Tag Archives: Korea

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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Just What I Needed

Lately I haven’t been feeling myself. This happens occasionally. I feel a bit down. This isn’t severe depression, or any other life-altering condition. It is best characterised as a mild slump that leaves me feeling slightly more cynical than usual.

These slumps are exacerbated by a feeling of profound loneliness due to the language barrier and the constant reminders of my status as an outsider in Korea. During these periods, I am extra sensitive to the negative interactions that are sometimes unavoidable here.

About an hour ago, I had to run to catch the subway downtown. I was able squeeze into a car seconds before it departed. As I waited for the doors to close, an ajumma (middle-aged Korean woman) on a motorized scooter showed up. Yelling “Excuse me! Watch out!”, she barrelled into the densely packed crowd of passengers. There was nowhere for me to go, so she ran into my legs, knocking me into a crowd of high school students.

I’ve had enough interactions with ajummas to know better than to say anything. I heard the ajumma saying something, but she spoke too fast for me to understand, so I just ignored it. Next, she started tugging on my backpack. That’s when I knew it was going to get ugly.

“Excuse me. I’m so sorry. Are you ok?” I had been mentally preparing to defend myself, so this took me by surprise. I managed to say, “yes, I’m ok.” She told me that it’s cute to hear a foreigner speak Korean, and that my pronunciation was good (not true, but nice to hear). We talked all the way to my stop. I learned that her daughter is studying English at a university in Daegu. The ajumma always wanted to learn English, but never had a chance to practice with foreigners. Though our conversation was limited by my Korean ability, it was a wonderful change of pace. I’m so accustomed to being stared at and avoided that I forgot how nice it was to feel human in public. She made me feel like something other than a zoo animal while riding on the subway.

I really needed that. Thanks scooter lady!

Until next time.


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I’m Bored

After my morning classes, I’m required by contract to sit at my desk and stare at the wall for about five hours each day. I have planned the rest of my classes, organized all of my old lesson plans and materials for the next teacher, and cleaned classroom multiple times. Now, I’m officially bored.

I tend to eat too much when I get bored, so I make sure to have plenty of fruit on hand. This is the result:

Clementine Peel Art

It started simply enough.

Clementine peel flower fun

Then it progressed to this.

Clementine peel art fun

And, the Piece De Resistance. I’m not sure it’s possible to improve on beauty like this, but I plan to try.

I’ll keep you posted if I come up with any more fun food art projects to do at my desk.

Until next time.


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Keep Your Gift

I just finished one of the more strange and frustrating conversations that I’ve ever had with a coworker. Although not a typical conversation, it perfectly exemplifies my frustrations with working in Korea.

Mr. Choi and I recently came in second place in a nation in a teaching competition with over a thousand schools. We worked together to create an innovative lesson plan. Mr. Choi has received many special honors, but I’ve mostly excluded because I’m not a Korean or a career teacher. To make sure I don’t feel too left out, the National Office of Education wanted to do something special for me.

This was my conversation with Mr. Choi today:

Choi: Taft, I have good news! The representative from the NOE was impressed with your teaching. She was sad that you could not attend the meetings or celebration, so her office gave approval to give you a special gift.
Me: Wow, that’s really nice. What is it?
Choi: She said you can choose anything you want. The budget allows up to 400,000 won (about $375). She suggested a coffee maker.
Me: That’s generous, but I don’t drink coffee. Maybe something different? Since I’m moving soon, maybe we could request something nice for the teachers’ office that all of the teachers want.
Choi: Ok, let me call and ask…. No, I’m sorry that’s not acceptable. It must be something just for you.
Me:¬†I am moving soon, and I’m short on room, so maybe not a thing. I’ve been dying to go skiing. How about an extra day of vacation and a ski pass? That’s much less than 400,000 won.
Choi: Ok, let me call and ask…. No that’s not acceptable either. They cannot give you an extra day off because of your contract.
Me: How about just a ski trip, then. Even if they include transportation, admissions, and rental it would only be 250,000 won.
Choi: Ok, let me ask…. No, they can’t do a ski trip. They said it’s not a good gift. They suggested a coffee maker again, but she said you can pick whatever you want.
Me: No, apparently I cannot pick whatever I want. How about a gift certificate to a restaurant? I would definitely use that.
Choi: Ok, let me call and ask…. No, they said that a gift certificate is not acceptable because it’s not really a gift. It must be a physical item. Maybe you want some electronics.
Me: I’m so over this. Pick something you want for your family and request it. Tell them it’s what I want.
Choi: No, that’s against the rules. They would not allow it.
Me: I have an idea. I want to buy a new suit before I leave. The one I want costs about 330,000 won. That is a physical thing. It is within the price range. And it’s something I actually want.
Choi: Ok, I’ll check… No, they said that’s not a typical gift. You should pick a normal gift.
Me: That’s it. I’m done. This is completely insane. Tell them I would pay them 400,000 won to never talk about this again.
Choi: But you must pick something.
Me: I already did. Their move.

I love the lifestyle in Korea, but I won’t miss working here. Everybody talks about “the rules” constantly, but I’m starting to suspect that there are no codified rules. The “rules” are whatever the person in charge happens to decide at the moment.

Until next time.


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Scariest Beauty Salon

This salon is a block away from my school, but I never noticed it until today. It feels like a mix between Korean Sweeny Todd and the sort of image that belongs on an airbrushed novelty license plate.



Stay classy, Daegu.

Until next time.


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