I taught English in South Korea for three years. I have now been teaching English in China for three months. Here are the differences I’ve noticed.

[Your experience may differ.]

  1. In Korea, communication with fellow expats is done on Facebook. Communication with your Korean co-workers is done on Kakao. In China, all communication is done on WeChat.
  2. I was the only foreigner at my school in Korea. I’m one of five foreigners at my school in China.
  3. School cafeteria food, in my opinion, is better in China than in Korea.
  4. Korea has much more western food options when it comes to convenience stores / grocery stores and restaurants.
  5. Drinking is bigger in Korea (Soju is as cheap as water). Smoking is bigger in China. I’ve seen places in China with No Smoking signs and ash trays with cigarette butts in them. Obviously the signs aren’t really enforced.
  6. Korea has restaurants where you take off your shoes and sit on the floor. China does not.
  7. In Korea, I had to take off my shoes at school and wear slippers. In China I can wear my regular shoes at school all day.
  8. To live and work in China, I had to get two visas. The first visa I got in the US allowed me to move to China and start working. Then in China I got a second visa after becoming a legal resident. Korea only required one working visa.
  9. Christian churches are everywhere in South Korea. I’ve seen one here in China, and it was a tourist attraction.
  10. In Korea you receive bills in the mail and pay for your utilities through online banking. Here in my apartment building in China I have to pay for the amount of time I want my utilities to run. For example: I paid for nine months of electricity because my lease / contract ends in nine months.
  11. I had a better social life in South Korea. There were clubs, groups, parties, and events for foreigners all the time. Never in China.
  12. Eating out in Korea as a foreigner is easier because the restaurant names are usually written in English, and the menus are usually translated into English. Maybe it’s just because I’m in a small town in China, but I rarely ever see signs or menus with any English.
  13. The work environment in China has been much less chaotic and dramatic than Korea. One of my Korean co-teachers bullied me. The schedule was always changing at the last minute. Communication here in China has been easier, more effective, punctual, and friendlier.
  14. As far as I know, China doesn’t have something like EPIK. One of the best things about EPIK was that it provided free Korean lessons to us. In China you have to find and pay for a private tutor. To save money, I’m studying Chinese with Spotify and Lingo Deer.
  15. I saw more incorrect English writing on clothing in Korea.
  16. I get stared at by locals much more in China now than I did in Korea. In China I’ve had locals ask to get their picture taken with me like I’m a celebrity.
  17. I saw more locals wearing surgical masks to protect themselves from the air pollution in Korea even though the air pollution is worse in China.
  18. Korea’s Internet is faster and more reliable.
  19. Because of South Korea’s size, it’s very easy to hop on a train or bus from almost anywhere and be in Seoul or Busan within a few hours. Here in China, I have to fly to Beijing or Shanghai. Traveling across the country overland would take an entire day.
  20. More American movies come to CGV in Korea than China.
  21. In Korea it is very common to socialize with your co-workers after school, which would involve a buffet dinner at a hotel, drinking at a bar, and / or karaoke. (Side note: Koreans don’t care how good or bad you are at singing. Being a bad singer is no excuse for not participating in Karaoke.) This is not something I have experienced in China as of yet.
  22. My current school in China is well air-conditioned in the summer and well heated in the winter. In Korea, they care so much about saving money on electricity that they’ll wait until you’re frozen to turn on the heat or until you’re drowning in a lake of your own sweat to turn on the AC.


If you’re trying to decide on which country to teach ESL in for the first time, I hope this list helps.