I've been teaching in South Korea for 7 months now. Why am I here you ask? For experience, for change, to challenge my perspective, to be engulfed into another culture, to utilize my Linguistics degree, to utilize my management experience, to quit retail, to take a break from America and to escape typical American "normality." If you want to teach here I can give you advice based on my experience as a woman of color and as a Filipino-American. I want to state this because the expat community I've come across here in South Korea is typically white people from Canada, USA, South Africa, and the UK. The experience between being a white expat here and person of color is quite different.
You can Google and definitely find all those great traveller/teaching blogs from white people and see that they talk about being gods abroad, being treated amazing all the time, being called beautiful, and getting free stuff. That's not my story. Either way I want to mostly talk about my teaching experience at a hagwon aka private academy teacher, and fill you in a bit on my life in South Korea as an American person of color.
Let's go over the good: at a hagwon you teach smaller classes and you get to know each and every student. you can really develop close relationships and become attached to your students and classes [I get really sentimental about my students]. If you land a good hagwon you may be able to develop a nice relationship with the Korean teachers, and they can show you around and answer any questions. Also, your director can be a really helpful resource as well. In Korea you get more days off and vacation days than most other jobs in the USA because Korea has more holidays and with hagwons and public school you get the weekends off. Most academies have a set curriculum and books [which is nice if you like that], but you can get creative and add more work or games related to your topic if you set aside the time which can be fun and rewarding... assuming you have the time, but we will get into that later. The biggest joy of being a hagwon teacher is the relationships you can develop with your students. For me, I became the day mom or big sister figure to these children since I have 5-11 student classes 7-9 times a day. Opposed to if I had worked at a public school where they teach classes of 50 students 4-5 times a day and mostly desk warm alone. At public schools you can only recognize your students by their clothes and hair, but at a hagwon you really get to know your kids personalities and families. Hagwons are a great place to work if you like to stay busy, be occupied, and your the nurturing type. Hagwon teachers are supposed to be very well respected by the students parents. If you are a person of color who is into education I urge you to teach abroad in SK because they need more positive influences and challenging view points that teach them about diversity, them being the students and the people. Most importantly, the students need positive reinforcement and exposure. One student said she finally felt normal and confident when I taught her because she was brown and now her teacher is brown. She called me beautiful and said she felt lucky. My heart melted [brown skin isn't really valued here, but we will get to that soon].
Now the bad: If you aren't white you may or may not be asked to disclose your ethnicity and just say your nationality. I was asked not tell my students that I am Filipina, but to say only that I am American because (let's face it) most of the world assumes the stereotype that white people are the Americans, or if you are blonde hair and blue eyed then your English is considered more "authentic" than someone who is not white. Therefore, if you are white and have a BA you can come here much more easily for work. Also, if you aren't white then your students parents might not truly appreciate you. I often get talked to with an attitude and get angry glares from parents because I'm not "authentic" white American. Some parents just tell their kids that I'm Korean since I'm asian. However, if you are a black American, there is a sexualization of black women due to American media, so exotic-fetishizing employers like to hire black women [heads up]. Then, being a black man typically comes with a lot of negative stereotypes or general judgments. It's all very unfortunate. If you are a person of color, hagwons typically want to keep that a secret because they don't want any bad rumors ruining the influx of students attending the hagwon. Apparently, Southeast Asians are generally immigrant factory workers, so if the students knew I was Filipina and not American that would be bad news because there's not really a notion of Asian-American or Filipino-American, etc, there's only white American or black Americans apparently. This type of mindset transfers into the real world where I get treated rude or get late service on my days off just shopping or eating out or standing anywhere. Let's just point out that I only get free stuff, or get quick service when I'm with my white friends [not that I'm asking for hand outs]. Also, you may notice that your white counterparts at your hagwon may get treated better, talked to much more nicely, and are given more assistance. I've seen it and witnessed it at my own hagwon. Something really disheartening is how students are really into making fun of how people look. Commenting positively or negatively on someones appearance is normal here, but then you constantly are teaching lessons on racism [the n-words does come up], and self appreciation [plastic surgery is quiet popular] and how to practice good manners in general [hagwon students are typically rich, entitled, privileged kids]. Another huge problem is that being a foreign teacher is synonymous with being an American who is in debt and just wants to be a half-ass teacher. There's a resentment towards foreigners from Korean teachers because they don't feel that their culture, people, and country are truly appreciated; this is fair enough because in my experience the stereotype typically holds true. This hurts me because I'm not one of those Americans, but most of the teachers around me are here to just pay off student loans, travel easy, and live easy not putting any care or passion into their lessons making things harder for the few of us who do care, and dooping these students and their parents.
If you have your shit together, and you like to teach and you are person of color then English schools need you to teach diversity, cross-culturalism, and to have a positive figure in their life that is a person of color. They are either scared of us or think we looks strange and couldn't possibly be American. My students still ask me if I'm African or a Korean person because Filipino-American is too much for them to understand. I'm not saying we have to save them at all, they just need more foreigners who aren't white telling them how everything is and how everything is perceived in the world.
If you are a person of color who wishes to teach abroad or wishes to be a traveller, I say to you to keep in mind that even as we travel and teach we are still minorities that will come across hardships and unfair treatment even in countries where they are people of color. The effects of colonialism, neocolonialism, capitalism, and westernization has really affected the world and has brown and black skin peopled looked at as poor, ugly, bad, and unvaluable. Also, the expat communities for teachers and travelers have yet to be diversified, so it's not easy finding people who really get and appreciate you. Keep burning with passion to teach and learn about culture and language, and most importantly stay true to yourself.
If you have questions about teaching in SK hit me up in the DM. Also, if you are a person of color teaching or traveling who feels alone and needs someone relatable,I feel you, so hit me up in the DM.