"Oh I have a friend that's teaching English in Korea!”
Nowadays, who doesn't? This country is in a terrible recession where jobless recovery is the optimistic outcome. STEM majors remain highly employable and always will be. But what about the rest of the 22 year olds who drank four years of vodka to end up with a degree in Communications? Or Psychology, English, Anthropology, Marketing, Advertising, Film Studies, Dance, Political Science, History, Arts and Crafts, etc? There are only so many Urban Outfitters managers a country can have.
It's no surprise that so many American twenty-somethings are teaching English abroad now. Most of them can speak English fairly well just by virtue of having been born to American parents. And owning a piece of paper that says Bachelor's of Arts, well it does say Bachelor's. That's basically all you need to teach English abroad.
So why Korea then? Well, Japan is out. The collapse of one of their largest English teaching companies has flooded the market with experienced teachers looking for work. Truth be told you can find work in any 3rd world country. If you want to make money though, Korea is your best bet. While the Won is weak, living expenses are low and the 'best' cities in Korea are very livable.
Here's the basic package the thousands of recruiters tries to sell you:
- ~1.9-2 million KRW/month, about $1900 USD
- 22 hour work week
- 1 month severance
- 2-3 weeks paid vacation
- Reimbursement and then some for airfare to and from Korea
- No Korean income tax for two years, 4% after that
- No US taxes until you make more than $91,500 annually.
- Rent-free housing provided
Doesn't sound too bad compared to a sales job in the Midwest, does it? And it's a much easier job to get...for now, anyway. You just have to be willing to relocate to a place where you're the foreigner who doesn't speak the native tongue.
And that brings us to our protagonist. I graduated from a Big Ten school with a BA in Economics, the least useless of the useless (liberal arts) degrees, with no desire to continue living in the country I grew up in. TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) in Korea was something I'd wanted to do ever since I got rejected from the JET program my senior year. I live a minimalist lifestyle with as few possessions as possible. I've studied abroad in Japan, backpacked through Thailand and The Philippines, been to China more times than I care for. When I got my job working for a Korean public school, I could not have been any happier.
Hell, I barely even tried looking for jobs in the US. It just wasn't a good investment of my time. I watched my friends who graduated with or before me have sifted through mountains of shit just to get a McJob while I went to the library, sat in on courses and learned everything from investing to cooking to how to dance Salsa and Bachata. Some got “lucky” and are now employed, the rest are adding to their collection of debt earning advanced degrees of questionable utility. Fiscal policy aside, the US has set itself up for a high degree of structural unemployment for a long time coming. There are just far too many people taking on huge debt for degrees that are perfunctory as a stepping stone for graduate school (more debt and bullshit) or the entry-level McJob. I can't remember how many times some 23 year old recruiter for Company X has told me that they're a biology major and it doesn't matter to Company X! Fuck you, I want my credentials to mean something. Whoops, shoulda took Calculus in high school instead of AP Statistics and “Facing History”.
I've done my fair share of partying in the eight months since graduation, but now I have the job that I wanted in the city that I wanted. This blog will chronicle this decision, the decisions I make in the future, and ultimately what I make of my time in Busan, South Korea.