LOCAL KOREAN SCHOOLS
When you move to another country, attending a local school might be the most natural and economic option to continue your education. Elementary schools in particular offer a wide variety of learning experiences through after-school programs. Students can participate in a variety of sports, music, and art programs, or learn special skills such as cooking, public speaking, or even magic tricks. They can also take supplementary classes for English, math, and other academic subjects. Take note, however, that there is a fee for the "after-school" programs, but they are usually reasonably priced for their quality (something like $30 a month rather than $300). In addition, elementary and middle school students enjoy lunch for free.
If you would like to go to a local Korean school, but are a bit afraid of being suddenly being thrown into an all-Korean learning environment, you could consider the following options:
(1) Public elementary and middle schools with special classes for students who have lived overseas for a while ("returnee" classes, 귀국학급, or "multicultural" classes, 다문화학급).
Here is the official information page from the government on schools in Korea with support for "returnees":
These schools are in the Seoul/Gyeonggi area, Daejeon/Sejong, and Busan.
(2) Private elementary schools with native English speaker teachers (사립초등학교)
These schools usually have native English speaking teachers starting from first grade. The tuition is around $600 a month with additional lunch and school bus fees. The degree of bilingual education varies from school to school. Some schools (e.g. 영훈초, 우촌초, 상명초, 매원초) have a substantial number of courses taught in English and Korean whereas others have only a few hours of English classes. Around 2015, the supreme court judged that the government's ban on educating English for 1st and 2nd year elementary students in these schools does not violate the constitution. So, please call these schools for the most recent situations of their bilingual education systems.
(3) Private middle schools with native English-speaking teachers (국제중학교)
The "international" middle schools such as Younghoon, Chungsim, and Daewon, not to be confused with the conventional international schools (e.g. Chadwick, Cheongna Dalton) or foreign schools (e.g. SIS, KIS), are where the majority of the education is also provided in English according to a US or British curriculum. The Korean "international" middle schools are essentially regular Korean schools based on a Korean curriculum for mostly Korean students, but offer certain subjects in English as part of an immersion program. The tuition at these international middle schools are comparable to private elementary schools, which is just a fraction of the conventional international schools.
These international middle schools might serve as a soft-landing to the Korean school system with the presence of English-speaking teachers. However, if you have never attended a Korean school and your Korean is limited, please keep in mind that these schools are still based on the Korean curriculum.
It used to be extremely competitive to gain admission to these international middle schools, which led to scandalous, illegal admission incidents. Subsequently, the Ministry of Education changed the admission system to a lottery-based one. Please check out the individual schools' homepages for the most up-to-date information on their admission policies.
As of June 2020, it was announced that certain international middle schools, in particular Younghoon and Daewon, may no longer be able to be private international middle schools. However, this has not been finalized and the Ministry of Education has yet to make the final decision.
(4) Alternative schools (대안학교)
There are alternative schools which are not acknowledged by the Ministry of Education. These include Waldorf schools and many other schools that are run based on their own devised curriculum. You can later transfer to a public school but if you go all the way up to high school in this type of educational system, you will have to take an exam similar to the GED in the US in order to be eligible to apply to college. These are private schools so tuition may be a factor in deciding whether to attend these schools. More prestigious alternative schools include 독수리학교 and 이우학교, but there are numerous other options as well.
(5) Local public schools
Despite the several options stated above, most students might end up looking into neighborhood public schools partly because of the commuting distance. Korean schools overall have quality teachers and great government support, so they could be the best place to learn and grow. There will definitely be some culture shock and language barriers, but you will grow to appreciate the broader perspectives and experiences you get to have when you overcome the initial challenges. These are not easy challenges to overcome, however, and this is why we made Schooling in Korea in hopes to help ease your transition into the Korean school system.
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