A friend of an old grad-school of mine is thinking of coming to Korea and he has a wealth of thought-provoking questions for me. I thought I'd answer them one by one on the blog in case they might be helpful to others in the same position. #1:
"Do you still feel the cost/benefit analysis is bad for newcomers to Korea?"
At some points in the past, I've said that if I had to do it all over again, I wish that I'd have chosen another country to come to, fresh out of uni. But, now that I'm here and worked my connections to make it to the top of the ESL world with a prime uni position, I don't really want to leave and start at the bottom in another country. And, so at times, I've said that if you're a newbie you should perhaps consider other places over Korea.
Korea is just a hard place to live. Hagwons (and public schools? and unis?) are corrupt and getting paid everything that is owed to you is quite rare. Life is more a matter of not sweating the small stuff like moldy walls in your apartment, or getting money taken from you for health insurance but not actually getting it. Do you like being stared at and chased by little kids on the street yelling, "Herro, herro, herro, herro?" Don't mind some serious mis-communication with the doctor and dentist? You don't mind packages of mystery pills from the doctor that you have no idea what they are? If yes, then Korea is most definitely for you.
But, the total compensation package is quite good. About $2000 US/month. Only 3(ish)% tax. Cheap health insurance. Free accommodation. Usually free airfare, and in some cases even pre-paid. You can easily save $1000 US/month. Many people save lots more by doing (illegal!) private teaching on the side. If you do your research, you can work only about 6 hours/day at a hagwon. Or 8 hours desk time at a public school with only 3-4 hours actual teaching time. Unis...about 15 hours/week total teaching time.
So, back to the original question. Is Korea worth it for a newbie? Maybe, if you're willing to put up with crap. Attitudes/ways of doing things do not even remotely resemble stuff back home in the Western World. You will get ripped off in your first year when you are an unwise newbie, fresh off the plane. But, it's your subsequent years where you will get much better jobs, learn some Korean, make some connections and have a much happier life. So, if you plan on coming to Korea for just one year, then no, it's probably not worth it. If you consider the possiblity of 2 or 3 or 4 years, then yes, it is worth it, especially if you have a masters degree or teacher's certificate and can work your way up to a uni or an excellent public school position.
If only for a year and you want to come to Northeast Asia? I'd perhaps consider Japan. It's harder to get a job there, and you work harder, but the chances of getting ripped off are much slimmer. Or, if I had a teaching certificate, Hong Kong's NET program. China's salaries are getting much higher these days but they've got the rip-off things going on, similar to Korea. However, China has a fascinating culture and valuable language to learn factor going along with it, that Korea does not have. Taiwan? If you're a bit of an entrepreneur and like selling yourself, it might be the place for you.
Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow!