"The modern Korean youth are very similar to those from Canada."
At least that's the claim on the website for Canada2Korea, a Chatham, Ont.-based company that recruits English teachers for schools in South Korea.
"We provide opportunities for university graduates ... The economy in South Korea is based on technology and people need to learn to speak English to do business worldwide," says Mike Sprenger, Canada2Korea's director and co-founder.
"A good way for them to achieve a working knowledge of English is to be taught by native English speakers."
Mr. Sprenger started his service about eight years ago, after a nearly three-decades-long career teaching elementary school in Wallaceburg, Ont. The former head of the Korean-Canadian Language Heritage Society is his partner, who has long-standing ties with the heads of several schools in South Korea.
Canada2Korea operates with three full-time staff, supplemented by some part-time employees, and through the years it has sent hundreds of teachers to South Korea.
"There is a high interest because teaching ESL in Korea is a very positive experience for people who have gone," says Mr. Sprenger, who himself was a teacher in South Korea for a year.
"It gives you a good idea of the Asian culture and it opens up an opportunity to meet people from all around the world. Some of our applicants are not sure they want a career in teaching and the experience gives them the chance to see if the teaching path is something they want to follow."
The company does not charge teachers any fees, since the schools – which include public institutions and private ESL organizations – pay Canada2Korea for recruitment consulting. Aside from Canadians, successful applicants have been found from Australia, Ireland, Britain and the United States.
The company attracts teachers through a variety of means. Canada2Korea has joined a number of university recruitment activities since it requires that applicants have a tertiary-level education. It also receive inquiries through its website. Many recruits arrive through word-of-mouth.
In South Korea, English teachers tend to receive starting salaries of 2.1 million to 2.3 million Korean won ($1,850 to $2,040 Canadian) a month for a year-long commitment, with a bonus of an extra month's pay at the end of the contract. Income taxes tend to be between 3 per cent and 5 per cent. The schools take care of return airfare and accommodation in a house or apartment.
South Koreans expect English proficiency to pay off in our increasingly globalized world and invest in it seriously. "People learn English and they get more opportunities, and then they will be able to communicate better, which may bring an increase in business or other economic terms and that accumulates over time as a national asset," Yerrie Kim of Education First, an English-teaching institute, recently told the Korea Times newspaper.
Many Korean parents want their children to be able to speak fluent English in the hope they will get into the best universities in North America and get good jobs. Special English-speaking playgroups have become trendy for young children and a whole cottage industry is built around books and programs to teach English to Koreans of all ages.
The ESL economy in South Korea is estimated to be worth $1.3 billion a year, one of the world's largest.
Special to the Globe and Mail
Alexandra A. Seno has written about economics and business trends in Asia since 1994. She is a regular contributor to Newsweek, the International Herald Tribune and The Wall Street Journal Asia. She lives in Hong Kong.