Many students find it necessary to find a part-time job while attending university. In the West it is the norm for tertiary students to fit shifts between classes on a packed weekly timetable. So while on exchange at Ewha most students naturally expect to continue working, but without a confident grasp of the society and language and with uncertainties about visas obtaining a job can be far from simple.
Yet, the job situation for foreign students is quite bright once they know where to look. A Korean student visa allows for twenty hours of work per week and unlimited hours during vacation. Of course, English teaching and tutoring is the most obvious way to earn money in Korea and other important languages such as Japanese, Chinese and French are also in demand. A native English tutor can earn from 25-35,000 won an hour working illegally as a tutor and this can be increased if you teach small groups. Generally, other languages such as Japanese bring 10-20,000 won/hour. With passable Korean it is also possible to work in the restaurants, bars or retailers surrounding the university. Although the pay of 3-4,500 won an hour will look paltry to many, this option will involve you in the real social life of Korea.
Shawn Coulter (’04, University of Washington) studies Korean at the EwhaLanguageCenter and has many good tips garnered from his experience teaching English in Seoul. He notes that while technically you must have at least a Bachelor’s degree to teach at a private English school (hagwon), many of the smaller ones are desperate for native speakers and are not interested in checking these qualifications. A good place to start looking for such a job is the website WorknPlay (www.worknplay.co.kr). Although jobs are easy to find, Coulter cautions not to believe the promises that are made in order to secure your employment. “They are more desperate to get you than you think, so negotiate hard,” he says.
Li Qian (ShandongNormalUniversity, 2) has experience working in a chain clothing retailer in Edae. She found out about the position through her Chinese friends on campus, many of whom work part-time in retail or language tutoring. Her main memory of the job is exhaustion. “I just felt very, very tired,” says Li, who usually worked ten to twelve hours a day for 3,500 won/hour. However, on the plus side, she enjoyed meeting the other staff members, “They treated me very well and often treated me to lunch. I still keep in touch with them.” Her friend, Li Bingqing (NanjingNormalUniversity, 2) had similar recollections of her time working at a café on the Yonsei campus. Li found the job at Alba Heaven (www.albaheaven.co.kr), which lists thousands of similar jobs (in Korean). She also worked long hours at 3,500 won but made friends among both staff and customers. One grateful customer, the wife of a Canadian professor, was so happy with Li’s service that she invited her over for Sunday dinner and even offered an introduction to a suitable Korean young man!
Once you find a job you are satisfied with it’s time to make it fun. “The kids I teach believe I grew up in a pyramid on the Moon and my father is a ninja and my mother, a sorceress,” Coulter jokes, while also mentioning that unrealistic expectations of parents and their lack of motivation and ability can also make it trying to teach children. He uses humor and magic tricks to keep his classes fresh. Li enjoyed her time with the other workers in her store. “We didn’t really have a boss, just the store leader who was just a worker there like us, so it was a really good, fun atmosphere for me,” she says, smiling. Working does provide an unbeatable opportunity to make friends and valuable connections. Often personal language tutoring leads to friendship, especially one-on-one conversational classes. Working at private language academies, Coulter has made many of his best friends here in Korea among the other staff.
Do English speaking students get tired of the endless rounds of language teaching? Definitely. “I feel like holding my hand out for man won every time I have to listen to a halting attempt at English,” was a comment heard from one exchange student recently. Coulter sees things realistically and points out that there is already a serious unemployment problem for young Koreans without foreign students competing for the same jobs. “Outside English teaching, there seems little demand for foreigners in Korea,” he adds in a carefree way, plotting his momentary escape on a long overseas holiday.