South Korea is an immensely popular TEFL location, with public school jobs being especially competitive. What if there was a way to gain experience in Korean public schools, while earning a competitive wage, and receiving excellent employee benefits? That’s where the EPIK Programme steps in.
If you were to list the most popular places to teach English abroad, South Korea would rank exceptionally highly. And why not? With its incredible architecture and immensely popular culture, along with reverence and respect for its spiritual past, there are astonishing sights to behold along almost every corner of the nation.
South Korea has been an attractive destination for tourists and TEFL-ers alike for a long, long time. Its culture, in particular, is having a transcendent moment, with K-pop (Korean Pop) dominating the charts in the West. Not only that, South Korean products have become household names from Seoul to Seattle, with companies including Samsung, LG and Hyundai amongst the most established names that Korean industry has to offer.A stunning, forward-thinking but still captivating and mysterious nation in some respects, it’s no wonder so many prospective TEFL teachers want to move to South Korea and make its landscapes home. Luckily, the feeling is mutual.
The demand for English in South Korea is considerably high. As a modern centre for technology and industry, the need to speak English - the language of business - is obvious to the Korean government. That means there are plenty of opportunities for TEFL teachers in Korea, perhaps most notably in cities like Seoul, Busan, Incheon, and Daegu, but also off the beaten track in more rural areas. Any foreign teacher aiming to teach abroad will find plenty of opportunities to explore in the country.
Perhaps due to that high demand, the rewards for teaching in South Korea are numerous. Teachers working in South Korea often speak of flight reimbursement, free accommodation, healthcare bonuses, paid holidays and some of the best TEFL wages the world has to offer. Whether working in hagwons or the public school system, South Korea values its ESL teachers very highly.
So, how does one get into this exciting South Korean world of English teaching? One very popular route is the EPIK Programme. So what’s it all about?
EPIK (English Programme in Korea) is a programme affiliated with the Korean Ministry of Education that aims to improve the English-speaking abilities of Korean students and teachers.
The EPIK programme places English speakers on one-year teaching contracts (52 weeks) in Korean public schools throughout the country to share their knowledge and language with both students and teachers. You’ll be working as an ‘ELA’ (English Language Assistant) with a range of important duties we’ll discuss in due course!
Established in 1995, EPIK doesn’t just operate solely as a language-learning initiative; it’s also about building cultural bridges around the world. South Korea positions itself as a liberal democracy, with a robust economy and opportunities, and so EPIK functions as an extension of that outward-looking attitude. According to the programme directors: “We hope that EPIK will help foster and encourage open-minded Korean individuals who will be able to take advantage of all the things this new age of information and globalization has to offer while promoting cultural exchange and building strong ties between Korea and other countries”.
If you’re a successful applicant for the EPIK programme, you could find yourself working as an ELA, or English Language Assistant. What does an ELA do, and what value do they bring to the English education experience in Korea?
The function of an ELA is to assist Korean teachers in conducting English classes and English language studies. Whether that’s breaking the class up into smaller groups to practice conversations, help to assign work, and crucially, practice one-on-one with students who might be struggling to pick up phrases, or singing songs with classes, there’s so much for an English Language Assistant to offer.
Not only are the benefits of EPIK teaching placements obvious for the class and students, but it’s also mightily beneficial for those partaking in an ELA programme. You can explore a new culture as an ELA, sharing stories with students about where you’re from, and vice versa. It’s a chance to learn transferable skills that’ll help as a teacher later on; things like cultural awareness, problem-solving, time management and communication. What’s more, learning goes both ways; you’ll find yourself having a more fruitful time teaching if you know a bit of the student’s native language, so don’t be surprised if you pick up more conversational phrases along the way!
There’s also another important aspect: what an ELA is not. You won’t be leading the curriculum as as English language instructor, disciplining anyone, or covering for staff in the event of illness. It’s categorically different to leading the class, but it’s still an incredibly valuable experience for any budding TEFL teacher.
So, what does a prospective EPIK applicant need to be accepted into the programme? Luckily, the entry requirements aren’t too restrictive, meaning there’s a very good chance for any number of applicants!
You’ll need to:
The role of EPIK teachers can vary and, while most teachers will be placed in schools, this isn’t always the case. EPIK teachers can be placed in a variety of educational institutions and may be required to work across several locations.As an EPIK teacher, your role will mainly involve supporting a Korean English teacher and conducting lessons alongside them. You’ll prepare and develop teaching materials, conduct conversational classes, and carry out other duties as specified by the Ministry of Education where you’ve been placed.
There are two intakes for EPIK each year. Applications for Spring need to be in by the start of August of the previous year, and for the Autumn term they need to be in by the start of February. So, from applying, you can expect it to take roughly 7 months before you’ll start.
You can either apply directly to EPIK or via a recruitment agency that has been certified to recruit for EPIK.
Once you’ve sent off your application you’ll be invited for a Skype interview if successful. The next stage involves getting all of your documents arranged and sent over as well as your contract. Once that’s all done you’ll then apply for an E2 visa via the Korean embassy in your country.
What documents are required for the EPIK application?
So, when should you have your EPIK applications ready, and when will you be assisting in teaching English? The programme hires for two terms per year, due to the South Korean public school calendar.
This means there’s a Spring/Summer term and an Autumn/Winter term. For the Spring/Summer term, the main intake of applicants is in late February, with some late arrivals in March and April. Applications for the Spring term open on August 1st of the prior year.
For the Autumn/Winter term, the main influx of teachers comes in late August, with some coming over in September and October. To be considered, you must apply by February 1st of the same year.
What benefits are there to doing the EPIK Programme?
For starters, we’ll tell you the obvious: it’s a fantastic opportunity. The majority of teaching jobs in South Korea are within hagwons, which are essentially colleges. These have a very different atmosphere to public schools, where jobs are more competitive. The experience of teaching in Korean public schools isn’t just open to anyone!
Helping out teachers and students in the Korean public school system means you can gain immensely valuable experience, but not necessarily be accountable for the entire learning process. Again, as an ELA, you’re not necessarily running the show, but you do have a hugely important part to play, for both the students and the teachers. The teachers may have impeccable English, but might not have lived in an English-speaking country, so there’s all manner of colloquial and slang English they might not have encountered.
For the students, you can help them simply by speaking English. By hearing real-life patterns of sentences, where grammar rules fit and how vocabulary works, they’re gaining knowledge that’s second to none.
You also get to live and work in South Korea, helping to strengthen English language education. We’ll get on to salary and the employment bonuses of the EPIK Programme, but at its core, this is an opportunity to explore and enjoy one of the most fascinating locales Asia has to offer. Whether it’s a mega-city like Seoul or Busan, or the further reaches of Korea’s countryside, there’s so much to explore in a country that mixes futurism with a deeply-held reverence for its past. Add in the array of culture, incredible food and students who are enthusiastic high-achievers, and you’ve got yourself a fantastic all-round experience!
Salaries for EPIK teachers compare extremely favourably with equivalent teaching programmes around the globe. The average initial salary of 2 to 2.2 million KRW per month (£1,370-£1,500/$1,800-$2,000) will ensure a very decent standard of living, wherever you’re posted in South Korea.
Salaries can improve based on your level of experience, repeated terms with the EPIK programme and where you’re based.
Your credentials, experience, and the kind of work you're looking for will ultimately determine how much you can make teaching English in South Korea.
Of course, there are very obvious plus points to the EPIK programme, but is it for everyone? Let’s discuss why the programme might be a great fit, or perhaps just not quite right, depending on your circumstances.
First and foremost, the opportunity to live and help to conduct English classes in South Korea is not something to be missed. As we’ve covered, it’s a fascinating country, one with an excellent standard of living, great health care, fantastic culture and a great audience for English teaching and enlightening cultural exchanges.
The benefits are considerable. Salaries on the EPIK programme are comparable with full-time teaching wages elsewhere, while accommodation, paid vacation, welcome and severance payments and orientation are all included.
From a teaching perspective, the EPIK programme has a lot to offer. While you won’t necessarily be running the show in Korean classrooms, you’ll get excellent insight into teaching in South Korean public schools, experience performing auxiliary tasks in the classroom, engagement with students and the chance to impart some vital knowledge to eager English learners.
In terms of CV building, the EPIK programme is hard to beat. The requirements, as covered, mean that not everyone can get onto the programme, and applications are thorough. Having experience with EPIK on your Curriculum Vitae will make any future employer cast favourable glances.
It’s also a chance to engage with public schools and fellow teachers. Networking is a huge part of building a successful teaching career, and if you’re able to impress in South Korea, you could feasibly stay there longer term, as a full-time teacher.
The cons of the EPIK Programme are perhaps harder to identify, but they are there.
Principally, you won’t be working as a teacher outright, but as an ELA. That might not necessarily be the experience you’re after, especially if you’re looking to make a bold first step into a lifetime of teaching.
Secondly, it can be hard to get into, and requires a great deal of admin to apply. If you don’t have a degree, you’ll have no chance of getting in - hardly ideal for the teacher who’s looking to make a career change. A great many TEFL teachers would argue that degrees aren’t a necessity to be an outstanding ESL teacher.
Not only that, you need to have a degree from an English-speaking country, as well as a clean health and criminal record check. These terms, of course, do exclude people who could be equally talented teachers to successful EPIK applicants, if not more so.
While the EPIK Programme does have fantastic benefits, some TEFL teachers might want to forge a different path, even within South Korea. Jobs in hagwons, for example, could pay more and have (slightly) less restrictive criteria.
The EPIK Programme is also extremely limited for non-native English speakers. While non-native speakers can apply, you’ll need to have extensive schooling in English as well as a degree from an English-speaking country. That can restrict plenty of talented non-native English-speakers who have the requisite skills to teach English in South Korea, if not the paperwork.
The EPIK Programme is an initiative for English teachers to work as English Language Assistants (ELAs) in South Korea. The programme is sponsored by the South Korean Ministry of Education, and it places prospective English assistants throughout South Korea.
If your goal is to gain experience teaching in South Korea, with excellent incentives, a competitive salary and fantastic opportunities to engage with enthusiastic students, while enjoying a rich culture and exploring the stunning landscapes of South Korea, then yes - the EPIK programme is definitely worth it.
The salary you earn with EPIK depends largely on where you’re based, but outside of welcome bonuses and accommodation, you can expect to be paid 2 to 2.2 million KRW per month (£1,370-£1,500/$1,800-$2,000).
To apply for EPIK, you must:
If you're considering teaching English abroad, make sure to explore the top-rated programs that offer the best teaching opportunities worldwide in The TEFL Org.