Network Your Way to an ESL University Job in Korea

It's no secret that one of the most successful ways to land a university job teaching English abroad is to know someone on the inside. Jackie Bolen, author of How to Get a University Job in South Korea: The English Teaching Job of Your Dreams, shares her golden rules of networking in Korea. 

The Key: Find a Foreign Teacher to Bridge The Gap 

Job sites are a decent way to find a university job in Korea, but many of the top jobs are not advertised and filled by word of mouth. Can you imagine if there was a job paying 3.5 million/month, in Seoul, with 9 teaching hours/week with full vacation that was posted online? They would probably get over a thousand applications and what administrator has time to wade through all those? Nobody. Instead, they will just drop the word to their current foreign teachers that they are looking for people and ask if they know anybody. It is the way things quite often happen in Korea, so you really need to take advantage of any and all networking opportunities. From an informal poll I conducted, if I combine “networking” with “through a friend,” 41% of people got their university job through a personal connection of some kind. A recommendation from a current foreign teacher really is the holy grail that you should be aiming for.

My First Rule of Networking

My first rule of networking is do not be creepy, obnoxious, immature, lazy, unethical or unprofessional because nobody wants to be your coworker. You can be sure that people will not recommend you to work at their university because you will be like a black mark against them when your behavior offends people (which it surely will).

I cannot emphasize enough how important your reputation is, both personally and professionally. If you are known as the obnoxious drunk guy or lady out in the expat community, you will have an extremely difficult time getting a university job since nobody will vouch for you. They simply will not want to deal with you being their “friend” when you probably crash and burn at your job when you cannot quite arrive on time for a 9:00 am class or you come in hungover, smelling like booze. There is nobody to hold your hand at a university job in Korea and you will either have to sink or swim, totally on your own. Most people swim, but I have seen more than a few sink. Also, be careful of your love life or dating reputation. You might not get a recommendation if a friend fears that you might try to date your students.

My Second Rule of Networking

The second rule of networking is to go where the university teachers can be found. You will find very few university teachers at events like bus tours for newbies (IE: Adventure Korea), the Mud Festival, Thursday Party, scavenger hunts, or the local dance club. University teachers tend to be a bit of an older crowd and so you are more likely to run into them in these kinds of places: an English Church, language exchange group, book club, board game club or expat pubs that are chill and attract an older crowd. When you meet a university teacher, just be normal. Do not get all excited and try to go in too early for the kill. I recommend actually talking to that person like they are a human being and not just a university job vending machine.

My Third Rule of Networking

KOTESOL ( Get involved! By involved, I mean actively because this is how you form friendships and garner a good reputation. Attend local chapter meetings, which happen once a month and/or join a Special Interest Group (SIG), such as Christian English Teachers, Reflective Practice or Extensive Reading. At my local KOTESOL chapter meeting in Busan, about 50% of the people who regularly attend work at a university. Attend the International and National conferences (each happen annually) and use your time wisely. Introduce yourself to presenters and be approachable and friendly. Make an effort to network and meet some new people. Also consider volunteering your time and talents; KOTESOL is entirely run by volunteers and it is an excellent way to meet lots of people that work in a variety of places. Of course, you should try to get business cards from people that you meet and follow-up with a short email saying that you appreciated talking to them, etc.

[For more info about TESOL organizations and conferences around the world, read 7 Reasons to Attend English Language Teaching Conferences Abroad]

My Fourth Rule of Networking

Facebook is an excellent place to network. Consider joining the general KOTESOL group, as well as your local KOTESOL chapter group. Also join the Foreign Professors and University English Teachers in Korea group. Be active in these groups and carefully develop your personal and professional image as a respectful, intelligent person who contributes helpful ideas to discussions. When you have an interesting discussion with someone, perhaps send them a private message and a friend request, but do not be creepy about it.

This article is an excerpt from Jackie's book. If you liked what you read, follow her on her popular blog My Life: Teaching in a Korean University.

Jackie Bolen

Jackie teaches English at a university in Busan, Korea. She can be contacted at jlbolen[at] with outrageously high-paid ESL Teaching or Scuba Instructing job offers on breezy, tropical islands (preferably Bali), or about any regular kind of stuff too.
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About Jackie Bolen

Jackie teaches English at a university in Busan, Korea. She can be contacted at jlbolen[at] with outrageously high-paid ESL Teaching or Scuba Instructing job offers on breezy, tropical islands (preferably Bali), or about any regular kind of stuff too.

3 thoughts on “Network Your Way to an ESL University Job in Korea

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