Top 5 Signs of a Sketchy Hagwon in Korea

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Sketchy Hagwons in Korea
Top 5 Signs of a Sketchy Hagwon in Korea

Many foreign teachers in South Korea get their start at hagwons, which are basically cram schools. They are a decent option for getting started, but it’s certainly a case of teacher beware.

Keep on reading to find out some of the top things to look for in a sketchy hagwon. The goal is to help you avoid getting ripped off.

Hagwon Jobs in Korea: Due Diligence is Required

I get plenty of questions through this blog from people contemplating a move to Korea to teach English and a lot of them seem quite apprehensive. And not without good reason: there are indeed a huge number of horror stories about teaching ESL in Korea, especially at Hagwons (private institutes).

10 years ago when I came to Korea for the first time, the Internet was a thing but there certainly wasn’t that much information on it about specific schools in Korea. These days however, it’s very easy to find information about a certain school, even a small one out in the countryside. Google and Facebook are your best friends in this case and you really need to do your due diligence. Ending up at a sketchy hagwon these days is kind of the fault of nobody but yourself.

These following signs of a sketchy hagwon can be useful in helping you screen out the worst of the worst. From there, you can get more specific information on Facebook or the current (former is better!) teachers at 2-3 schools you’re considering.

Top 5 Signs of a Sketchy Hagwon:

Here they are.

#1: You are the Only Foreign Teacher

If you are a newbie to Korea, this could potentially end up being your worst nightmare. The more foreigners, the better off you are when you’re a newbie. As long as you’re not weird, you’ll have an instant group of friends and people to help you settle in. Plus, it’s quite useful to have some people to band together with in case things start to go bad at work.

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#2: The Contract is too Vague

Things like not listing working days (Monday-Friday) or working hours (10-6, 3-10, etc.). The contract should also list percentages for things like tax, health care and pension. And, there should be mention of how a “teaching hour” is calculated. For example, it’s pretty standard that 50 minutes counts as one teaching hour.

#3: The Hagwon Has a bad reputation on the Internet

If a hagwon has a terrible reputation on the Internet, it’s probably for good reason. If it’s only one bad report, take it with a grain of salt. But, more than that? Steer clear, even if the reports are a few years old. Evil owners or managers are evil owners or managers and it’s not likely that they’ve made a big change for the better in recent years.

The Facebook group for the expats in that city is a good place to start your research because they’ll have “boots on the ground” so check there if you see only 1 negative report for the most up-to-date information.

Hagwon hell in South Korea: How to avoid it!

#4: They’re a New School

Financial troubles often cause new schools to close within the first few months or year. You’ll lose your job, as well as your housing, bonus and airplane ticket home. You can find a new job, but it’ll be a pretty rough first year for you. The best schools are those that have been around for 5+ years and have more than 5 foreign teachers. That way, if they start to lose some students, they can just not replace a teacher at the end of a contract instead of letting someone go.

#5: No Flights, Health Care, Pension or Housing

Flights and housing are still standard for Korean hagwons. A contract without these things would have to offer a ridiculously high salary, but it’ll be pretty difficult to organize your own housing when you’re a Korea newbie. And a contact with no mention of health care or pension? Sketchy! These things are mandatory by Korean law and all foreign workers should have them.

Teaching a Hagwon? Read the Contract Carefully!

What do you think?

What are the top signs of a sketchy hagwon in Korea? Leave a comment below and let us know.

Also be sure to give this article a share on Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter. It’ll help other teachers, like yourself avoid getting ripped off in Korean hagwon jobs.

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  1. jody

    I am about to be offered a contract from The Princeton Review private school and well, after reading some reviews from Dave’s ESL Cafe about this school, it has filled me with some anxieties. If I accept the contract, it will be my first job teaching in Korea. If you could please share with me what should be on the contract and what should NOT be on the contract and if you have any other advices for me as a ‘newbie’ ESL teacher in Korea teaching for Hagwon, I would very much appreciate it.
    Also, does the recruiter look out for the teacher at all or are they just in the interest of filling a spot for the school and getting paid?


    Jody Scott

    1. admin

      Hey there…as far as contracts go, the best place to ask about that is on ESL Cafe Korean Job Forums. The guys there love picking apart a contract. I’m not really so knowledgeable about it.

      Recruiters just want their money. They won’t get involved in case of dispute between you and the school so you need to look after yourself for sure.

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