Question from a reader: attitude and integrity

A reader writes in asking about teaching and attitude - if you have a question about life in Korea, e-mails are always welcomes at chrisinsouthkorea AT gmail DOT com. 'C' writes:

Hi Chris,
I am super interested in teaching in South Korea. I lived there from 1987-1990 when my father was in the US Air Force. I have always been interested in returning to visit. It's only recently that I have given serious thought to working while in Korea. I have very fond memories of exploring many areas of Songtan / Pyongtaek city as well as the areas of Seoul outside of Yongsan Army Base. I went to school at Seoul American High.

I'm 34, I have a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies, teaching experience, (a clean record) and due to the fact that I am not entirely unfamiliar with Korean culture, I thought I might be kind of a "shoe-in." However --- in my research I have come across not only people like you who seem to really enjoy and make the most out of being in a country as incredible as Korea, but I've also come across people who swear that Korea is by far the worst place you can teach due to contract issues, poor treatment of foreigners, etc.

Now, I realize that many of these people might just be difficult themselves, mildly or heavily "Ameri-centric," or whatever, but it's still enough to make me leery of the whole endeavor.That is disheartening, because it's something I'd truly like to experience.

Is there a certain intermediary company that is very reputable or a certain Hagwon that I shoul deal with directly? I'm very in the dark here! I read that your work is with adults. My teaching experience is with elementary age children, but I am not at all opposed to teaching adults. Is there a certian age group that is more "secure" in contract integrity, or job legitimacy?


Hi C.,

You know, some version of the 'what's it really like?' question comes up every so often, and I've written about it fairly recently. I've also written about tips about how to protect yourself, and about finding a reliable recruiter. OK, enough with the self-linkage - but read those for some general answers to your specific questions before moving on :)

You'd be amazed at how much has changed around Seoul, Pyeongtaek, and elsewhere in Korea. From reading older stories about the country or recollections of more veteran expats, it seems clear that a lot of change has taken place in the last couple of decades. You may not even recognize the place. Consider whether you want to visit, or want a job - touring South Korea has been getting easier and easier.

Consider attitude for a second - your attitude towards your current job, responsibilities, family, pets, whatever. That attitude affects how you perceive things in a dynamic manner. For a simple experiment, try wearing some colored sunglasses, switching back and forth between a couple different colors. I'm a firm believer that your attitude towards something is actually more important than what's happening. You can choose to look at things in many different ways; whichever way you choose, it's very difficult to change someone's mind unless they're willing to change their attitude about it. That helps to explain the jaded tendencies of some expats, as well as the optimism of others. I should also mention that everyone has their good days and bad days - the only difference is that most of the bad days don't get blogged about :)

But let's add another level of complexity, because nothing is ever as simple as it seems. Each teacher arrives in a unique situation - school, principal. living environment, schedule, area, co-workers, students, facilities, rules, and so on. Even two teachers at the same school will be in different situations - the girl with a great apartment might find it easier to like Korea, while the guy with a crappy one will think somewhat less of their experience. Also add in how they are perceived by Koreans - those five earrings or tattoo on the neck is likely to change that perception in ways you may not like. I've said it before, so I'll say it again: ask 100 teachers about their story and you'll get 100 responses, thanks mainly to the aforementioned factors.

As far as 'legitimacy' goes, I'm sorry to say there isn't a 'better' age group, or one with more integrity than others. Working with kids also subjects you to the whims of their mothers, who the school bends over backwards to please while convincing them to renew. Working with adults means they have specific expectations, which may or may not be possible in the time you have with them. Working at universities is often considered more credible / legitimate, but there are enough stories about those jobs to give people pause. Your best bet is to choose your ideal type of position, then get as close as you can to them. In this recession, there are no guarantees, and if you want the job you may have to settle for something less than expected. That doesn't mean you can't work with multiple recruiters, or turn down offers that aren't to your liking. It is a school's market, however, which is worth remembering when a recruiter offers you a job.

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