Teaching English is, by far, one of the most common professions for those who live and work abroad.
Before moving to Seoul, South Korea back in 2015 (best decision of my life!), I knew that teaching English would be the best place to start. And over the past few years of being abroad, most of the expat friends that I’ve met have all taught English through different age groups, and in a variety of settings, such as in public elementary schools, private academies, or in corporate companies.
In total, I have lived in Seoul for three and a half years. I started teaching at a public elementary school through the EPIK program, and stayed at that job for two years. It was a truly memorable experience that taught me a great deal about teaching, cultural differences, and simply, life. If you're interested in teaching English at private schools in Korea, check out this article.
However, one of the highlights of my time in Seoul, and an experience that really helped me professionally, was the last year and a half, where I ended up working as an Office Manager for Hyundai-Kia Motor-Group, one of South Korea’s most well-known companies.
In this post, I wanted to share my story of how I used my work experiences to get to where I am today, and hope that you can apply some of my tips to your future experiences as well!
Are you interested in moving abroad but don't know where to begin?
I remember feeling so overwhelmed when I first started planning my move in 2015. There were so many hurdles to jump, people doubted my decision and I was honestly so stressed if I was even making the right decision. As I told you, I did make the best decision by going for it!
I'm so thankful I didn't let my fears hold me back and taking on this adventure of a lifetime but I do wish I had some guidance back then to help me prioritize what needed to be done.
Some quick tips (details of each below) to working in living abroad in Korea, not as an English teacher:
- Start as a teacher (counter-intuitive maybe but it's a lot easier to get hired in person than from abroad)
- Decide what industry you'd really like to work in
- Seek advice and support from others
- Apply to everything you possibly can
- Really market yourself!
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Requirements to get started in Korea
- Bachelors degree or higher (in any subject)
- A year or more of teaching experience
Still in need of a TEFL/TESOL certificate?
Get an online or in-person certificate from ITTT (International TEFL & TESOL Training)! Kat, the Girls Gone Working founder, took their 120-hr online course with tutor when she first started her journey abroad. Their course gave her the confidence she needed to teach classrooms of children around the world. Since then, she has used their certificate to get work visas in 3 countries around the world so you'll never have to doubt the authenticity of their training!
After teaching at my elementary school for 2 years, I began to feel stagnant. It was a tricky feeling, because my job was stable, and I loved my school, my students, and my coworkers. I knew I wanted to stay in Seoul for a while longer, but could tell that teaching at an elementary school wasn’t a career path that I felt passionate about.
During this time where I was deciding what to do next, I recalled how much I enjoyed working with other students back at my old university, and how I really enjoyed facilitating weekly conversation classes with my Korean co-teachers, more than teaching the regular classes with my little kiddos. As time passed and I continued thinking about what do in the future, it was important for me to be honest with myself. I knew that I wanted to move on, but stay in Seoul, and thus decided to look for a change.
TIP #1 to change your career abroad:
When thinking about change, it’s important to be true to your feelings and be honest with what you like, and what you don’t.
It definitely helps to talk to friends who are going through related situations, or have similar mindsets, but at the end of the day, understand that it is your own decision, and that only you know yourself best.
WHAT I DID:
I asked myself the following questions again and again: “Am I happy with what I’m currently doing? Am I being challenged or growing from these experiences? Is this experience similar to what I want to do in the future? What do I like about my current job? What do I dislike? Why do I feel this way? What can I do to change how I feel?”
From thinking about these questions, I knew that teaching did have some aspects that I enjoyed. I loved being around and helping people, having interesting conversations and making true connections with the people I worked with. These were things that I felt passionate about. I also knew that being around kids for long periods of time drained my energy, and that I liked talking about topics that were higher-level and on a more personal basis. I still wanted to work with people and teach, but perhaps in a different sector. So I decided to try working with adults in Korea instead.
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TIP #2 to change careers abroad:
When applying for jobs, cast your net far and wide.
Don’t worry too much about being under-qualified or unknowledgeable about a certain position. You can always do your research about the company, and the right employers will definitely train you and get you up to speed. Even with jobs that seem vague or different to what you’re used to, I recommend still applying. If you’re able to get an interview, that’s great! Interviews are always great for practice, and for asking questions to your potential job employers, as you are just as curious about them, as they are about you.
WHAT I DID:
There were a few places that weren’t hiring, but I applied anyway, with my resume and a short summary about myself, and asked them to contact me if they ever needed a job candidate. Surprisingly, some of them actually replied back, and gave more information as to when they were hiring, or what kind of jobs they had open. One or two of them even offered me an interview! Thus, I’ve found that it can be helpful to apply for job companies that don’t openly say that they’re hiring. It never hurts to apply and just try!
I ended up applying casually for a job as a “Speaking Test Evaluator” through a company that I found on Dave’s ESL Cafe. It seemed that I had passed the job deadline, but I applied anyway. The job description and duties seemed vague and mysterious, but I figured that I could ask questions and learn more if I were to get an interview. And in less than a day after applying, I received good news. I had an interview!
TIP #4 to change careers abroad:
An interview is the perfect time for you to showcase yourself.
Don’t be afraid to talk about your other strengths and skills, as well as what you are passionate about. Even if it’s unrelated to the job you are applying for. Whether that’s photography, editing essays, working with numbers, traveling for work, you name it! Think about what interests you, in and outside of work, and what you can bring to the table.
WHAT I DID:
During my interview, I was able to ask all of the questions that I had been wondering about, and in turn, the interviewer asked me why I was branching out of teaching kids. With all of the questions that I had been asking myself recently, I was able to answer her honestly and tell her that my passion was constantly interacting with people, that I loved working in groups as well as in one-on-one settings, and that I loved to make someone feel included and welcome. It was what I loved doing while in university, and what I still loved doing now. I told her that I would love a job where I could do all of that and more, and that hopefully being an Evaluator would fulfill some of those aspects.
The interviewer nodded and seemed to thoughtfully contemplate what I had said. Within that night, I was notified that I was being considered for another position in the same company, and if I was willing to change my role. That role (Office Manager) ended up being almost exactly what I had said I loved doing at work! The job was located at the Hyundai-Kia Global Headquarters in Seoul, and included supervising the corporate trainers who worked there, interacting with the engineers, designers, and office employees who would come in to study Business-English, as well as dealing with facility and staff issues. I was thrilled that things had worked out, and in a way that I hadn’t expected either!
Bonus Tip: Use LinkedIn to help people find you, instead of you doing all of the leg work. Read up on some specialized tips to make your LinkedIn profile as desirable as possible.
It ended up being an amazing year and a half, where I learned a great deal about where I wanted to be personally and professionally. Overall, the experience made me realize the importance of being true to one’s strengths and skills, and in making them known. It’s possible to find out about different jobs within a company, and transition into that. As well, some jobs are not always advertised, and some jobs can even be created depending on the company, and on you, and what you can offer. Don’t be afraid to try!
I am now living in Taipei, Taiwan and am about to start a job at an educational institute doing administrative and consulting work. I applied at first to be a Corporate English instructor, but during the interview, things changed again. ☺
I reiterate, by asking yourself honest questions, researching and applying for all kinds of different jobs, and through showcasing what you enjoy doing and how that can help a company, your interviewers will take you seriously and consider how you can fit in with them, even if it isn’t the initial, anticipated approach. Hopefully it’ll be a win-win situation for both you and your future company!
If you have more questions, find my contact info here. Good luck to all of you with your future job searching!