Korea: The Ugly

“Korea: The good, the bad, the ugly” ends with the Ugly side of being a foreigner in South Korea.

A year ago, I wouldn’t have been able to write this post. It would have just been the good and the bad things about living in South Korea. But this year, things have changed. I’ve experienced things, read articles, heard stories.

The ugly side of living in South Korea is, in my opinion, solely based around where you work and who you work for. But I guess you can say that about almost any situation right?

For me personally, the ugly side of living in South Korea was having a boss who didn’t know what he was doing, or lying about not knowing what he was doing (I really don’t think someone would lie about being so inept though).  He signed every single page of my contract, but it was very clear that he hadn’t read it, and he didn’t know what I was entitled to as a foreign worker within the school that he managed.

For foreign teachers, you really are at the mercy of your school. Once you relocate, it is very unlikely that any organization will be able to help you to sort out the mess you have gotten into. I like to work with a recruiter because I know that they will be there fighting along side of me if something horrible were to happen. Also, they have standards on who they are associated with, which should ensure an almost decent job.

Not getting paid on time or in full is one of the major complaints that I hear from foreign teachers. Luckily, I was always paid in full and on time. In Osan I wasn’t, but that was the only flaw that the hogwan had that I worked at. I was always paid my full amount, but some months it was spread out a little bit. Eventually the school ran out of money but the situation was clear to everyone working there and we made sacrifices to save our jobs.

My contract was 12 months long. At the end of those 12 months, I was to receive an extra month’s pay as a completion bonus. This money is why I held out as long as I did at this school. But I was “let go” or “fired” or “terminated” or whatever you want to call it, just shy of 11 months. Unfortunately this is not uncommon. Schools will ditch their English teachers at 11 months and that way the contract isn’t fulfilled and they don’t have to pay out that extra month’s bonus.

I’m currently being told that since my contract was with the school, that I have to try to settle any final payments with them, not with my former boss since he was just the “manager” of the school and not in charge of any financial situations. However, his name is on my contract so I’d laugh if the school says “sorry you’re name is on it not ours” and he has to deal with it in the end. We shall see.

I’ve heard of people who try to get what is promised in their contract and are told that since they have the English version of the contract, it’s not the real version of the contract which was originally written in Korean, so the school doesn’t have to follow it.

Sexual harassment is another ugly thing about working in South Korea. The stories I’ve heard would make my skin crawl. I read a newspaper article about one teacher was just finishing up her contract and a group of fathers from her school drugged her and raped her. A book club friend told a story about a different teacher who had her phone number and apartment door codes given out to parents from her school saying she would “service” the fathers for a price. I’m not sure about the legal outcomes of either of these instances but I have little doubt that they were taken care of in any way that the Western world would find acceptable.

However – even after all these things, I would still recommend living in Korea. Sure it has it’s bad things, and it’s ugly things. But overall both of my contracts were great experiences. I’ve gained so much experience and so many memories from the almost two years that I spent living there. I wouldn’t want to shock anyone out of having those same experiences. But there are certain things that you need to check before signing a contract. My next post will be an insight into making sure that you have as much from the good as possible, and as little of the bad and ugly as possible!

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8 thoughts on “Korea: The Ugly

  1. This is a great post. Korea is a good place to live and work, but it’s not perfect (especially as a foreigner). We get treated well, but also like a stray dog at times.

    I’m starting my eighth year here and I’ve had mostly positive experiences. I have had schools close down three months before my , and my colleagues’, contracts were completed. I’ve also been “let go” for no reason other than that the a small number of parents didn’t like me (for no reason really). I’ve also been paid late by past employers. My current place has been excellent and I renewed my contract for another year.

    Your post exposes a few of the ugly sides most foreigners rarely, if at all, discuss.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing your experiences! I really did have a great time living in Korea outside of my boss this last contract. You make a valid point that a lot of foreigners dont talk about certain things. I was lucly enough to find some very open foreign friends who shared a lot of these stories with me. And are also so upset at how I was treated. They’ve also helped a lot by sharing email contacts and website links to help report my experience to the right people

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah it sucks how some foreigners are treated, and important to remember that not all foreigners here are English teachers. I think the non-English teaching foreigners really have it worse in terms of employment and benefits

        Liked by 1 person

          • I’ve met a few, and I’ve seen a few organized protests by those kinds of foreigners for better employment laws and equal severance pay and things like that. As teachers we kind of get a status – especially being from an English-speaking country. So it’s easy to forget about those who aren’t from those countries.

            Liked by 1 person

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