Teaching in Korea has been an opportunity for university graduates to travel, make money and live abroad for years now. In the late 1990s, and early 2000s, schools in Korea could not find enough teachers to satisfy their needs as there was not an abundance of information on the Internet and a lack of North American recruiters that teachers felt that they could trust. Finding an English teaching job in Korea, through a Korean recruiter who didn’t speak English very well was a daunting idea for most as they did not know if the promises made before they arrived in Korea would be kept; for many, they were not.
Fast forward to 2012. With the Internet being the source of all good and bad reviews about schools in Korea, people have come to be confused who to trust and who not to trust, by trying to find their ‘best possible option’, which would satisfy their desires to work in their chosen location, at a good school, where they will be treated well, paid on time and not fired in their 11th month of their contract. Essentially, everyone is after the perfect job when they first start looking, but many make the mistake of choosing location and ‘promised’ compensation over taking the safe route and going through a recruiting agency that actually has their best interests at heart.
No one can make you change your mind if you are really set on something. For example, if you see a job in ‘the best area in downtown Seoul’ on a very confusing site like ESL Cafe, that is offering 3 million Korean Won a month, one would think that this is a much better option than working for a school in, let’s say Daegu City or Suwon City, making 2.1 million Korean Won. How could there be such a huge difference you ask? To answer this, all you have to do is look a little bit closer.
If you do your research, you will know that most schools in Korea offer first time ESL teachers a base pay of 2.1 million Korean Won; schools that have more teaching hours offer a bit more as do schools that only hire Bachelor of Education holders. Pretty much gone are the days where schools pay a higher salary for experience teaching in Korea. Along with the base pay, on a one year contract, schools will then provide you with a rent free apartment, 50% of your health insurance as well as a severance of one month’s salary upon completion of your contract. Looking further into the above mentioned job description in Seoul, you will notice that the apartment and severance are not included in the job description, but the costs for these are included in the 3 million Won number. Now you have to ask yourself: If someone is trying to trick you into believing you will be paid close to $1000 a month more than the average pay, is this someone that you can put your trust into? Someone who will come to your rescue should things not be the same as promised when you land in Korea? Very doubtful indeed.
Another common trick used by some Korean recruiting agencies is to have the teacher send out their documents (such as the criminal background check and diploma), to Korea before they have secured a job for you, in promise that they will find you exactly what you are looking for. In this situation, the recruiter is essentially taking your documents for ransom, as they will only use them if you proceed with one of their schools; if you decide not to work with that agency, consider these documents as good as gone and you will essentially have to start everything over from the start.
Now, not all Korean recruiting agencies are bad, but there are a lot out there that are not to be trusted.
The reality is that once you are in Korea teaching English as you set out to do, you will not be concerned that you are not in the ‘most perfect place’ that you had imagined when you started your job search. What you will come to understand after using a reputable recruiting agency is that you need not worry about getting paid on time, or getting fired in your 11th month of your contract. You will only have time to enjoy your new, exciting life as an ESL teacher.