Teaching In Portugal VS Teaching In South Korea

Authored by:
Sarai P.

Sarai P.

Before I moved to Portugal for the three month volunteer teach Program, I was in South Korea completeling my one year contract as a teacher there. So I’ve done, or am doing, these programs back to back. The countries and positions couldn’t be more different and let me share how. Just know that YOUR experiences in either or, will most likely be different from mine.

I think the only common factor is CIEE. In both cases they provided a lot of support in preparation to my departure. There was an informative orientation with fellow foreigners in the same program and meeting the board of education, school and host family, couldn’t have gone smoother. They provide pretty good health coverage with INEXT, a little slow on emails, but it’s there nonetheless. They check in on occasion too and are very helpful with everything! Both locations have CIEE group trips as well. To cover the ways the two programs differ I’ll explain by category.


In Korea, I was a paid full time teacher with a year longcontract . In Portugal, I am a volunteer teacher, basically a teacher’s assistant, for three months.


Wow polar opposites here. Koreans stays out much later. Portuguese have dinner later around 8 p.m. and wellKoreans are always eating! Kidding, well kid of...any kind of socializing takes place around food and drink and is always a good time. Also, Korean meals might be a bit bigger and the food is spicy and crazy flavorful compared to Portuguese food which is perfect for someone who thinks pepper is spicy. Don’t get me wrong spicy dishes do exist AND both cuisines are yummy. In Portugal there are castles everywhere. In Korea you’ll find temples. Individuality is more normal in Portugal. Being late is normal in Portugal. Koreans spend less time at the beach, whereas the Portuguese spend most of their free time there. Korean kids spend a lot more of their day studying. There are a lot of interesting contrasts but they do have some cultural similarities. For instance, family is very important to both cultures. It’s normal to receive news or change of plans the day of, what westerners would see as very last minute. The Portuguese and Koreans are both welcoming and generous!


With teaching jobs in Korea, the school will usually provide housing or an allowance for housing. I lived in a small apartment a couple blocks away from school. It had everything I needed. You would walk in and in front of you would be the bathroom door. The shower situation is very different from home. There is the shower head but no shower floor or tub like we’re used to. The shower drain is just in the middle of the bathroom. To the right of the bathroom is the remainder of the apartment which had a queen sized bed against the left wall and against the right wall was the washer, fridge, stove, cupboards, sink and a decent amount of counter space. There was also a wardrobe and small side table. All of these things are like a step or two away from each other. Here in Portugal, my room now is probably the size of my whole apartment in Korea! I live with the nicest family in a slightly bigger than average apartment. The set up is just like an apartment in the states. 


Here in Portugal, I am working at a public school with classes of around 25 to 30 students. In Korea, I was teaching at a private school where the class sizes ranged from 2 to 12. My hours in Portugal are about 12 hours a week and in Korea I would be at school from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. So right off the bat there’s a very clear difference between volunteering and being a hired teacher. The responsibilities at the school in Portugal are minimal and common sense. I’m never in charge of the class room, discipline, assignments or grading. Merely there if the teacher needs help with an English lesson or activity and to interact with the kids when possible. Being a full time teacher in Korea meant lesson planning for each class, getting materials, managing the classroom (with a Korean coteacher for kindergarten but without for elementary classes), and some grading.

At first, it was a bit odd going from being the main teacher to a volunteer teacher. Both have there pros and cons for sure, and I’ve enjoyed each of them, but I think I’m looking forward to teaching full time in Korea again!


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