WE'VE DONE IT, AND WE LOVED IT!
Teach ESL Korea has been one of the premier recruitment agencies for Korea for the last 10 years, and we like to think this is because we do our best in providing the most personal care and support to our incoming teachers. Part of this, of course, is giving honest and unfiltered feedback about what’s available in the job market, not just in Korea, but in other emerging Asian ESL markets as well. For that reason, we’re happy to share with you that we’ve expanded our network dramatically in the last two years in China. While Korea has and will continue to be a huge cornerstone for us, and we’re happy to help applicants find great jobs there, we would feel disingenuous if we didn’t mention the relative strengths of the Chinese market at this point—first, a quick history lesson of the ESL market in Asia:
In the early 90’s, the Japanese ESL industry exploded right along with their economy. Children often went to after school English training centers, and public school programs like JET picked up steam as well. A period followed where English teachers were always in great demand, and they were paid well enough to have a decent lifestyle and explore amazing cities like Tokyo and Osaka while saving money or paying down debt. Slowly but surely, the market started filling up, and pretty soon JET became much more exclusive and started doing mostly rural placements, and private school wages stagnated because there was such a rush applicants into a saturated market. Additional problems emerged in that responsibilities ramped up while wages stayed the same, and there was never really an adjustment to inflation either. Therefore, in the early 2000’s, there was a very definitive shift when Korea’s economy and market started offering more advantageous opportunities, and, now, 15 or so years into the prevalence of the Korean market, some of the same things are occurring. The market is a bit more saturated, and the balance of wages to job responsibilities isn’t quite as stellar as it used to be. Korean public school programs like EPIK are getting cut back each year, and new applicants are getting relegated more to rural parts of the country—still a fabulous cultural experience but not always what a lot of our applicants had in mind.
This is where China comes in, and the following will detail why we believe it’s to everyone’s benefit to also be very open minded about the opportunities we’re seeing there:
Salary: Even five years ago, salaries in China just couldn’t stack up to what was being offered in Korea. The cost of living was lower, but it wasn’t enough to justify making half of what our teachers in Korea were making. Lately, the salaries in Chinese tier 1 cities have become almost equal to those in Korea, while the cost of living is about 40% lower on average. We’re now seeing people make either dollar-for-dollar equal starting salaries or even deals that are surpassing what is being offered in Korea in a country that is dramatically cheaper. There’s a huge difference in savings when everything from transportation to food is almost half as much. However, even in a lot of tier 2 cities, the salaries have risen to the point where the savings would be similar to what our teachers in Korea are managing but often for a lot less work, which brings us to our next point.
Workload: The number one complaint we get from teachers in the Korean market is that they feel overworked. The country and culture is fabulous, but it’s sometimes hard to fully enjoy all it has to offer when their energy is sapped by often teaching over 30 classes a week. The standard amount of teaching hours for a Korean private school is 30, and that doesn’t include the additional responsibility of grading and testing or sometimes having things like parent-teacher conferences. EPIK is a little better in that there’s no grading burden, and teachers usually only teacher around 20-22 classes a week. However, teachers in most of our Chinese public schools are almost all teaching under 15, and the average is around 12. That means that public school teachers in China are averaging 8-10 fewer classes per week than their counterparts in Korea and making virtually the same salary in a lot of cases. They’re teaching about a third of the amount of classes as hagwon teachers.
Vacation: Most hagwons provide around 10 days of paid vacation, and EPIK teachers get a bit more but not what they used to. We’re seeing deals in China with a month of either fully or partially paid vacation, and two months out of contract where teachers are typically given the opportunity to do summer camps or just enjoy a long holiday. This is such a huge boon for people wanting to travel extensively, which is almost all of our applicants. It’s tough to plan a really involved trip with only a week off in the summer and winter. Imagine what could be done with 3 months!
Travel opportunities: With all of that vacation, it doesn’t hurt that China is the size of the US and has some of the most stunning landscapes and vibrant cities in the world. While Korea has some truly amazing areas to explore, it’s only about a third of the size of California. In China, there are deserts, rain forests, coasts, mountains, and grasslands. Virtually every kind of landscape imaginable is available to explore. It’s possible to ride camels along the sandy remnants of the Silk Road or walk through ice castles in Harbin in the same week. How about taking a scuba diving trip through a submerged village or paragliding over wide valleys outside of Hangzhou? Take a trip to Chengdu for waterfalls and pandas. The things to do in China are just limitless.
Opportunities for growth: Teachers coming to China now are really getting in on the ground floor in some ways. We’re seeing plenty of people start as teachers and getting into areas like educational consulting, TEFL training, or transcription services. Specialized positions for subject and homeroom teachers are available for highly qualified applicants or for those who stick around for a couple of years. If segueing out of education is a goal, marketing and management positions are also within reach in far more abundance than in Korea.
As stated above, we love Korea and support anyone who is solely interested in that particular experience, but the market in China is soaring to such a degree we would be remiss in not mentioning some of the advantages. We’ve always felt that part of really capitalizing on the adventure of teaching abroad is the quality of the job, and it’s clear that some of the best jobs in the industry are in China right now. Thanks for considering the Middle Kingdom in your job hunt!