Teaching in Daegu, South Korea | Q+A with Amanda

Daegu is the fourth largest city in South Korea known for its subtropical climate, bold fashion and textile scene, and friendly locals. It’s no surprise that Daegu, South Korea is a booming hub for English teachers from around the world. Amanda shares why Daegu is a great place to teach English, how to teach in Daegu, and tips for future ESL teachers!

First, let me introduce Amanda!

Amanda is a virtual assistant and self-titled “cookie monster” who helps bloggers and digital nomads save time and energy so they can scale their businesses. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, reading, and spending time with her cat, Jangmi.

She has a cat… she must be cool. Let’s jump into the interview!

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The Journey to Daegu, South Korea

Teaching English in Daegu, South Korea - Amanda eating at a Korean restaurant
Amanda – Daegu, South Korea

Hi Amanda!  Can you tell us a little more about yourself? 

Of course!  I’m a born and raised Pennsylvanian. I graduated from the University of Delaware with a degree in Leisure Service Management.  Soon after graduation, I realized “recreation management” wasn’t what I wanted to do. Now, I’ve decided to pursue my dream of living a semi-nomadic life by being a virtual assistant! My travel experience includes time spent living and working in Australia + South Korea as well as a backpacking trip through Mexico and Central America.  Almost all of my international travel has been done solo. I love it!

Oh, I’m also the proud cat mom of a Korean kitty that I flew home with.  Always happy to chat about that adventure with anyone who will listen!

When and for how long did you teach in Daegu, South Korea?  

I taught and lived in Daegu from August of 2014 to October of 2017.

Teaching English in Daegu, South Korea - Dongseongno Tax Refund Street Downtown Daegu
Shopping downtown – Daegu, South Korea

What were you doing before teaching? How did you know you wanted to teach abroad? 

I was laid-off from a banking job in 2012.  It came by surprise and I suffered from severe anxiety and Major Depression because of it. I decided to sign-up for a TEFL certification several months after being laid-off.  While I was taking that course, I worked two administrative contract jobs with The Hershey Company.

I decided to teach English in Korea because I felt that my life was directionless.  I needed to make a change in order to live the life I wanted. I wanted to teach abroad in order to gain more experience living overseas. My goal was to move back to the United States and find a job in International Education.

Related article: How to Get Your TEFL Certification

Why did you choose Daegu?

I chose Daegu because I wanted to live in a city. I knew that Seoul would be too big for me and from my research, Daegu seemed like the perfect fit. Daegu had public transportation, access to Korea’s high-speed trains (KTX), a small airport, and would give me easier access to parks and nature than Seoul.

It’s inland location also made day trips to other cities like Busan, Daejeon, or Seoul more convenient.

Did you teach at a public school or a hagwon? Why?

I taught in two different hagwons. 

Initially, I attempted to teach in Korea by applying to EPIK; I was not accepted. So, I had a recruiter help me find a job at a hagwon. 

As much “bad” as one can hear about hagwons, there are benefits as well.  I was happy that I was able to choose the location I wanted to live in AND have a smaller class size.  This meant I was able to live a great life outside of work and get to know my students more easily.

Teaching in Daegu, South Korea

Teaching English in Daegu, South Korea - sunset

Can you walk us through a typical day teaching in Daegu, South Korea? 

Sure!  I often woke up around 8am on weekdays. I’d use the mornings to run errands, exercise, or go to a language exchange where I studied the Korean language and helped Koreans study English through conversation topics.

At my first hagwon, I started work at 1pm. I’d either eat lunch at home or grab something right before work. The first hour of work was lesson planning and finishing any other administrative tasks I needed to complete.  This first hagwon was quite a stressful environment to work in.  We taught 6-8 classes a day and did not have an official dinner break. We also had to complete monthly evaluations on our students and complete phone teaching. The workday was typically done around 9:45pm. 

There was not enough time to write quality evals at work, so often, I spent a lot of unpaid time outside of normal school hours finishing them.

My second hagwon was much more relaxed. I started work at 2pm and finished work at 9:15pm.  I would teach 3-5 classes which varied in length.  Since I was the only foreign teacher, I would pop into the elementary level classes for maybe 20-25 minutes.  Middle school classes were 50 minutes long.  I had much more freedom to teach these lessons as I wanted. I coordinated pages I was to teach with the Korean teachers. Then, I was able to teach these lessons as I wanted.

When I wasn’t teaching I would prep for the next class in the teacher’s room, where I had my own desk.

During exam prep time, I often did not teach the middle school students. This left me with a lot of free time (some days). In that free time (aka – desk warming) I would often study Korean or prepare for the next day’s lessons.

What was your school like? (Salary? Staff?)

Life at my first hagwon was very stressful for the Korean teachers of English as well as for me and my Irish co-worker.  I had one foreign teacher as a co-worker.  The director micromanaged all of us.  He was very critical of our teaching and would be upset if he found any spelling errors in evaluations.  It often felt like nothing we could do was right.  There were a lot of tasks to complete in not enough time.  I was happy to leave.

The pay was average (for 2014).  I made 2.1 million won per month before taxes.  He gave us a sheet each month with the breakdown of our pay as well as our house bills.  He paid those for us, which was convenient.  He also paid for my incoming flight to Korea, which again, was typical at the time.  I’m not sure what the trend is now.

My second job was more laid-back.  I was the only foreign teacher.  At times, that did make work a bit lonely but the Korean teachers were all in their thirties or forties and nice. 

The hours were better since I started work at 2pm and finished at 9:15pm.  I only ever worked one Saturday there.

The pay at this job was 2.2 million won.  When I renewed my contract, she even gave me a month off to travel in before I started my second contract.

Teaching English in Daegu, South Korea - stock image of a classroom

What was your housing like? Was it included in your pay?

I lived in one room (studio) apartments paid for by my hagwon.   Like most hagwon jobs, my apartment was tied to the job.  So when I left my first hagwon I moved to a new apartment.  Both were paid for by the hagwon.

Both were in convenient locations!

I loved my second apartment because it was directly across the street from a supermarket, 10-minute walk from my hagwon, and a 5-minute walk from a subway station.  They included a small room with a kitchen and bed, a bathroom/ shower, and enclosed verandas with a rack for drying clothes.  There was a washer but no dryer for clothes.

Both apartments had the traditional ondol heating (aka – floor heating).

Related article: Apartment Tour | Busan, South Korea

Was it possible to save money while teaching in Daegu?

Yes, it was possible to save most of your salary each month.  It depended on how much you go out and drink or socialize.  I usually sent home about $600-$700 USD each month but I have heard of people saving even more money per month than that.

What was your favorite thing about teaching in Daegu, South Korea? Least favorite? 

I loved the expat community, affordable public transit, and easy access to nature.  I could take the subway from one end of the city to another for about $1 USD. It was a nice place because I felt like I had my own neighborhood.  Sometimes, I would forget that I lived in a major Korean city.

I don’t think there was anything I disliked about Daegu!  I suppose sometimes it would have been nice to have a larger expat community.  Otherwise, I enjoyed my life there very much!

Do you recommend teaching in Daegu? If so, why? 

YES! I know Daegu might not be for everyone but I loved living and teaching there. 

It has a big enough expat community that it is easy to make friends and find your way.  Job opportunities are plentiful and the job market can be less competitive than in Busan or Seoul.

Was it easy to make friends while teaching in Daegu? Any advice for making friends?

It was!  I made my first friends by taking a Korean language course at the local YMCA.  I then went to a language exchange in downtown Daegu and made quite a few Korean and foreigner friends that I keep in touch with still.  We would sometimes take trips together and have parties.  There is a central downtown area where you can meet other expats (teachers, US military, other workers) while shopping, eating, or drinking.

During my time there, these are the techniques I used to socialize:

  • Join FB Groups within your city and related to your hobbies.  I joined groups for teachers, tax advice, pet sitting, and a running club at a local university.
  • Learn Korean – I made great friends from the language exchange and at the YMCA
  • Hang out with your co-teachers (if you have any)

Helpful resource: Guide for Moving to South Korea

What are your plans for the future? Do you want to teach abroad again in the future?

I’m currently working as a virtual assistant and teaching ESL online on the side.

If the right opportunity presents itself, I am open to teaching abroad again.  It would have to tick all the boxes for what I want in my life right now.

Advice for Others | Teaching in Daegu

Teaching English in Daegu, South Korea - rainbow

For someone who is interested in teaching in Daegu, South Korea, what is the first step in starting that process?

Decide if you want to work in a hagwon or a public school.  If you want to apply for EPIK, I recommend applying through an approved recruiter like Greenheart International because the process can be lengthy and a little complicated.

If you choose the hagwon route, I’d also suggest applying through a recruiter.  Be specific about what you’re looking for in a hagwon.

A good first step for either option is to complete a TEFL certification course.  I’m glad I took my course.  It helped me feel more confident when I started teaching.

Is it safe to work in Daegu, South Korea? Is Daegu dangerous?

Daegu is very safe.  I occasionally walked around late at night in my neighborhood from our local bar street to my apartment and never once felt in danger.

Like any city, use common sense when you’re out at night or in a new area.  If you’re out drinking, have a friend walk with you to the subway or the taxi.

Teaching English in Daegu, South Korea - skyline

For someone who is just moving to Daegu, what are some fun things to do in Daegu, South Korea?

  • The Box (language exchange)
  • Downtown Daegu
  • Daegu Arboretum
  • Suseong Lake
  • Hiking – Daegu is a city surrounded by mountains.  Go for some great hikes!
  • Restaurants – there is a downtown area with lots of fun restaurants
  • Visit a Coffee shop – hanging out with friends in a coffee shop is THE thing to do in Korea
Teaching English in Daegu, South Korea - vegan pad see ew at Hi Thai restaurant
Hi Thai – Daegu, South Korea

Any advice on how to find a job in Daegu?

Use a recruiter, ask around in Daegu FB groups about hagwons (good + bad), and do your own research.

If you have received a TEFL certificate and the company has alumni groups, ask other alumni for tips or places to avoid.

Take advice with a grain of salt.  Yes, hagwons can be bad but there are also good ones, too. 

Is there anything you wish you knew before moving to South Korea? Any packing tips or cultural tips? Things you wish you would’ve packed?

Cultural tips:

  • DO research Korean culture.  It will help prepare you for what to expect.  The staring thing is real.
  • DO learn a few phrases in the local language.  People will be impressed and it will help make daily life easier.
  • DO expect the Korean work culture to be different than western office environments.  It’s much more of a vertical hierarchy than a horizontal “Hey Boss!” relationship.

Packing tips:

  • Maybe some of your favorite health or beauty products?  Korea is a homogenous country.  Beauty stores tend to only have light shades of foundation.
  • Some womens products, like tampons, can be found but are more expensive.
  • Favorite snacks

Any last bits of advice or wisdom?

Don’t rush into taking the first job you’re offered.  I did this because I was SO READY to leave the US and I wish I had waited.

With that being said, I did end up in a great part of Daegu and my second hagwon was much nicer.

Make sure to do your due diligence.  I always recommend talking to past or current foreign teachers.  You can often find a list of suggested questions to ask in Google searches.

Be respectful of Korean culture… but also stick up for yourself.  My first job took advantage of their foreign teachers and because I didn’t have much money/ didn’t understand my rights as a foreign teacher in Korea, I let it happen.

If you feel like something isn’t right, there are organizations in Korea that will help you get your pay, taxes, or pension. A lot of this info I found through Facebook groups.

Things to look out for:

  • Pension: make sure they pay your pension (my first hagwon did not do this).  Depending on which country you’re from, this money is reimbursed to you when you leave Korea.
  • Work hours: will you be expected to work weekends?
  • Pay: verify and verify again
  • Vacation: make sure the days mentioned in your interview or in the contract.  You will usually only be able to take these vacay days when the hagwon is closed.
  • Contract: read the contract thoroughly.  Don’t be afraid to ask the recruiter/ hagwon to add in or remove anything you’re not comfortable with.
  • Apartment: read over what furniture is included in the apartment and if they expect a security deposit.
  • Air Travel: will they be paying for your flight to/ from Korea, reimbursing you, or not covering any travel expenses?
  • Talk to current or former teachers about the work culture and office vibe

With all that being said, please, go teach in Korea.  Yes, the work culture takes adjustment and is not for everyone.  But, Korea is a beautiful country with amazingly kind people and a long and rich history.

I’m glad I spent 3 years there.  And while I didn’t love everything about it, I look back on those years with fondness.  I consider Daegu my Asian hometown.

Teaching English in Daegu, South Korea - sunset

If someone has more questions about teaching in Daegu, South Korea, is it okay to reach out to you? If so, what is the best way to contact you?

Yes, absolutely.  I’m happy to answer questions that anyone has about teaching in Korea or Daegu. You can contact me on my personal Instagram – @amandas.backpack

Check out Amanda’s other social channels and website below!

Thank you so much for your time Amanda! Comment below if you have any questions or to share your experience in Daegu! xoxo

More Teaching in South Korea Resources:

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