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Applying to Teach in South Korea, and Learning Lessons Along the Way

August 6, 2012

This week we wanted to share a story by our friend, Phil, who is about to spend the next year teaching English in South Korea. Phil talks about the steps he took to look for work abroad, the application process, and some of the problems he ran into along the way. Hopefully it will give you an idea of what’s in store if you’re thinking of embarking on a similar adventure.

Out to teach the world!

Hi, my name is Philip Whitinger. I’ve never written a blog post, so please bear with me. I’m 22, I was raised in Omak, Washington, and just graduated with a B.A. in Political Science from Western Washington University in Bellingham.I enjoy learning about international affairs and events, hence my emphasis on International Relations while getting my degree. Something that helped me was They have quizzes like “identify every nation’s flag” (which, not to brag, is pretty easy for me).

Since Junior year of High School I have had one career in mind: the United States Foreign Service. I wanted to join the men and women who operate our embassies and consulates abroad and represent the USA. My original goal was to join the military. However, because of a kidney removal, there was no chance that I would be allowed to serve in the military, even as an agent for the government. Apparently the risk of my losing the other kidney in combat was something they wouldn’t accept even if I would. So I was left without a career in mind. That is when my dad, who works for the Army Corps of Engineers, told me about the Foreign Service. I was immediately hooked: I could represent the United States, serve my country and get to travel abroad! The financial and medical benefits were not too shabby either. But I had to wait until I was 21 to take the rigorous Foreign Service Officer Test. Like most everyone who takes the test their first time, I did not pass on my initial try. I wasn’t heartbroken; I knew what was coming, but I realized I was going to graduate in less than a year and panicked. I had no alternatives lined up!

I began using the University Career Center – something I had never utilized before – and spoke with a career counselor. She had me explain my interests to her and she used that to find some job opportunities that might interest me. She showed me several organizations that sent college graduates abroad to teach English in other countries. That interested me, but I thought you needed a teaching degree to do that. Not so, she explained: several nations have such high demand that they’ll take anyone with a four-year degree. She sent me a list of organizations and the countries they place people. The top three countries to go to were China, South Korea and the Republic of Georgia. She also told me about Department of Defense jobs overseas at DoD schools where I could work as a secretary or learn to become an administrator.  These jobs were available in South Korea and the UK. Finally I had heard of jobs in DoD-owned resorts in Germany and South Korea.

I began the application process for these three career paths, and almost immediately ran into problems figuring out the paperwork for the resorts. So that went out the window. Gathering the required documents for the DoD school jobs was tenuous and slow, but I stuck to it. When it came to teaching, there were only a few organizations that didn’t charge money to work through them and they were in South Korea. All the better, I thought: I wanted to use the opportunity to learn the host nation’s language. Georgian seemed unimportant for the Foreign Service, plus Russia could invade again and I didn’t want that, and although Chinese would be cool and important, I enjoy uncensored internet too much.So I went with South Korea. Sure, North Korea is just across the world’s most militarized border with nuclear weapons and a huge army, but I don’t believe they will invade any time soon. My career counselor began helping me with my cover letter and resume and I applied to two organizations. One accepted me, but it turned out that it was one of the ones you had to pay for. The other got back to me and wanted to set up a phone interview!

I was nervous, but the timing couldn’t be better: the organization, Adventure Teaching, would be at the upcoming career fair and there was a job interview tip session being put on by the Career Center. I set up the interview and went to these two events. I think the best part of the tip session was that if you get asked for an interview, they already accepted you; they just want to make sure you are who you say you are. So I wrote down some tips and got advice from friends.

The big day came and I sat nervously by my cell phone in my shorts, shirt, blazer and grinning like an idiot. (The latter two were suggestions given in the tip session to help me relax and sound happier.) In the end the interviewer said she’d like to offer to take me on board! This was a surprise as I expected to wait several days until a call back. Needless to say I accepted and thanked her and she said she’d e-mail later on. After hanging up I did a happy dance and waited several days. She didn’t get back to me right away and I began worrying that I may have possibly turned down the job through my choice of words. Everyone said I was overreacting but that didn’t calm down the butterflies in my stomach. After sometime she got back to me and the process began!

Hiking in Bellingham, WA

The process takes some time; I needed to get an FBI background check, which could take several months depending on the number of requests. That’s the lengthiest process. I also had to fill out numerous other papers, but they didn’t take long. I was accepted in April and if I got my Background check in 2 months – the projected time given by the FBI – I could leave as early as August.

I just got my background check, and am awaiting a letter from the school before I can be sent job offers and arrange interviews. The Adventure Teaching website says that after getting your documents in, it can take as little as a week before you’re off to Korea, I’m pushing for a week or two but we’ll see. I’ve only been overseas once, in Germany and France for a combined two weeks. I don’t know any Korean and don’t know too much about Korean culture, but am learning. My parents bought me Rosetta Stone and Adventure Teaching has been sending me info packets about Korea. I’ve also begun taking an online course to get my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification. Even though I don’t need to know Korean or have a TEFL certification, I would like to learn Korean beforehand: the certification makes me more competitive and I can earn about $1,000 extra.

I don’t know what part I am most excited and most nervous for. I know I’m definitely worried about offending someone, something I have been told I will invariably do. I am also worried about how long it will take to make friends over there. I would like to think that I can make friends quickly. Also, I would like to not just make friends with fellow expats, but also native Koreans. I am aware that there is a little bit of anti-American sentiment, at least in regards to American soldiers in the peninsula. Hopefully that won’t transfer over to civilians. I’m quite nervous and excited about food in Korea. Korean BBQ is pretty good, but that’s about the only Korean food I am aware of.  But of course all this pales in comparison to my excitement – my excitement to experience a new culture, meet new people, make new friends and work on something that will be meaningful to myself and others.

Thanks Phil for your post! It’s always challenging to put yourself out there! Leave your thoughts and good wishes for Phil below!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 7, 2012 12:05 pm

    Good luck Phil! I’m really excited to hear more about your experience, and I’m sure you are going to do great things there!


  1. A Trial of Patience: Updates from Phil « The Passport Epilogues

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