We have put off talking about this for a long time. We needed a chance to let the dust settle before writing about our experience last year.
As many of you know, we taught in Seoul last year. We taught a private academy, or hagwon. We chose to live in the capital because of the convenience for foreigners and also because Seoul just seemed like such an interesting and fun place to live. And it was.
However, our school situation left a lot to be desired. We ended up getting stuck in one of the infamous “Nightmare Hagwons.” Here’s our story:
Upon first arriving to the school to greet the Director, we were introduced to some of the other foreign teachers as well. They pulled us aside and whispered frantically, “RUN.” Then they walked away like nothing had happened.
The Director then took us to our apartment. It was a single person apartment, and we were a couple, but that wasn’t the worst part. The hot water was broken, there was only a tiny twin bed, and no comforter. The hot water was the worst part because Korea uses “ondol” heating in the winter. Hot water is pumped under the floor and heats the apartment. Since there was no hot water we were stuck for over a week taking frozen showers and huddling for warmth in our 9 degree Celsius apartment.
We didn’t know what to think, but we toughed it out. We started hearing more from the other teachers about pay issues and that we should try to find another job. Our recruiter, however, was not returning our calls or emails.
We decided to try to make things work, mostly because we had no idea how to change schools and if we would have to leave the country and start all over again with paperwork and job searching.
Our first month pay was less than half of what was agreed upon. He gave us only 1 million of the 2.2 million won we were promised. Sadly, this was the largest lump amount we were given the entire time we were there. Most of the time he would just give around 100,000 – 200,000 won. This eventually led to us being more than 3 months behind on pay.
You can go to the Labor Board and file a complaint, but we knew that this had been done to him many times in the past, and nothing had come of it. The Director had also been sued more than 30 times. Still, he was allowed to continue his business and was not made to pay his teachers and the lawsuits amounted to virtually nothing, as he just lied and doctored documents to prove his innocence.
Over a year’s time, more than 60 teachers came and left the school. Most of them were Korean and had more rights than us. We were allowed to be in Korea because the Director paid for our one year visa. Make him mad, you go home.
Other issues were no overtime pay, no pension, no health insurance, and not getting our 10 days vacation. We really loved our students and I think that was one of the only things that kept us sane throughout that long year.
Somehow, we managed to finish our contract. Still to this day, we are owed our last month’s salary as well as our severance pay (equal to one month’s salary). Just around 8,000,000 won combined. We call the Director a few times every week, but since leaving in March he has paid us only around 200,000 won each.
So that’s our story. However, there are many teachers who work for hagwons and love their jobs. So next week, we will talk about what to consider when looking for hagwon job.
4 thoughts on “A Day in the Life – The Nightmare Hagwon”
Wow! I had no idea that you guys were going through that last year. I always tell newbies if they should get in a situation like that find the nearest and nicest Korean you can and make friends, or call me and my husband. Usually when owners realize you have Koreans that will support you or at the least berate them in their own language, things change. Though it sounds like he’s crap to the Korean staff as well? You do have options to get out and get out early, but yes, the info is certainly not readily available from managers or recruiters who get paid and will never talk to you again. It’s nice to know that you came back for another year even though you went through hell though. I hope your school now is much better.
We had a lot of Korean friends and they would yell at him for us… but to no avail. This is one of the reasons we now live in Yeosu instead of Seoul. We got jobs with public schools that pay on time and have great vacation. We couldn’t be happier. We love Korea and knew that if we could only find a better job we would be infinitely happier.
Which recruiter did you use, and what is the name of director/hagwon.
If you send us a private message, we can answer any questions you have.