Sunday, May 17, 2009

Jet-Lag and Settling-in Time for New Teachers in South Korea

Here's the question:

Is it pretty typical to have to start work the day after you arrive in Korea? This has come up a few times on a couple message boards and it kind of freaks me out that I may not even have time to get over jet lag - much less unpack - before I have to show up at school.


Unfortunately, it is common. I have known many teachers who arrived in Korea in the morning only to find themselves at school that afternoon. However, this is only the standard for hagwons. Most public schools have two big hiring drives (September, March) where the teachers arrive in Korea around the same time and are put into a week long orientation. From what I've heard, the orientation is pretty lame, but it does allow for some settle-in time as well as getting over jet lag.

Hagwons and other private institutes are usually hard-pressed to get a teacher to start just as the previous teacher departs. This is usually why teachers are thrown into classes or at least immediate in-class training. The best way to combat this is to make sure you'll be getting some solid training/observation time which usually requires less on-site time. That's easier said than done as it's practically clockwork for recruiters to promise such settling time, but it wouldn't hurt to try. If you can help it, try to arrive on a Friday or even just as a holiday starts. I arrived the day that summer vacation was starting, so I got here on a Friday and didn't start until the following Thursday.

If you're really worried about jet lag, then you have a couple options. You can either take some meds on the flight over and try to start the sleeping pattern or you can power through and drink heavily your first couple nights which will lead to you passing out and therefore forcing yourself to adjust. Your call on that one.

I have never really been that affected by jet lag. I think it's one of those things that really gets to some people while the rest of us just like to talk about it as if we also suffered from it. If you're working for a hagwon, especially a small one, expect to start that day or the following morning. If you're going to be in some other type of school then you might get some more time. Either way, after a week or two you'll be adjusted and ready to go.

If anybody has any questions, just send me an email at or leave a comment.


Brian said...

I went from the airport to the hagwon to be shown around, and started teaching the next day.

Actually, besides going to school right off the plane I also experienced something common for first-timers on their first night: I was put up in a love motel.

The Expat said...

Oh yes, the love motel. A quick introduction to cheap service and noraebang-centered porn. I'm hoping a get a question about housing so I can delve into the seedy world of love motels.

Open Micah said...

I also experienced the love motel, only it was on the tail-end of my contract. There's nothing that says "We're finished with you" more than spending your last Saturday moving to the Hotel Eight with your school's lazy-eyed maintenance man.

As for jet lag, I think the most important part of overcoming it is timing your flight correctly. Generally, you always want to arrive in Korea late in the day. That way, you can sleep at night and retain your sleep cycle.

If you leave, for example, from North America in the evening, you should arrive in Korea in the evening. Then it should be about 5 or 6 o'clock, and you can go out to dinner with your new coworkers and move into your apartment by 10 or 11. Sure, you'll be really tired, but you'll go to bed at night, Korea time, and you 'll wake up in the morning, Korea time. Hopefully, it will all work out.

Anonymous said...

I really lucked out with my hagwon -- our director gave me a full week to myself when I first arrived, followed by a two day training orientation at headquarters and two days of in-class observation before I started working. This might be something for new teachers to think about when trying to choose between a couple of jobs that otherwise look pretty similar.

As for jet lag, another option is to try and adjust your sleep schedule before you step foot on the plane. Probably doesn't work out that great if you have a lot left to do in your last couple of days, but the closer you can get it to match, the easier it should be. For those of us with mild insomnia ... well, life doesn't change much.

Brian said...

Don't get me wrong, love motels rule. It was a weird introduction to Korea, and when the director said "your apartment isn't ready" all the horror stories entered my mind. But it was all right.

I've never really dealt with jetlag, mostly b/c I'm such an insomniac anyway. I can never sleep on planes, so a whole day of travelling means I'm ready to pass out when I get to Korea anyway.

But the week-long orientation provided by public schools really does help with that. I was so surprised when I arrived in Gwangju in 2006 to see the first full day on the schedule was marked as recovery, or something like that.

The Expat said...


That's a nice gesture for a new teacher and I would suggest the same. Choose the school that offers some sort of adjustment time. Of course the chances of that happenening are pretty slim, but it's worth asking.


I'm the same way. I can't sleep on any public transportation and that 15 hour plane ride is brutal. I remember being amazed by how easily the Koreans could nod off and, even after all this time, it still blows me away.

I thinked I watch "8 Below" about three times on one plane ride this way. I always encourage people to stay awake on the plane and drink through it.