Are foreign English teachers too expensive, or Korean English teachers too cheap?

I recently had to go to the doctor's office at a major hospital in Seoul. Basic / standard health checkup as required for getting an E-2 (English teacher) visa. Cost to me: 90,000 won, or about $77 USD. At first, I cringed at saying goodbye to essentially a day's pay, and was thankful that this is a once-a-year process. On the other hand, I forced myself to pause and count how many people I interacted with during my one visit alone. I wasn't simply served by one doctor; a nurse took some basic measurements and guided through the payment process; another doctor took a blood sample; another nurse presumably got to deal with the urine test, and another one got to answer the phone when I called for my results. Then there's all the other support staff and the supply costs to factor in.

Brian in Jeollanam-do has an excellent post about the words of Assemblyman Hwang Woo yea, the Secretary-General of the Grand National Party. Read his post so I don't have to quote him every other paragraph. If you prefer staying here, the assemblyman is essentially stating the thought that hiring foreign / native speaking English teachers is more expensive than hiring Koreans to teach English. There is one point that isn't talked about as much though.

Costs are relative. What I might call expensive you might call cheap, based on your frame of reference. My recent trip to Japan seemed quite expensive to me, but might seem cheap to someone coming from Europe. My perception that 10,000 won is an expensive movie ticket might differ from yours. If you go to a Southeast Asian country, that excellent meal for the equivalent of $2 USD would cost a local a lot more.

The costs talked about in Brian's post are 1.9 to 2.6 million won a month for a foreign teacher - supposedly twice as much as a Korean teacher. Let's think about that for a second. Your contract calls for paying for / reimbursing a teacher for a flight to your country. Not every country does that, and frankly it's an advantage Korea has over other countries that hire English teachers.

So how does Korea get away with paying half the salary to a local teacher? They live at home / with a spouse. Ever heard of the '880,000 generation'? Society hasn't yet caught up to paying the locals a wage adequate to be independent from parents or another support system. The traditional concept of 'live with your parents until you get married' is still the predominant mindset behind setting a wage. Another point to consider: teaching is considered a honorable profession, so one might choose it over a higher-paying, but less prestigious job.

At the risk of sounding cynical, employers are only going to pay as they have to in order to keep you, and no more. With foreign teachers, they have to pay something closer to a living wage - in virtually every case we leave external support systems behind when we leave our home country.

The assemblyman in Brian's post also talked about teachers being 'qualified', which has been beaten to death, picked up again, and beaten some more. If you're the one setting the qualifications, then you alone determine what exactly makes a 'qualified' teacher. Is it experience? A piece of paper? Being able to cheat on pass a test? Assemblyman Hwang Woo yea: What does the word 'qualified' mean regarding foreign English teachers?

Simply put, a language teacher must know the language inside, outside, up, down, forwards, backwards, and so on. They must explain it in a way that can be understood That sort of knowledge doesn't come solely from a book - and it definitely doesn't come when the teacher knows just a little more than their students. Some Korean teachers are not 'qualified' under any definition of the word - and some native speaking teachers aren't either. In the end, it's not about the money - throw all the money at a poorly planned, poorly executed project and crap is still what you'll get.

Creative Commons License © Chris Backe - 2009



Sorry my friend but I

Sorry my friend but I honestly highly doubt that Korean teachers, whether English teachers or general school teachers, earn even near 880,000won per month.

I read your link to the 880,000 generation, and they say students earn that kind of salary because they cannot find a job related to their field of study, and to pay back their loans they get a part-time job. Typically in Korea most part-time jobs are paid near the minimum salary, so around 4,000 or 5,000won an hour.

However, being a full-time teacher in a school and being a part-time worker in a 7-eleven is quite two world aparts. Not only being a teacher is attractive to most Koreans because of the status, it's especially the stability that bring them to this type of work, and the yearly increase of salary too.

The salary can differ greatly also depending on the type of establishment the teacher is working at, but a normal basic salary could turn around 2,5 million won per month for an elementary school teacher position for example (I asked a Korean teacher, that's what she said, so I'll take her word for granted). This can include free meals, transportation, or else. And I am not talking about all the extra benefits such as gifts from parents and students and so on.

Actually, I even heard that Korean teacher's salary is one of the highest in OECD countries (well, and working time is highest too).

Anyway, it's funny how many foreigners have false or distorted information regarding Korea...


Some Koreans who work in Hagwons make less tha a mil-that is true but most pay 1.3 or so. When you think about minimum wage being 3500 per hour (i think it still is), that pay is not bad at all. Being a real teacher gets you better pay but teachers just out of school who are not english majors and so on may get like 800 a month. I have taught at over 40 schools in Busan (and my wife many to-she is Korean) and many have made around this much-while working long hours. It is no different than people like us back home. You work, get experience and then move on. After slugging it out for 3 bucks an hour until they are done uni, if they even went to uni, 800 is big money. And thinking of 3 bucks an hour, why do you think so many women get caught up in some kind of prostitution work. They make good money. Whether it be in singing rooms, bars or other. A study recently stated that like 25% of all women here get invlolved at one time or another in some kind of prostitution (sex for job or just your job is sex). Was in the Korean Herald I believe. Would you work for 3 bucks an hour? 800 is looking good now isn't it-prostitution even better. Come to Jangsan around 5 and watch all the girls streem into the salons to get ready for their big night and then come back at 5. So many office tels here filled with women like this. And I am not judging them-every person has the right to do with their life as they please. Sex is natural. Who cares!Weird though that prostitution is actually on the books as being illegal here but people look the other way because it is a male run country. Foreigners do not keep all the Love Motels in business. Looks nice on the books but...Enjoy!


Oh by the way man, you once siad you were not Korean but you definately are .All your stats make Korean come out smelling great but here you wrong again. You wrong about suicide and diorce to. Korean teachers are not one of the highest paid of all OECD countries and having worked in 7 public schools here, I have never heard of them getting free transportation. If they make close to 2mil to start they are doing well. Back in the West, teachers make much more then 2g a month to start. You said you are amazed about how little foreigners know about Korea-how much do you know? Why would people just coming over here know anything? Your education system is all Korea is good, Japan is bad. God, even 7 years hate Japan already. It is sick. You think Jeju or Haeudnae Beach is world famous like Hawaii. News flash, most have never even heard of these places back home. So if foreigners come on here asking questions, that is good. Merely living by what you have been taught to think is not so good because it may be wrong. Korea is not as rosey as you like to make it be. It has come a long way but it still has a long way to go. It ranks last among OECD countries in so many categories including maybe the most important one, social programs. 5% percent of all gov expenditures goes to social programs-that is the lowest by far of all OECD countries. Anyway, open up your mind and realize asking is better than not. If you had, you would not have been wrong so many times.

You people are kind

You people are kind of comparing apples to oranges. The average non-qualified Korean- English teacher or any other subject taught in hogwans(teaching not their major) lives at home. They're biggest expense is getting to work and their cell phone. It would be nice if they made more money but the market dictates that it doesn't because they're are simply too many graduates and not enough jobs in their majors.

As for foreign English teachers I recently asked what a reflex pro-noun was to a collegue and he didn't know. Does that make him a bad teacher or unqualifed? I think not. He might be rusty on some grammar issues as am I with the names of certain tenses. The fact is that even in university we are not taught such things. We read books and write essays on them.

The facts are these; immigration says you are qualified if you have a 4years uni/college degree in any major and are a native teacher of the group of 7. If you teach your major you are even more qualified and recieve an E1 instead of an E2. To me any gov't organization making decisions on what is qualified is obtuse seeing the same committee made up of PhDs that can't speak English(that's why they work for the gov't) probably decided that Pomosa should be turned in Beomosa. 

In addition; perhaps somewhat

In addition; perhaps somewhat off-topic but if we are comparing teachers vs. teachers benefits or otherwise I thought I'd give this a go for a larger group; gov't school teachers. 

My sister-in-law is a gov't school elem. teacher. She has worked in the system for 10years. She wouldn't make 2.5/month, I know this for a fact.  This woman is up and out the door at 7am sharp she stays at school until 4:50pm or later, no excuses. She goes to school 5 or 6days a week, shedoes get vacation time but not anywhere near a foreigner working at a decent college or university. She isn't even allowed to leave the school grounds during lunch. If they have to grind out this kind of lifestyle for 20-25yearss to receive a pension of $1500-$2000 month, they can have it.  My oldest dearest Korean friend took early retirement after 20years, he earns roughly

I don't know why the

I don't know why the remainder of my last post didn't go through but anyway....I was just saying my oldest dearest Korean friend retired after his 20 and gets about 1,200,000w. he lives in the philippines though which is decent enough for there. here it would barely cover living expenses on a paid for apt.

I'm just saying in terms of equal pay and equality for foreigners; they should be careful in what they wish for it might come true.