was owed to the connections I made with the students at my school. Learning about Big Bang was just a small step in getting to know my students, but one that taught me a valuable lesson: getting to know them would not only be one of the most entertaining parts of my year in Korea, but also one of the most beneficial to my teaching.

I may have even left Korea with one or two Big Bang songs on my iPod.

Written by: Bruno Passos / Post Credit: Mitch Benvie 


Country Strong: The Perks of Teaching in a Small Town

Many first-timers to Korea stray away from jobs in the countryside, opting instead for big city-living. The reasons for this are understandable: cities often have an abundance of homely pleasures such as Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks, a greater number of English speakers and other expat libations. However, a teaching job in a Korean village provides unique opportunities that many fail to consider before making their final decision.

The most immediate advantage to living in a small town is how direct your contact will be with Koreans and their way of life. While many expats living in cities make no attempt to learn the language, living in a small town forces you to absorb Korean (and perhaps even their own local dialect!). In no time at all, you will find yourself writing and speaking the language at a high level.

Beyond the language, you’ll get first-hand experience with other aspects of Korean culture, such as its delicious cuisine (Koreans themselves often head out into the country for the freshest beef and kimchi) and traditions.

Being so close to Koreans on a daily basis will not only increase the amount of connections you make with them, but also the depth of those relationships. Koreans are very warm and welcoming people, and they especially love those who familiarize themselves with their culture.

Financially, living in a town is also very sensible, as expats can save much more money than if they lived in a city. Many teachers choose the country life for this very reason, pointing out that local bars and restaurants are much easier on the wallet than high-priced buffets and night clubs. In addition, many public school jobs offer more pay to teachers who make their way into the country.

Lastly, while some people worry about the isolation of being one of a few foreigners in the area, rarely will you be alone. Most public schools will be employing at least one native English teacher. Also, due to Korea’s urbanization, a city is likely never more than a 40 minute bus ride away. Even if you do long for more expat contact, there are plenty of ways to meet others. Adventure Korea and other tour operators organize trips every weekend, a great way to make contacts in other cities.

Ultimately, teachers should choose the location that suits them best, whether that is living in a concrete jungle or out in the heartland. Yet, if you’re looking into truly immersing yourself in all Korea has to offer, consider taking a job in a town or village.

Written by: Bruno Passos Post Credit: Mitch Benvie 


Last call at 2 am? Umm, how about 8 am?

Bars and clubs are just as popular in Korea as anywhere else in the world. From world class night clubs in Busan and Seoul to hole in the wall pubs throughout the cities and towns alike, hitting the town always a good option.

Similar to western countries, Thursday through Saturday nights are usually the busiest, while most popular places are packed every Friday and Saturday night. Teachers in Korea who teach private school typically start at 1:00 or 2:00 pm and finish around 9:00pm, so the party usually gets started pretty late for these teachers.

This is okay in Korea because most bars and clubs do not have a specific closing time. There seem to be no rules or laws saying that a bar can’t serve alcohol or be open at a certain time. In a highly competitive market, bars will usually stay open as long as there are people buying drinks. A typical night usually ends around 4am, but many times you can expect there to be a crowd going strong until 6am or later!

Post Credit: Mitch Benvie 


Korean Age..? You are older than you think.

A woman in Korea might tell you she is depressed because she is now 30 years old and not married. 30 is typically the the age where people think they should be settled down and married, with Korea being no different. The only problem is that in Korea when someone says that they are 30 years old, they are actually 29, or even 28!

These people who are facing a personal crisis because they are 30 years old, should consider how most of the world determines age and breathe easy for a year or two more!

What am I talking about?

In Korea when you are born you are automatically 1 years old, not zero like most countries. Also, all Korean people change their age, or get a year older on January 1st, not their birthday. So, someone who is born in December could be considered 2 years old on January 1st, even though they are only one month old!

Depending on your actual birthdate, you will always be a year older than back home, or sometimes 2 years older! Sure makes life more stressful!

Post Credit: Mitch Benvie 


Lost in Korea and Need an English Speaker? 

If you need to ask help from a stranger, ask a young adult.

The English boom in Korea is relatively new. While a very small percentage of the older generation can speak some English, the vast majority can’t speak a word.  They will often smile and laugh while trying to help and mime their sentences to you.  However, if you are in more of a rush, or really need assistance now, it is better to go younger.   A lot of University students or young adults can speak at least basic English and will usually be more than willing to help you.  Actually even if you look lost, a younger Korean will probably ask you if you need help.  A lot of Koreans will take the opportunity to help you in order just to practice their English skills, a win-win situation.  Everyone in Korea takes English classes these days starting from elementary school normally.  Many also attend after school programs for more extensive English studies (the hakwons where many of you will end up teaching at if you go to Korea).

I was in my friend’s city, about 4 hours from mine when I was attempting to take the bus home. In my city they have the schedule in English as well as Korean, but that wasn’t the case here. I could not read Korean at this time, and therefore could not find when my bus was scheduled to leave, and did not know how to ask. Luckily for me, as I was staring at the schedule (probably with a confused, or perplexed look on my face), a random Korean guy asked me if I needed help. I told him where I was going and he showed me the schedule and even helped me buy my ticket!  Again, “thanks man! Appreciated.”

Post Credit: Mitch Benvie 

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