Why I Stopped Teaching English in South Korea After One Year

Before reading this post, please note that Korea holds a fond place in my heart and there are many things that I love about the country. In fact, I loved my time living in Korea (just look around the site), but this article explains why it is that I chose to stop teaching English in South Korea after just one year. In truth, it turned out not to be the last time I lived in Korea as I came back to Korea (Seogwipo, Jeju) to live for a second time, although second time around, I wasn’t teaching English and I loved my time even more on that special island. This post is specific to my experiences in Daegu, the place that I first lived. Please don’t take this as a slight against the country because it isn’t – it is an explanation of my feelings at the time I stopped teaching. The most important point you should get from this article is this: each of us is a different person and we must live life in a way that is correct for ourselves – I wanted to teach for a year and I did it, but I don’t wish to do it again. It’s as simple as that. The acid test is this – would I allow someone I cared about to teach in Korea? Yes – both my long term girlfriend and brother went to teach in Korea after I did and I was happy for them both to do so. To highlight how much fun I had, here is a little video I made fore my friends reflecting on that first year I taught in Korea.

Shortly following my graduation from university, I spent a year teaching English as a foreign language in Daegu, South Korea. Whilst recovering from a broken back, I had a lot of time to consider which country I would teach in. After weighing up the pros and cons of each country, I eventually settled on teaching English in Korea due to it being financially lucrative and offering a great opportunity to save money.

I love Korea and I will visit the country again – probably not to live as I have lived there twice already – but as a visitor who has time to explore more. The country is rich in culture and beauty, and I would love the opportunity to experience and indulge in more of this. Despite the many benefits of teaching English in South Korea, upon leaving, I said that I would never go back to teach there again. This is why…


Living in Daegu, South Korea, I had an incredibly comfortable, high quality of life. I had enough money to go out for dinner multiple nights a week, I took taxis because I didn’t like waiting for buses, I went away on trips at the weekend, and I had a secure job that could be enjoyable. On paper, everything was perfect, because I had every form of security that a human being could hope for. However, as human beings, we are all very different. What I needed from my life was more risk and more of an unplanned lifestyle – a more uncomfortable life if you will. I understand why so many people stay in South Korea for so many years and why so many come back after they have left – rarely anywhere will you find quality of life as good as you will find it as an English teacher. It just wasn’t what I was looking for. I left my comfortable life in South Korea to hitchhike around Europe and live in a tent, technically ‘homeless and unemployed’. Most people would hate this life, but it was exactly what I needed.

Since the time I left Korea, I have spent many years living an unorthodox life and I like the path less trodden. It excites me, it challenges me, it reminds me that I am alive. I do miss Korea and I think back on it fondly. Could I ever live there again, not as an English teacher? Maybe – it has a lot to offer. But here is a small selection of personal difficulties that I had during my time in Daegu.


Korean-FriendsDue to the nature of 12 month teaching contracts in South Korea, there is a very transient nature to the place for foreigners. One of the things that I loved most about Korea was the amazing friends that I met along the way and the people who were huge parts of my life. We spent so much time together and became very close. As teaching contracts work on a 12-month basis, many teachers in Daegu would move schools or leave Korea at the end of their contracts. I was sad to see so many good, great, wonderful people leaving all the time and I found it difficult to cope with. If I was to go back, I am sure that I would find a new, great group of people to spend my time with. But sometimes it is better to take hold of the best memories, slip them into your pocket, and walk away smiling, safe in the knowledge that they can never be taken away from you.


Korean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular all over the world and with good reason: Some of it is really awesome and the communal way of eating brings people closer together. However, Korean cuisine is notably not vegetarian friendly and I have been a vegetarian since I was seven. I would often go out for dinner with my meat-eating friends who loved the cuisine and find myself eating short grain, sticky white rice which is not to my personal liking. There are vegetarian dishes available, but not in every type of restaurant, particularly as I often went to barbecue restaurants with my meat-loving friends. And to make this worse, I didn’t take the time to learn Korean properly which made it hard to communicate the concept of being a vegetarian. There almost isn’t a translation for the word vegetarian in Korean, and I often used a phrase that loosely translated as ‘vegetables only.’ Even when I knew dishes on the menu, they often had subtle variations and on more than one occasion I ordered bibimbap (tasty vegetables and rice), only to find beef in the dish. One occasion springs to mind when I told a lovely, English speaking waiter that I wanted bibimbap without meat because I was a vegetarian and he said it wasn’t a problem, then bought me bibimbap with beef in it. When I pointed it out to him, he said it wasn’t a problem because it was only a little bit of meat. I don’t like to be difficult, so after this I used to tell restaurant staff that I was allergic to meat and this worked better.

In addition to the difficulty of establishing my vegetarianism, many dishes in Korea use a chilli paste called 고추장which is not to my liking. I like trying lots of different foods and some cuisines I like, some I don’t – this particular flavour was not for me (possibly because it was often mixed with fish or shrimp paste). It is smothered on vegetables, noodles, and, well, almost everything vegetarian! It forms an integral part of kimchi which is a Korean speciality made from pickled cabbage in spicy chilli paste, and normally served in side dishes. In fact it served with most meals as there is not a large distinction between breakfast, lunch, and dinner, they are simply times that you eat, so I often used to cook myself – when I cooked with this paste, I didn’t mind it, which is why I think many restaurants must have mixed it with something fishy. An alternative to the chilli paste is Doenjang, which you can sometimes ask for as a replacement. It tastes a bit like miso and is often used to make soup and I do really like this.

If you are looking for vegetarian travel advice in Korea, please read A Guide to Being Vegetarian in Korea because there are options for vegetarians. Also, if you like cheese (I love cheese), bear in mind that it is both limited in supply and expensive in Korea, as is most dairy.


Daegu-MountainsCertain cities in the world are monotonous and hard to tell apart, and I found this to be the case in some of the bigger Korean cities, such as where I lived. Sometimes I found it hard to tell which city I was in altogether, except for certain areas such as the shopping streets or beaches. The first few times that I walked through the streets, I was fascinated. After this, the novelty wore off. I am a country person at heart and I find myself feeling out of place in cities all over the world, so often feel like this in cities, regardless of the country I am in. Also, being from Europe, I have a fondness for cities that are typically very old and ornate, very much unlike Daegu. What I did love about the Korean cities is that things remain open all night. There are corner shops everywhere, so I often used to pop down to get a chocolate milk at 4 in the morning if I couldn’t sleep.

By comparison, when I lived on Jeju, I was very much happier with my surroundings. I was constantly in wonder at the nature and despite being on the island for six months, I didn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what I would have liked to explore. Again, this is personal preference and Korean cities are great fun.


I have travelled all over the world and made friends with people from all continents (except for Antarctica for obvious reasons). However, when you live in a place, it is not always easy to make friends with the locals and I found it hard in Korea to spend time with Koreans because of the environment I lived in. It isn’t that Koreans are difficult people; quite the contrary. I found Koreans to be quite lovely and polite people. The difficulty came with cultural differences and the fact that I was in an environment where I was surrounded by other foreign teachers. And because I didn’t learn to speak Korean. In my year in Korea, the vast majority of my friends were not Korean (there were a few special Koreans who I was good friends with). As I was a teacher, I was surrounded by communities of foreign teachers and I didn’t make enough effort to break out of these comfort groups – in short, I didn’t interact with locals for reasons that are my fault. Normally when visiting countries, I am surrounded by like-minded travellers and I often encounter this problem in every country that I choose to reside in for an extended period of time. I suppose like-minded people attract, hence why I was attracted to the other people who had travelled across the world on a whim to teach English.


Due to the late hours when teaching in after school programmes, coupled with the surplus of money for the first time, it is very easy to go out late, live a crazy lifestyle, and not have any financial problems or disciplinary repercussions in Daegu. This can be seen as both a blessing and a curse but I found that it made me rather anti-productive at times. You can legally smoke inside [as of July 2013, smoking has been banned inside], turning restaurants and bars into blurry fog pits which can, if not careful, merge with the fuzziness of life itself. Walking down the streets, I was constantly treated as a novelty which became tiring. Computer games and karaoke are very popular culturally, neither of which are to my liking, but the overwhelming difficulty I had was the fact that teachers seemed to get away with almost anything. After several months in Korea, I looked at myself and I wondered, Why am I here? and Where am I going? This strange world was both a blessing and a curse, and at times I miss it.

Incidentally, since leaving Korea to hitchhike and live in a tent, I still have no idea, and I have moved transiently through many different life situations. I could probably now write this same post about every other place I have lived / everything else I chosen to do at life because I haven’t done the same thing for more than year.


It was my home for a year of my life and when I see pictures of it, I will always feel that happy touch of nostalgia. I am happy for the experiences that I had and for the people that I met, and I am glad that it was part of my life that I still think of fondly. However, I left at a time that was appropriate for me to leave because I don’t think that I – myself as an individual – could live anywhere for a great length of time, doing the same thing each day. It’s just in my nature.


If I was to go back to Korea I would make more of an effort with everything. I went to Korea because I wanted to teach English and I didn’t know what else to do with my life. I think I was an OK teacher and the kids liked me, but I didn’t push myself to be better which is something that I fundamentally feel driven to do in life. Three things that I think would have made my life better would have been to:


If you want to teach English, Korea is a great place to start with numerous benefits, so I would never advise anyone against doing it. In fact, my little brother went out to Daegu and I was happy for him because I knew that life there was good and he would enjoy it. That’s the ultimate test really – would I let my family do it after me? – and the answer is yes.

What I will say is that if you can’t get a job in South Korea, don’t worry, because there are so many wonderful places in the world that I’m sure would be amazing in their own way. To help more people realise their dreams of teaching English somewhere in the world, I have teamed up with some recruiters to offer English teaching jobs in different parts of the world which you should have a look at. Try and throw away your preconceptions and give each place some fair thought, and also bear in mind that every country is hugely diverse within its borders (such as the differences I experienced between living in Daegu and Seogwipo).


I never thought it would happen, but I went back to South Korea to live there for another six months. I decided to start fresh and I lived on the island of Jeju which is a lovely place (especially for cycling, festivals, and abandoned buildings). I wasn’t teaching English (which I love, but don’t want to do long term) and I wasn’t in a crazy, big city, which, considered together, I think positively affected my experience. Korea, you have a curious place in my heart. I was sad to leave and only left to live on a farm in Norway, then walk across Iceland with my brother.


By | 2018-02-25T10:52:40+00:00 December 8th, 2012|Thoughts and Inspiration|64 Comments


  1. hazie 05/05/2017 at 00:47 - Reply

    Somehow this blog post is like reading a post from future me..
    i, too, am british, vegetarian, not so interested in the city life, enjoy hitchhiking, camping, abandoned buildings etc etc – so this is great insight for me as i’m looking into teaching in korea!!
    excellent post, very interesting and useful

    i guess the main differences though are that i got a TEFL qualification and intend to learn some korean first! i already spent a year studying in japan (i also hitchhiked, camped, cycled between prefectures and got up to all sorts there in my holidays, but the idea of having this with a SALARY too seems like a dream!!)
    As for being stared at in the streets for looking foreign, i found sunglasses helped a lot!
    cannot wait to graduate and set off on these adventures! will be following your blog, perhaps even start my own hmm inspired!

    • Jamie 17/05/2017 at 18:37 - Reply

      A pleasure to meet a kindred spirit. Exciting times ahead for you. Best of luck on all your adventures and I hope you have an amazing time. Having the TEFL and some Korean will definitely help.

  2. ted 12/03/2016 at 05:36 - Reply

    Good riddance no one wants a xenophobic racist like you back in their country.

    • Truthteller 30/09/2016 at 22:23 - Reply

      Wow, you’re an idiot, TED. NOTHING this man said was racist or xenophobic whatsoever.

  3. Jinna Lee 27/12/2015 at 20:49 - Reply

    Oh wow this is very interesting article I could say. At the beginning you said “..explains why it is that I never wanted to return to Korea to be an English teacher,” but I couldn’t find anything about your life in South Korea as an English teacher. You talked about that you didn’t like South Korean food, there wasn’t enough architects and cultures within cities, and no connection with people. (I didn’t even get the “It’s Not Real” part.) Seriously? So what’s the point? You didn’t like to being an English teacher in South Korea because of the food, culture, and people? Really? I don’t even know how you could be an English teacher with your writing skill. Plus, you said a little bit about your Korean friends. See? while you hate the food and cultures, the Koreans became friends with you. How nice they are? What if your Korean friend read this article and feel the same way with me? I feel so terrible cuz I’m Korean! I’ve been Jeju island for several times and I loved it so much by the way. If you didn’t like the Korean culture, don’t go there ever again. For me, as an immigrant, I feel similar way with you about America. Different food, cultures, and people. But I never wrote this kind of article and I always try to adapt these new cultures. I think it’s a problem of your personality! Lack of ability to adapt! I hope you feel better.

    • Min YooA 30/03/2016 at 23:57 - Reply

      I totally agree with you he doesn’t talk about why he never wanted to return to Korea to teach English or be an English teacher he just complaining about Korea WOW so hilarious

      • Jason 01/12/2016 at 05:53 - Reply

        If he wants to complain about Korea, it is his right. After all, it is his blog. Perhaps you can think of ways to help improve Korean relationships and connections with foreigners instead of blaming the person who goes there and doesn’t have a ‘wow’ing experience. The reason I am so critical is I met a lot of similar people like you in Korea who feel like someone is greatly shamed if he freely voices his complaint. These are people who think that foreigners alone must adapt to Korean society. The adapting should come from both sides, especially if the Korean person had spent time abroad and knows a little about western culture. And while there is not much that can be done if someone does not like the ethnic cuisine, he did not bad mouth it. He simply said that it was not to his liking.

        That being said, I spent eight years in Korea because I wanted to stay until I had learned the language and could freely speak with Koreans and determine whether or not it was a place I could settle down in. In conclusion, I have mixed feelings about Korean society. I spent little time there with other foreigners; I only had a couple foreign friends in my first two years there, but made a variety of Korean friends, members of my church, college students, local shop keepers and coffee shop owners, and anyone I happened to meet and hit it off with. It was my firm desire to immerse myself into the culture to the point that I would be treated by Koreans in my community as if I was Korean. Although, I did find it easy to communicate and share opinions and values with the people I met everyday, I still believe Korean people as a whole are highly xenophobic, and while they are fascinated about foreigners in the communities and want to point and engage them like spectacles in a zoo, Korean culture is designed in such a way that a foreigner has no permanent place in it. As the most basic example, Koreans refer to friends as the same year of age and others as older brothers and sisters or as younger siblings by name and by their positions in society. Foreigners are called by their names. Many Korean people asked me why I spent eight years in their country and were fascinated by the fact that I had never returned to America. A foreigner generally is considered a temporary resident in Korea. I, however, pursued my career in music in Korea and am a graduate student in Gwangju. I had really hoped to make progress toward changing this notion.

        The next part is in answer to Miss Lee because she is curious about why the teaching experience might be bad for foreigners in Korea. I can relate on this point. Most of my experience in Korea was fascinating, and I happen to really love the food. Now that I am visiting China before returning to school in Korea, I really miss the food. I had some good relationships in Korea, making friends with the coffee staff in the local shops, chatting with my Korean piano teacher, and going on road trips to explore every inch of Jeollanamdo and other parts of Korea, just not as thoroughly. I am quite advanced in Korean now which means that I have had the chance to speak to complete strangers with no English ability and leave with both of us feeling like we had made a friend. I have praised Korean culture to the Chinese and to the Italians when I visited Italy two years ago to the point where the Italians told me I had better return to Korea where I was happy. But having all of these opportunities to explore and get to know people and study my passions with the locals was possible because I was so frequently unemployed. I felt trapped in a small office with other foreign teachers and Korean teachers who are different kinds of people than the people you meet in the streets. These teachers have been so influenced by foreign culture that they have another side of them that they show to foreigners that is quite different from the way they relate to their fellow Koreans. I always found them to be caddy and superficial. I often tried to talk to my coworkers, but they were unkind, unsupportive, and often cruel. If one teacher had a problem with me, all the other teachers collectively united against me. They did not try to understand my position, but told me that I should change my thinking. In the United States, if one employee has another problem with another employee, that problem remains between the two of them. So I could pleasantly work at my job while politely avoiding the problem person. Close quarters and community thinking make this impossible in a hagwon. But the most difficult part of teaching is not the relationship with the students; my students absolutely loved me and really went out of their way to thank me for my teaching. It is that virtually all academy owners see foreigners as money makers, their school as a business, and do not care if students are actually learning anything or developing as a person but care only about putting on a show for parents who pay the bills. For this reason, I personally would like to see the government do away with private academies in favor of government run afterschool programs, as long as they continue the percentage based method of passing students versus the western grade based method of passing students that leaves those who are in the lower scoring percentage of their class behind. If after school programs were done away with altogether, I think that would be best.

        I also found the owners of private academies to be highly sensitive and fickle like little school girls. They might not like a teacher’s personality, his opinions, his complaint about the heater not working in a company apartment, and fire a teacher because he or she feels uncomfortable, slighted, or wants to find a better ‘fit’. I have challenged this idea in Korean court before members of the Labor Board, but the idea of ‘fit’ over general performance and the agreement stipulated in contract seem to prevail. I have had my employer use foul language, send other employees to my apartment to cut off my gas and power, falsely accuse me of a crime to the police, and tell me plainly that she plans to find a way to get around labor laws all to subdue me to her will. And I have had problems with many other directors like her. There is no certainty for a foreigner worker in Korea to keep his job, despite good performance and a contract. And a foreigner who is coming thousands of miles from his country to teach in a foreign country should have the right to voice his concerns and complaints, so long as they are done respectfully, without fear of reprisal. In short, I can understand it when Jamie says that he enjoyed his time in Korea while he wasn’t an English teacher.

        Although, my work experience in Korea was miserable and regard many of my employers as less than human, my out of work experience was the usual mix of good and bad that one can expect anywhere in the world as well as in his native country. I became so adapted to and familiar with Korean culture that I feel home sick if I am away from Korea for too long. I guess it is a kind of love/hate relationship. But I still have hope that Koreans can be more open minded to foreigners in their country and not just loot the world for its fashion and experiences abroad to quickly return to the safety of their home country, to share them privately among friends and shying away from the foreigner who comes into their shop to buy something.

        • Jamie 15/12/2016 at 15:36 - Reply

          Jason, thank you for your in-depth sharing of your experiences and thoughts on this topic. I enjoyed reading what you said and much of it resonates with me. This post is several years old, but one thing that I have learnt in recent years (and is related to what you said of your work experiences in Korea) is that I – meaning me as an individual – need freedom over what I am doing in life. In Korea, being an English teacher was the way I obtained a visa and the moment I stopped teaching, I would no longer be allowed to live and work in Korea. I found this a little daunting and right now find myself in Malta, exercising my right as an EU citizen to be self-employed. If this was an option for me in Korea when I first went, maybe that would have positively affected my experiences. Unfortunately pieces of paper define and dictate where we can and cannot live in this world.

    • Paul 31/05/2017 at 16:16 - Reply

      Very little of what Jamie said was critical of Korea itself. Most of what he didn’t like has more to do with the nature of teaching English abroad. The transient nature of English teaching positions (and by extension, the close friends you make), the isolation, difficulty communicating with locals, and the bubble that forms around you and other English teachers are all drawbacks of teaching English, regardless of where in the world you work.

      • Jamie 11/07/2017 at 05:54 - Reply

        Thank you for your understanding, Paul.

  4. Jimin Kim 18/11/2015 at 14:20 - Reply

    I was just googling for something because of my assignments, the title of this post actually made me interested and read it. Well, I’m korean, and I feel so sorry about that you never want to come here again. I think teaching English in South Korea is really beneficial to you because we have a lot of private academies for learning English, and maybe that’s why you chose south korea for teaching. I just wanna let you know south korea is pretty nice country to live (maybe it will take a couple of years to make you get used to all of things). There must be somethings that I can’t understand with my view, just … hope you visit korea again.

    • Jamie 03/12/2015 at 06:44 - Reply

      It wasn’t that I never wanted to come to Korea again, I only wanted to not teach again. I did go back to Korea (Jeju) and lived there for another six months. I loved my time on Jeju and thought it was a lovely place.

  5. Sarah 31/10/2015 at 19:02 - Reply

    Thank you for taking the time to compile all of these resources and detailing your experience so vividly. It’s nice to see someone share their experience so openly and frankly!

    That being said, some of the comments in this comments section reek of underlying white supremacy… It’s quite disheartening!

  6. Melissa 03/09/2015 at 17:58 - Reply

    I just came across this article, and have found it very enlightening. Thank you. I recently graduated with an English degree and am considering teaching in S. Korea; I applied on the Travel & Teach recruiting website, and have already been contacted for an interview. Just wondering, when you were looking to teach abroad, did you have trouble trying to figure out which websites/organizations were legit? That’s really my biggest fear with the process. That, and having to deal with the food once I get there. And from what I’ve read in the comments, racism can also be an issue. I’m certainly not afraid of that (I’m African-American, of Haitian descent), but I’m just wondering how bad it is. Thanks!

  7. Htk 06/08/2015 at 03:22 - Reply

    Don’t go to Korea thinking that since you’re white you will have women swooning over you. You better be very very attractive and well put together and even that will only get you so far. Koreans will stick to their own kind until the bitter end. If you do fit the ideal characteristics of a westerner than you will simply be the “token white guy”. You will have a extremely difficult time connecting and making lifelong connections. Having lived around Koreans for nine years and having worked in Korea and learned the language hasn’t brought me much happiness. I’m still an outsider, once I realized that they will never accept me I felt like I was in some sort of prison. Korea feels like some sort of alternate reality that in many ways seems unapproachable to me. I’ve dated some great Korean girls but never seemed to be having as much fun as my Korean counterpart. The men can be ravenous and are the worst “cock blockers” imaginable. Even the women are cock blockers. The friends you will meet will all have an agenda to keep you around, and from my experience it has always been for their glory and not for yours. You have all been warned. If you want a much better experience go to Japan. I felt like a God there compared to Korea….

    • Jamie 11/08/2015 at 07:31 - Reply

      Sorry to hear that you haven’t enjoyed your experiences there. I think that the country being so closed to foreigners until recently has contributed to the cultural differences. Like you, I very much loved Japan, however, when I went back to Korea for a second time I lived in the south of Jeju Island and found my experience very enjoyable compared to living in Daegu.

  8. Lulu 09/05/2015 at 00:51 - Reply

    I would love to visit and teach in Korea. I have TEFL overseas teaching experience under my ample belt, but that was twenty years ago in Prague. I was wondering if they would hire a 60 year old f–t like me.

    • Jamie 10/05/2015 at 23:50 - Reply

      As far as I am aware, the only requirements to teach English in Korea are a passport from an English speaking country, a degree, and a clean criminal record. Try contacting some agencies and see what they say.

  9. Lukas 12/04/2015 at 02:45 - Reply

    Hi Jamie, please could you tell me(us) what you did apart from enjoying on jeju? As citizen of czech we cańt oficilly teach there, but we can get working hollydays visa, only problem is that i cant find where else (apart from teaching) to work there as foreighner, thank you for your post(s), regards, Lukas.

    • Jamie 12/04/2015 at 15:02 - Reply

      I have begun doing a bit of work online – writing articles and making websites mostly when I was on Jeju. I aim to become location independent one day and this was the beginning. Most the foreigners I met in Korea were either teachers or military.

  10. Chris 10/04/2015 at 02:45 - Reply

    Do you know any jobs I could do in Korea that have a contract shorter than 1 year (other than Hagwons)? How did u spend your 6 months in Jeju? Thanks for any advice.

    • Jamie 12/04/2015 at 15:00 - Reply

      I’m out of the loop with teaching, sorry, but I am sure that they exist. For work on Jeju, I was writing articles online and making websites, so that work could be done anywhere. I enjoyed being outside a lot too.

  11. soumaya 31/03/2015 at 16:10 - Reply

    anyway you’re lucky even if it’s hard but i really want to visit korea…and you’re not the only one who mentioned that it’s difficult to communicat with people.
    and you’re welcome in morocco you will love it i’m sure.

  12. Joseph 16/10/2014 at 22:14 - Reply

    I lived in South Korea and taught ESL for a bit over two years before heading back to the states, but overall, I had a completely different experience than you. I disagree with most of your points, especially the one about food and the difficulty connecting with people. I feel like a lot of foreigners that I met in Korea were always complaining about how this wasn’t like home or that people weren’t as nice as back home or that the food wasn’t as good as back home, etc. to which I replied “Well, this isn’t back home is it?”. Korea is a very different culture, and when trying to experience a different culture, you need to force yourself to be immersed in it, instead of trying to find every fault in how it isn’t as good as back home. One thing I really learned to tell myself while in Korea is “It is what it is”…. annoying smokers in restaurants? Well it is what it is, that’s how it is in Korea… People passed out on the streets… Well it is what it is… Once I learned to let go of my conceived notions of how things “should be” and decided to just take everything in for what it was, I really appreciated Korea and realized people were actually a lot more eager to get to know me once I broke down my walls a bit more. Overall I really enjoyed my time there, and while I have now made my life back in the U.S., I still long to one day return to my second home in South Korea.

    • Jamie 17/10/2014 at 06:58 - Reply

      Funnily enough Joseph, I had reflections upon this post, but decided to keep it as is for how I felt at the time. After leaving Korea, I actually missed it. I didn’t miss the food or the city, but I missed… something. I went back and lived on Jeju, down south, and I really enjoyed it there. I still don’t like the food – I’m still vegetarian and don’t like the red paste that is on so much of the food – but I was no longer in a big city. Quite simply put, I think it is cities around the world that overwhelm me. Also, as I wasn’t teaching, I was working towards something I wanted to do which made me happy. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the kids and I enjoy teaching (I actually did do a couple of weeks of teaching when I went back, covering for a friend), but it isn’t for me in the long term. I hope if you see the newer posts I have put about Korea, based upon Jeju, are a reflection of my positive experiences there.

    • Lornette Dallas 15/11/2014 at 22:43 - Reply

      I live in Korea from 96 to 96 via military assignment. Currently I reside in Korea until 2015 as a dependent spouse. I really enjoy the country and the culture. While, I must admit that I also mind it difficult to get to know some Koreans, but for the most part I found the country to be an amazing place to live. So now I’m looking into teaching here in Korea as an alternative to remain in the country for at least another year. I have my degree in Education and will have my license by the end of the year. So I’m inquiring and keeping my options open at the same time. Thanks for your comment.

      • Jamie 01/12/2014 at 23:28 - Reply

        I actually ended up going back to Korea and living on the south side of Jeju (Seogwipo). I really liked it there a lot and definitely recommend Jeju. Best of luck finding something.

  13. Stephanie 01/10/2014 at 01:57 - Reply

    Hey, I am interested in teaching abroad in South Korea. I’m currently in my undergrad in a university that has a good amount of Korean exchange students. What program did you use to go over there? I’m looking all over the Internet, but a lot of agencies seem scammish (scammy?). I don’t have any paid teaching experience, but I plan on taking the TSOL (I think that’s what it’s called) test. Also, and yes I know ethnicity and race isn’t everything, but did you see any people of African descent there? I’m multiracial, but I just kind of wanted to know how over there is in regards to super unique looking foreigners. I know they sometimes flock to the pale skin, light hair because it’s so different, but I don’t want to be seen as an outcast or someone to steer clear from. Any thoughts?

    • Jamie 04/10/2014 at 04:34 - Reply

      I applied through online listings. Most agencies are amateurish, but they do want to help get you a job because they make good money for recruiting teachers. TESOL / TEFL / ESL qualifications are a con in my opinion, but they might help get you a better job. Korea is racist in the way that it treats foreigners differently, but normally not negatively. For example, when in bars, we sometimes got reduced prices for being foreigners – I have no idea why. Don’t be surprised if they stare at you occasionally, they do it to all foreigners (anyone not Korean). And several of my good friends in Korea where of multiracial or African descent – however, they were a minority, but aside from one friend being mistaken for Usain Bolt during the athletics world championships, no significant events spring to mind.

  14. Fredrick 30/08/2014 at 05:39 - Reply

    I hope you’re doing well,

    ” talking to members of the opposite sex can be a high-school style nightmare”

    Please explain this part! I’m a huge ladies and dance party type guy. Did you ever go out to clubs and felt like an outcast?

    I’m also a vegan so thanks for that!

    • Jamie 01/09/2014 at 11:20 - Reply

      In my experience, girls in Korea generally seemed much younger than they were and were nervous around foreigners at times. However, this is a generalisation and not true of all Koreans. I did go to clubs in Korea and often got special treatment (reduced price entry and people buying me drinks) because I am a foreigner. Being vegan is a pain in Korean restaurants, but you can learn to get by (with difficulty).

  15. guriko 01/08/2014 at 18:28 - Reply

    because you are just english teacher. not engineer not businessman

  16. Adam 11/05/2014 at 20:53 - Reply

    I spent a year teaching in Korea in 2007/8 and I’m really considering going back this September. Where were you? And when were you there? I was placed in the countryside last time, and would probably prefer that again.
    I found it a difficult place to live, as a white foreigner from the UK rather than the US (they don’t understand that sh*t!)
    But I’m still tempted to go back. The only thing that worries me is the ‘comfortable bubble’ that is working there! After some time, what do you reckon?

    • Jamie 15/05/2014 at 02:44 - Reply

      It is very comfortable – that is why I left. I have lived in Daegu (a crazy big city) two years ago and Seogwipo over recent months. If I had free choice, I would choose a little village outside of Seogwipo as it is possible to be out in nature more easily than other places in Korea.

  17. debby 11/05/2014 at 18:42 - Reply

    pls i am a nigerian bt i luv 2 act as an actrees in korea pls is it possible

    • Jamie 15/05/2014 at 02:42 - Reply

      I am sorry, but I have no idea.

  18. Ashley 06/05/2014 at 22:53 - Reply

    I’m quite interested in this actually, having studied in Japan (from Canada) for a year. My query is where or how do I go about actually finding a job though?

    • Jamie 07/05/2014 at 02:19 - Reply

      Check forums such as tefl.com and Dave’s ESL cafe or apply through agencies (find them with Google). Doing both will help.

  19. winnie 22/02/2014 at 20:53 - Reply

    Impressive posting.
    I searched on google ‘living in Istanbul as a foreigner’ and it brought me to your blog and i saw this ‘i wouldn’t come back to south korea again.’ It got my attraction, cause I’m south korean who is about to settle down in Istanbul as a foreigner. haha,, i enjoyed your posting. one of my american friend who teaches English in South Korea told me the exactly same thing with 4th reason. He said that time was like addicting drugs.

    • Jamie 24/02/2014 at 04:23 - Reply

      In hindsight, teaching in Korea was wonderful compared to teaching in Istanbul. However, everyone has different experiences in different places and I hope that you have a wonderful time in Turkey.

  20. Michelisa 19/02/2014 at 02:20 - Reply

    Hi, Jamie – Really great article. Thanks for taking the time to share your experience with all of us. I’ve been back and forth about teaching English in Korea for years, and the one thing that holds me back is this question: “…Then what?” Could you talk about what you did after you taught in Korea? The difficulty with – or maybe expediency of – finding a job not related to teaching? Thanks!

    • Jamie 24/02/2014 at 04:21 - Reply

      After teaching I went hitchhiking, teaching again, cycling, and rafting, so not so sure that I can help you on the job front, sorry. Many other people make the transition back without problems though. If you would regret not trying it, try it.

  21. Alex 07/02/2014 at 22:36 - Reply

    I’m about to leave for Korea. Think I can handle 🙂

  22. Tom Harris 14/01/2014 at 22:39 - Reply

    Yup, don’t forget that Korea may well be THE most racist country in the industrialized world. They have a lot of catching up to do.

    • Jamie 26/01/2014 at 02:41 - Reply

      This is something that really surprised me when I came here. I figure it is partly due to the lack of immigrants from outside Korea until quite recently.

    • taylor 23/02/2015 at 04:36 - Reply

      i am a korean american and have been to Korea. I would say people aren’t meaning to be intentionally racist in most cases, but mostly ignorance. So it is better to be understanding instead of calling a whole country racist.

      • Jamie 27/02/2015 at 03:08 - Reply

        I was not meaning it as an insult, but in Korea, I found that many people believed certain races were of lesser or greater value. I was say ignorance is a reason for these views, but as more people come in from all over the world, people will become more accepting.

        • Jinna Lee 27/12/2015 at 21:15 - Reply

          Nope you are wrong. I highly doubt that.

    • Jinna Lee 27/12/2015 at 21:12 - Reply

      OMG Have you ever been in South Korea? If you go to South Korea, you’ll see posters of black models everywhere! Koreans don’t care about others’ races. They love new cultures and new people. You can say that there are not many immigrants in South Korea and some people -mostly old people- think negatively about the immigrants but racism does not exist at all!! What do you know about Korea? Have you ever watched Korean tv shows? If you didn’t, you should watch ‘Non Summit’ (비정상회담) first. It would be good for you to learn cultures of South Korea and many other countries, too. You shouldn’t have said like that with your name and picture on it. Or bring some reliable sources that can prove your opinion:) Lastly, YOU SHOULD BE VERY CAREFUL ABOUT THE KOREAN NETIZENS! Good luck!

  23. Mikaela 03/09/2013 at 03:38 - Reply

    I totally understand and agree with some of your issues with Korea. Sometimes I feel like the social scene is just a bunch of people reliving their college experience. It’s almost like life and what you do in Korea doesn’t really count in reality.

    I think I got lucky however, I was placed at a smallish school in the countryside. My town is literally situated among the mountains and rice fields. Many people wouldn’t like it, but I enjoy the peace of the country and I can make the Journey to the city whenever I want to.

    I actually think the main reason I am enjoying myself is because I enjoy rural Korea, I wouldn’t feel the same in the city with the “tacky lights and bright signs”.

    • Jamie 08/09/2013 at 14:29 - Reply

      I imagine that you are having a very different experience from me, it sounds quite delightful. I do now actually miss Korea at times and I have very nostalgic feelings towards the country. In a few months, I hope to return (not to work) to give it a real chance in my mind. If you see me on my bicycle, please wave.

  24. BakoymaTravels 30/08/2013 at 11:14 - Reply

    “(I once had to leave a restaurant because it was incomprehensible that I wanted chips without chicken).”

    I can relate, I visited Seoul in 2011 and spent 5 minutes discussing with a waiter because I wanted ice cream for dessert and tea, not the free coffee that came with the meal. He kept insisting that the coffee was free, but since I don’t like coffee… well… I wasn’t interested. He found that difficult to wrap his head around, but at least I got my ice cream and tea in the end.

    I want to teach English in South Korea myself, but I keep hearing they only accept people who have English as a native language. I’m Norwegian, but I’m still hoping my bachelor from a British university might open some doors. Maybe I’ll have to go there and talk to them so they can actually hear that I’m fluent… I don’t know. Do you think there’s a chance, Jamie? Did you meet other teachers while you were there and were any of them non-native English speakers?

    • Jamie 31/08/2013 at 09:32 - Reply

      It is quite ridiculous. There is a mindset where ‘things work like this and only like this.’ As for your chances, I have no idea. The best course of action is to contact recruiters (Google English jobs Korea or something similar) and they will do the hard work for you because they get paid lots of money for doing it. I met hundreds of other teachers, but I can’t remember any non-native speakers. However, you’re degree will help and of course, nothing is impossible. Good luck!

    • Tasha 26/11/2013 at 22:04 - Reply

      Unfortunately, because of the Korean E2 visa requirements from immigration, they only accept nationals from native English-speaking countries. Being fluent in English is not enough.
      Any recruiter that tells you otherwise is not being honest. Look up the E2 visa requirements for Korea yourself. Don’t go by internet hearsay.
      Best of luck!

      • Jamie 28/11/2013 at 20:00 - Reply

        Thanks for clarifying Tasha.

      • Magno 04/02/2014 at 19:02 - Reply

        I was born in Portugal and have dual EU and Canadian citizenship and was able to easily land a job in Korea. I have been in Canada most of my life though.

  25. Nelly 18/07/2013 at 22:27 - Reply

    Teaching English in Korea seems to be rather interesting. Im a 24 year old lady from South Africa with no formal training in teaching and I would absolutely love to venture into this career path.
    Any advice on how I can go about would be gladly appreciated.


    • Jamie 25/07/2013 at 20:43 - Reply

      Apply through agencies and see what they say. Also contact people through ESL / TEFL forums and see what they say. You will find a way to make it work. Good luck!

  26. joorah 29/06/2013 at 11:40 - Reply

    haha. When it comes to the difficulty of connecting with people. I have something to say as Korean British (I was born and grew up in Daegu, have lived in the UK for 10 years) – I think British culture is the farthest from Korean, can’t be farther. It is hopelessly individualistic and Korean one is (hopelessly) opposite. I often feel suffocated in the UK due to the difficulty of connecting with British people..I have no white British friends and it seems that they don’t want to make friends with me. I am sure you were adored by Korean people because you are white in Korea. haha. I have never been adored by anybody in the UK. So, I decided to leave the UK and move to SE Asia (not Korea though) in two months. Anyway, good luck.

    • Jamie 04/07/2013 at 12:18 - Reply

      Hi Joorah, your comments are very interesting. I can appreciate the difficulty you have while living in the UK. As for me in Korea, I always attracted a lot of attention, but people would sometimes be nervous or want to be friends with me purely because of how I looked! I hope that you enjoy wherever it is that you are going next. I am hoping to come back to SE Asia in a few months and I will be visiting Korea when I get there because despite everything, I had a lot of fun there and I miss it.

      • Jenna Yi 27/12/2015 at 21:26 - Reply

        Haha Jamie you’re being too optimistic! I’m pretty sure the Koreans just wanted to experience new cultures not because of your race! I don’t know about people in Jeju but if you go to Seoul or Busan, where I came from, you’ll see many people with different races. Please don’t think you’re attractive because of your experiences in Jeju, okay?

  27. Eun Joo Kim 10/12/2012 at 10:54 - Reply

    Korea seems to be a just scaryworld to you. ha!

    • jamie 13/12/2012 at 14:57 - Reply

      At times, yes. Other times, I loved it.

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