Reasons You May Actually Want to Teach in Korea (That You May Not Have Previously Considered)


1. Youre bankrupt. Not morally bankrupt, but financially. Unlike American employers, South Korea doesnt have any interest in your credit score or financial history. Whereas you may get turned down here for a managerial position if you have bad credit, no one cares in Korea. If you can do seven years overseas, you will have a clean slate when you get back home.

2. You are in the insurance gap. Despite the strides towards universal health insurance in America, there are still folks who cant get Medicaid and cant afford health insurance. We really ought to just have universal healthcare, but fuck no, because rich Republicans need to make more money for pharmaceutical companies. South Korea has universal health insurance and great health care. Dental is still sort of iffy: you can get x-rays at 10 different dentists and be told 10 different results, so you may need to get one filling or 14, depending on who you see ( or go to Dr. Gina Sohn at Tufts Dental in Yongsan if you want to avoid this problem all together).

3. You need to save up thousands of dollars in one year or pay off credit cards fast. If you are frugal, you can easily save over $10,000 teaching at a hakwon in Korea, closer to $15,000 in some cases. If you can manage to send as few transfers back home as possible and wait until the exchange rate is the highest, you can send home $12,000-$15,000 each year, if you finish your contract and collect your bonus. Be sure that wherever you work has been open for at least a year, if not two. There are many fly-by-night schools that will close in the middle of the year and leave you high and dry.

4. You are a white American and want to find out what it is like to be a minority. No, you will never, ever know what it is like to be black in America, or Hispanic, or Asian, but you will have an experience as a minority in a country that is otherwise overwhelmingly ethnically homogenous (#2 in the world; #1 is North Korea) and it is interesting. If you understand that your experience as a minority is unique to the circumstances, it can make you more empathetic towards the Other when you get home.

5. You dont want to do/cant do Americorps, Teach for America, Peace Corps, and dont want to get your teaching experience in an inner city school. Granted, you will miss out on the graduate school scholarships from not doing these programs, but you can also save money in Korea to make up for that. Of course, you cant defer school loans while in Korea like you can if you do one of these programs. I have often thought that volunteerism on that level is really the privilege of the rich, because who else can afford to not work for years or months at a time in order to make a difference? You have to eat, too.

6. You want to reinvent yourself for a while. Going overseas where no one knows you from Adam can really help you change. You can be all sorts of people and try on different masks. Chances are that you will also rarely, if ever, meet again any of the foreigners you worked with if you dont make the effort. Being in a new place can give you the drive to do new things, like start a diet, make a plan of action, etc.

7. You need to jam. Sometimes, you just need to jam, to break out and go away for a while. Might as well go to Korea. If you hate it, you can skip on over to tons of other countries.

8. You want to move, but have no furniture. Your apartment ought to have furniture.

9. You didnt go to a good college and dont have a good GPA. While this can make it difficult to find a job in America, especially if you are just starting out, there are lots of schools in Korea, and the people running those places dont know the difference between Columbia University and Columbia College. You can have a 2.0 GPA and still get a job at a hakwon just with your charm (and by charm, I mean whiteness). In fact, all you need is a 4-year degree, which you could have gotten online through a community college extension program. You could have majored in pretty much anything, not just education, teaching, or linguistics. You neednt be a great student either, or involved in school activities, or even have a work history, so long as you have the diploma. You may not get the best jobs, but you will get one. Hell, you not only dont have to have any teaching experience, but you dont need to know anything about English at all: you can be a terrible reader and a terrible writer, because the curriculum is laid out for you, and all of your end-of-month comments will be translated into Korean anyway. Fuck, you could have even gotten your 4-year degree at DeVry, where there is little to no work in language arts or humanities and you dont even come out with a real bachelors degree, and still get a job teaching English in Korea.

10. You want to move to a big city, but cant afford to do so in America. In America, you need thousands of dollars to get a decent apartment in the city. You need a job. You need to make friends on your own. It can be difficult to get a job in a new city without a place of residence there. If you have never lived in a big city, Seoul is actually a pretty decent option. You get a free apartment, and it is relatively safe from violent crime. Also, if youre parochial, you have default friends in your co-workers if you work for a large school.

11. You want a starting point to go traveling. Some people do this: teach for six months, peace out on a midnight run, then go traveling. Dont do this. If you dont have a compelling reason to pull a midnight run, dont skip out. You just increase the workload for your co-workers. However, being in Asia certainly does make it cheaper to travel in Asia. You dont get a lot of time off, and youll be lucky if you get time off the same times your friends do (I once worked for the only hakwon in Seoul that had their winter and spring breaks the week AFTER everyone else. I couldnt travel with my friends. My Korean bosses were baffled: I had friends OUTSIDE of the school? Who? WHO?) But you fly to Korea for free (only sign a contract that gets you a flight there on their dime; do NOT accept reimbursement when you arrive), and you get a plane ticket back. WARNING about that: the school will find you the cheapest option possible. If you switch schools while in Korea, expect to get a plane ticket reimbursement of a fraction of what it actually costs. I know someone who got $200 reimbursement on her flight back to New York because apparently, the school discovered a cargo rate of $200 from Seoul to New York and figured it applied to people as well.

12. Youre a drug addict and/or an alcoholic. No, Korea doesnt want drunks or junkies as English teachers. They specifically try to avoid drunks and junkies. You will be drug tested when you get here, so ideally, you will want to have been clean for a few weeks. You wont be able to find most of your favorite drugs in Korea, so if you want to go cold turkey, this is the place. Since they have little understanding of alcoholism and even less of drug abuse, most Koreans will never know your secret, or your not-so-secret. But this doesnt mean that some of your fellow foreign teachers wont know, at least the street-smart ones. I have worked with people who look like people who drink a lot or have done hard drugs for quite a while. Of course, there are a lot of sheltered people who go from the cornfield right to Korea, so theres a good chance that many wont notice that you have a substance abuse problem so long as you dont do anything too outlandish, like vomit all over your kindergarten class. Ive worked with someone who was prematurely wrinkled from hard drug use and was the only one who picked up on it. It was obvious to me. The Koreans assumed that she was wrinkled because she was so mature, taking on so much responsibility as a young adult. Of course it was that, not the drinking and the hillbilly heroin shed been doing since she was fifteen. I had a foreigner boss at one school I worked at demand that we give him money to buy booze that night. While neither would fly in the US, it all goes right over the heads of Korean employers. There are lots of American and Canadians with puffy, red alcoholic faces teaching kindergarten all over Korea, and no one seems to notice. I suppose you would have to show up to school with full-on jaundice for anyone to raise an eyebrow. So, if you arent employable in the US because of your drug and alcohol problems, there is a place for you in Korea (if youre white).

13. You really need to be told what to do all the time, but dont think the military micromanages enough. Some people really thrive in Korea, and many of those people are people who just dont like to think hard. I guess there is nothing wrong with that as long as you accept it and youre not suddenly in charge of anything important. If you work at a hagwon, you will be micromanaged. You will be handed your work, told exactly what to do and how to do it and when, and you will be expected to do it as they like it. You will even be on camera and subject to surprise inspections from supervisors and parents. Some people thrive on this lack of personal empowerment, or more exactly, this objectification. If you dont like to think hard and just want to do your job and go home to your distractions, Korea is for you. I was literally told by a supervisor in Korea that it wasnt my job to think (who would later complain that I was overpaid because I did pretty much stop thinking at my job), and I was hired for a specialized position at the school, so if I wasnt paid to think, the average teacher can sleepwalk through a year. If you like knowing that you never, ever have to make a decision or create something on your own, and you get a sense of accomplishment from making your superiors happy in a weird, servant-like fashion, you will love working in Korea.

…of course, this is problematic, because if youre like that, there is a good chance you have no teaching experience, let alone any professional experience managing children. Or even a degree from a solid institution of higher education, where you are supposed to learn to think critically and independently. Anyway, see #9 again.


Reasons You May Not Want to Teach in Korea After All (That You May Not Have Previously Considered)


1. You may be too old for this shit. I went to Korea when I was 30. I have previously been a low-level manager at a magazine, and was now on an equal plane with people nine years my junior, many of whom hadnt had a real job before. There is a generation gap between me and those kids, such that I couldnt really understand them and they couldnt understand me. I don’t understand YOLO; they don’t understand delayed gratification. I was getting over a divorce, they were going home with a different GI every weekend. But moreover, I was too set in my ways to be what the schools were looking for. I was used to having way more freedom and power in my work than what any hakwon ESL position would in reality allow me. (not by contract. But by now, you probably know all about Koreans contracts and the paper castles made from them, no?)

I am not the only adult to try teaching ESL overseas as an interim career, and I made the honest mistake of thinking it would be different, that being overseas would be gratifying in a way being in America would not. We bring ourselves everywhere, and I suppose that in the end, where I really wanted to be had less to do with geography and more to do with a souls need to move form one place to the other, and if money were not an issue, and no desire to thumb my nose at everything I held important in the second decade of my life, then what I would have done is pack up and go around the world, or buy a gypsy vardo, or something else. If I had thought I would be spending two years in Korea, I would have gone ahead and done Teach for America, or the Peace Corps or Americorps.

Maybe you dont want to go to South Korea and interrupt your life, and maybe you dont want to regress back to younger years (because you will not be treated your age as an ESL teacher. Korean ageism doesnt seem to apply to ESL teachers). Maybe you are too old to appreciate the aneurysm-inducing pops and hics of K-Pop. And maybe you dont want to sign away a year of your life in a place with both bitterly cold, miserable winters and disgustingly hot and sticky summers broken up mostly by freak thunderstorms. Maybe you want to tough it out in Thailand instead, or Prague, or Chile, or somewhere we romanticize more.

You speak to current ESL teachers while vetting a potential school, but what do you ask? Every ESL teacher I spoke to told me that their colleagues were all professional, even though it is quite possible that they were all to young to even have a sense of what professionalism actually was (see #2). Both schools I worked at held professionals, all who were very professional. Especially the ones reading 50 Shades of Gray in the office as if no one knows what kind of crap theyre reading [its not that youre reading porn at work, but badly written, laughably badly written porn, at work, in a school], the ones openly talking about streaking Chinese monuments on their last vacation, the foreign boss who asked his employees for money for soju because he was notoriously broke as a joke, and the drama queen who always was taking offense at something that happened in the world as if she were the center of it.

There are lots of people who really loved working at their hakwon. In my experience, these folks tend to be the kind who really like it when other people do the thinking for them, or have never had a job with any real responsibility and fear it, or both. If youre okay with thinking for yourself, you will find it very difficult to manage in a workplace in which blind obedience and blatant brown nosing is the key to getting along. If you come from a work tradition where sycophants are frowned upon and being a straight shooter is the way to earn respect, you will find Korea baffling. Your bosses will lie to you about the stupidest things, like whether or not there is a light switch in a closet, rather than lose face. American adults dont really worry about being shamed nearly as much as Koreans do, such that by the time someone tries to shame you at work in Korea, you dont react the way that they want you to: they want you to be embarrassed and ashamed, not angry, which is what your natural reaction will be.

Another issue with being older, or at least more established as an adult before going to Korea is not finding peers easily. Your co-workers will contend with sick and dying grandparents; youre facing sick and dying parents. Theyre worried about finding someone to entertain them for the next few months. You wonder about finding a long-term partner. Dating is more difficult for teachers over 30. Youre not looking to meet someone at the meat markets in Itaewon or take home a boy you have to raise. You rue not being able to invest your money from Korea in your IRA, and your co-workers have no idea what an IRA is, or why someone would bother worrying about retirement (or investing). You may have to search beyond your school to find people. Schools generally avoid diversity, so if you manifest as different, it will be a surprise.

Now, they do want people with some experience, but in reality, they want someone who isn’t coming in with a lot of thoughts, experiences, and opinions who will question things. The difference between a new ESL teacher at 22 and one at 32, however, is that while both are certainly capable of picking up on and adhering to expectations of them as foreign workers, the 32 year old probably wont change his or her behavior, unless there is a very, very compelling reason to do so, like desperately needed funds. Otherwise, youre too set in your ways. In your twenties, you live by platitudes and the expectations of your peers, but by 30, you hopefully outgrow that and develop a stronger sense of self regardless of the image one is expected to project.

And this does not jive with being an ESL teacher, which is, in Korea at least, a lot like being an entertainer, performing on demand. Some people are amazing at this, and they stay for a long time.

1a. Korean contracts are not actually contracts, and you have no recourse. By the time you are 30, you hopefully understand contracts. And you may be quite dismayed to find out that in Korea, contracts are not contracts per se, but starting points of an ongoing negotiation in which you, the signee, are always at a disadvantage…if you allow yourself to be.

Ergo, what you sign is not a contract as you would understand it. It is actually pretty much useless. So, even if you sign a contract, expect the terms to not be upheld. Now, you, because you are the employee, have no power, so you are expected to live up to the terms you signed. However, your employer does not have to, and often, will not. Almost every single instance of overtime pay I have seen is simply for show. No one actually gets paid for it even though they often have to work overtime. I have been denied overtime by being told that I really did not need to work longer hours (even though, at the time, I was stuck doing two jobs). Some employers just play dumb, or say that you were supposed to get it approved ahead of time, as if you always know ahead of time when the boss will spring extra work on you at the 11th hour.

So then, what is the contract for, if it is not actually a contract? It is simply a piece of paper required to get you your visa.  You would have to retain a lawyer and sue your employer if you want damages for breach of contract. This means that you would have to figure out how to stay in Korea after you have had your visa revoked and have been kicked out of your employer-owned home.

2. There are two kinds of people who stay for more than a year or two: those who want to teach ESL and have a sweet deal (i.e. teaching university students, management positions in respectable companies, fell in love with and married a native Korean), and those who are compelled to do so by reasons that are not sweet. You will inevitably be stuck working with the latter at some point.  One particular person comes to mind as I write this, but there are many. What they all have in common, strangely enough, is a belief that only the insane leave Korea and all that ESL has to offer: free apartment, automatic BFFs!, saving money without trying if you are not completely and utterly financially irresponsible, a need to not think about the future. This is attractive, even to someone like me who primarily went for the money on an ill-conceived notion that I could recapture some of my youth. This is also, unfortunately, very attractive to a lot of people who may, for one reason or another, fail at life in their country of origin.

I dont mean that they have a difficult time adjusting to an unjust world, or are going through a rough patch. I mean, people who probably could not hold down a somewhat decent job – or perhaps have never held down a real job – in their own country, who, by reasons not discovered in the Korean foreign worker vetting process (which actually leaves out a lot of things that domestic employers would want to know about) would make them ineligible or unattractive for white collar work, much less working as a teacher. Some are running from bankruptcies, loan defaults, credit cards companies, etc. Now, if you have to wait out a bankruptcy, spending seven years working abroad isnt a bad way to do it, nor is it so bad to throw all of your extra money into college loans or credit card balances. I managed to amass $25,000 in two years working at hakwons, allowing me to transition to a new life and eventually to going to law school.

Im talking about people with personality problems, adults who need a lot of guidance and supervision, people who are not, for one reason or another, competitive enough among their own countrymen. Im talking about people who really, really shouldnt be teaching English to anyone, like people who lack reading comprehension and writing skills, who dont know the basic rules of grammar. People who dont know a metaphor from a simile and dont think that it matters when they are tasked with teaching students to understand poetry. Im talking about people with personality disorders, or really bad credit, or being fired for cause, or judgments against them in civil court, and other things that employers in their home countries would find distasteful.

At some point, you will work with someone like this, and at some point, you will be sucked into cleaning up after them. There is a compelling reason why someone will be content to live in school housing, work school hours, eat the schools shit, and jump through all the schools hoops, and that is because they have few options. They may not be competent. They may enjoy torturing small children and know that they cant get away with it in the US or Canada. They may not be fit to lead and would be weeded out quickly in their own country, where their lack of credentials and lack of experience would not be overlooked for the whiteness of their faces. Maybe they are simply incapable of paying all of their bills on time and need the school to do it for them. Maybe they lose their nerve when faced with the idea of starting over in a country that doesnt exalt their whiteness, where theyre the same as everyone else. Living in a place where you have less rights, no voting rights, limits on your employment, and limits on freedom of speech may totally seem like a trade-off.

While you may encounter people like this anywhere, you are really stuck with these folks for an entire year unless you want to pull a midnight run.

So, if you are competitive, independent, outspoken, and can take care of yourself in the US or Canada right now, you may not want to consider teaching ESL in Korea, and especially because:

3. Wherever you are professionally when you leave your country to teach ESL is pretty much right where you go back to professionally once you look for work in your own country again. So, if you go right after college and have little work experience before Korea, you come back to the US and have pretty much the same resume as far as most employers are concerned. Now, this is not always the case, especially if you manage to 1. become fluent in Korean (over the course of six years I guess) 2. earn a masters degree or some other degree or accreditation while here. 3. Have something else to your credit.

Now, I can really only speak about the experience of working in a for-profit hakwon, but this is probably the kind of employment most ESL teachers will consider, if not take, at some point while working in Korea. And it may seem like working at a hakwon is a really great experience, an adventure. And it is. But that is about the extent of what employers generally make of it, like spending a semester or summer abroad. This is less true for those who are already licensed teachers in their own countries, and more so for those who have  no teaching experience otherwise. Ah, but why???

First, there is the matter of vouching. Who will vouch for you? Will a prospective employer in Ohio want to get up at 3 a.m. to have a phone call with someone from Korea who may not even speak English? And who will vouch for that person? Never has any prospective employer asked me for references from Korea. Second, there is the matter of what is expected of employees. Since teaching in the US and Canada denotes some level of decision-making skills, and teaching ESL in Korea means following a script and prepared lesson plans, What one writes on ones resume may be the antithesis of what a western employer wants to read. Anyone can do what theyre told. Third, teaching ESL in Korea is not some well-kept secret. People know that this is something young people do on a lark, that the beer and soju flows abundantly.  It is not well-regarded like being in the Peace Corps, or Americorps, or Teach for America, or any other noble cause. In the past, Ive found that its best to be honest about my intentions to go to Korea: I knew little about it and wanted to make money.

I had a job where I edited custom textbooks for my hakwon. As it turned out, the material was heavily, unabashedly plagiarized, and in the end, I wasnt allowed to have a copy of any of them, and all authors and editors names were taken off those editions. It is just as well that I work a job I hate for a year and have nothing to show for it. I was on the wrong visa to begin with and wasnt supposed to be working in curriculum development on an E-2 (this is for classroom instruction only at a non-university level). Even with copies of the books, who would care if I worked on them in 2013 when I came back, in the world of print-on-demand publishing? My experience looked different to those who had been in the US and current with the changes in the publishing industry.

So I regrouped and made new connections and got busy with the work I needed to do and the work I wanted to do to go on with the next phase of my life. It was easy for me, I guess. I surpassed a savings goal that was my primary reason for going overseas, had a clear plan in my head, and the experience, credit score, and chutzpah to dig my heels in and roll up my sleeves. Re-patriating is no picnic though, but easier when you really give it the old college try and when you have something other than time in Korea on your resume.

Most of the people I know who taught in Korea and came back to the US work or worked in…customer service. Or food service. Not education. Not publishing. Not public relationships, international business, or schools. In reality, had they not gone to Korea, they would have been working those customer service jobs anyway, just a few years earlier than they got them, because that is pretty much what people do as soon as they get out of college. The people I know of who went on into careers after Korea went into those careers that they had begun before teaching in Korea, and those people didnt spend their time in Korea just working in hakwons with kids.

Korea is no way out of paying your dues.

However, there is an upside: no reference means no bad reference. If you want to pull a midnight run, go ahead. If you want to stay and test the limits and be a villain, go ahead. Its all hearsay once you get back home. Also, most hakwons have a pretty high turnover rate as far as staff goes, so by the time  you may actually need the reference, the people you worked for may no longer be there, or the school itself may be closed. Hakwons in Korea are like what websites were in the 2000s.

Do it for the experience, do it for the money, but dont do it for your resume…unless you plan on being a professional ESL teacher abroad. Even still, without the credentials, youre limited as to what you can do in Korea and where else you can go.
4. Youre claustrophobic. Remember the theme song from the cartoon Daria? Korea is like an exercise in pushing on all boundaries before they snap. Crowded streets. Tiny apartments. Even the lines to walk up the stairs along the side of a mountain (known a hiking) on a sunny Saturday can offer little freedom. People standing so close behind you in line that you can feel them breathing on the back of your neck. Work spaces so small that in order for you to get up to use the bathroom, you have to ask six people to move their chairs aside because there are NO OSHA standards for safety. You know that three feet of space between the back of one persons chair and the back of another persons chair that you see all the time in your American office? That is a legally mandated minimum distance. No such thing in Korea. In Korea, you will feel, smell, and hear everything from your co-workers. They will read your computer screen, and why not, since it is pretty much in their laps. Classrooms are crowded as well, with as many children crammed into a room as possible. Even worse, some hakwons make you take your lunch hour with the students, or in their (tiny) cafeteria, or simply at your desk. Are you claustrophobic? Are you sure?

Now, some people thrive on this lack of boundaries (see the folks mentioned in #2), but for someone who is claustrophobic, dealing with loud children in a tiny classroom was so maddening that I tried to leave teaching all together, only to end up stuck in an office in a dogpile with my co-workers, whom I will always have a jaded opinion of, regardless of who they are, simply because no one loves someone who is wedged up their asscrack for the better part of a year.

To that extent, you may find Korean friendships and dating uncomfortable, as they go from 0 to 60 in a second, and the push-pull courtship may baffle you. The guy will advance, you will push back. He will misinterpret this as his cue to keep pushing. You will threaten to cut off his testicles. He wont understand what the problem is. On the other hand, Koreans are masters of whirlwind romances and best friendships that end suddenly and thats perfectly fine.

Being socially claustrophobic, as in being a loner, generally means that one opts for solitude when the alternative is being around people one doesnt really genuinely want to spend time with. This can be problematic in a woori society, and more practically, when you live in the same building with all of your co-workers.

If the idea of living with your co-workers, sitting so close to them at work that you can smell their farts and their chewing gum and see the pus welling up in their pimples, and then being compelled to go out with them after work, on your precious, precious personal time, being in tiny rooms with many loud children, all day long, gives you a headache right now, then perhaps Korea isnt for you.

5. Youre nuts about safety, health, and sobriety. As mentioned before, Koreans dont take safety as seriously as Americans do. Actually, we tend to take it more seriously than everyone else, and take it to crazy town. We are still in the throes of the stranger-danger craze even though studies consistently show that children are more likely to be harmed and/or abducted by family than anyone else. But I digress. If the idea of being in a burning building with 60 small children who are too small to walk down the stairs, where there is no fire escape, where the building is designed such that even trying to open a window to jump out would inevitably cause a horrible backdraft that would consume everything else inside, Korea is not for you. At first, you will make small mental notes of unsafe things, like men welding right on the sidewalk as people walk by, or people consistently ignoring traffic lights as they swerve into crowds crossing the street because theyre actually watching a fucking television mounted on their dashboard. You read that right – Koreans have televisions mounted on their dashboards so they can watch TV and drive. They can talk on their cell phones and watch television while they drive. Korea has the highest rate of traffic fatalities involving pedestrians in the modern world. Think about that.

Do you like the idea of a motorcycle suddenly coming up behind you? How about seeing a person blacked out on the sidewalk, too drunk to make it home? is totally real.  On the other hand, while you are safer from violent crime in Seoul than say, in Chicago, you are more likely to be the victim of an accident or illness. I caught pink eye three times my first year teaching.

No sick days + no one staying home when sick = very sick teacher. Taking time off when youre sick is lazy. On the other hand, Koreans are really into health, and pretty paranoid about it. All of their pickled foods are considered medicinal in some way. Then again, if you go to the doctor, you get three days of antibiotics, whether or not you need them, and you still will be asked to come into work.

In my first year, I lived in a shoddily made building apparently built over a pond. The electric lines and water pipes were a mess behind the walls, such that precautions had to be taken in the kitchen, lest one be electrocuted by running the water and touching the aluminum counter top.

In my second year, most of the teachers lived in a building in which the water pipes for the washing machine were behind the brick running along the building. This meant frozen pipes in the winter, and this meant teachers flooding their apartments in the winter. I suppose one could have simply brought the washing machines into the apartments, let allowed to thaw, and then hooked up to the bathroom sink with a cheap converter, but thats work. I didnt live there. However, having a crappily made apartment can go beyond scuffy floors and chipped paint. Are you allergic to mold? Youre gonna love the summer in Korea.

6. You havent spent much time away from the West Coast or the East Coast and otherwise have no intention of making it toward the center of the United States in your lifetime…or visa versa. Koreans, and Americans too, really dont understand just how big and diverse America actually is. It would take four days of non-stop travel to drive from Caribou, Maine, to San Diego, California. Culturally, my first school was a much better fit because everyone was generally urbane. New York, Boston, Toronto, London, Vancouver, Chicago…and even though I instigated some city-related rivalries (mostly with Chicago, and now I eat crow!), I got these people much more than I did the kids at the next school. At the next school, all the kids were from far out suburbs, rural areas, little towns. If not a rural area, then a tiny college. Yupers. Wtf is that? Exactly. Not only did I not know people lived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I didnt care.
I was out of my element. I found a vocabulary slide show with a racist cartoon of a Jew used to illustrate the word greed, and I was the only person who seemed to find this offensive. There were people who didnt know about the Macys Day parade and mentioned that in the US, we couldnt have a lighted float parade like they do every year in Seoul, because we cant afford something that fancy. Except something on a much grander scale happens at least twice a day at every Disney theme park and has for decades. I was once told that the East Coast wasnt the real United States, even though I can hardly think of anything more American the original 13 colonies.

And part of the allure of going to Korea is that in a way, it is less scary than having to move to an American city for work. Leaving the comfort zone to go overseas is actually different than leaving it to go to Detroit, New York, or Los Angeles for work. The expectations are different, and it is truly much harder to make it in New York than it is in Seoul. No one gives you a free apartment in New York that you dont have to share with anyone else.

So, if you would avoid living in most of rural America, you may want to be careful about where you choose to teach in Korea, because every school is like living in a concentrated America, and if your concentrated America waves the Confederate Flag and youre not an anti-Semite, you might be very uncomfortable.

7. You dont like being an object of curiosity. Having spent most of my adult life in New York, I dont like being stared at, and I hated being touched by strangers. This is aggressive and hostile to me. Actually, in most places in the world, this is considered aggressive and hostile, because people are a lot like their primate ancestors. This can happen to foreigners in Korea. You may also be the recipient of unwelcome comments about your anatomy and the size of it. Some people (all foreigners) will tell you to just roll with it. The problem with that is that staring at and touching strangers, or making comments about their bodies IS very rude in Korean culture. If you arent ethically flexible, you may find yourself at odds with the conflicting advice. You may also get tired of people asking you if you do drugs, or having it suggested to you that Americans are pedophiles but that you shouldnt be one.

8. You like to cook. There are few ovens in Korea, and depending on where you work and what sort of housing you receive, you may end up with a hotplate and a mini fridge. Both times I told the schools I like to cook, and both times I ended up with the apartments with the shittiest kitchens. I mean shitty as in, afraid the appliances might catch fire if I use them. If you dont fry or boil everything you eat, you may have to get a toaster oven, which can be expensive, especially if you dont like the idea of making large purchases and leaving them behind.

9. You dont like pop music. K-Pop is everywhere. It is inescapable. It comes from every car, every store, every street vendor. I was in Korea when Psy hit it big with Gangnam Style. I heard it everywhere except my own apartment. The school I worked at even spent something like $10,000 to make a music video using Gangnam Style to make an advertisement for the school. I would go home and put on Sinatra and Coltrane and pretend I was somewhere else.

10. You dont like kids. This should be a no-brainer, but there are lots of folks who take teaching jobs and cant admit to themselves that they dont enjoy being around children. Teaching English in Korea is rarely a stepping stone to anything else but teaching, so if you dont suck it up and take the split shift to teach adults, chances are that the job you will get is with children. There are too many people though that go to Korea and realize that they dont like working with kids, making them suffer through a crappy teacher for a full year. Find this out before you head over.

11. You think that labor laws are meant to be honored. From being forced to work more hours than you are paid for, to arbitrarily coming into work when everyone else is inside, safe from the hurricane currently keeping the school closed, to being denied the over time pay you should be getting, to being pressured to staying at work longer than you have to simply to show your devotion to the job (ha ha ha!), you will work more than you agreed to work. This is pretty much the norm for every single job you can get on an E-2 visa. There are foreigners who will, again, tell you to roll with it. I really hate these assholes, because theyre the problem, not the solution. Telling people who are being exploited to suck it up because theyre not citizens of the country is immoral and spineless. Honestly, they should just stay in Korea and never come back, because America already has too many citizens who dont have a clear understanding of civil and human rights and are too stupid to understand how a legally binding agreement works. Would you tell the foreign workers in Qatar to suck it up? Would you tell the Mexican housemaid working 120 hours a week for no pay, no control over where she lives, where she goes, to suck it up, because she agreed to come to America? Maybe they would. By now, you should realize that a lot of those folks are in the realm of #2 on my list. E-2 visas dont warrant salaried positions, and a contract is a contract is a contract.

12. You hate mosquitoes and have bad allergies. Fuckers are everywhere. They are big, nasty, and keep biting, over and over again. Seoul isnt the most polluted megacity in the world, but Korea gets yellow dust from the Gobi Desert blowing overhead. I discovered an allergy to ginko trees when I got here. And, since you will be crammed into small, musty spaces all day long, there will be times when allergies will flare up and you will be choking. And you will still have to teach for a full day.

13. You actually know something about English and teaching English, and you hate plagiarism. Chances are that if you work for a big school in Seoul, you will be handed a curriculum that may or may not make any sense. Parents buy two things when they sign up for a school: the curriculum, and your white face. You may have very little control over what you teach, and how. This can vary from school to school, but over all, you will not be making the curriculum, nor will you be free to grade as you see fit. Plagiarism is not a big deal here, as copying is seen as a good thing, or at least inert. I worked across the street from the Versace Hotel. Not the real one, but a sleazy sex motel (theyre all over the place) with the Versace logo. I has students repeatedly, obviously copy stuff from the Internet, and I was not allowed to fail them or discipline them for it.

14. You find sex slavery abhorrent, and you cant not talk about it when you see it. Koreas problems with prostitution and sex slavery have existed long before American occupation, but it is untrue that it is exists solely because of American military occupation. There is ONE red light district in Seoul dedicated to serving foreigners. There are many others that are Korean only. It is not unusual that Korean men will get drunk with co-workers and have sex with prostitutes. Now, some of the women are in the trade out of choice, but many are foreigners, some who are tricked into coming to Korea on E-5 (entertainer) visas, only to find themselves with their passports taken away, slaving away selling drinks and sex.

Sex slavery pervades every country in the world. The problem I have with it in Korea is that to speak up makes you the bad guy. If we dont talk about it, it doesnt exist. This is why it flourishes there. The pimps and madams are in cohoots with the police, such that no raid ever really means change. However, the next item may be the reason why:

15. You have internalized your 1st amendment rights. Korea has draconian free speech laws compared to the US. You can be sued for libel and defamation even if the information is correct, even if the goal of sharing it is to warn others of danger or reveal criminal or unethical activity. This is why so many schools that should receive bad reviews dont, or do, only to have them disappear later.

If you must write a bad review of a hakwon, do it from your home country. There is nothing the school can do but request that the bad review be removed. Even then, they have no right to demand it.  The Korean government hates hakwons so Im sure no one there is worried about your hakwons feelings: hakwons bring foreigners, and social inequality, and make Korea look bad. You cannot be arrested. You cannot be sued. No: Interpol will never, ever, come after you. Interpol will not waste precious resources dealing with the butthurt of some hakwon owner over something that is not considered a crime in the United States.  If this were possible, I could be arrested tomorrow on my way to work for breaking Saudi Arabian law for driving as a woman, or later on for having a glass of wine with dinner, or for breaking Singaporean law for chewing gum. The Korean police have no power over you on your own soil. In fact, the SPEECH Act means that you cannot be extradited to a foreign country or sued in American courts for libel or defamation if what you wrote or said would not be a crime or tort in the United States. Even if a hakwon could sue you in the United States, the expense and time would make it next to impossible, let alone showing that your negative review, which was probably anonymous, was entirely spiteful with no basis in reality and caused damage to the business that can be quantified in a dollar amount.

I once wrote a bad review of one of the schools I worked at, and the owner of the website that posted it was threatened. I wrote the review after having noticed that two other bad reviews of the school went up and disappeared shortly thereafter. I figured that something was afoot, and felt it was my duty to verify the claims made. I apparently was threatened too: Interpol and the Korean cyber police are apparently on the lookout for me. Im a fugitive from justice. Of course, they didnt dare try to contact me personally tell me that shit. Interestingly enough, two other people took it upon themselves to make a case out of it. One posted an anonymous, long, positive review on the same site, sidestepping my claims, and another genius wrote a big long glowing review of the school on a personal blog, using names and pictures of key people I previously mentioned only by position in the company. Now that the school and the management have been made into public figures, I can criticize the school and the management by name if I wanted. They, however, cannot do the same to me, as I never advertised who I am or where I worked, and gave no one else permission to do so.

But does anyone want to open up that can of worms?

16. If you are looking for reasons to not teach in Korea. If you want to be talked out of it, you should just not go. Its not as if you are giving up a chance to go to the Moon, no matter how much other people may act like it is. There are other countries and other opportunities to go overseas if you want them, all special in their own way.