My hagwon experience has been one hassle after another. The lastest trash they're making me walk through is my return flight: 24 hours with a stop in Manila, thousands of miles south, when the goal is to fly north and across the Pacific to San Francisco. Does that seem logical to anyone? If it can save my hagwon W50,000 (approx. $45) they'll do it. They don't care at all about their staff. A number of other things also happened to me at this hagwon that were disappointing, unfair, and just plain rude. I've written up a few tips for people coming to Korea for the first time that will help ensure you're hagwon isn't a flop.
1. To Be or Not To Be Recruited.
My recuiter was terrible. Didn't realize it at first because they all had sweet voices on the phone and responded to my emails promptly. But now I know that they misrepresented my institution by telling me that there would be more than one teacher. They also offered no help to me--not even a response to a panicked email I sent--after I got the job, when no one at my hagwon listened to me at all. They threatened that I would get no other job offers besides my first one, so I should take it as soon as possible, no questions asked. It was about $200 less per month than I was hoping for, but I did as they said. If you've read Levitt and Dubner's Freakonomics, they told a very similar story about realtors. Because they don't get paid anymore if a house is on the market, they push their clients to take much less than they would like for their houses. It's about turning more houses, not helping you sell your house as you'd like it. Same with hagwon recruiters: the more clients they can churn out, the better their profits are. BUT, Levitt and Dubner also stated that your realtor--or in this case, recuiter--is not going to dump a client immediately if they push a little harder for a better deal. So moral of this story: push your recruiter, or find a new one all together, untill you get what you want from a contract and from a hagwon. It's worth it.
You can find a job without a being recruited as well. I think if I come back to Korea for another year, I will not do so through a recruitment agency. There's lots of stuff on the web about job openings and they seem to give far more specifics about their company than the recruiting agency gave me. Dave's ESL Cafe is a great one. Most of the job offers are for immediate openings, but they usually list the phone number or address on the posting so you can call them with questions or do research on the area in which you'll be living/working.
3. The Contract
Like I said, seriously don't settle. There are certain things that I know are in some people's contracts that make their lives in Korea a helluva lot easier.
a. Make sure you have at least 2 sick days. This part is just kinda written out of contracts sometimes in Korea. Koreans work really hard, and by this I mean that "personal days" are not a thing. If you're not go-to-the-hospital-with-brain-swelling sick, you're expected to come into work. I have pink-eye right now, something that would not fly working in American schools, but I don't have sick days, so my boss will take the risk of me giving it to all my students. It's about the work that you output, not your physical well-being so much. Please know that before you come to Korea. :)
b. Ask that your flights--to and from Korea, always included in a hagwon contract--are the most direct flights available. I talked about my upcoming 24-hour journey above and with other foreign English teachers in my neighborhood. They told me that they all have a clause in their contract stating they get the most direct flight available. What I'm saying is that I know it exists and I wish I would have had the foresight to require it.
c. Your contract should have a clause about what is included with your apartment: furniture, kitchenware, other facilities. Almost all contracts say, and thus the apartments include, bed with linens, pillows, and a comforter, heating, air conditioner, hot water available 24 hours, a gas range, a clothes washing machine, sink, full-size refrigerator, microwave, rice cooker, a frying pan, a pot, dishes, silverware, a couch, a desk, a tv, a wardrobe, as well as cable tv and high-speed internet capabilities. Almost everyone has these things, but if they don't include them in your contract, you probably won't get them. Make sure they are each listed in your contract before you sign.
d. Lastly, ask your recuiter to reconfirm how many foreign teachers and other staff are working at your hagwon and how many students on average are in each class. This will give you an idea of the scale of your hagwon. Also ask what facilities your classroom includes (whiteboard, TV, projector, computer, individual desks, group tables). This information will give you a sense of whether the school is doing fine or hurting financially. If your recruiter can't or won't give you this information, call the school directly. Someone must speak English; it's an English teaching institution for f's sake. Once you get the school directly you can ask things about the dimensions of the apartment offered, how far it is from hagwon and if you can get some pictures of the place. I did this pictures requesting thing, got pictures of the hagwon, but the guy *forgot* to give me pictures of the apartment. Well, if was a dirty, small piece with no window. The smallest apartment I've seen to date, and the only apartment I've seen that doesn't have one entire wall entirely made of windows.
You can get these things! They are available! You just need to require them and make your hagwon sign on it.
3. You Took the Job! Now What?
*stay tuned for a my next blog post about coming entering the world Korean hagwon work!*