So you’ve found yourself researching about teaching English in South Korea! Maybe this is the first time you’ve thought about doing something like this, or maybe you are about to sign a contract.
I’ve highlighted some parts of our contract and explained a bit about our experience so you'll know what to look for in your contract to get the best experience possible.
Want to see the actual contract that we signed when we taught English in Korea? Enter your email below and we'll send you a copy for FREE!
Ron and I decided to teach at a Hagwon instead of a public school. A hagwon means a privately owned after school “academy” O-hagwon is an after-school English academy. In Korea, most children attend some sort of after-school academy ranging from Music to Taekwondo to Math Academy. Some of my students attended up to 5 different academies in one day!
It is extremely common for most children to attend an after-school English academy. Because of the sheer number of children attending these academies, there are a lot of them out there. In 2005 in Seoul alone, there were 25,000 English hagwons. That means the quality of the school can range greatly. Also, because these academies are privately owned the people opening and running them have a variety of motives.
Obviously, the best possible school to work for would be one where they actually care about the children’s education and less about how successful and profitable the school is. There are academies like this out there! This is why it’s important to know what questions to ask when applying and interviewing as well as what red flags to look for.
Here are some red flags written in our contract that we realized only after getting to Korea:
1. The employee must have adequately prepared for the class in advance.
When communicating with the school or a recruiter it is imperative you discuss and are aware of what preparation your employer expects of you before each class. If you are required to teach 35-37 classes per week, and only work 40 hours total, that is not a lot of time to prepare full lessons for each class you teach. The way our school worked was that we were required to pick out books at the beginning of each semester for each class.
Once we understand how a particular series of books worked, we didn't have much preparation to do before each individual class. But, it can be difficult when you are given free rein of a class without a book to instruct from. If you have a class of ten 5 year-olds and nothing prepared to keep them occupied for the duration of your lesson, your class might start to look a bit like a zoo.
2. Teaching of the English language to (Target student ages: kindergarten, elementary, middle, high school students and adults)
No matter what your school or recruiter tells you before if it’s in the contract, its free game. Our recruiter told us we would only be teaching elementary and middle school students, but in fact, we taught students ranging in age from 3-60 years old.
3. The salary is considering 30 hours a week (1,800min.) and the payment will be once a month.
This is the MOST IMPORTANT part of the contact (in our opinion). Whatever you do, if your school has written their contract to include minutes instead of just hours or number of classes (with class time specified) RUN AWAY. 30 hours a week = max 30 classes a week. 1,800 mins a week when classes are 50 minutes each = 36 classes a week. When you start asking your teacher friends how many classes they are teaching per week at their school and they say 15-20 classes and you are teaching 36, planning lessons, and everything else on top of that while simultaneously running around like a chicken with its head cut off, something is wrong.
An ideal contract would require you to teach 30 classes or less in a week. 25 classes is a good amount to teach without going crazy. A good way to understand how many classes will be expected of you to teach is to talk with the teachers you are replacing.
4. The employer cannot guarantee any specific work schedule requested by the teacher.
We didn’t run into many problems with our working hours. For the most part, we arrived to work at 1:30 pm and left work at 9:30 pm. Our hours changed for the month of January as well as June/July while public school was on winter and summer breaks. During this time hagwons generally open their doors for the kids at 11:00 am and close at 7:00 pm.
5. The employer has the right to request the employee to work for the other workplaces if it’s necessary. However, it will not be longer than the working hour that is commented from above. The Supervisor will provide transportation costs for the long distance.
If this is in your contract, again, run for the hills! After arriving in Korea we found out the teachers we replaced were asked/bribed to travel an hour across town to teach the CEO of a huge Korean company and his employees English. They then had to turn around and travel another hour back across town to teach their regular classes at the academy. Sure they were compensated for this extra teaching and time, but not much.
They wanted to do all they could to make extra money so they said yes to the opportunity but when we arrived on the second day we were instructed to attend a meeting with this CEO guy in a high-rise on the other side of town. We were instructed to pay attention to directions because we would most likely have to go there again on our own. We were also asked to wear our nicest clothes/a business suit. Don’t look stupid like I did showing up to a very formal meeting wearing everyday work clothes.
We had many instances where we were asked to teach other places than our school. Our director opened up a sister school while we were in Korea and we were asked to teach there. Our director cared more about money than anything else, so when a student refused to come to class, instead of turning down the extra money, I was instructed to go teach him at his house.
Ron spent more than half of the time we were in Korea teaching two days a week at a totally different school with a different director who paid our director for his time. Despite him saying he would do no such thing because that was illegal and a violation of his Korean work visa.
6. Upon arrival in Korea, the employee may be allowed a few days lead time for adjustment and preparation for school prior to the beginning of his/her regular teaching work.
I never met a single foreigner teaching in Korea who was given “a few days lead time” before starting work. We arrived in Korea at 10:00 pm after traveling for over 24 hours and were picked up at 11:00 am to go to lunch with our director. We shadowed classes that day and were teaching our own classes the next day. Jet lag is real. Culture shock is even more real. When moving to Korea, be prepared to be thrown in head first looking like a deer in headlights. There is no way of getting around this, it's just one of those things that makes the experience a fun ride. Buckle up and hold on tight.
7. CLAUSE (MEDICAL INSURANCE, RETIREMENT TAX)
A. The employer will provide the employee with medical insurance through the National Health Insurance Corporation (NHIC).
B. The half of the insurance premium will be paid by the Employer and the other half by the employee. (For reference, the current insurance premium rate is about 2.8% of a monthly income)
C. The employer will provide the employee with a National Pension Scheme. The employer and the employee will contribute fifty (50) percent each of premiums and fees.
These three points are required by law. Make sure to read your contract carefully and know what it says. We heard about a lot of foreigners not getting their pensions when they left Korea. Because of this, and having a wishy-washy director, we decided to be proactive and go to the pension office halfway through our contract to make sure our director was contributing her 50% into our pensions. She was and we had no issues with claiming it at the end of our contract. Whew.
You should also know that not everyone is eligible to claim their pension when they leave. Your home country must have an existing agreement with Korea that allows you to do so. But at the same time, everyone is required by law to pay into the pension system, so if you are one of the unfortunate souls who can't claim it when you leave I'm sorry, but you're probably just going to lose out on that money.
8. The employee will be allowed for vacation as specified by the school, which is indicated in a yearly academic calendar being accompanied by this contract.
(The vacation will be 3 days in the summer and 3 days in the winter. The vacation days will be determined by the employer.)The employee will not work on Korean national holidays.
After getting offered the job and receiving the contract we were so excited we pretty much decided to ignore the fact we were only receiving 6 vacation days for the entire year. We also decided it was fine to have our director tell us when we could take said vacation days. What were we thinking?! Compared to public school teachers (who get 2 months of vacation a year) 6 days felt like a prison sentence. Use your own discretion with trying to barter for more days. In the long run, teaching kids is hard; you will want those vacation days to relax, explore neighboring countries or even more of Korea!
9. The cost of monthly service, utilities, and telephone charges for the accommodations will be paid by the employee.
For the first 2 months, the employer will collect the deposit of 200,000 won for each month from the employee, in order to pay off the bills of utilities and telephone charge, which the employer is to service during the two sessions after the employee has left. The deposited money will pay off the bills and the balance thereof will be transferred to the employee’s account back home.
Yeah, we never saw that money again.
10. The employee should examine the medical checks (including HIV, TBPE, Cannabinoid (THC) after coming to Korea.
If the employee tests Positive, The Employer may terminate this contract. And the employee has to reimburse all of the cost of the plane ticket to the employer for coming. Also, the employee has to reimburse all of the cost of hiring the employee. (Commission for the agency, and so on), the employee should leave Korea by the employee.
This is just a good heads up to let people know you will be tested for different diseases and drug use. At the time I was prescribed to an ADHD medication and inquired with my recruiter about my prescription. I was informed that unfortunately if my medication showed up on my drug test, I would be sent back home! Everyone has his or her own opinions about this subject; I’ll leave you to decide how you want to feel about it.
Ron showed up to Korea looking like this:
Let’s just say Ron didn't have his dreads for long. Ron debating cutting off his dreadlocks before we even starting the interviewing process; knowing it would be more difficult to get a job with an unconventional hairstyle. He decided to keep them and so he asked the recruiter and the teachers we were replacing if he would be expected to cut his hair. Both told him his hair was fine and so we went on our merry way. The night after our first day at school Ron received a message from our recruiter saying:
"Hello Ron and Jessie,
We've talked to your director and she said she really like you and believes that you guys would be good teachers for children:) By the way, since students are young, lots of students are interested in Ron's hair:)
As we mentioned before, Korean people believe that a male teacher should have short and neat hairstyle without mustache based on Korean culture. So the director asked me to ask you carefully to change your hairstyle and shave your mustache. We understand and respect your hairstyle which is very personal. However, since Changwon is more conservative than Seoul or Busan, the director is worried many parents and students judge you from only your appearance. I hope you understand this and let me know if you have any concern."
At the time we weren’t too happy. Now it's a funny story to look back on.
A few things that should be included in your contract:
- Airfare to Korea and home again after completion of your contract.
This is a debatable subject and the year (2014) we arrived in Korea we were told by our recruiter that most hagwons were no longer paying for return airfare. Most of our foreign teaching friends also did not receive return airfare. This could be true and hagwons no longer include return airfare in their compensation packages. But it could never hurt to ask!
- A bonus amounting to one standard paycheck upon completing your contract
This is required by law and should be written in your contract. If it is not and you sign the contract anyway, sorry bout ya.
- Your own furnished apartment with a bed, refrigerator, stove (no ovens in Korea), etc.
Even though we had a rough experience with the school where we worked, we had an amazing time in Korea. Yes, we were overworked and might be a bit bitter about the school we taught at. But we have chalked it up to experience hard earned. Also, from other experiences I’ve read and heard about, it can be much MUCH worse. It also helps that we can share this experience with you so you don’t get suckered into the same situation we did.
Teaching in Korea is an experience like no other and if you want to gain a whole new insight into the world, this is a perfect opportunity. Just make sure you do your homework before diving in head first and signing that contract.
Also, don't forget to enter your email address at the top so that we can send you a FREE copy of the actual contract we signed.
If you're heading to Korea soon be sure to check out my other post 6 Important Things to do Before Moving to South Korea.