Many travellers find that volunteering to teach English or work in orphanages can be a fulfilling way to experience the local culture. Koreans are very reluctant to adopt children, partly because of the huge educational costs and partly because of the traditional emphasis on blood lines. Charities working in this area include US-based Korean Kids & Orphanage Outreach Mission (http://kkoom.org) and HOPE (Helping Others Prosper through English; www.alwayshope.or.kr), a Korean-based nonprofit run by foreign English teachers that helps out at orphanages, assists low-income and disadvantaged children with free English lessons and serves food to the homeless.
The Seoul Global Center (http://global.seoul.go.kr) is a good place to start looking for other volunteer possibilities. More charities and organisations with volunteer opportunities include:
Amnesty International (http://amnesty.or.kr/english) Raises awareness in Korea about international human-rights issues.
Cross-Cultural Awareness Program (CCAP; www.koreaunesco.or.kr/eng/activ/active5.htm) Unesco-run program activities include presenting a class about your culture to Korean young people in a Korean public school, or on a weekend trip to a remote area.
Korea Women’s Hot Line (KWHL; http://eng.hotline.or.kr; 02 3156 5400) Nationwide organisation that also runs a shelter for abused women.
Korean Federation for Environmental Movement (KFEM; http://kfem.or.kr; 02 735 7000) Volunteer on various environmental projects and campaigns.
Korean Unwed Mothers’ Families Association (KUMFA; www.facebook.com/groups/kumfa) Provides support to single mothers.
Seoul International Women’s Association (www.siwapage.com) Organises fundraising events to help charities across Korea.
Seoul Volunteer Center (http://volunteer.seoul.go.kr; 070 8797 1861) Teach language and culture, take part in environmental clean-ups and help at social welfare centres.
World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF; http://wwoofkorea.org; 02 723 4458) Welcomes volunteers to farms across Korea who provide labour in exchange for board and lodging.
Although a few other opportunities are available for work (particularly for those with Korean language skills), the biggest demand is for English teachers.
Native English teachers on a one-year contract can expect to earn around ₩2.5 million or more a month, with a furnished apartment, return flights, 50% of medical insurance, 10-days paid holiday and a one-month completion bonus included in the package. Income tax is very low (around 4%), although a 4.5% pension contribution (reclaimable by some nationalities) is compulsory.
Most English teachers work in a hagwon (private language school) but some are employed by universities or government schools. Company classes, English camps and teaching over the phone are also possible, as is private tutoring, although this is technically illegal. Teaching hours in a hagwon are around 30 hours a week and are likely to involve split shifts, and evening and Saturday classes.
Any degree is sufficient as long as English is your native language. However, it’s a good idea to obtain an English-teaching qualification before you arrive, as this increases your options and you should be able to find (and do) a better job.
Some hagwon owners are not ideal employers and don’t pay all they promise; research before committing yourself. Ask prospective employers for the email addresses of foreign English teachers working at the hagwon, and contact them for their opinion and advice. If you change employers, you will usually need a new work visa, which requires you to leave the country to pick up your new visa. Your new employer may pick up all or part of the tab for this.
The best starting point for finding out more about the English-teaching scene is the Association for Teachers of English in Korea (ATEK; www.atek.or.kr).
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