A Day in the Life: The Berlitz English Instructor (South Korea)

I should have written this entry a long time ago. I know that when I leave memories will blur and soften, and my perceptions of what everyday life will not really reflect reality. In the long term, I guess that’s one of the key purposes of this blog on the whole. This ‘day’ is something of an amalgamation of my overall experience here in Korea, but also represents what the experience was really like. I hope it reminds me of all the good times, and also reminds me never to sign a split shift contract again!

5.30am – Wake up. Hit the alarm, then realise that I really do have to get up and get ready for my first class already. Shower. Throw on some clothes.

6.10am – Take a 20-minute bus journey to work. Buy a sandwich on the way in for breakfast; try not to fall asleep on the way.

7.00am – Start teaching GS Construction level 4 materials. Begin lesson with an in depth discussion of how much each member of the class drank the previous night (quantity to be counted in bottles not glasses). Learn some new vocabulary and practice conversations about business, or travel, or food…

7.50am – Stare longingly out of the window from the 22nd floor of GS tower across Seoul. Wonder what on earth I am doing this for anyway (this thought only happens early in the morning!). Drink inconceivably large quantities of coffee.

8.00am – Correct mistakes made in the first half of the lesson. Try unsuccessfully to avoid too much sarcasm. Take a five-minute aside about ‘Konglish’. Spark a debate about American beef or the Lotte Giants baseball team. Teach some Idioms. Further conversation practice and correction.

9.00am – Walk to the office, possibly via the toasted sandwich lady’s conveniently placed truck.

9.20am – Hour and a half lesson if interview preparation with MBA applicant. Fire off dozens of questions and then discuss in detail how the answers could be improved. Particular focus: why I’m not good at…. And not actually answering the question is a bad idea.

10.45am – Check emails, reinforce the supply of caffeine running through my veins.

11.10am – Walk to Google at the Gangnam Finance Centre

11.30am – Attempt to teach Google. This is a particularly difficult task as their English is not much worse than mine. Focus on Idioms, Slang, and occasional lapses of correct grammar. Indulge in long asides discussing in depth cultural differences, different type of odd food, and why Indians are so difficult to understand.

1.00pm – Eat Google’s buffet dinner with students. Continue in depth discussion about Indians.

1.20pm – Walk back to the office.

1.40pm – Work on some kind of writing related activity. Submit an article to another random magazine. Work on a CD review for Rokon, or an interview article for Bling. Other afternoon activities could include extensive writing related photography, sleeping for the entire afternoon or take the bus back home to collapse in front of a Korean language movie. Very occasionally it might even involve some Korean study!

5.30pm – Head down South for my favourite class, IZM, out in the sticks.

6.10pm – Arrive at IZM. Relax in their front garden and eat Korean BBQ or grilled shrimp.

6.30pm – Start class, at least 10 minutes late. Teach level 2 grammar and vocabulary, with exercises such as describing what you like to wear, booking into a hotel or complaining about food at a restaurant. Teach two ‘identical’ classes, that end up being identical only in that they cover similar areas, but nothing like the same vocabulary.

8.20pm – Walk to the bus with some of the IZM students and go home, or head for the restaurant or bar together to try and ‘recover’ from the long day.

11.00pm – Sleep, or watch a movie in bed, and try to prepare for another 5.30am alarm call the next morning.

No two days are ever the same in Berlitz, but this gives a good idea of what it was like, minus all the boring bits (preparation etc!).

J x

Not mentioned: KOTRA Intensive days, (or ‘death’ as we called them in Berlitz) kang Tae Wook (or ‘Chinese water torture, as he was sometimes known’ ) and the occasional compulsive trips around Seoul (museums, parks, even hiking during breaks), coffee trips or long journeys across most of the city that take an hour plus in the evenings… Or those intolerable subway jams on the way to Lee & Mock. Don’t even get me started on Email writing and presentation courses… too much to even begin to cover!


  1. Hi James

    I enjoyed your blog on working in South Korea at Berlitz … I am in the process of applying now … do you have an tips for a first time english instructor?

    Is Korea amazing?

    I’m an attorney from South Africa whose disillusioned with the legal world and thus after a big adventure 🙂


  2. Hey Lilla,

    I blogged the entire experience in pretty full on detail if you want a look! I’m in the process of moving months worth of stuff over, as it was on another (now deceased) website, but you can keep an eye here if you want to see it as and when I get around to moving it, it shouldn’t be too long… https://hendicottwriting.com/travel/south-korea/

    Im a little biased as I met my wife there and had an absolutely incredbile time. The only thing I’d say against Berlitz is that the hours can be tough, but they’re really nice to work for and much fairer than most schools in Korea, I’ve never known them to treat teachers as disposable, which others do.

    Tips… learn you grammar backwards as Koreans tend to know more grammar than they’re able to use, and you will get questioned on it. Talk slowly and use simple words to start with. Learn a bit of the language as soon as you can (the alphabet’s surprisingly simple). Also, be yourself – charisma goes a long way. But they’ll teach you everything you need to know. Good luck,shout if you want to ask anything at all!


  3. Pingback: Teach English To Adults In Seoul – Teach English in Korea

  4. Albrecht

    Hi James,

    Do you know if there are any opportunities for University students to do summer English Teaching in Korea? Or do you know if you need a degree to do any such work?

    Thank you,

  5. James

    Hi Albrecht,

    I don’t know the current rules as I moved away from Korea in 2008 (and still miss it, it’s a wonderful place).

    I suspect the answer is no, there aren’t really (legal) opportunities, though. A requirement of my visa was to have a degree. As far as I’m aware, the only way around that rule is to be of Korean origin, as there was a separate visa process, though you might find that the schools expect a degree anyway – Koreans culturally value education extremely highly, and that’s reflected throughout society there.

    The best way to get a proper answer would be to contact a couple of EFL schools, though – I’m not sure how reliable my information is at this point, as it’s been a while.

    Good luck!


  6. Kevan Hull

    Those hours are close to Investment Banking hours and Big 4, Magic Circle legal hours at @ .01 of the pay.

  7. James

    Hi Kevan,

    Yes, they’re long hours. I went straight out of university and had an incredible time, and it was an opportunity to live somewhere I couldn’t have gone otherwise. I also left with savings having traveled all over Asia, and met my wife there. So yes, the working conditions are not perfect, but it was an opportunity from my point of view and I think that’s how most people see it. I did have enough time to explore the culture and embrace it.

    I also don’t want to work for the big 4 or a big legal firm no matter what the salary, so that’s not really a point of comparison that means very much to me :).


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