So, you want to teach English in Korea? Excellent! One of the first questions you need to ask is: EPIK or Hagwon? In other words: public or private? My choice was EPIK; however, there are plenty of people who prefer the hagwon route. This post will cover the basic differences, and the various ups and downs of each option. I will discuss the benefits, hours, and general work environment. Keep your eyes open for my other posts on teaching English in Korea - the initial application process, gathering all your paperwork, and teaching tips and games - coming out soon!! If you are already past all that and are ready to hop on the plane, check out my post about what to pack for your first year in Korea.
As I said, I work for EPIK (English Program in Korea), and the benefits are amazing. On top of a starting monthly salary of 2 million won (a little under 2k USD), there is flight reimbursement, a rent-free furnished apartment, 3 weeks paid vacation time, and health insurance is 50% covered by your school. Additionally, if you choose to re-sign for a second year, you get a raise, a re-signing bonus, and an extra week of paid vacation. So, the benefits of EPIK are pretty epic (HAH.. sorry.. I couldn't resist).
This being said, most hagwons do offer similar packages in terms of salary, rent, and apartments. So in that sense, I believe EPIK and private's are pretty evenly matched, but you need to do your research! EPIK is a government run program, and hagwons are private business, meaning they are independently owned and operated. This means that each hagwon is different, and will present a different situation.
With EPIK, working hours are strictly from 8:30 am - 4:30 pm, so if you just can't get out of bed before 9 that's something to consider. Also, as contract workers we are required to be at work 40 hours a week, even if there are no classes being taught. This means that some days you will come to work and sit at your desk literally all day.
With Hagwons there is a little more freedom - the hours tend to be later in the day (3pm - 10 pm) and your kids will most likely (but not necessarily) be higher level. In terms of hours worked a week, I honestly am not sure how strict the regulations are. Again, it is highly dependent on which hagwon you're working at, but you can expect to be working around 40 hours a week. Another thing to keep in mind is that hagwons are after-school schools, so you will be teaching kids who have already been at school all day prior to seeing you.
Work Environment and Support:
This is probably the biggest factor that pushed me to EPIK in favor of a hagwon. In my opinion EPIK offers the most consistency in terms of the quality of your work place environment, getting paid on time, not getting screwed over, etc. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule and not every single EPIK teacher as a perfect work-place; however, if you do have problems with your school you have an automatic support network you can contact .
With a hagwon, you are your only recourse, so if a problem arises you have to deal with it by yourself. This means that if you have an issue (not getting paid, being overworked without compensation, problems with your apartment) you're on your own. Don't mistake me, I've had friends who absolutely love their hagwon and have no issues whatsoever, but I've also had friends who worked for a month, were fired without notice, and then never paid for their services. Again, I can't over-stress the importance of research and trying to find a direct recommendation.
EPIK is definitely not a perfect program, but for someone coming from abroad with no prior contacts in Korea and no Korean language skills I tend to think it's a more consistent and stable option. However, if you do your research beforehand and land yourself a great hagwon, you might end up in a better position than a lot of EPIK people, because you had more choices and a better idea of what kind of situation you were getting into. With EPIK you can't choose your school, your grade level, or really anything else - you apply, request a city, and then let the pieces fall where they may.
One last thing I should note about EPIK. The program is currently in the process of downsizing, so positions are steadily becoming more limited and more competitive. If you're looking to come within the next year you should be in the clear, but many districts have already cut high school positions, Incheon cancelled all of it's new contracts for Fall 2014, and there is talk that the middle school positions will be cut next. So, if you're planning to apply I would do it sooner rather than later. As of now the required qualifications are a TEFL certificate and a Bachelors in anything. You can start the process without the TEFL certificate, but you need to have it completed by the time you land.
Next in this series: How to Apply to EPIK and Ace the Interview... Like a Boss
Are you thinking of teaching English in Korea? Please do contact me! I am happy to answer any and all questions you have, and if I don't know the answer I'm sure I know someone who does. Though my knowledge of hagwons is a little more limited than of EPIK, I have many friends in hagwons, so I would be happy to put you in contact with one of them. To get in touch please leave a comment below, find me on Twitter, email me, or message me on Facebook. Good luck!!
Enjoy the beautiful view!