So far, teaching in South Korea has really been a blast! That being said, it has been great because I was purposeful in the decision I made when I was deciding between Hagwons and EPIK. So for all of those currently applying or thinking about applying, here is a small list of considerations that might make your decision a bit easier!
The private school route was a great option for me because I was particular about wanting to be located near my cousin. What was great about the private school route in this sense was that there was more flexibility in placement locations and I knew where I'd be placed before I left the states! That peace of mind was really nice for me. With public schools, you don't learn your placement until you arrive, so there is no way of truly knowing what the school situation will be like. So if you are more picky about the location your best bet is most likely private schools.
Classroom management, regardless of EPIK or Hagwon, will always be something you deal with: we all do. The biggest difference I feel on this front is the teaching dynamics. In a public school, and sometimes even in hagwons, you will have a co-teacher who is Korean. In most cases, the Korean teacher is primary and you are more of an accessory. Additionally, the respect given to Korean teachers is usually much more extreme than what you will receive as a foreign teacher. For me, I love being able to run my own classroom and have the authority in the space; That was a plus for me in the private school arena. However, I have friends that didn't want so much responsibility for lesson planning, classroom management, etc. and so the public system was a better fit. It really just depends on you!
Job security is a tricky thing here....there are very real horror stories of teachers being wrongfully terminated for a multitude of reasons. Most of these cases happen at private schools. My best advice here is to try to talk to current teachers at the potential school! They will be able to give you a sense of job security. Additionally, private schools have you go through an interview process, which means you'll have a chance to see it the school is a good fit for you and to ask questions! If you do end up in a tricky situation, make sure you contact CIEE's in-country coordinator! He is here to help you and will walk with you in your journey.
Another big difference in public vs private schools is the teaching hours. You will have more teaching hours and fewer prep hours at a hagwon than in EPIK. That being said, you will only have to teach at one school, whereas sometimes with EPIK placements you get placed in two schools that alternate by day or by the hour. So, think about the number of hours you really want to be teaching and how comfortable you might be with transferring between schools.
The Biggest Piece of Advice
Whether you go EPIK or Hagwon, read your contract carefully! It is super common in Korea for the employer to use the contract as a binding legal document for YOUR expectations, but only follow it as a guideline on THEIR side. So clarify your contract carefully with your school to make sure that they are being honest on what they are excepting of you and what they are actually willing to provide you in terms of salary, accommodations, and resources. Just make sure you are smart in the questions you ask, thoughtful in your decision, and use your best judgment.
With all the good and the bad, I really do love being here. The kids make the job for me, and I could not be happier with my class. So when it comes to your decision, think about the time, expectations, and commitment that will make you feel comfortable. Keep asking questions and learn from anyone that will talk to you so you can make an informed decision that is right for you!
I hope that helps you all! Best of luck with your decision!