Question–How do you get fired in Korea?
Answer–Teach at a Hagwon!
All joking aside, teaching English overseas is a great way to experience living and working abroad and South Korea is a great location for this.
I learned about teaching English in Korea from my best friend Elisabeth who wanted to live abroad. I was currently working as a therapist in an inpatient psychiatric hospital and was feeling ready for a change of pace. So when Elisabeth told me she was going to South Korea I began to do some research and jumped on the bandwagon!
My first step was to visit Daveseslcafe.com. This website gives a huge wealth of information, mostly useful for those teaching English in Asia. I updated my resume, attached it, and within a few weeks I was contacted by a recruiter in South Korea and offered a job.
The school that hired me paid for my work visa, airfare to Korea, a small apartment, and offered me a bonus at the end of my 1 year contract as well as offered to pay my airfare home. The salary was equivalent to $2,000 USD, paid in cash every month. For me at the time, this was a good deal as I did not have to pay for housing, the school paid for my Visa and I was able to save around $1,000 every month, sometimes a little less depending on my travels.
I made a lot of amazing friends at the school in Seoul who were from all over the world.
The school was a private, for-profit school, called a Hagwon. I had a tiny apartment and for a few months I was very happy there. Unfortunately I soon discovered I had a lot of problems with the Director of the school and his management style. He was very unprofessional and would often show up to work drunk or hung over, and used corporal punishment with the children. He would have the children hold heavy books high over their heads for a long time, would pull their hair, twist their ears or pinch them when the misbehaved. A lot of Hagwons use corporal punishment with the students, and for minor infractions such as speaking Korean in classroom. I was very uncomfortable with this. It also became obvious the Director of the school did not care much for me by the snide comments he would make about my Master’s Degree. The other English teachers who had been at that school for a while informed me that with every new group of English teachers the Director brings to the school each year, he always makes a point to fire one teacher in order to intimidate the others. I felt like I was being singled out. I decided life is too short to work someplace I was unhappy. So I contacted my recruiter and told him what was occurring and that I wanted to find another job.
The recruiter talked to the Director about my desire to resign and the Director decided to fire me instead. This was the first and only time I had ever been “fired” even though I resigned first. To add insult to injury when the Director “fired” me he called me into a meeting and told me that I looked really good on my resume because I have a Master’s Degree but in person I was lacking. The director did not pay my final paycheck as he said that money was to pay him back for my airfare to Korea. This was money I earned teaching for the past month. As a foreigner teaching English in South Korea, you have very few, if any rights. So I left his school pretty much broke, and did not have enough money to fly back to the United States.
Luckily my recruiter found another job at a different school called GnB. It was located in the city of Bucheon. After a few solo trips to and from Japan for my new work Visa I eventually started working at GnB. I was the only foreign teacher working there but the Korean teachers and Director Claira were nice. It was not always perfect. We had some communication and cultural clashes at times, which is to be expected living and working in any foreign country. However I was much happier and treated well by Claira. I also made some very good Korean friends while teaching at GnB. At the end of my contract with GnB they paid my bonus and airfare home. GnB was a fair and a legit school.
So here are a few words of wisdom about teaching English in Korea. If you are considering moving to Korea to teach English make sure before you move that you have enough money saved to get home in case things do not go well. Hagwons are well known for shady business practices, not all, but a lot of them. My friend Elisabeth, who was doing excellent work at a different Hagwon was suddenly “fired” 1 month before the end of her contract. This also happened to several other people I know. It is very common for Hagwons to fire teachers right before they complete their contracts to avoid paying the bonus and airfare home. This saves the school around $4,000-$5,000 per teacher they fire. If at all possible try to find a job teaching in a public school or University in Korea. The pay and the work conditions are much better and usually fair.
Teaching in South Korea was at times a very difficult and trying experience. But even with all the trials and being cheated by the first Hagwon I worked at it was still one of the greatest experiences in my life. Although it didn’t seem like it at the time, being “fired” was a valuable learning experience. Everyone should be fired at least once! It just turned out that my best friend and I were both “sort of fired” only one time in our lives and that was while working at Hagwons in Korea!
While teaching in Korea I was able to travel, learn about Korean culture, and I made several lifelong friendships. And while I was “fired”, I wouldn’t trade the experiences for anything in the world. I would love to hear about anyone else’s experiences while teaching in Korea. Please share any comments about your own experience. Please stay tuned for more posts about Korea and some of the amazing adventures I had while living and working there!