Korean vacation is different from the concept of vacation in most Western countries. Employees cannot “book” off days throughout the year that they want to have off. Korean companies usually set a 4-week period in which all employees must take their vacation. Private schools generally compliment the Korean public school system, running their courses, exams and graduations at the same time, and therefore, take their vacations at roughly the same time. Private Language schools set the exact dates of their summer and winter holidays at the beginning of each year, and these dates are usually non-negotiable by the teachers. Off-days may or may not run together, but normally total 7-10 days each year, half in the summer and half in the winter.

In addition to paid vacation, teachers are paid for all Korean national holidays (between 14 and 18 days per year) known as “red days” because they are colored red on the calendar. The reason the exact amount fluctuates between 14 and 18 days is because of the two largest family holidays, Korean Thanksgiving (Chusok) and the Lunar New Year (Sollal). During these two holidays, all Koreans return to their hometown to celebrate with their families and also to perform traditional ancestral ceremonial rites at the graves of their ancestors. Both of these holidays are governed by the lunar calendar, so the exact dates fluctuate each year on the solar, or Gregorian, calendar. By Korean law, the day before and the day after the actual holiday are also non-working days so that people have the necessary time to travel to their hometowns. As you can imagine, expressways are extremely busy at this time and travel that normally takes 4 or 5 hours can take as long as 12 hours. If the holiday itself falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the total 3 off-days would result in only one workday off. However, when the holiday falls on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, the workdays before and after would also be off, yielding a total of 3 workdays off. The best scenario results when the holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, as the accompanying non-workday before or day after connects the 3 days off to the weekend, yielding a total of 5 days in a row off.

Teachers should note that during the public school summer and winter vacations, because students do not have to attend regular school, private language schools adjust their schedules to begin and finish earlier in the day. Also, most will offer vacation intensive classes for students that want to get ahead. Because of this, teachers can expect to begin around 9am and finish around 4 or 5pm during the five or six weeks of summer and winter vacation, and many will be required to put in overtime. Teachers should check the exact conditions of their contract regarding vacation and overtime as each school varies.

Korea officially follows the Gregorian calendar, but some holiday observations are based on the lunar calendar of the Orient to encourage Korean traditional customs. Holidays on the Gregorian calendar include:

– January 1-2 New Year Days
– March 1 Independence Movement Day (Samil-jol)
– April 5 Arbor Day
– May 1 Labor Day
– May 5 Children’s Day
– June 6 Memorial Day
– July 17 Constitution Day
– August 15 Liberation Day
– October 3 Foundation Day (Gaechon-jol)
– December 25 Christmas

Holidays on the Lunar calendar are:

  1. New Year’s Day (Sollal)- 1st day of 1st month, plus the day before and after
  2. Buddha’s Birthday (Sokka T’anshin-il)- eighth day of fourth month
  3. Harvest Full Moon Festival (Ch’usok)- 15th day (full moon) of the eighth month, plus the day before and after Korean Thanksgiving Day.