A question from a reader who is considering coming to Korea to teach English but is wondering about the stories they keep reading about how many ESL teachers get ripped off.
Korea’s Less than Stellar Reputation
Korea is a place where many English teachers get ripped off. It’s not the universities or public schools that are the problem but it’s usually the hagwons that are especially sketchy. At a hagwon, you can count yourself lucky if you only get screwed over on some small thing and not on the big stuff like your salary or plane ticket. A big part of the problem is government agencies that are supposed to look after stuff essentially have no power to enforce any of their rulings. For that, you need to move higher up into the court system which requires a lot of time, money for a lawyer and translators. Few people will go through the hassle for a couple thousand dollars.
Everyone is Watching out for their own Bottom Line
Recruiters are not looking out for you but are just looking to place you in a job and collect their fee. They don’t really care if you get ripped off or it’s the sketchiest hagwon around. There are a few exceptions, but they’re rare.
The hagwon owner or manager is not looking out for your best interests–they’re looking out for their bottom line. Ethics and morals are very different than what you’d expect in a Western country and your contract also isn’t really worth the paper it’s been written on.
How Not to Get Ripped Off in Korea: Do your Research
So come to Korea to teach English, but do your research before. Ask around on ESL Cafe or Facebook for any school that you’re considering..
Get references of past teachers who’ve finished their contracts. Like 3 or 4 of them. Email or phone them. The current ones often have something to lose (airfare/bonus money) so will sometimes not tell you the real deal.
Have a Showdown, if Necessary
Be prepared to stay after your contract to have a sit-in, if necessary so you can get your airfare and bonus money. Do not leave the country before you receive these things. Your school will not send it to you in America. Also, be prepared to bail mid-contract if things look bad, which will involve having a bit of money in an emergency fund to buy a place ticket home, to Japan or China or wherever.
(more personal finance for ESL teachers abroad: The Wealthy English Teacher: Teach, Travel, and Secure Your Financial Future)
It’s up to you to look after yourself, if you’re coming to Korea to teach English. No one else will.