Being an English Teacher in Thailand VS Korea – My Experience
Being an ESL teacher is tough work, but very rewarding. I taught English in Thailand and Korea.
So I thought, let’s compare teaching in Thailand VS Korea.
Both were great experiences but in their own way.
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What is an ESL Teacher?
An ESL teacher is someone who teaches English as a second language. Each country has different requirements for what you need to do to become an ESL teacher. However, most countries will request that you have a TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language).
I went through ITA (International TEFL Academy) and highly recommend them.
Read How to Get Your TEFL.
I want to start off by saying that these are my experiences with both countries. You will have your own experience.
For reference, the ages that I taught in Thailand were from 10 to 12.
The kids in South Korea were from 7 to 18 (not Korean age).
I taught at two different locations in Thailand. I was an English teacher in Chaiyaphum and Mahachai.
In South Korea, I taught at one hagwon.
Read about my experience as an English teacher in Korea.
Thailand is such a mai pen lai (meaning “no problem” in Thai) country.
Thailand and Korea Similarities
- Health insurance
- Less expensive than the US
Thailand and Korea Differences
- Reimbursed flight
- Free housing
- Higher salary (most likely)
- Health insurance (most likely)
The first big difference between Thailand VS Korea was the hours.
For Thailand, I’d work from 7:50 to 4 pm.
For Korea, I was supposed to work from 2 to 10 pm. However, since the workload was so hectic, sometimes I’d go in an hour or two early, unpaid.
In Thailand, we taught right out of the books. Education isn’t taken as seriously in Thailand as it is in Korea. At least, not where I taught. We used two books per class throughout the week. We used PowerPoint to teach the lesson and it was pretty much self-explanatory.
In South Korea, I was given different books for different classes. I had to just make the class fun and also do some expansion.
For Thailand, I taught two ages, so I taught out of four books. The students had midterms and finals and I had to correct them. It was pretty easy. They were all multiple-choice questions. Once we were finished correcting the tests, the teachers had free time.
On Fridays, we’d usually have classes until about 12.
South Korea on the other hand was the complete opposite. I had 26 hours of classes and worked 38 hours/week. It wasn’t too bad until I got another class added on just one month after I started teaching in person. I had to lesson plan and check all homework by 3 pm.
My students in Thailand barely had any homework from English class, besides when they had a verbal test. But they were told what the test was going to be on ahead of time.
The homework in South Korea was again, the opposite. At just my Hagwon alone, all the kids had recording homework and book homework. The younger kids had both PLUS notebook homework and reading books.
The notebook and recording homework for the younger kids would just be copying words/sentences from the book that we covered in class that day and their reading book would be writing the Korean translation (they were given the translation from the headteacher). For the older kids, they had to read the book passage and record it in English and then in Korean 2-3 times.
Obviously, the kids were the best part. The kids in both countries were what made my day better. Going to work was enjoyable and lively.
The Other Teachers
I had 4 other coworkers while working in Thailand. There was one headteacher who is from the UK. Then there were four Americans. We also had a coordinator, who would tell us updates about the school and classes and talk to the students if there were any problems.
Other than the headteacher, who was from South Africa, and the director, who was Korean, I was the only other teacher in South Korea. As you can tell, the Hagwon was very tiny. They were also super disorganized so that was tough.
The Vacation Time/Time Off
In Thailand, we had all major Buddhist holidays off. Part of the country celebrates Christmas. However, it isn’t declared a national holiday.
Read about my Christmas in Thailand.
We also got New Year’s Eve and Day off.
All in all, the vacation/time off in Thailand was much better. Mostly because we just got to leave school early a lot of the time.
We also had a chill headteacher so that helped a lot.
Being an English teacher in Korea did have its perks, during the time I was there. I had 14 national holidays plus 5 days of vacation in the summer and then 5 in the winter. That’s what it said in the contract, anyway. I only got 3 of my 5 winter days because my bosses were nervous that the parents were going to get mad if we took the whole week off. HUGE red flag.
Overall – Thailand VS Korea
I cannot stress enough that every experience is different. If I had gone to another school. it could’ve been drastically different.
So, the overall comparison of being an English teacher in Thailand vs Korea was drastically different.
Being an English teacher, in general, is incredible, fulfilling, and most definitely worth it.
If I had to rate teaching in Thailand VS Korea, I’d rate Thailand 10/10 and Korea 3/10 only because of the school I was in.
Honestly, I was super depressed while living being an English teacher in Korea. On top of working and waking up in the middle of the night thinking I had done something wrong (because my headteacher would message me way too much and too often), I had moved to a town that was not even close to what I thought it was when I accepted the offer.
They had made Anjung out to be so close to the main city, Pyeongtaek, and it was about a 35–40-minute bus ride. Don’t get me wrong, it was a nice town. But between Covid/being isolated and the stress from my job, it just wasn’t the right fit for me.
South Korea was a great experience in a completely different way than I could’ve imagined. I learned to let things fall into place and to not rush. I was in a hurry to get out of the US I didn’t really think about what I was getting myself into and didn’t do as much research as I should have.
I learned how to spend more time with myself. I went on a lot of solo travels and they were all AMAZING. I went to Seoraksan National Park, Busan, and Seoul.
While being an English teacher in Korea, I learned many life lessons. And I am forever grateful for each one.
I truly love teaching and I realized that when I was in Thailand. I loved my job and the students.
Thailand was an amazing experience all around because I had great friends and got to travel a bunch.
The positive about Thailand was that I learned that traveling and teaching ESL is loads of fun. I was able to step way outside of my comfort zone and travel alone. I got to see some of Thailand’s most beautiful national parks such as Khao Sam Roi Yot and Khao Yai.
I truly love being an English teacher overall and am happy I taught in both countries.
Thanks for sharing your experiences! At both countries, it sounds like you got to experience the culture and had meaningful experiences. However, your Korea experience seems to have been more stressful due to your illness and the work hours. How does the difference in hours and intensity of schooling affect the Korean children compared to the Thai students?
They were both great experiences in their own way. The Korean students were definitely overworked and tired. The Thai students were always energetic and talkative.
What an interesting comparison of teaching in the two countries; it’s always fascinating to see what it’s like (I’m a teacher by trade but haven’t done it in a while and have been wondering about getting back into it, etc). Thanks for sharing this, especially how the approaches (hours/stress) differ
Awesome. It is really awesome but countries definitely have their differences!
This is very insightful. I am currently teaching in Thailand and been looking to teach in South Korea for some time now, I’m sorry to hear you had a rough time.
Would you say moving to South Korea is a good move after teaching in Thailand?
I think it is always smart to do research before going to another country. Just be prepared to have a different experience and talk to the previous teacher before committing. It is definitely a great place to go if you want to save money.
Oh yes, the difference between Southeast Asia and Northern Asia lol. I spent two years on and off in Thailand with my wife. We met so many farang teachers who explained how things went in school. But living in Thailand for years, we know that no problem type attitude and how it encompasses everything in life. However, the intensity of schooling in a place like Korea sounds somewhat similar to Japan. My wife taught English in Hiroshima about 1 year before we met. Fascinating post.
Oh yes, they are very different!! That’s awesome. Yes, I have heard that Korea and Japan are very similar. Thanks for reading!
This is an interesting comparison. I wish I had travelled and taught earlier in life.
It is really great!!
It’s very interesting how the two countries differ. I was shocked at how much work the school kids in Korea have! Don’t the kids suffer from burn out?