Teaching English in South Korea vs Thailand

by Jason -- December 13, 2011

Over the past few months we’ve had many posts discussing what it’s like to be a foreign English teacher in South Korea. In this post, I’d like to compare and contrast the experience of teaching English in South Korea versus Thailand.

The following is an interview with Elizabeth Noelle. She has taught English in both South Korea and Thailand. She blogs about her experiences and travels on One Day I’ll Fly Away.

After teaching English in Korea for a year, she traveled through Southeast Asia and is currently living and teaching in Thailand.

1. What did you study during your undergrad? And do you have any additional teaching credentials?

I studied undergrad at Arizona State and I majored in psychology. That is still my main interest but I worked with mostly children during school and want to work as a child therapist when I grow up, haha. I got a TEFL certification online through the TEFL Institute but that is the only teaching thing I have, besides some volunteer work in several classrooms for my degree. This was more than enough in Korea but when I went for some interveiws here in Bangkok, the really good International schools told me it wasn’t enough and I needed an education degree and to be certified to teach in my home country. I didn’t want to work at those stuffy places anyway… :)

2. Can you give a brief description of both your teaching job in Thailand and in Korea?

Korea: Public Elementary School teacher, in the middle of Seoul, only English teacher in the school so the kids rotated and came to me, I saw them maybe 2 times a week. All ages from 1st to 6th graders. Total I had about 550-600 students. (Jason’s note: This is very similar to the job that Sharon currently has.)

Thailand: I work at an International Kindergaden kids ages 4-5. I am the main teacher and I have one class that stays in our classroom all day for the whole year. I teach English, math, writing, reading and life skills. About 10-15 students in my class.

3. How does the pay compare between the two countries?

In Korea I got paid 2 million won per month (about $1800 usd) and my school paid for my apartment which they found. At the end of my contract I received bonuses and flight reimbursements totalling about 8 million won. The standard of living I think was comparable to the states (costs of daily living things). It was a good paying job and for the first time in my life I didn’t have to worry about money. I did whatever I wanted, when I wanted and played hard. Didn’t save a dime. In hindsight, I am wishing I was a little more frugal but boy did I have a good time (lots of travelling, nights out, shopping, eye surgery etc)

In Thailand I have a pretty good paying job of 50,000 baht per month (~ $1600 usd). Most jobs are about 30,000 baht (~$970 usd) and in Bangkok you will make the most money (but also spend the most). This is more than enough to live off of in Thailand as everything is pretty cheap as long as you eat Thai food and don’t go too crazy. The pay is much better in Korea for sure, but it all comes down to standard of living and what you’re willing to give up. It is 32 degrees here today (90 degrees Fahrenheit). Wouldn’t want to be in Korea right now in that cold for all the money in the world! (Jason’s note: It’s 6 degrees Celsius/43 degrees Fahrenheit today.)

4. How much savings is possible in each country?

I am not a good saver but if you are and don’t plan on doing a lot and really budget your money, in Korea you could save 1 million won a month (~$900 USD). I didn’t, but I know people who did and it is possible.

In Thailand I will be saving about 20,000 baht a month (~$650), living off of 30,000 (~$970)  which is living well. But I will be living just outside the city so I don’t have the temptation to spend like I did in Seoul. We will see how that goes… So far in Thailand, most things are cheap, but it adds up faster than you think.

5. How would you compare the student’s English ability and their desire to learn English?

It is hard for me to compare because I work in totally different environments and different age groups. At my international school now, my kinders speak fluent English. At my public school in Korea, I had some students who couldn’t even say hello. Thailand has had English influence and foreigners for a long time and it is new in Korea even though their education system as a whole is much more developed. My kids in Korea loved to learn and speak to me and learn about me, I totally loved my students there!

6. In Korea parents put a lot of pressure on their kids to learn English and do well in school. Does this also exist in Thailand?

Not in the way it does in Korea. The amount of school young kids and especially the older ones attend does not compare to Thailand. There are private language schools that exist here, as in Korea but they are not as strenuous, timely or costly as in Korea. The public school system (from what I can tell, I do not work in one here but I have interveiwed at some) are not as good as public education in Korea. Korea is a much more developed country than Thailand and even in Bangkok the schools are good but I think Korean schools are much more competitive and higher quality. Parents everywhere push their kids to do well in school but Korea is like nowhere I have ever been, they are obsessive about it and in my opinion push too much. I don’t think that English education is as prevelent and compulsory as it is in Korea, especially at such a young age (at my international school it is obviously).

7. What other key differences are there that I didn’t ask about?

Like I have said, Thailand as a whole is much less developed in the education and technology sense than Korea. In my classroom in Korea, I relied heavily on technology, using power point, youtube and other internet resources. I had an office where my school supplied me with a computer. In Thailand I have to use my own laptop and the internet can be so slow that I don’t use it at all in my classroom. All in all, the cultures are so totally different that the school environment is very different. The biggest difference for me, in Korea, I was the only foreigner in my school. In the whole area I lived really. In Thailand there are 6 other farang teachers at my school and people rarely stare and are interested in me.

8. If someone was choosing between Thailand and Korea, which would you recommend? And why?

Both are great places to live and amazing cultures to experience. If you are new and inexperienced in teaching, I highly recommend Korea as you learn a lot and they really guide you through everything from teaching to integration into daily life. In Thailand I had to come here before finding a job (which was pretty easy given the cheap flights to Thailand) and do everything on my own, my own teaching methods, find my own house etc. It would have been very hard to do all that if I had never been a TEFL teacher before. Also, competition for jobs is much higher in Thailand if you want to get paid well so experience and proper education and certification is a must! You will get paid much more if you have any degree and no experience in Korea than you would with the same in Thailand. But it is all relative, I live two hours from some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and the food is amazing. Korea is awesome too and you learn to love and appreciate it so much living there but Thailand is very close to heaven.


Thanks again to Elizabeth for taking the time to do this interview. You can follow her adventures on her blog, One Day I’ll Fly Away and on Twitter @flyawayoneday. And if you have any additional questions for her, please leave a comment below and I’ll make sure to forward them to her.

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