I have been in Korea for about 2 months now, and recently finished up my year teaching in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Living in both fast-paced Seoul and laid-back Chiang Mai have given me an interesting perspective on what life in Asia has to offer. These are purely my opinions, and obviously I might have had a different experience if I had worked in Bangkok or rural Korea.
Specifically, I was a first grade English teacher in Chiang Mai. I am now a home room kindergarten teacher at a private school here in Seoul. Both places have cons and pros, and if you are looking to teach in one country or the other, there are some tough decisions to be made. In the end, it all depends on what you are looking for, what kind of experience you are seeking, and how much money you want to make.
First, the money. I am making almost double the money here in Seoul that I made in Chiang Mai, not including my free apartment. The financial benefits that come from working in Korea are great. Most schools offer free housing, medical insurance, and airfare.
On that note, I haven’t really gotten to have much say in where I am living or the conditions of my apartment. Most prospective teachers come through a recruiter, and don’t have the chance to see their apartment or the school that they will be working at in person. In Thailand, most people apply in person. Typically, you choose your own apartment and just have more say in matters like that.
When it comes to the actual teaching job, there are also huge differences. Here in Seoul, I have everything prepared for me. I can order anything I want for my classroom on a supply sheet and a helper teacher brings it to me within a couple of days. I can do amazing art projects with my kids, and have tons of resources at my disposal. If I ever wanted to do anything like that with my students in Thailand, I would have to trek around the city trying to find and purchase the supplies myself. The classroom sizes are much smaller here in Seoul and more effective for learning, as opposed to the giant, non air-conditioned classrooms in Thailand. (I had 45 first graders in several of my classes.)
I also notice a huge difference in my students. Korean students all have a purpose, and don’t seem to have the fun, carefree attitude about life that my students in Thailand had. My Korean students are much more advanced than my Thai students at speaking English. (And they work a lot harder in school.) I do sometimes find it sad when my little second graders are at school until 7, and tell me they have ballet class and piano after.
The school I worked at in Thailand had very minimal structure. The Thai carefree attitude does have its drawbacks, one of them being that nothing is organized very well. This could be extremely annoying, such as when classes were cancelled with no notice or we were told the day before about an English camp over the weekend.
I’m not sure if this is the case for most people, or just for me, but I have a lot better relationships with my Korean co-teachers then I did my Thai co-teachers. At my Thai school, the workload and pay was definitely leaning in favor of the foreign teachers. (With us working fewer hours and making significantly more money.) This caused resentment and a definite separation amongst the two groups. In Korea, the foreign teachers have longer working hours then the Korean teachers, and have a more central role in the school (Rather then just being the English teacher.) This lends itself to better relationships with my Korean co-teachers and greater feeling of unity.
My working hours are extremely long in Korea. It is not abnormal to work till 10pm at night at some hagwons. (Thankfully I am only there until 7pm). However, this is a huge different between my 3:30 end time in Thailand. I also teach a lot more class periods here in Seoul. The work is significantly more difficult and I definitely feel drained at the end of the day.
I will be writing another post about the differences between living in Korea versus living in Thailand. The two countries may both in Asia, but they honestly feel like entirely different worlds.
Let me know in the comments below if you have any experience teaching in these countries and which country you prefer!