Working abroad can bring job and company advancement, new ways of thinking, and happiness. Tens of thousands of Koreans go abroad to work in overseas branches of MNCs like Samsung and LG. Others find work with foreign companies.
해외 취업을 희망하는 한국인들을 위한 특집 기사입니다.
For professionals working abroad, this usually means working in English. It’s especially true, of course, in countries like the U.S., Australia, and Singapore, but also in countries where English isn’t the first language, such as Germany, Taiwan, or Indonesia.
This can be especially hard for Koreans, given the language and cultural differences. Koreans receive English classes from 3rd grade, giving them 10 years of formal English education. This is in addition to hagwons and tests.
But it’s rigid and not real-world English. This means many still struggle.
Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to get ahead when Koreans are going overseas to work in English. They include:
- Self-study of English
- Take a standardized English test
- Ask questions in online groups and forums
- Research potential destinations
- Search for work and accommodation
- Learn about intercultural communication
Self-study of English
Countless private language schools across Korea offer specialized business English courses. The British Council has Business English courses both online and at their Euljiro location in central Seoul. PAGODA is another premium provider of English courses, from general conversation, business English, and test preparation.
Private tutors are also a good option. When choosing a private tutor, make sure that they have valid credentials, a TESOL or CELTA certificate, or, even better, a teacher’s qualification.
Whatever method you choose, the best way to improve your English is to practice, practice, practice. Find local groups via Meetup. You can meet other English speakers for language exchange or engage in activities such as hiking or photography.
To practice conversation and check your text, HelloTalk is a fun app, and free to use.
Take a standardized test to verify your English ability
Most English-speaking countries require a minimum TOEIC, TOEFL, or IELTS exam score for work or study visas. For example, the Australian Department of Immigration accepts an IELTS score of 6, but the higher the score, the more points you will get toward your visa application.
According to ielts.org, an IELTS score of 7 or above will significantly increase your chances of gaining employment. A TOEIC score of 900 or a total TOEFL score of 94 and above would allow you to register with most international organizations.
The British Council is highly recommended to prepare you for the IELTS exam since they are also responsible for administering it. IELTS is mainly preferred in Australia, New Zealand, and the U.K.
For other countries, you might need a TOEFL or TOEIC score. The ETS produces both tests in the U.S., and training is easily accessible in Korea. YBM administers the TOEIC exam in Korea. They also offer exam preparation courses, as do most universities and private language schools.
A high score on either exam is a great asset when applying to work in English. It shows that you are prepared to work in an English business setting.
Find friends and allies in online groups
Before moving abroad, join forums or Facebook groups for the country you’re planning to move to. Ask lots of questions. You will find that other ex-pats will be more than happy to help.
While preparing to move, you can search Korean Naver Cafes to meet Koreans who have lived and worked abroad before. Networking in this way might help you find job opportunities as well as potential friends.
Research your destination
You might already have a job secured, but if not, you will need to decide on a country or region to begin researching your work options.
Some important aspects to consider are:
Prerequisites for work visas can be very rigid. In most cases, you will need to be sponsored by your employer. The first step would be to contact the relevant embassy or consulate in Korea or the country’s immigration department:
- U.S. Embassy and Consulate
- Australian Embassy
- Canadian Embassy
- Singapore Ministry of Manpower
- Immigration Department of Hong Kong
Standard of living
The OECD Better Life Index will give you an idea of the standard of living in different countries. You can compare countries according to factors such as income, housing, health, safety, and environment.
If you’re interested in traveling Europe, hub cities like London, Frankfurt, and Amsterdam are good choices.
If you expect to make regular visits home, you might consider somewhere closer, like Singapore or Hong Kong.
Find work and accommodation
If you’ve been assigned to an overseas office, these next two parts might not be relevant for you. Your company likely will take care of your travel, moving, and living.
If not, here are ways to go about finding work abroad and finding a place to live.
Where to work
The Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) has regular global job fairs, including country-specific job fairs. Many of Korea’s major universities also host job fairs.
For online research, there are many reputable job search websites. Indeed.com or Glassdoor.com have worldwide job listings. LinkedIn is an excellent resource for building connections and searching for job opportunities. Koreans use it much less than people in many other countries, so you’re at a bit of an advantage.
Don’t underestimate the power of a professional cover letter and resume. Korean and English resumes differ in style and presentation. English resumes are short and to the point. Include only your most relevant education, experience, and skills.
Your cover letter can go into more detail, and you should tailor it to each job application. It’s also more acceptable for English speakers to highlight their strengths. There’s no need to be too humble; it might look like you’re not confident.
Where to live
As for accommodation, a simple Google search will find you thousands of homes to rent on various regional websites. A few examples are:
- For the U.S. especially, Craigslist is legendary and always valuable
- In Australia, Rent is a reliable source
- Canada has rentals.ca and realestate.ca
- For Singapore, try Property Guru
If you can’t decide on an area, try an Airbnb for the first month or two. Get a feel for the area and look around at properties while you’re there. Sites like Agoda also offer longer-term rentals, serviced apartments, and suite-type hotel rooms.
Improve your intercultural communication
Learning the language is just the beginning of cross-cultural communication. There are several barriers to cross-cultural communication that Koreans should be aware of while working abroad in English.
English speakers tend to use more direct communication. They prefer to speak clearly and tell it like it is. Koreans tend to use more indirect communication, prioritizing social harmony over brutal truth. This can lead to misinterpretation. A native English speaker may seem abrupt or insensitive. In contrast, the Korean speaker might seem vague and unclear.
A professor from the University of Iowa gives some tips that might help you avoid miscommunication:
- Recognize that your subtle messages might not be perceived as you expected.
- Accept that direct communicators are not trying to disrespect you with their direct speech.
Hierarchy and decided roles vs. horizontal culture and personal choice
Since Korea tends to be a hierarchical society, and workers tend to wait until their superiors have finished speaking or wait to be asked. A certain amount of this will make you appear polite in Western countries, and in countries like Singapore, it’s quite alright. In countries such as the U.S., Australia, or France, however, staying quiet too much can make you seem disinterested or unknowledgeable. It can be better to give a comment every now and then just to make yourself known and show that you’re paying attention.
Relationships between colleagues may also be difficult to navigate in different countries. In Korea, many relations are already decided. Events such as lunch and going for drinks are more formalized. This can be reassuring, though it also means your personal choice is limited.
In countries like Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S., you may find that, after the first few introductory lunches, you’re on your own. You need to take the initiative to ask others out for lunch.
You might be surprised when a boss asks you to address them by their first name rather than their title, and workers speak to each other in a casual manner.
But even if things seem casual, relationships are still kept professional in most foreign workplaces. Especially for executives.
Traditions like hoesik and other team-building activities are less common, and employees tend to work more independently than in Korea. But they still have to report to managers, receive reviews, and produce results.
That last part, after all, is why the company hired you (or placed you). They want you to deliver results. The pressure may not be as intense as in Korea, but you’re probably being judged more strongly on your actual achievements in Western countries. Asian countries may be more similar to what you experience in Korea.
We help many Korean executives and ambitious job seekers with their job search. We can rewrite your resume/CV or get you set up on LinkedIn. Feel free to get in touch with us and share your hopes and dreams.