Teaching English in Korea, as always, is broken down into two main camps: public school programs and private school positions.
Among the three major public school programs geography plays a crucial role not only in their naming but in their compensation (albeit indirectly).
When evaluating the capitol’s SMOE* program, the surrounding GEPIK* program, or the country-wide EPIK* program, the small differences in salary are superficial. Likewise, the benefits – which include roundtrip airfare, accommodations, medical insurance and paid vacation – are essentially the same for all three. What does vary, however, is the cost of living. It should come as no surprise to you that the cost of living is higher in urban centers than in more isolated areas. Although the fact that your housing and accommodations will be covered by your employer should insulate you from regional variation, the Seoul metropolitan area is more expensive than the its surrounding suburbs. For the same reason, although private school positions are somewhat more lucrative than their public school counterparts, because they are often located in the country’s biggest cities, you shouldn’t base your decision on salary.
Instead of focusing on salary, try to concentrate on the total package offered by a particular location. Although the cost of living may be higher in Seoul, it is truly a world-class city with the kind of infrastructure and types modern conveniences that Western-raised English teachers have come to expect. As a result, many ESL teachers find the social and personal opportunities afforded by their proximity to the capital more than an ample trade-off for the higher cost of living. Other teachers, eager to save money in order to pay off student loans or travel abroad during vacations, prefer the slower pace of life and unique cultural experience afforded by truly rural locations. Somewhat paradoxically, some rural locations even pay a bonus to teachers willing to work in more remote areas, meaning that rural locations (which their lower costs) actually pay better than many urban positions!
In the end, whatever you chose, make sure you consider all of your options when applying. Tell your ESL recruiter what you really want and make it happen. After all, at the other side of the contract is the adventure of a lifetime!
*Acronyms are defined in our Public School Programs in Korea: Decoding the Acronyms blog