Ten Big Changes for English Teachers in South Korea (2009-2019)

For our first insight into the Korean teaching market, we look at how the teaching industry and the country as a whole has changed over the last decade.


1) Corporal Punishment in the Classroom 

In South Korea, for hundreds of years corporal punishment was a part of the country’s Confucian educational tradition. Misbehaving students at school would receive strikes over their hands with the “stick of love.” However, in 2010 the government banned the use of direct physical punishment. Today in 2019, a similar law is now being pushed through to prevent parents hitting their kids in the home, which is still technically legal.

2) Global Superstars

Ten years ago if you asked the average person across the globe what they associated with South Korea, most would have probably answered something like “Kim Jong-Il and North Korea.” Fast-forward ten years later, South Korean stars are achieving global fame –  in the sporting world there is the premier league footballer Song Heung Min and the popular UFC fighter the Zombie, musically the kpop boyband BTS have been topping the charts everywhere, and most recently the movie director Bong Joon-Ho became the first ever Korean to win the coveted Palme d’Or prize at Cannes. 


3) Online Teaching 

For English teachers working on an E-2 sponsored visa in Korea, doing work on the side for additional income such as private tutoring is still illegal. Many teachers still do it despite the potentially, but not common, harsh consequences (large fines and/or visa cancellation). Over the last few years though, the rise in pay for online teaching jobs has provided a legal way for teachers to earn extra money while in Korea.

4) Craft Beer Revolution

One of the noticeable changes in Korea for foreigners over the last decade has been the availability of western style food and beverages. Ten years ago you would struggle to find anything other than a pizza or a burger for a non-asian dining option. But today cities like Seoul offer a wide range of restaurants from Mexican and Brazilian, to French and Spanish. What’s even more impressive though is the rapid rise of the craft beer scene over the last 5 years ever since the new micro-brewery laws were introduced. With around 50 microbreweries across the country now, it is exciting times for beer lovers. We still love an ice cold glass of Cass with some good old Korean fried chicken though!


5) Technology in the Classroom 

Any experienced teacher in Korea will tell you the importance of classroom games like Mafia and Hangman. Kids these days with their smartphones and tablets have different expectations about games and are harder to please. Luckily though, there are some great apps and tools which can be used in the classroom to supplement your lessons in a fun and engaging way like Kahoot and Quizlet.    

6) Air Pollution

Over the last 10 years the air quality in Korea has been getting progressively worse. In the streets of Seoul, people wearing face masks used to be a monthly sighting but today it’s possible to see mask wearers on a daily basis. The experts aren’t looking at it positively either, in 2017 S.Korea was ranked the worst out of all OECD countries for air quality. And unfortunately it doesn’t look like it is getting better anytime soon.


7) Teacher Salaries 

Despite the cost of living in Korea, especially in Seoul, rising quite significantly over the last decade, the average teacher’s salary has remained pretty much the same at around $2,000 per month (plus free housing). Take for example the nation’s favourite snack kimbap, in 2009 one roll would have cost you around $2, whereas today it will set you back around $4 in a restaurant.

8) #MeToo

The #metoo movement has had a huge impact all over the world but in countries like South Korea, which are deeply patriarchal, the effect has been even more groundbreaking. The movement has inspired a new generation of feminists and has given rise to a shift in culture, particularly for young girls in education. Girls in schools and universities across the country spoke out and marched against the abuse they had endured from male teachers over the years, resulting in the most tweeted social movement in Korea in 2018 being #SchoolMeToo.


9) Studying Curfews

Korean students are known for having one of the most grueling study schedules in the world. From a young age (8-9 yrs old), Korean kids are sent to private academies (aka hagwons) after school where they study late into the night. Since 2009, the government passed a law that stated that these hagwons could not operate after 10pm. With so many of these academies around the country, over 13,000 just in Seoul, it is very difficult to enforce this law though and so many students still study past the curfew.

10) Peace on the Peninsula

For decades, any foreigner living in South Korea will tell you that one of the most common questions asked by friends and family back home every year was about the apparent imminent threat of war with North Korea. Well, today in 2019, things are looking a lot different, and perhaps we have the most unlikely person to thank for that in Donald Trump. Is peace really on the cards though? And how close are we to the once distant dream of a unified Korea? After the last few years, we have given up trying to predict the politics on the peninsula but we remain quietly hopeful.


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