Teaching in Korea: Comparing EPIK, GEPIK, SMOE & Private Schools

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Tucker Hutchinson
Topic Expert

Tucker is a Sonoma native, Hamilton alum, and proud co-founder of Go Overseas. He has taught abroad in South Korea and volunteered abroad in El Salvador.

Go Overseas Marketing Director and former ESL teacher/recruiter Tucker Hutchinson breaks down the differences between the four teaching options available to people who want to teach English in South Korea. He summarizes the 3 public school options (SMOE, GEPIK, EPIK) and compares them to teaching in a private school (the fourth option). He welcomes questions from anyone who has them. Enjoy fans!


Welcome Go Overseas fans to another edition of our Whiteboard Wednesdays. My name is Tucker, and today I am going to be speaking about the differences between EPIK, GEPIK, SMOE, and private school jobs in South Korea.

First off, we've got SMOE, which stands for the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education. Seoul is right here on the map in northwestern Korea. A big bustling metropolis of 12 million people. It is the heart and soul of South Korea, both commercially, culturally, and historically, so it is where everybody wants to be. Because of that, it is by far the most competitive public school job in Korea. Essentially, you either have to have experience as a teacher or you need some sort of certification, whether a degree or a certificate, the most popular of which is the TEFL, which stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language. Okay, so that's SMOE. That's our first category here.

The second is called GEPIK, which stands for Gyeonggi English Program in Korea.. Gyeonggi stands for Gyeonggi-do, which is the province which encircles Seoul. So it is kind of this piece of South Korea. I apologize for my terrible drawing. It is kind of like the suburbs of Seoul, but because we are talking about a relatively small country - all of South Korea is about the size of Utah - this province, this doughnut shaped province around Seoul is still a bustling beehive of activity. Subway connections, buses, big tall building, lots of apartments. So, while it is not quite as crazy as downtown Seoul, it is still a very fun place to be, and it is very close to the city center. For a lot of those reasons, it is not quite as competitive as SMOE, but still very competitive. So experience and/or TEFL always is going to help.

Those are our first two, both right there in or around Seoul. Our last public school program in South Korea is called EPIK, which stands for English Program in Korea. That accounts for teaching positions at schools throughout the entire rest of the country. The gamut here is a little bit bigger. You have jobs at schools in big cities like Busan, which is the second largest city in South Korea. So you could go there with EPIK and you would still be in a metropolitan environment. You could be in the middle of northeastern South Korea, which is really quite sparsely populated, and you are going to be able to experience rural life in South Korea. Keep in mind that, with EPIK, you can live in many different types of South Korea environments. Especially if you want to go live someplace that is a little more quiet, EPIK is the way to go. Because it accounts for the public school teaching jobs in the entire rest of the country, it is not quite as competitive. They accept about 700 teachers per semester. It is still by no means easy to get a job with EPIK, but there is a little more breathing room there.

For all of these and for private school jobs, your pay scale is going to depend on your experience and your certifications. Things like experience and TEFL, the more you have, the more school years you have been teaching, the more you are going to get paid. It is almost always going to be worth getting a TEFL. You are going to get paid a little more.

Those are the three public school programs in South Korea. The alternative is private schools. Private schools exist everywhere in the entire country, small towns like I discussed here, right in downtown Seoul. Thousands and thousands of jobs kind of on a rolling basis because private schools in South Korea operate year round. So, unlike these, there is no semester or spring and fall. It is just 52 weeks a year private schools operating in South Korea.

These three programs, the three public school programs are really quite similar. The big difference, the big split, is between public and private. So I am now going to speak a little bit about what those differences are hopefully to help inform your decision.

The first difference I have listed here is number of students. Public schools in Korea are usually pretty full, especially at the classroom level. Your typical classroom might be as many as 30 students, where at a private school you might have as few as 5 or 6. Twelve is about an average. A big difference in terms of the students. Keep in mind it is a little different because of your co-teacher. The co-teacher operates very differently if you are in a public school or in a private school.

In the public school, the co-teacher is going to be there in the classroom with you. So, that 30 students does not sound as scary anymore because you have somebody else to help you. In private schools, your co-teacher is going to teach the students separately from you. For example, maybe you will teach your students for 60 minutes. You will be focusing on pronunciation and reading comprehension. Then they have a short break, and then your co-teacher will come in, teach the same students, but they will focus on something different, so maybe spelling or grammar. Something that they need the help of a Korean native speaker to understand. So it is a huge difference. You can always get help from your co-teacher, but in private schools, they are not going to be in the classroom with you. In public schools, the co-teacher is going to be right there with you, especially helpful if you are trying to discipline somebody who is speaking Korean, you don't know the Korean. It is great to have a co-teacher there.

Related: What It's Like Teaching Different-Aged Students in South Korea

Time of day, another huge difference. Public schools, not surprisingly, operate just as they do in the West, 8:00 to 2:00, 9:00 to 3:00, morning until mid-afternoon. Private schools operate after public schools. So the typical student would come home, get a snack, and go to private schools. So, as a teacher, you are going to be working from, say, 2:30 to 9:30 or maybe 3:00 to 10:00 or 3:00 to 11:00. So, if you are a night owl, private school is probably a great idea. If you cannot get out of bed before 9:00, also a good idea. If you like getting out of work mid-afternoon, public schools are great.

Locations I spoke a bit about, right. Public school jobs all over the country. Private school jobs all over the country.

Foreigners are the last big difference between the two. In most public schools, you are going to be the only foreigner there. There may be a second at a big school, but it is going to be an exciting experience because you are going to be surrounded by Koreans, both students and teachers. So a little bit easier in a public school to make friends with Koreans because they are going to be your co-teachers for instance. In a private school, you will almost always have other foreign teachers there. Some big private schools might have as many as 15, maybe even 20 other foreigners there, so it makes it a little more difficult to befriend Koreans because you kind of naturally fall in line with those foreigners that you are a little more comfortable with.

So some great differences. Hopefully, these will help you make a decision between public schools or private schools. If you have any questions at all, shoot me an email, [email protected] Happy to help. Thanks.

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