Questions About Teaching and Visas

I received an email from Brian in Pennsylvania today. He asked some great questions about teaching in Korea. Brian is currently an undergraduate student who wants to teach biology in Korea. Though these questions are specific to Brian’s situation, the answers may be helpful to someone else.

Should I finish my bachelor’s in the USA, or should I drop everything now, and just go straight to Korea?

Do not drop out of a US university to study in Korea. A degree from a US university will be far more valuable in the US and in Korea than one from a Korean university.¬†Despite the high rankings of Korea’s high school education system, their university rankings are surprisingly low. Here is an article with much more information.

Do I need a master’s or PhD [to teach middle or high school biology]? Can I just learn the language and teach with a bachelor’s?

The short answer here is that you cannot teach biology at a public middle or high school as a foreigner. If you become totally fluent in Korean and have a PhD, you may land a job as a subject teacher. Korean subject teachers have to take several very difficult tests to qualify to teach students (in Korean). There is an abundance of overqualified and underemployed Koreans in the workforce now, so there is no shortage of native Korean science teachers.

The only possible exception here would be teaching at an international high school. These positions are competitive, so you will need at least a master’s degree in biology, teaching experience, and a teaching license.

What are the steps in order to become a [biology] professor in Korea? Can I obtain my degrees in USA?

As I mentioned before, degrees from US universities are more desirable than from Korean universities. In order to teach biology at the university level, you will probably need a PhD. Foreigners are generally held to a higher standard than Korean professors. Even if you manage to land a job as a biology professor at a Korean university, getting tenure may be difficult. Foreign professors are generally paid less than Korean professors for the same job.

What visas are required? Is everything organized by your work?

Currently, you won’t be eligible for anything other than a student visa. Once you finish your bachelor’s degree, you may be eligible for an E-2 (English instructor) visa. You need to have an employer (sponsor) in order to apply, so they will help you. The process is a bit complicated, so here is a breakdown.

In order to live in Korea as a foreigner permanently, how does one do it?

If you’re a foreign-born Korean, then you can apply for an F-4 visa. I’m assuming that you’re not, so the process is different for you. The short answer is that you need to live and work in Korea for at least a year before you can even apply for an F-2 Long-Term Resident visa.

If you’re interested in living in Korea, but you don’t have a PhD, then becoming an English teacher is the best way to get your foot in the door. Once you arrive and earn enough points to qualify for an F-2 visa, then more doors may open for you. Unlike in the US, a qualified foreigner simply isn’t offered the same opportunities as a native Korean. Sadly, racial discrimination is part of the work culture and is completely legal in Korea.

In the mean time, Brian, I think your best bet is to at least finish your bachelor’s degree and study Korean as much as you can. The stronger your Korean ability when you arrive, the faster doors will open for you. Good luck to you!

Until next time.


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