BUSAN, South Korea — So you want to live by the beach, have a few months of vacation every year and teach students who are actually attentive to their studies? Get in line. A university teaching position in Busan is one of the most coveted in Korea. And yet, contrary to what most people think, landing an academic job here is not as elusive as one might believe.
There are just over 20 universities in Busan and almost all of them have English departments. Teaching ESL isn’t the only game in town. Several colleges offer major subjects in English as well. More importantly, almost every school has dozens of foreigners on staff. For example, Silla University has over 30 foreign professors, while Dongseo University has 55.
There are literally hundreds of expat professors working at universities in Busan. And every year in August and February, some of them leave their jobs. How can you be first in line to fill the position? Here are a few tips.
1. Network your way to a job. Ask anyone working in a university how they got hired and many will say they knew someone on the inside. Universities usually tell their staff if they want to hire anyone well before an ad goes up. Sometimes there isn’t even a need to post an ad because word of mouth from their pool of teachers generated so many applicants.
Korean culture is about groups and circles. Who you know is often more important than how qualified you are. Busan is full of groups and clubs where you can get to know new people. If you are already living in Busan, you can join the local chapter of KOTESOL: it’s where English teachers go who are serious about improving their skills and want to meet like-minded people.
Here are a few more in no particular order: practice your presentation skills at Toastmasters, get outdoors and see Korea with Loveable Busan, pay it forward and volunteer with Busan Volunteer. There are even groups for various sports like soccer, basketball, sailing and many more. Just ask around.
A word of warning: join a club because you enjoy it, not just to get a job. The most important thing should be that you have fun and meet new people.
2. Search the internet. It’s the most obvious way to find work, and therefore everyone is doing it. However, people still get hired this way so don’t disregard it. You can use sites like UniJobsKorea to find the latest ads. Schools start accepting applications as early as five months before the fall or spring semester start date (September and March 1). Often, the ads expire within a week so you need to act fast and check for updates daily.
3. Get qualified. Many people will tell you that you must have a Masters to teach at a university. It’s just not true. Many jobs, especially those outside of Seoul, don’t require an MA. As long as you have a BA and two to three years of teaching experience, you can find work. One thing you can do to improve your chances is to get a CELTA or TEFL/TESOL certificate. TESOL Alliance offers on-site courses in Busan and around Korea, or you can take a course online with a number of other schools. Just be sure your certificate states that your course was at least 100 hours.
4. Visit the school. Probably the most effective but least utilized method to get hired is the guerrilla job hunter tactic of dropping in uninvited. Grab a free map of Busan – all the universities are listed on it. Put on a suit and tie. Then go to the university. Ask around for the English department. Hand deliver your resume. See if and when they are hiring. Better yet, ask to speak with the dean of the department or head foreign teacher. They are usually the people who make the hiring decisions. Although this is a bold move, people do get hired this way.
5. Apply to a university nearby. If you absolutely can’t find work in Busan, go for the next best thing: a uni job in a surrounding town. For instance, Gimhae is just next door to Busan, is connected to the city by metro and has universities that hire foreigners like Inje or Kaya.
Peter DeMarco is the founder and editor of UniJobsKorea.com. He’s been living in Busan and teaching at a university since 2008. You can contact or get more info at his website.