Elizabeth Frantz Larson

Thailand vs Korea

Which country offers more for the English teacher?


Living and teaching in both laid-back Thailand and fast-paced South Korea has made for an interesting perspective on life in Asia. The two extremes are hard to compare but I think I should at least try. I have lived in the suburbs of Bangkok for about ten months now - almost as long as the year I spent living in urban Seoul teaching English at an elementary school - so I think it is finally fair to approach the task.

First the specifics. I worked for the Korean government as the only foreign teacher in a small school of about 2,000 students. I worked 40 hours a week and made almost 2 million KRW (about 1800 US dollars) a month with my accommodation paid for. I had government health insurance, which was always paid correctly and on time, plus I paid an amount of money (which my school matched) into a monthly pension plan. When I completed my one-year contract, I received one month's bonus, flight reimbursement, as well as all my pension back (it was a good chunk of change.)

Here in Thailand, I work for a small "international" school outside of the city. I work 45 hours a week and make about 47,000 baht after taxes (which I didn't have to pay in Korea.) I get health insurance but worry about if and when I will get my paycheck and I get frustrated with the management on a daily basis. I have a two year contract and if I complete it I will receive 15,000 baht for a bonus. That pretty much sums up all the perks at this job, but hey, we don't come to Thailand to make money, do we?

Living in Seoul was a non-stop party. I spent my entire paycheck every month on shopping, drinking, traveling, drinking, eating and partying. Honestly, the whole year is a bit of a blur. Looking back I always talk highly of Korea and my time there, but it wasn't all fun and games. There were a lot of annoying things about Korean culture (just as there are challenges in this one.) I made a lot of money and my job was pretty easy. I was given textbooks, technology, a Korean assistant teacher in my classroom, and had pretty much no accountability.

There is a reason a lot of expats live in Korea for several years, its a good gig. In Thailand, I have tried to change my lifestyle so I am saving a lot more and going out a lot less. Yes, it is cheap here but its pretty easy to spend money if you aren't careful.

Asians are notorious for being pushy - and Koreans are infamous. In Seoul, a little old lady would push you out of the way in her hurry to get the best pick at the market, and in Thailand a similar old woman might do the same, yet in a less violent way, maybe with a little acknowledgment. Everyone always has some place to be but Koreans are just more aggressive on the roads and in line. Thai people like to crowd around and push just as much, however it is usually just a bit more passive aggressive with some bowing of the head involved.

Saving face is an aspect you cannot escape in any Asian country. It is something I am not used to. I have gotten used to being stared at in the street (both equally bad in both countries), getting blank stares when trying to use their language and showering over my sink. I am not sure if I will ever get used to the passive aggressive nature of my Asian coworkers. I say what is on my mind - sometimes behind closed doors - but I cannot pretend everything is just peachy. I feel that this issue is more present in my life in Thailand as I have to talk to parents more who really demonstrate this cultural norm. It has been rare in both Korea and Thailand to hear people speak frankly and honestly when it comes to important topics. It is something you have to deal with but I don't know if I will ever totally be comfortable with.

To be honest, I enjoyed my job and living in Korea much more than I do here. I had to deal with my fair share of frustrations in Seoul, and others had a much worse experience than I did, so maybe I just got lucky there and I have been very unlucky here.

In Korea I had small disturbances to my day such as class being cancelled without notice, having to teach my youngest students without a co-teacher, and being required to attend school functions, even though I couldn't understand a thing that was being said. I was very angry when these things would happen, but in hindsight I would take a free meal spoken in Korean over having to fight for my paycheck in a second. It is important to note that I worked for the government in Korea so there were strict regulations for native teachers, whereas in Thailand, I am the only one looking out for me. Such is life I guess.

Overall, I think it comes down to the fact that working in Korea was easy, everything was basically spoon-fed to me. Here I have to fight my own way and I feel like I am more of an adult, with a lot of responsibilities. While Thailand may not be the happy paradise I was expecting, I have learned much more about myself and the world and I believe that everything on our journey happens for a reason. Apparently it is time for this married twenty something girl to grow up.

It's funny how you get used to a place and can think of it as home. Now when I crave things from my past life it is no longer Olive Garden bread sticks (ok, it still is) but also red, stinky kimchi and cheap, delicious rice wine. When I move on I will miss buckets of ice with my beer and the plethora of street vendors at my disposal. It is obviously different working in a more developed country than a poorer one but they both have good and bad aspects. Maybe its just time I go home and remind myself what the job market and vacation time is like back there...


If you would like to read more about my life and my adventures, then please take a look at my personal blog site.




Comments

Thought I might chip in as this thread is relatively dated. Some of my experiences with TEFL in Korea (Gimhae, Busan) vs Thailand (Pattaya, Bangkok). Taught for a year in Korea before 2 in Thailand. General comparison:-

Schools

Korea- A hagwon (language academy). More of a business than a school. Long, hard working days from 10am till after 9pm at night sometimes. Long days, odd hours and tiring but the students are more respectful and interested in learning English than Thai students. I pitied a lot of my students as many were forced by their parents to do extra studying on top of their already arduous schedule. Schools are more organised than Thailand and follow set curriculums although offer opportunity for games and funtime too, especially with kids. A lot of shady, hagwon horror stories but I got lucky and fared ok.

Thailand- 2 different government schools with Pratom and Mattayom. More fun teaching than Korea but I felt like more of a rent-a-clown than a teacher. Classes based a lot more around fun and games than proper learning. Students generally ok but largely uninterested in English. Thai students often lack critical thinking due to terrible rote-style learning from their Thai teachers and are more afraid to speak up for fear of losing face. Some very noisy, chaotic and naughty classes, particularly with younger kids (often leaving the room with a sore throat!). Schools are unbelievably disorganised and frustrating to deal with last minute changes, compulsory staff meetings in Thai language etc. Much more freedom in the classroom but far worse conditions (40 students to a class, dodgy facilities, some classrooms had no aircon etc). Some very dodgy Thai government schools indeed but I fared ok. Not recommended for more serious teachers as it will drive you crazy.

Visa situation

Korea- Difficult and expensive initially getting required documents (apostille, etc) and also fairly trapped to the school on an E2 visa. But at least no 90 day check ins, re-entry if you travel abroad and generally better once "in-country".

Thailand- Absolute nightmare. Ever changing rules and requirements for legalisation of documents to get a non-B visa, some of which were laugh-worthy they were such a farce. On top of that, 90 day check ins, re-entry permits to go abroad and having to leave the country and start the whole ordeal again should you change school.

Weather

Korea- Sucked balls. Blistering summers, arctic winters, typhoons and not much in between except a couple of weeks in cherry blossom season.

Thailand- Awesome, perfect winters, always warm and usually sunny. Just what the doctor ordered after a tough Korean winter.

Things to do

Korea- Cool mountains and beaches relatively ok but suck for the cold half of the year. Cleaner nature and some interesting things to see. Snowboarding in winter too. Cities cool but nightlife not as fun as Thailand.

Thailand- Awesome, jungle treks, stunning beaches and cool islands. Loved the crazy cheap nights out, pool parties, riding my moto down the palm fringed beaches and forests at dusk. Only downside is the polluted beaches/rivers in parts, especially nearer to BKK. A lot of rubbish, poverty and stray dogs everywhere which is pretty depressing.

Infrastructure

Korea- Far better, good roads and high speed trains anywhere in the country. Clean, modern cities with lots to do. But drivers sucked

Thailand- A lot worse but more interesting. Standard developing country affair of noisy, dirty and chaotic cities, bad public transport and terrible drivers. More "character" but can definitely become suffocating and after a while you long for a beach/nature getaway.

People

Korea- I found Koreans to be more contrasted, some very westernised with good english and interest in the western world, others very unfriendly and curt. More reserved than Thailand and oftentimes ruder too. I considered Koreans to be the "Germans of Asia" if that makes sense?

Thailand

Far friendlier than Koreans but also more likely to try scamming you, particularly in tourist spots. Generally worse at English but more willing to talk to farangs.

Dating

Korea- Worst place I experienced in Asia for dating (Korea, China, Phils, Viet, Thai). Loads of beautiful girls with zero interest in farangs unless they work for Samsung/similar. Humble English teachers particularly looked down upon. To make it worse, local guys can be the worst cckblockers. Although there are quite a few girls who are interested in westerners too. Only scored a few dates the whole time I was there.

Thailand- A single farang man's goldmine, lost count of how many dates I scored there. However, pay attention as a lot of them might just be golddiggers/hookers in disguise, particularly in tourist areas. Also, harder to find girls you can have "intelligent conversation" with besides shopping, facebook and crap Thai TV/music (but also some really cool, worldly minded Thai chicks too).

Overall

Korea- Sweet teacher packages (free apartment, flights, end of contract bonus and much better salary) but generally less to do outside of work (unless you live in Seoul or Busan). Generally attracts more "serious" teachers (as opposed to backpackers extending their trip). Weather sucks and locals are less friendly but the country is much more developed, modern and first world. EPIK generally safer than hagwons but you might get placed in the boonies and be the only farang in the village. Good for first timers or those looking to save money as you are totally spoonfed with programs and can put away easily half your salary if you are frugal.

Thailand- Much more lesse-faire and possibly more intimidating to the first time teacher as you aren't babied nearly as much as Korea and with it being a developing country. More "interesting" mix of expats, some cool, some not so cool. Cheap costs but the salary sucks balls and it'll be hard to save anything unless you can fully live like a local in a crap, Thai-style apartment, eat Thai food every day and not party or travel, although lets be real, no farang goes to Thailand to live like a monk.
Lifestyle far trumps that of Korea (beaches, travel opportunities, nightlife, climate) and much more of an "exotic adventure".

Either way, both destinations couldn't be more different to each other and boths have merits and downsides worth checking out!

By Jey, Italy (30th March 2017)

I was offered a job to teach English in South Korea 3 years ago but declined because 70% of comments from the various discussion forums and blogs were negative and scared me off so I decided to decline it thank goodness in hindsight. Now I have been in for roughly a month and a half and started working in a government boarding school in Thailand. What an awful experience indeed, lack of communication, endless hours of lesson planning, terrible co teachers to work with even the farang(western teachers) I have a Bachelors Degree so I was earning more than most of them as some of them did not possess a degree so there could have been some envy there, it was just a plain awful experience. Thailand has some of the most friendly people in the world but to work as a EFL teacher there I would seriously not recommend it at all. For a thousand dollars(30000 Baht a month) no thank you they can keep it I would rather go back to South Africa and earn less with less stress on my hands and just By the way I taught a Black Township school in South Africa for a week as part of my TEFL training and they are much more well behaved than Thai students and the Thai school was a much more privileged school ironically. All I say is thank goodness I never went to South Korea. Like I said Thailand is great for a vocation but to work for them is another kettle of fish.

By Stuart Williamson, Cape Town, South Africa (18th July 2014)

There is no comparison to Korea and Thailand, by far
Korea is 100 years more advanced than Thailand. I worked in Korea and it is the easiest job, you do not have to worry about getting paid every month and the people are much more civil. The country is so clean compared to Thailand where there is garbage scattered everywhere!!!!!!!!!!!

By foghorn leghorn, thailand (12th July 2012)

Sam:
The problem is that as I mentioned, I’m from the UK.

My American co-workers have no problems, but the privacy laws in the UK are so strict that the government wouldn’t even admit you exist without proof from yourself, in person. We can’t just email for documents, or get someone to apply on our behalf. We have to physically present ourselves in person, with I.D to be able to get anything.

Strict privacy laws are fine until you try to do something and although the U.S may have a longer waiting time, at least applying for paperwork is easier and can be done without returning to country of origin.

Has any UK citizen had experience of this and how to do it without returning?

By James, China (21st June 2012)

James - there is a lot of information about US Criminal Background Checks on TEFL sites for South Korea - I think it's more difficult to get a US CBC due to time waiting for certification, different bureaucracies. When I was researching the US CBC people said that the ones from UK, Oz, etc. were much easier to get, and that put US folks at a serious disadvantage. It takes 3+ months to get the check for US, much easier for UK, but google should help you.

And remember the golden rule in Pathet Thai or anywhere else in Asia or maybe even the entire world...be nice, but...use them, or they WILL end up using you!

Have a good day.

By sam, Seoul (21st June 2012)

Oh Sam, I totally know I am being walked all over at my school right now... thanks for reminding me how weak I am... ha. I am working on it, I am sick of being the stupid, under-appreciated foreign teacher! I never felt like that in Korea. I really did love my job there! The kids were just so dang sweet.

Thanks for the comment though, very interesting to hear others opinions who have taught in both places. I am glad your happier in Korea.... Come December I will stop wishing I were in your shoes though :) Be well!

By Elizabeth, Nonthaburi (21st June 2012)

Interesting perspective Sam and although I’ve not yet been to Korea, maybe one day, if . . .

The ‘unsavoury characters’ you mention spring to mind. Yes, I met many in Thailand, rather less in China. I first came to Thailand some five years ago and amongst my educational certificates and references, brought with me a SAR, (Criminal Background Check, UK).

The first school I taught at didn’t want to see it, but then in 2011 the second school I worked at suddenly did. ‘No good’ they said, ‘Why’ I asked, ‘Too old’ they replied. I did point out that as I hadn’t been back to the UK since receiving it, (passport as proof), it hardly mattered. The suggestion was that I travel back to the UK to get another one. My counter suggestion was that if they paid me to return to the UK to buy one, paid me to live there for up to 40 days waiting for it to be processed and paid my return flight, I was quite happy to do so! They wouldn’t, I didn’t.

My point is that if I stay in an employment contract for say two to three years, then at least one year of those savings will be swallowed up by air fares, lodgings, food and hanging around in the UK for up to 40 days for an updated check. That would probably reduce my earning potential by up to a third.

In the end I contacted the Embassy who probably did the same sort of background check on me, but in a different signed letter statement from them that I was ‘Not known’; yes I still had to pay for that, but it worked out a lot cheaper.

In the UK we have very strict privacy laws and it simply isn’t possible to do things by email and request checks by post, or whatever. I just wondered how others from the UK manage? The statement from the Embassy was accepted by China, but what happens if I eventually want to move on to other nearby countries? Has anyone else encountered this problem?

By James, China (19th June 2012)

I've been in both ROK and Prathet Thai as a science teacher and traveller. I notice many similarities between your impressions and mine. I'm sure there are good jobs in either place, but my job in ROK is far better than what I came across in Thai, on the order of 100,000 Baht per month better in terms of the paycheck, and more "spiritually" rewarding due to good students and support system...also, while Seoul is more expensive and far less laid-back than up-country Thai, the safety of the place (due to taking the subways and professionally driven buses inside braving the motorcycle against the drunk drivers) and general quality of living so far more than makes up for it. I've met a number of foreigners and Koreans who were able to have intelligent English language conversations, and the foreigners were somewhat "normal" people back home - if you haven't already noticed, a lot of the farangs in Thai aren't the most wholesome of people back in Prathet Farang (did you have to submit a criminal background check for your Thai visa :) ?). You may have a lucky experience being female where you are. I notice the pushiness in ROK, but it seems normal for a city the size of Seoul.

More to the point, your school is being cheap (basically used) paying you a check of 47000 Baht a month for a two year contract for a female at an international school, and on top of that it's ridiculous that they're giving you worries about even receiving that sum; you can find a much better situation. Someone mentioned to me some advice about being a foreigner in Asia, just before I came here, and it's served me well so far...even though it's not "politically correct", though fortunately neither is anywhere I've been in Asia...you can do it and still be nice...but..."use them, or they WILL end up using you!" Though after being in the area for a while, it's more accurate to say, "use them, AND they WILL end up using you." Just make sure you're getting what you want out of any job or other situation, as for the most part they are not looking out for you.

By Sam, South Korea (18th June 2012)

Lisa, I wrote about my personal experience so far in Thailand and when I lived in Korea. Obviously our time in both countries was unique. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

Compared to Thailand and the city I lived in America, I felt Seoul was a very fast paced place. I have spent some time in China and felt it was very comparable. I do know a lot of people who have bad experiences with racism in Korea, I however did not. I felt very safe and accepted in my school and with my Korean friends. I live in a small village outside of Bangkok and get stared and waved at everywhere I go, I agree that this is not the same in the city.

I do have many close friends from both countries who I can talk openly with about more taboo topics when we are in private. I feel that as a whole and in social situations it is much harder to talk about some things than it would be with my western friends in the same setting.

Thanks for reading.

By Elizabeth, Nonthaburi (12th June 2012)

Elizabeth, I also lived in South Korea (more than a year) and Thailand for many years. So I can disagree with you about a few things. Firstly, I lived in Seoul and Deajon and I didn't consider them to be 'fast-paced' (or anywhere in Korea for that matter). If you want to experience 'fast paced' you have to go to Hong Kong and Shanghai. Live in those cities for about a month or more and you'll really feel what 'fast paced' is like!

There are a lot of perks to living in S. Korea, but the xenophobia can be really extreme there. I'm surprised you didn't mention that. It's the reason why I left. I have always felt a sense of belonging in Thailand that I never felt in S. Korea. The stifling xenophobia of Korea got to me so much that I couldn't bear to leave my apartment in S. Korea. In contrast, I found Thailand to be the party of a lifetime for many years after I arrived and I felt more than accepted or welcomed by the Thais. This wasn't my experience with Koreans. Though I have had very warm relations with many of them, the majority were not so likable as I find the vast majority of Thais.

You talked about Koreans and Thais being pushy. I found the physical pushing in South Korean to be downright hazardous to my well-being. In all my years of living in Thailand, I can't remember a time when someone pushed me and didn't immediately apologize. They were accidents. I never received an apology in South Korea and the pushing was on a daily basis, especially on the subway. I saw a lot of people physically fighting on the subway (blood and all) and thankfully I've never seen any kind of violence with the public transportation in Thailand. In fact, I would be shocked if I did!

You talked about being stared at in both countries. I was constantly stared at and harassed severely in S. Korea. This has never been a problem for me in Bangkok or the surrounding areas. It's rare and doesn't usually happen to me until I leave the comforts of Bangkok.

You said this, 'It has been rare in both Korea and Thailand to hear people speak frankly and honestly when it comes to important topics.' My experience has been the opposite. I have never had a problem with getting Thais to 'spill their guts' to me. They will do so when they feel very comfortable telling you and it's not around other Thais. They sometimes feel more comfortable and less threatened telling me than other Thais how they really feel. In Korea, Koreans would not stop talking about their complaints with everything concerning the world and their country. Maybe it's a difference in personality that people are not feeling comfortable with speaking to you about important topics. Asians don't like to dwell on depressing topics for too long, but they will open up and tell you if you invite them to do so! Try it and see.

By Lisa, (12th June 2012)

Thanks for the comment Sammy! I wish I had read more blogs before I left for Asia but I hope this has helped you a little bit. Good luck in your adventures!

By Elizabeth, Nonthaburi (11th June 2012)

Thank you so much for the write up. It really make the newcomers aware of what would the life be in a certain place. Certainly, an adventure makes an experience thus, experienced shape lives.

By Sammy Cabahug, Philippines (11th June 2012)

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