Dec 25, 2011

On landing a university job in Korea

This was my journey, step by step.


Do you need a masters? Okay, but do you need a masters? Do unis hire couples? Unmarried couples? Read depressing debates on eslcafe. Learn about the decline of quality jobs, quality students, quality work environments from a handful of online ranters with a lot of self-appointed expertise. Remind yourself they’re only ranters when discouragement comes nagging at your ear.

Consult with every contact you have in the university sector, even the lukewarm friendships kept limply afloat by Facebook. Prod these people for tips, insights, ideas on how you and your partner can apply for these coveted jobs.

Read emails from the two people who responded. “Okay, the application season starts around November,” you and your partner say together. “Lots of time to prepare.”

Meet a woman at a dinner party who already started applying to university jobs, interviewed with universities, and landed two job offers. Listen as she makes it sound easy-breezy. Feel resentment and inspiration in equal parts.

Discover later that she has a Masters from Harvard. Panic.


Scour job sites and university webpages, trying to find contacts and application information for the 300+ postsecondary institutions in Korea. Spend a lot of time reading websites very slowly in Korean.

Polish your resume. Scan and upload every possible document required. Solicit a letter of recommendation from your supervisor who, swamped with work herself, asks you to just write it yourself and come back later for the signature. Spend an hour on a letter with just enough tiny English flubs to sound (you hope) like a non-native speaker. Or at least, not like you.

Write a cover letter. Edit. Read your partner’s cover letter. Edit. Write a combined cover letter, emailing drafts back and forth. Write a Korean translation of your cover letter, imagining that employers will be impressed. Type it out at an approximate speed of 4 Korean words/minute.

Send applications. A lot of them.

On weekend hikes together, discuss your plan B, if you don't get jobs, if you have to go back to North America. Suggest backup options in an upbeat way. Privately dread them.


Send applications. Every day. Every day.

Scan job sites compulsively. Fill out surprisingly detailed application forms as required by different universities. Raise your eyebrows when asked to provide your parents’ occupations, your undergrad student number, the name of your church leader, your height.

Downplay the subject when friends bring it up, especially in big groups. “Yeah, we’re trying,” you say sheepishly. “It’s tough, it’s really competitive.” Nod appreciatively when your friends say don’t worry, you’ll get it, you’ve got great experience. Wonder what people will say about you if you fail.

Send more applications. Cold-call universities. Each day, in the free time of your lunch hour, in the free periods on your teaching schedule, send emails, write applications, research universities and colleges. Let personal emails pile up. Fall behind on world news. Dig through the teetering laundry hamper for clean-enough clothes.

Land an interview! Two interviews! Plan your outfit, makeup and hair a week in advance. Make a cheat sheet of TESL methodologies in case asked about them. Spend the train ride quizzing each other on potential interview questions.

Interview with one charming panel of department heads. Celebrate with tex-mex in Seoul. Interview with one dour panel of department heads. Comiserate by spending too much money on junky British women’s magazines in Seoul.


Another interview! And another! Ask your patient employer for more unpaid leave. Plan another outfit that you end up tugging all day, worried the blouse neckline rides too low.

At the university, sit in an interview waiting room with ten other applicants, each seemingly fun and peppy and charming and slightly more qualified than you. “I hear they’re interviewing 60 people.” Sweat.

Get a job offer. Then another. Spend ten minutes on the bus wondering if, as a result of all your university job daydreaming, the offers came your way serendipitously like in The Secret. Spend twenty minutes on the bus scolding yourself for thinking about The Secret.

Jump up and down with your partner. Go out to dinner. Smile a lot.

Get a very polite rejection. And another. Sulk just a bit.

Accept the job from the charming university. Tell your friends. Feel gooey and proud when they congratulate you and get excited for you.

Contact the coordinator at your brand new job. Receive an email detailing the mountain of paperwork needed for your new visa. Let the scrambling begin again.


  1. lol this post is awesome! Thanks for this! :D

  2. Yay! I'm so selfish but the fact that this gives you more time to come visit me makes me want to gofor celebratory Tex Mex right now. (It's 9:01 am on a Wednesday).