I first arrived in Korea in 2007 when I was teaching outside of Seoul in a public school. It was my first time to Korea as an adult and I was going to teach one year of English as the Native English Teacher at Ipjang Middle school, which was located a little outside of Cheonan, which is in Chungnam. I was really excited and nervous since I didn’t know what to expect. One of the things I do remember was meeting one of the many teachers who was on the same orientation trip that I was on. What I remembered the most was one conversation we had while all of us Native English Teachers were having dinner. We didn’t really get too deep into a conversation, but It was a simple short conversation, which started off with me asking him the following question, “How long have you been in Korea?” And he was like, I don’t know…maybe 6-7 years?
I thought to myself, 6-7 years? How come you’ve been teaching English in Korea for so long? But I didn’t want to sound rude so I didn’t ask him why he stayed in Korea for so long, but before I could say anything he just continued talking. He said how he originally planned on staying for just a year, but he really enjoyed his time and one year turned into two, then three, and then seven. And that was around 10 years ago, so who knows if he is still here or not. If he is, then that means he has been in Korea for around 17 years!
We all know people with a story similar to this. I know that the very first year I came to Korea, I intended to stay one year and then apply to get my Bachelor of Education to teach in Toronto. At the time, I thought that everyone who came to teach in Korea would only do it for a few years. But as of now, I have spent a total of 8 years of my adulthood in Korea, and I am glad that I did. And I no longer think it is strange to spend more than a few years teaching English in Korea. But I do question how much one can enjoy their lifestyle in Korea if they only work as an English teacher for years and years, especially if there isn’t room to receive a higher salary or other types of benefits.
Whatever reasons brought you to Korea and have affected your decision to stay is not what I want to talk about, instead, I want to talk about the quality of your life or lifestyle in Korea. Unfortunately, teaching English in Korea for hagwons/schools does not offer many options to be promoted or to receive a higher salary. If you look at any active Facebook group or forum for English teachers in Korea, it is easy to see that pay has not gone up for the last 10+ years. And you can see that there are a lot of people who do not enjoy their jobs. But at the same time, you can also see that there are a lot of people who like living in Korea and a good amount of people who plan on living in Korea for a long period of time.
Now, what do you do if you want to live in Korea for a good amount of time, but don’t want to teach English? Well, you can invest time and money into learning Korean and get a degree at a Korean college. That way you can make yourself valuable enough to be one of the few who are able to work for a Korean company, or an International company with an office in Korea.
But what if you are like me and you don’t want to work for a Korean company or any kind of company? What if you want to make money on your own, do your own thing, and have all the freedom in the world?
Well, easy, you need to find out what skills you have and use those skills to create a product or service that people are actually willing to pay money for. And I really want to stress “actually willing to pay money for”. Do you know how many startups I have created that didn’t make a single won? I also have spoken to a good amount of people who spent a year or two in Korea working on their startup, and then leaving without it generating any money. And I don’t say this to judge them because I have my own share of failures, but to show you that having a startup means you have a project to work on. And in all honesty, having a startup isn’t really anything to boast about. It’s just a start, but it is something to be proud about, since taking action is the first step. The real test is to actually create something that makes money and then working super hard to deliver a great finished product or service over and over and over again.
Note: I believe that failures are not really failures, but learning experiences. So you don’t have to be ashamed of your failures, because it’s all part of being an entrepreneur.
Yes, I know that Google didn’t truly make any money in its first two years or something like that. But they had investors. And yes, Uber was a side project that turned into something amazing, buy you also need to realize that the people that created those things were very talented, had a great plan (maybe?), and they had money (some of their own money and investors).
I honestly don’t want you to be one of the many people who are just excited to do their own startup but never have it become more then just a little project. Because that’s what a lot of startups are these days, “projects”.
The reason why my business Flower Gift Korea is doing well, is because it fills a need that I actually had when I was dating my wife. It isn’t the sweetest business because it takes a lot of work to make the business go around. And I know most people wouldn’t want to put in the work I put in the first year into building it. But that’s why I’m making money doing something that isn’t teaching English. And guess what, things have gotten A LOT easier after one year. There are times when my wife and I are bored out of our minds at the shop, so we just go for a walk or play a computer game. And we make the similar amount of money we were making when we were running our small English hagwon, with literally half the amount of energy to work, and half the amount of time, and I never have the feeling to want the weekend to come, EVER. And there is no limit to how much we can grow the Flower Gift Korea brand and business.
But to get to this lifestyle, my wife and I had to wake up early when we didn’t need to, make flowers in our home, do online marketing, and a whole bunch of other things, while we ran our Small hagwon business. Bottom line, it took a lot of sacrifice and work, but it really didn’t feel like work to me because I love building things and working towards reaching my goals. But still, it was a whole lot of work and sacrifice when we would only receive an order for one flower basket for the entire week. We lost money on flowers not used, because when you buy flowers like roses at the market, they only sell them in 10s, and if a basket only needs 4 roses, we would have to throw away 6 of them. But that was just the start, now we have repeat customers and get new customers almost every day, and it’s a whole lot of fun building the Flower Gift Korea brand.
So do you want to teach English in Korea forever? If you have been here for more than 5 years, there’s a good chance that you may want to do something else besides teach English. And running your own Hagwon business is something else as well. You may still have to teach, but you also have other responsibilities and have more freedom to run things the way you want. So starting a Hagwon type business is also an option. Check out hagwonstart.com for more info on starting a Hagwon type business in Korea.
Personally speaking, I love teaching and plan on getting back into the Hagwon industry once Flower Gift Korea is able to run without me being there. My hope is to just check-in with Flower Gift Korea once or twice a week, while I build other businesses. I still have a lot of work to do, but I have my goal. And it all starts with really having an idea of what your end goal looks like. Here is what my end goal looks like. If you don’t have an end goal, then you won’t really know where you are going. So if you don’t want to teach English in Korea forever, think about what you want your life to look like. Think about what you will do to make money, what you will be doing, and make sure it is something that you enjoy. Then you’ll be able to do it for the long run.
Do you want to continue living in Korea but teach English in Korea forever? I know I don’t want to be an English teacher in Korea forever, I rather own businesses and make a whole lot more than just 2,200,000-3,200,000 won a month (before taxes!!!) teaching kids that do not want to listen to me. I rather make money in my sleep and make 10X the amount of money I made when I was working for a school/hagwon that had rules/policies/philosophies that I didn’t agree with. And more importantly, I rather enjoy every single day of my life in Korea. What about you?