Candidly Kate: Where to Teach in Korea

In a country the size of Indiana, you would think that the two largest cities would have similar lifestyles.  After spending a year in Busan I thought I had conquered Korea enough to hit the capital.  Could I have been more wrong?

There are countless benefits to living in both cities, and there are benefits to the EPIK and GEPIK programs (chill days maxing out at 5 or 6 classes, and TONS of vacation time!) in each.  Public School positions are becoming scarce (and only hire at specific times of year), so most people end up having to at least consider picking up and shipping out for a hagwon (Private School) position.

Busan is the second largest city in Korea.  Check out 50 Unmissable Things to Do in Busan by Nick Kembel.

Busan – The Good:

Busan is ridiculously beautiful.  The mountains and the beach come together in perfect harmony so you may hike and swim in the same day.  My first year was in Busan, as many of you may already know.  March 2015- March 2016  was a pretty relaxed year where I got to sleep in or work out on Mondays and Wednesdays.  I started at 12 PM, taught from 12:45 PM – 2 PM, sometimes had a meeting from 2 PM – 2:30 PM then was free until 3:30 PM after which time I would teach through until 7:30 PM.  Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday I would arrive at 9:30 AM and teach from 10 AM through until 12 PM.  After 12 PM I had free time until 3:30 PM (again, I’d teach 3:30 PM – 7:30 PM), but would usually return at 3 PM.  Yes, I had 3 hours splat in the middle of my day with which to do whatever I wanted!  Obviously the best thing for me to do was to hit the gym, so that combined with my new, active job helped me to shed the weight which had accumulated while living in Toronto for 3 years and working (for the most part) in the Food/ Beverage/ Hospitality industry.  I was also way more relaxed as I was able to get tons of sleep!

Busan -The Bad:

I had far too much free time and not enough to do.  Some weekends I’d find myself just staying in and watching movies on Sundays because it was cold (seriously – Busan in the late fall through until the early spring is COLD).  That’s a great way to save money, but it’s not very exciting.  Summers in Busan were amazing – I was at the beach every weekend.  Was it intellectually stimulating?  Not exactly.  Was it blissful, chilled out, maxin’, relaxin’ good times?  Most definitely.

Busan – The Ugly:

I live horrendously far from everything.  Hwamyeong is a new city nestled beside the Nakdong river (the only thing separating me from Gimhae) and just south of Yangsan (basically an entirely different city from Busan).  It took at least 45 minutes to get anywhere cool (Seomyeon, PNU, Gwangan, Haeundae [don’t even bother]).  We took expensive cabs constantly just because the thought of spending that lengthy a time on public transit, particularly during rush hour, was out of the question.  At the same time, rush hour traffic was just as bad (if not worse), so sometimes the idea of going out and socializing was just not fathomable.  I also found that the community of foreigners was very cliquey.  If you wanted any opportunity to perform you had to either be really pushy or have excellent timing.  I just didn’t have the energy to be demanding, and so I got to sing live exactly twice, and the song was certainly not of my choosing.  Lots of drama occurred because there were tons of expats, but it was almost like a small town.  Everyone knew everyone else’s business, and for what?  Seoul so far hasn’t given me that small town or high school vibe.  That could always change, but I don’t get the impression it will anytime soon in the teacher community (bloggers [*ahem* YouTubers!] are always another story!).  Location is key, especially if you don’t want to be lonely or bored in Korea!

Seoul – The Good:

I feel like every neighbourhood in Seoul is jampacked full of things to do.  There are more temples to see (and palaces, which Busan doesn’t actually have), galleries and museums to explore, music venues and concert halls out the wazoo, and tons of sporting events.  There isn’t a beach per se, but there are various rivers (the Han in particular is a favourite) where you can go lay out.  While I’m not in a traditionally “popular” area (Sincheon – by Jamsil), there are tons of places to take dance lessons, noraebang your heart out, hit the gym, go shopping (there are tons of places for “Western Sizes” here, and you’ll find more accessible salon supply stores if you’re blonde), amuse yourself at Lotte World, or even try your hand at the batting cages or the gun range.  It’s perfectly acceptable to walk across either of the bridges into Gangnam, where a whole slew of other exciting adventures await.  I’m about $10 by cab from Itaewon (40 minutes by subway), and a straight ride on the green line to Dongdaemun Design Plaza.  I can walk to a baseball game after work or any of the fantastic parks in my area.  I haven’t met any other musicians with whom I can jam just yet, but I’ve had plenty of acting opportunities and have been welcomed into the blogger community (as well as Girls Love Travel – Korea) with open arms.

The dating scene is more interesting.  There – I said it.  There are plenty of attractive teachers in Busan, but that’s just it…they’re almost ALL teachers.  You might meet someone from a neighbouring city who is working as an engineer or who is in the military, but realistically it’s very likely you’ll be dating another teacher if you want to keep things local to Busan.  In Seoul you’ll meet a ton of people who travel here constantly for business, full-time actors, models, athletes, military, students, and yes – teachers.  Having more options enables you to meet a much more diverse crowd.  My life has definitely not been boring, I’ve met a ton of cool people, and have been on some really cool and different dates!

There are countless opportunities to gets involved in Seoul, and I intend to take advantage of each one!  On the other hand, I need to stop it with all this delicious international food…

Seoul – The Bad:

I have ZERO downtime.  I am constantly on the go.  I always have my giant bag of goodies with me in case I stay out too long and decide to crash at a jimjilbang.  I have been neglecting the gym because of exciting things to do or in favour of more sleep.  Less gym time + all this amazing food?  I haven’t put on weight, but I’m certainly no longer losing!  My job is also FAR more demanding than it ever was in Busan.  I won’t go into too many specifics, but my favourite part of my job in Busan was being able to jet right when I finished work, taking any marking or lesson planning home to review.  Here, I teach more classes and a greater variety of subjects and my prep time is limited to the end of my day (when all I want to do is GTFO!).  Responsibilities that were once shared as a team fall on my shoulders.  It’s very tiring and probably contributed most to my feelings of uncertainty and unsteadiness when I first came to Seoul.  It feels like an hour goes by much faster here than it ever did in Busan, even when completing the exact same tasks.

Seoul – The Ugly:

I haven’t been here long enough to get a sense of “The Ugly” quite yet, but I certainly find myself spending more than I ever did in Busan.  I’ve got flights on the books for Thailand (5 flights in 10 days), China, and Taiwan, as it’s a lot easier to travel internationally from Seoul.  Food and beverages are certainly more costly, clothes and shoes are as well, and my maintenance charge to live in a disgusting apartment is $50.  This is probably the ugliest part: my apartment.  When I moved in, the previous tenant hasn’t cleaned or replaced the light-bulbs that had burned out.  I didn’t have proper water pressure nor did I have hot water.  All that has been fixed (the landlord needed some serious prodding from my awesome Director), but it still never feels clean.  The space is also smaller than my apartment in Busan, which I don’t mind, but I wish the wallpaper weren’t so smudged and butchered.  I also wish there was some sort of storage in my unit.  Everything is always on display.  I live in a super-cool area of Seoul.  If you want to live in a convenient location, don’t expect a miracle when it comes to your accommodations.   Living in such a convenient location also has its set-backs.  I’ve had only 1 weekend without house-guests since March 8th, 2016 (it’s June 7th, 2016 – and for the record I have guests visiting this weekend as well).  It’s all a blessing, but I’m exhausted!

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Friday night after school walk.

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Which sounds more appealing to you, the easy and laid-back life of Busan, or the fast-paced, go-go-go, never boring atmosphere of Seoul?  Right now I wish there was a bit more of a balance, but at the same time there’s nowhere I’d rather be than Seoul (hey parents – come see your daughter, will ya? xo).

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Spencer says:

    I had been thinking of getting a position in Busan. I greatly enjoy living and working in Seoul. I feel I have the best of both worlds since I currently live in Northern Seoul and hiking in the mountains is practically at my doorstep and hitting up central Seoul is very accessible via subway and taxi.

    1. I like it too, but I miss being able to go swimming all the time!

  2. Ray says:

    Busan sounds like the Vancouver of South Korea, but without the expensive cost of living whereas Seoul sounds more like Toronto. I would probably teach ESL in Busan for the work-life balance and the ability to save more money so I could do more weekend visits around South Korea. And if I stuck around for a second year of teaching, which you did, then maybe I would consider moving to Seoul if that means it is easier to play international trips from there around neighbouring countries.

  3. Jasmine says:

    Hi –

    Love your post! Thanks for sharing. I was wondering where you worked in Seoul and Busan. You seemed to have had positive experiences. Would you mind sharing the names of the schools and info? Feel free to email me directly. I appreciate your time.

    Warmest aloha,


    1. Kate says:

      Hi Jasmine – thanks for commenting! I was hired to work at Gwacheon Wonderland and what an absolute disaster that was. They were horrible to me and I would suggest never even considering a contract with a Wonderland school – the risks are too big. In Busan, I worked at Linguaforum academy. The Director was lovely, my coteachers were helpful, and we all had a great time. I moved to Seoul and worked at Worwick Academy (which has changed names several times and was not paying into pension or severance even though they were deducting from my paycheque for quite some time) and then Gangnam English Academy. I would personally not recommend working at either. My self-worth was constantly diminished at the latter even though I went above and beyond constantly. It’s tough to find a great academy in Seoul. Good luck! Feel free to email me if you have further questions – thetorontoseoulcialite at gmail dot com.

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