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Feared English Teacher Shortage Fails to Materialize

Posted January. 16, 2009 07:58,   


“Korea is a rather safe place as the world economy is messed up,” says a 24-year-old female teacher of English “Darcy” from the United States. She has worked for a foreign language academy in Seoul since July last year.

Chatting with her American friend “Meredith” at a café in Seoul yesterday, she said she was surprised to find so many jobs related to English in Korea. Darcy has started saving her money in a Korean bank account and plans to continue doing so until the U.S. economy picks up.

She said she feels putting money in Korean banks is safer than those in the United States, not to mention the higher interest her deposits earn.

“Going overseas to teach English is very popular in the United States,” Meredith said, adding she chose Korea instead of Japan because of additional benefits like paid airfare.

Attending the same high school, they both got teaching jobs in Korea after graduating university through a recommendation from Korean college friends. The two work for the same private academy.

“Sam,” a 30-year-old Australian who teaches English at another foreign language institute in Seoul, also said he is happy in Korea and will stay. “As far as I know, the value of the Australian dollar is merely the half of America’s,” he said.

Many warned last year that the weakening won would make it extremely difficult for schools and private academies to find native English speakers. Such fears proved unfounded, however.

“Eugene,” a 32-year-old American with three years of teaching experience at private academies and schools, originally planned to go back to the United States after his contract expired last month. He decided to stay, however, and signed an extension to the end of this year.

Despite the value of his income falling 15 to 20 percent in dollars, he said he stayed in Korea because of the fear of being jobless upon returning to the United States.

Native English speakers working as assistant teachers in public schools are paid in won.

When the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education first hired native English teachers in 1996, it paid them in dollars but began paying won after the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

“Some of my friends check the exchange rate every day to calculate their foreign exchange losses,” one foreign teacher said. “But many believe there’s no significant difference for those who spend their wages in Korea in cost of living.”

An increasing number of native English speakers are hoping to come to Korea to teach English.

“We are facing no difficulty in recruiting native teachers because many foreigners prefer Korea and the once-soaring dollar has declined in value against the won,” said an official at the National Institute for International Education Development, which screens and selects native English teachers on a consignment basis.

“We plan to hire 588 native speaker teachers in the first semester this year. So far more than 900 people have applied,” he said.

The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education has received 400 applications for 140 native teacher positions.

The situation could change, however, if the domestic economy continues to slow down.

“A growing number of instructors are considering quitting to work in Japan because of the strong yen,” says “Neil,” a 32-year-old American teacher who has worked in Korea since 2003. “Korea has a better working environment. But I cannot deny that Japan is attractive if I think about my credit card debts and school loans.”

An official at the Jeollanamdo (South Jeolla Province) Office of Education said, “Many native English teachers used to move from one region to another within Korea. But quite a few have moved to other countries this year, such as Japan and Hong Kong.”