Question from a reader: recruiters and pre-existing psychological conditions?

Author's note: if you have first-hand experience or knowledge about pre-existing psychological conditions, feel free to comment. You can use a fake name / handle in the comments if you like.

A reader named J. writes in:

Hi Chris,

I've applied to teach in Korea and I expressed interest in working for a public school. Do you know if there is a big difference between EPIK and SMOE? I'd prefer to go with SMOE because I'd rather live in/near a big city than in a rural location, but I think my choices might be a) go for EPIK in February/March or b) go for SMOE in August/September. I might have read the email wrong (I asked for clarification) but I'm curious if EPIK might be okay. I'd rather leave in Feb/Mar than later next year.

Second question - on both applications (SMOE and EPIK), there is a question about pre-existing psychological conditions. I have been treated for depression and anxiety, and I'm fine now (i.e. I'm no longer seeing a psychiatrist, everything's good, etc.). I'd rather not lie on the application, but if I mention it, will I be instantly discarded? Will they believe me if I say I'm no longer undergoing treatment? I know you might not have personal experience with this, but your opinion would help!

Thanks so, so much for your help. I would still be googling random things if it weren't for your blog! J.

Start with this post, then continue reading - hopefully that way I won't duplicate myself :)

EPIK (English Program in Korea) places foreign English teachers in the provinces and major cities of Korea OTHER THAN Gyeonggi-do, the province surrounding Seoul.
GEPIK (Gyeonggi-do English Program in Korea - doesn't seem to have an 'official' website?) places foreign English teachers in the Gyeonggi-do province
SMOE (Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education) places teachers in the Seoul city limits.

The government organizations are essentially similar: teach in public school, paid roughly the same amounts, and so on. I've not worked at a public school, so I can't comment on any of them personally. Consider that SMOE has recently managed to shoot itself in the foot recently by hiring and firing foreign English teachers before they even arrived.

As of right now, all three are still recruiting for March / April 2010, and certainly for the fall semester next year. Remember / consider that hagwons (private schools) recruit year-round, meaning you can start whenever you and the school agree. Look to the previously mentioned post for some recruiters (not endorsements of anyone! I don't get a cut from any of them - darnit)

Now, to your second question. SMOE's application form for 2010 (find a link at - #18 is the application form) does ask, "Have you ever received treatment for Mental, Neurotic or Emotional Disorder?" If yes, list disease name, or check no. You have a couple options here, depending on how long ago it was. Basically they want to make sure you're not crazy or bound to go psycho. Considering that it's more of a school's market right now (not a teacher's market, as it was until fairly recently), answering affirmatively may be a deal-breaker for your application. If you can fit in there that it happened a long time ago and that you've completely recovered, that might be the best answer.

It's worth mentioning to your recruiter and letting them advise you from there. I would submit that it's not an automatic or instant disqualification - but does require explanation. Tell your story, but remember that your interview with the school is usually with a person whose first language is not English. Speak slowly, and avoid scientific terms or larger / complex words if you can. If you can obtain a letter from your psychologist confirming your clean bill of health it would certainly bolster your claim.

Your other option (NOT recommended!) is to say no, and omit any information about your psychological past. I DO NOT like this approach, because there are enough ways for a government to catch you in the omission - and reduces your credibility level. If you are on any prescription drugs I would just skip this whole paragraph. If you do try it and it does work, it canNOT be mentioned to anyone, even in passing. Fellow expats will probably do well in keeping your past confidential, but fellow Korean teachers may feel an obligation towards informing the principal.

Whichever way you decide, be persistent, and work to get what's ideal for you. That doesn't mean you'll get it, or be offered the job of your dreams, but you can find something you like. Best of luck.

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