Where we work / DPRK (North Korea)

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) extends only a few invitations to foreign organizations.

DPRK

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) extends only a few invitations to foreign organizations. No more than 100 Westerners are currently in Pyongyang, their capital city. Yet for the last ten years, ELIC has engaged in teacher training and English language instruction in middle schools and universities.

Each year, our team has grown—from four teachers a decade ago to teams of more than twenty ELIC teachers, working with up to 400 Korean teachers and thousands of students in recent months. Amazing!

Students have little exposure to English speakers, so they were surprised by their own affection and respect for ELIC teachers. “We now know that you love us and that you’re here for us,” said one Korean teacher.

Celebrate the small victories we are having in North Korea and investigate if your place is with these pioneer teachers making an impact in a mysterious place.

frequently asked

questions

Job description

The DPRK is not available to USA citizens.
What is our history with this school?

ELIC has had teachers in middle schools in Pyongyang since 2010, and started teaching in our first university there in 2012, adding two others from 2015-2018.

Which city is the new role in?

Pyongyang

Describe weekly work schedule and hours for the role?

Depending on the school: Mon-Fri. 9:25 am -12:00 pm or Mon-Thurs 9:40 – 1:00.

List duties and responsibilities of the role.

All of the positions in DPRK are focused on teaching English.

How many students will the teacher have? How many different classes?

This depends on the school but can range from 20-30 students total to 3-4 classes of 25-35 students each.

What class subjects will the teacher be teaching? Are there opportunities to teach something other than English?

Teachers will normally be teaching General English classes. There may also be opportunities for informal teacher training.

How much classroom prep time is required/expected each week?

Most lessons have lesson plans from previous teachers. Lesson prep could range from 5-10 hours.

What is the student demographic?

Depending on the school: 14-15 year olds or 17-30 year olds.

Will the teacher have an office on campus? Will the teacher be expected to hold office hours?

Teachers here will not have an office on campus or hold office hours.

How many teachers are already placed at this school?

1-2 depending on the school.

How will the new teacher engage with non-ELIC faculty & teachers at this school?

Each class has a Korean teacher who often observes lessons. There is a school representative that teachers interact with before class and on breaks.

What are the bare minimum degree requirements needed by a new teacher in this role?

The minimum requirement is a BA with a TESL certificate.

What are the ideal degree requirements needed by a new teacher in this role?

The ideal requirement is a BA with a TESL certificate.

What are the experience or resume qualifications needed by a new teacher in this role? Is prior teaching experience necessary?

Prior teaching experience is helpful, but not required.

Are there age restrictions for a new teacher?

No

What's something the new teacher will learn after their first week in the classroom that will be a challenge for them as they move forward?

Teachers may end up teaching up to six classes, so getting to know your students well is a challenge.

The students/local teachers are under a lot of pressure to perform and compete with other classes, so this can be a bit stressful.

The other teachers are very busy and might not have a lot of time to talk with you.

Any additional points of the job opening?

Teachers get to participate in Sports Day each semester, which is so fun! Also, the break time interaction with local colleagues is a highlight for some. You can even persuade them to play ping pong, if you like!

Your students are the future diplomats, ambassadors, business people for the country!

ELIC teaches in the top language university in the country, and your students are going to be very important people! You have an amazing opportunity to impact the future leaders of the country!

What's something the new teacher will learn after their first week in the classroom that will encourage them as they move forward?

The local colleagues are very hospitable! The students are a lot of fun to teach, too.

The students’ level is the highest of all our middle schools, so it is easy to have meaningful conversations.

You have a lot more freedom to talk about a wider range of topics because your students will be interacting with foreigners in their future jobs. The student’s level of English is quite advanced, too, so you can have great conversations with them.

The local guides are some of the nicest and funniest people we know. They are very kind and fun to spend time with. The students are also so sweet and fun to teach! Make sure to get our local friends to make you their special instant coffee on the breaks!

Team dynamics

What is the current team size and team demographic in the DPRK?

10 adults and 8 children. 3 family units, 4 singles. Currently, we all function as one team.

Who are the current team leaders and/or what is the current leadership structure in the city?

The leadership structure consists of a country leader and team leader. The teachers from multiple schools are currently working as one country-wide team. 

Where are some of the team members from Canada? Hometowns? Alma maters?

All of the DPRK teachers are from Canada, but there are teammates from several provinces. Many graduated from Briercrest College. 

How often do you see your teammates each week in formal team meetings?

The DPRK team meets two-to-three times per week: once for a team meeting,  and twice for a week for a Sunday-style gathering.

What do formal team meetings entail? What's the take away? Why do you meet? What's the value of formal team time?

We usually have logistic information shared by the Country Director and often have intentional growth time as a team. We have done various things like studies, conflict management discussions, etc.

How often do you see your teammates each week informally...just for fun? And what do you do together?

Teachers see each other almost every day because they live in the same two buildings and some work at the same schools. They are encouraged to spend fun time together if they want to. People often have meals together, watch movies, or play sports, etc.

Share a fun team story.

For the first time ever, we got to go to Kim Il Sung Square in the center of the city at midnight on New Year’s Eve 2020. We drove our own vehicles and took some of our Korean colleagues with us. Usually, things are much more controlled, but it felt a lot more informal. We got to go to the very center of the square and watch the performance, countdown, and fireworks. We danced with our friends and hugged and celebrated with random new friends, too! When it was over, we drove around in the dark at 1 am dropping our Korean friends off at their apartment buildings, and then went home. It was so much fun!

City & everyday life

How long has ELIC been in the DPRK?

Short-term teams have been working here since 2003, long-term since 2010.

What does the first week in city typically look like for new teachers? How do they get their lives "started"?

The first week includes getting acquainted with the diplomatic compound where the team lives (shops, restaurants, parks, etc.) They will also explore the city with teammates, meet their school colleagues, and start to prep for the new semester.

What does housing look like in DPRK?

Teachers are housed in spacious apartments (all on the fourth and fifth floors so far) in the diplomatic compound of Pyongyang. Water and electricity have been quite consistent, but we don’t know what it will look like when we return. The apartments are fully furnished and ready to go.

What is the local currency? Do people typically carry cash? Credit cards?

Cash (Local Won, Euros, USD, and RMB) are used depending on where you shop. You can use a “debit card” that is like a reloadable gift card in some places, as well. Credit cards don’t work and we can’t use local banks.

How do people generally travel to their school? What is public transportation like?

We are driven to school by a local driving company or sometimes use one of our own vehicles. Using public transportation is strongly discouraged for foreigners, but taking taxis has become a little more possible.

What is the city culturally known for? Where are fun spots to take new visitors?

Pyongyang is a very beautiful place. It has a large river running down the middle of it with many bridges and beautiful parks. There are lots of interesting tourist spots to visit including the Juche Tower, the Children’s Palace, Pyongyang Circus, and Dragon Mountain.

What does shopping for food look like in the DPRK? Do people normally eat out? Cook for themselves? Share meals with teammates?

There are lots of opportunities for people depending on their preference. There are a few decent restaurants within 5-15 min walking distance from the apartments that have affordable food ($5-10 per person). There are also several other restaurants within a 10-30 min walk outside of the compound that serve local Korean food. You can buy essential groceries from the Pyongyang Shop on the compound or the Diplomatic shop. These shops’ prices are a bit high, but not too bad. For good prices and more variety, we all go to the Tong-Il Market every week (a big warehouse with hundreds of stalls that offers almost anything you could need whether it’s food or stationery, clothes or tools!). Each team unit is different in its preference for meals. Some eat out a lot and others only eat out occasionally. We are a pretty communal group and are always up for sharing meals together or going out to eat together! So, whatever your preference is, you will be fine!

What do meals look like during school hours? Do teachers share meals with students?

We don’t usually eat main meals at school because most of us are done before 1:30 pm. Some schools provide snacks during breaks and we encourage teachers to consider bringing in homemade snacks or baked goods every once in a while to share with colleagues as a blessing.

What local dish is the city known for?

Pyongyang Cold Noodles is probably the most famous dish. It is buckwheat noodles in an ice-cold broth topped with thinly sliced meat, spicy veggies, boiled eggs, and then mixed together with your desired amount of soy sauce, vinegar, and Korean mustard. It is very delicious!

Does the DPRK have any western chain stores or restaurants?

There are no Western or foreign companies in the DPRK, but they have several restaurants that offer decent attempts at Western dishes like Italian food, burgers, Japanese food, etc.

What's your favorite thing to do as a team in the city? What do people do for fun or during downtime or on the weekends?

We love going to the parks and playing games or having picnics. We also love going for hikes on the weekends with other foreigners or going out for meals at different restaurants in the city. Some of us go skating at the ice rink on Sundays, too. There is also a really nice swimming pool where several of us go weekly.

How do people exercise?

There are plenty of options for exercising including swimming, biking, skating, running/jogging/walking, and going to local gyms.

What's your favorite coffee shop and/or restaurant? Why?

The Pyongyang Hotel Coffee Shop is really nice because it is run by a foreigner from New Zealand and it is on the top floor of the hotel with a really nice view of the river and the city. There are too many good restaurants to pick a favorite, but we love to visit local, less “flashy” restaurants and have Bulgogi (Korean BBQ). It is usually a great adventure!

What will a new teacher be surprised to have learned after their first 60 days?

That we both have a lot more freedom than they may have expected. But also that some things that are so “normal” in other countries like wifi, chain stores, and using public transport are not available.

Any additional points to know?

Spring and fall are amazing!! The temperature and the landscape are amazing. Also, living on the diplomatic compound is really fun because you get to meet people from every corner of the globe and occasionally get invited to fancy embassy parties with expensive food and boring speeches!

Family & growth

How do people generally work with Member Care Specialists in DPRK?

We have a mixture of informal check-ins and formal once/semester Member Care Specialist one-on-ones.

What does ongoing personal/spiritual development look like in the DPRK?

The Team Leader organizes and leads personal and spiritual growth times regularly throughout each semester. Part of each team meeting focuses on these areas, and we also have regular times for personal reflection through things like HOPEs (Half Day of Prayer).

What does ongoing professional development look like in the DPRK?

New teachers are supported by the Teaching Specialist and their school team. A teaching mentor is provided for the first semester and regular observations are done as well. After the first semester, teachers are required to take part in regular (twice/semester) Pro D meetings led by the Teaching Specialist.

Are any current teachers in the DPRK continuing their education through our various MA opportunities? If so, what degree(s) are they pursuing?

Several of us have either recently graduated from an MA program or are currently working on one. Many of us have/are doing the MA TESOL from Biola University. One teacher did her MA in Newcastle, UK.

Is language study available in the DPRK? If so, what does that process look like for new teachers?

Language study is available through a Korean teacher who is allowed to work with foreigners. Her schedule is fairly busy, so it isn’t a guarantee that you can get a slot right away. We also do a yearly intensive language study at one of the local universities for two-to-three weeks in March. In January there is also the option to study at a language school in South Korea for a month as well. While in-country, we encourage regular self-study and our new LCD Specialists are working towards improving language development options for when we return.

Are there any families with children in the DPRK? If so, how many children are on the team? What is the age range (oldest and youngest)?

There are 3 families. One family with 4 girls (3, 7, 9, 11). One family with three boys (3 months, 1.5, 4). One family with one girl (9 months).

What's it like to raise a family in the DPRK?

It is challenging but has become easier over the years. Everyday life tasks like cleaning, cooking, and laundry are a bit harder than in North America. Most families opt for homeschooling. Interacting with local families is very difficult but not impossible. We recommend that any families considering joining the team should talk to existing families or previous teammate families.

What roles do non-teaching spouses typically play in the DPRK?

Often helping with hospitality and event planning. There are also opportunities for tutoring other foreigners or local staff at restaurants or shops on the compound.