What I wish I knew before coming to Korea

Lately, I have had lots of inspiration to write and share as much advice as possible, with as many people as I can about securing a job in Korea.

My last post advised potential teachers on the interview questions you must be certain to ask before accepting a position. I *cannot* stress the importance of asking those questions enough.

Continuing this stroke of genius, I have compiled a list of things I wish I knew before coming to Korea.


It is not my intention to dissuade you from teaching here! So internet trolls, kindly put down that haterade before you comment. I see you!

I am merely trying to show you, there- with the rose colored glasses- that while a TEFL job in Korea is a coveted one, there are things you must know before you touch down in the land of kimchi dreams.

8 things I wish I knew before coming to Korea:


1. My rights as a teacher

This sure wasn’t on the top of my list of things to do before arriving in Seoul. I was too preoccupied with buying transformers and how to say thank you. Especially if you are going to teach at a hagwon, you should be aware of your legal rights as a foreign worker in Korea.

“But why?” Well, you know those horror stories you’re reading online? They are true, and if you don’t tread carefully, something similar could happen to you too. And I know you’re sitting there like:


I was in that boat not so long ago, don’t feel bad. Be sure to follow my blog. Later this week I will espouse in detail what your rights are, and possibly show you where to find a life preserver when your ship is going down!!!

2. We are not “real” teachers

Yes, you will make lesson plans. Maybe you will make curriculum. You will probably make some tests and worksheets…but you don’t have power over your classroom like you’re used to. What? Were you expecting what you’re used to?


Your classes will probably be monitored with CCTV- aka someone watching your every move. Oh, a child doesn’t like your class? That’s your fault. Now you want to do something different with your class? Good luck getting that approved by your boss and partner teacher. If a child misbehaves it’s better for your own sake that you don’t talk to your boss about it. Your job is to promote  your school, and speak English to your students. 

3. I don’t have anything to prove

When I first arrived in Korea, I tried hard to prove I was a great teacher (though I had never taught anything in my entire life). I stayed late and came early and worked through my break. I created extra materials that were always “not what the school wanted.” I worked myself dry trying to appease my boss that would never be satisfied.

Don’t do that to yourself! 

I’m not saying you should stop caring- your job is important, and you should take it seriously. However, hagwons are privately owned. This means, the government isn’t regulating what is taught to students. To put it bluntly? Imagine some couple woke up one day and just said “I want to open a school today.” The next day they have a business license, and 30 enrolled students.


If you don’t get something done by a deadline because you’re working twelve hour shifts, and then have to correct and grade all 10 classes worth of homework and tests and workbooks- nothing is really going to happen. It doesn’t get sent to a board somewhere where disciplinary actions are taken. Obviously, try to meet deadlines. One more day isn’t going to stop the world.

4. How to know when I’m being taken advantage of

This one kind of goes along with #1. Number 1 is point #1 for a reason, people. Stay tuned for more on that, later this week!

If you are like the majority of foreign teachers in Korea, you probably have nothing more than the requirements: a Bachelor’s degree and maybe  a TEFL certification. Your qualifications should match your pay. 


It’s hard to figure out what you’re worth in another country, with another currency and how your experiences translate.

Moreover, if you feel like you are doing work that isn’t reflected in your salary, or it’s been far too long since you arrived and you still haven’t received a health insurance card… but somehow health insurance is still being deducted from your pay? Chances are, you are dancing with the devil.

5. How to advocate for myself

I wrote a whole article on this. I think it’s pretty awesome but I mean… you are entitled to your own opinion…I guess?

If you’re working at a hagwon, it is very possible that your rights are being infringed upon and you aren’t even aware of it yet.

Remember: just because someone holds your visa doesn’t mean you are trapped!

If someone is treating you unfairly, respectfully tell them so. Don’t be their doormat.

6. There are places I can go if a job goes sour

If you find yourself sinking like the Titanic there are things you can do about it and places you can go. Don’t sink to the bottom of the ocean like poor Jack.

First off, you can go straight to the source and contact the labor board. Report what’s going on! Just remember, you need to have actual, cold-hard proof of illegal/wrongdoings before you go all mocking jay on your boss.


Or, join the Facebook group LOFT: Legal Office for Foreign Teachers and post asking for legal advise about your situation. I highly doubt you have anything to fear about your boss finding out.

If you’re really worried just go get a bottle of wine and some popcorn…the stories on there are equal parts hilarious and horrifying. Chances are someone has posted something along the lines of what you’re experience. The comments leave me with eerily similar feeling with that my favorite tv show *of all time* Flavor of Love…only this is better because the drama is real and your imagination can therefore run wild.


7. I’m not alone

Joining LOFT has only driven this point home further. Before coming to Korea I knew what to expect from a hagwon, but I guess it never seemed real until I actually experienced it. I knew people had awful experiences working here, but I thought I had out smarted all the bad employers and was taking a really good position.


It wasn’t until I met other expats with similar stories to mine, or even worse stories- like living in the boiler room under their school. Or having to share a studio apartment with their boss and only a haphazardly strung bed cloth to divide the room for privacy.

8. Private tutoring

Let’s get something straight here, you are not legally allowed to work for another company of any kind, without your full-time boss giving you written permission- which you are then obligated to submit to immigration. That is because you are not allowed to accept documented (check, Paypal etc) payment of services on an E-2 visa for anything other than what your visa specifically states.

You are not allowed to post craigslist ads offering private tutoring sessions- government officials lie in the wait hoping to catch violators. So I’m just going to slowly back away now because I’m not advocating you to do any of that….


That is basically all I have at the moment, but I feel as though this is a very accurate list- at least from my experience. My main goal is to make sure you know what you’re signing up for in taking a position at a hagwon.

Is there anything else you would add to the list? Let me know in the comments!

And as always- “let’s try to be nice, students!”



2 thoughts on “What I wish I knew before coming to Korea

  1. I know you actually wrote stuff, but I feel like 90% of the content here was animated memes other people made. Try focusing more on writing persuasive points next time.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s