Graduating from college can be a scary thing. Although the months leading up to graduation were exciting and promising for me, they were also filled with uncertainty and stress.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life after college, so when I heard about a job opportunity to teach English in South Korea, live there for free and get paid a reasonable amount of money for one year, I knew I had found the solution to my post-grad plans.
I thought I did all the right things when I applied for this job. I went through a reputable recruiting agency that places individuals in teaching positions in Korea.
However, I made the mistake of not deeply researching what kind of school I wanted to teach at, and took on the attitude that everything would work out, because that’s usually how situations had panned out for me in the past.
I officially put in my application in the beginning of May and about a week later I had a job offer at a “hagwon,” private school, in Chuncheon, South Korea: a small city about an hour train ride from South Korea’s capitol, Seoul.
I only had one day to make my decision, but this position seemed perfect, so I didn’t even consider holding out for another job. I accepted that night.
My first month teaching in Korea was amazing. Although I was the only foreign teacher at my hagwon, I had nice co-workers and for the most part I really loved all my students. I had an apartment within walking distance of the school, and I was meeting a lot of other foreign teachers in my city who were really welcoming and friendly.
When I received my first pay check I felt like the richest person in the world. I remember thinking that the year would fly by and I was so lucky to have the job I did.
As I reached my second month teaching at my hagwon I began to notice that maybe things weren’t as great as I had thought.
I found out that compared to a lot of my friends who also taught at hagwons, my hours were much longer with barely any breaks between classes. I also found out I was actually working over the allotted time in my contract and not getting compensated for overtime hours.
My pay day came and went, and my school director told me he wouldn’t be able to pay me on time, so he gave me half of my money and I received the other half a week later.
From that time on I never received my full paycheck on time, and finally I was told by a co-worker that my director had made some bad investments and didn’t have the money to pay any of his employees.
By the time I decided to quit I was still owed about 1,500 hard earned dollars.
By the middle of December, I knew that I couldn’t stay at that school. My director had already broken our contract multiple times, so I had a discussion with him and was able to negotiate some of my pay back and officially quit.
I had the option to take legal action but decided against it as I knew it would be a long process and I had to purchase my plane ticket home before Christmas.
It was an incredibly difficult decision to leave Korea, because I really did enjoy my life there. Saying goodbye to my students and friends was hard, but the moment I walked out of the school I knew I had made the right decision.
Even with everything that happened I would be lying if I said I regretted any of it. Yes, I was taken advantage of, and it wasn’t an easy experience, but it was also a wake-up call for me.
I’d like to make it clear that what happened to me is not a common situation for foreign teachers in Korea; most of my friends had great employers and jobs that they loved.
I never realized before this job that people really will try to take advantage of you if you allow them to, and I now know the importance of “sticking to your guns.” The fact that I was able to stand up for myself and navigate around a situation like this was empowering for me.
If I ever decide to go back to teach in Korea, I now know the right questions to ask, and I learned that you shouldn’t just jump into a situation thinking everything will work out. It’s important to ask the right questions about the job you’re thinking of accepting and know all the pros and cons of that job.
So, for all the upcoming graduates, I want to let you know it’s okay if you don’t have a plan. If you want to live at home for a little and decide from there, go for it. If you want to teach abroad I think that’s a great idea, just make sure you know what you want in a job before saying yes to one.
It may feel like you have to know what you need to do after Pacific right now, but that’s really not the case. Enjoy college, and when it’s over just know that no matter what happens, you’ll always land on your feet.