Question from a reader: heard bad things about Korea?

A reader named 'M' writes in:

Hi,I found your blog and yes, I have lots of questions. I have heard only bad things about teaching in sk? is that the case? also, for females is it any better/worse? and have heard to go with a public school rather than a hagwon. thanks so much if you get back tome. M

A lot of these questions have been answered in the past - the last time I wrote about this was a few months ago, but it's a good time to bring it up again :)

I have heard only bad things about teaching in sk? Yeah, I can see how that might be the case. In the world of websites, it seems the negative ones weigh in your mind far more and longer than the positive ones. It's somewhat ironic that the website most visited before arriving in Korea is probably the worst place to get an idea on what to expect.

So why have you only heard bad things? Several reasons. Reason #1 is psychological - it's a lot easier to rant on about something really crappy that's happened to you today. 'Good' days don't always merit stopping the presses.Reason #2 is relevancy - as websites age (as eslcafe is one example of) the information contained inside become less and less helpful. Seriously, a restaurant review from 2003? Advice about immigration from before the new changes took effect in late 2007? A number of us K-bloggers are working on something that will contain some of the most up-to-date information about Korea. I can't say much more at this point, but this blog will definitely be updated when it's ready.

Reason #3 is the grand size of the internet - for better or worse, finding something specific can be a challenge if you don't know what to look for. Reason #4 is time - the people not enjoying their time here have all afternoon / evening to complain about it. The people enjoying their time are usually too busy to write pages on mostly-negative websites about it. We're too busy traveling, meeting friends, taking Korean classes, or - gasp! - enjoying our jobs. The fact is there are plenty of positive things going on about Korea - many of which can be found on the blogroll to your left. Check them out - or any of the over 150 posts on my blog tagged 'destination'.

for females is it any better/worse? Since I'm not female, I can only report second-hand descriptions from female friends and/or my girlfriend. There are definitely a number of women that come here and fit right in, and some who experience some various forms of discrimination. You may also find yourself the unfortunate target of some unwanted physical contact - knowing how to squeeze, kick, or punch may come in handy. The expectation of modesty is applied far more to women than men, and if not followed will cause you to get stared at. If you stand out from the fairly typical Korean appearance, those older Korean eyes begin to wander... If you carry yourself well, ignore the idiots, and dress according to the culture, you'll be fine across the board.

Females are usually considered below a male of the same rank or age, thanks to the Confucian mindset that permeates society. Anecdotally speaking, you're not as likely to get hit on by Western guys (who are usually more interested in the "exotic" Korean girls they're now surrounded by), while Korean guys are a little more resistant to make the first move unless someone introduces them to you. One blog I read follows a Western woman trying to date Korean men; she links to a few other bloggers of that variety, if you're interested in reading more than one person's story.

[I] have heard to go with a public school rather than a hagwon[?] Not anymore. Once upon a time, Korean public schools were seen as the refuge of teachers who had gotten screwed by those dastardly private schools / hagwons. You won't get screwed by the government, right?! You might have heard about this recent story, where public schools have begun pulling the same tricks in both contracts and hiring teachers, then firing some of them before even starting their job.

To be fair, once you get and start the job, the reports I've heard of public schools are generally positive. There are horror stories about both public schools and hagwons; for the former, it's usually bad relationships or unfair expectations / requirements. At hagwons, it's that and not getting paid or other contractual issues, some of which are more difficult to get straightened out without some help.

I've stated in a previous post that if you ask 100 different English teachers you'll get 100 different stories - some good, some bad, and a few ugly ones. But that's life. One doesn't go into a new job halfway across the world fully knowing exactly how things will go. Heck, we can't even do that for a job we take around the corner from our home! Several months ago, I talked about how 'discernment from afar' (to use a reader's phrase) is very difficult. As stated before, begin the journey under the assumption that things won't always go as planned / expected. Setting that expectation will make things go a little smoother.

The bottom line is that Korea has issues on how it's foreign teachers are dealt with. Every country does, though - if any one country were supremely better at it, we'd probably all go there in one fell swoop. Korea has been good to me - and good for me. That's why I'll be sticking around for awhile.

Female teachers, any advice you'd like to pass on regarding discrimination or other tips for life in Korea? Comments are open!