Teaching English in Korea can be fun and challenging, but before you get to Korea, you have to know where you’ll be job hunting, trying to find a good fit.
For those of us who are non-white, this can sometimes pose a difficult challenge. The first thing you want to do is decide whether or not you want to teach in the public or private sector. I went with the public sector (EPIK - English Program in Korea) and was hired immediately...
...so I didn’t face being rejected strictly based on my race. I personally think EPIK does do an excellent job about hiring people of color (POC) from different nationalities.
However, if you are looking for a job in the private sector, it can be a bit more difficult because the parents can directly influence who the schools want (or don’t want) as an English teacher, because they’re paying the money. If you have an honest recruiter (and you can certainly check their credentials and reviews with ESL Passport), they will tell you if you didn’t get the job because the school was looking for a white teacher. You may also find job posts online that directly say a school is looking for a white teacher (sometimes they even specify if they’re looking for a white male or female teacher, and which country they’d like them to be from).
In Korea, someone can easily not hire you based on looks. In fact, when you send in your resume, you often must attach a passport-sized professional picture with it. This is a requirement for all jobs, teaching or non-teaching jobs, for Koreans and foreigners alike. I also had to attach a photo to my resume when I applied with EPIK. This doesn’t happen in America for obvious reasons, but in Korea, this is a common practice.
Things ARE changing in Korea; nevertheless, there is still this stereotype that white people speak better English, and in particular, that white Americans speak better English than POCs. So unfortunately, a lot of private schools think it just "looks better" and will be better for business to have white teachers.
Please don’t hear what I’m not saying. This isn’t to say that it is impossible to get a job in a private school as a non-white foreigner. I have plenty of friends who are POCs and who are currently, or have previously worked, in private schools. There are private schools that will hire non-white foreigners, and there are those who will not. It’s just a matter of being persistent and finding schools that will hire you. I just want you to be aware of the realities of job hunting.
My advice to you would be to work with a reputable recruiter (find the good ones here!) and to also do your own research. If it’s possible, I recommend speaking to teachers who are working at the school you are interested in, or previous teachers, and pick their brains about what it’s like to work there. ESL Passport's reviews can really help you there!
Also, ask that your recruiter be honest with you about what schools are looking for. If your heart is set on teaching in Korea, and that’s really what you want to do, you will find a job. Do the research, find a good recruiter, and tell them you want them to be honest with you. There are recruiters who will do that for you if you are upfront with them.
Don’t let fear hold you back!
I know this seems like there’s a lot going against getting a job in Korea, and unfortunately, we still live in a world where some people judge based on race. I know many POCs are skeptical about applying for jobs in Korea for this reason. Like I mentioned earlier, if this is what you really want to do, be aware of the things that may happen, and be yourself. Set the intention that you will find a good teaching job. Don’t go with the mindset that you will be rejected because you are a non-white foreigner. It’s not all roses, but you will find a place that likes you and wants to hire you.
ESL Passport strives to help people of all ethnic backgrounds find a location teaching abroad. On our website, you can not only upload photos of yourself, but also sample lesson plans, videos, as well as what type of employment you’re looking for. The purpose of this is to give potential employers a well-rounded view of teachers. We aim to help change the "face-value-only" dynamic that many employers have. Now’s the time start your profile and join the new and improved ESL industry!
Want to learn more from author Rachelle Anderson? She has a lot of experience to share at Rachelle Anderson Speaks!