Tag Archives: TEFL

“I Wasn’t Secure Enough with My Self Image to Live in South Korea”

I guess I should give Buzzfeed some credit for trying to post something with depth, but this article by Ashley Perez is still doggy-paddling in the shallow end of the pool. As a personal narrative, this piece lacks self-scrutiny; there is no dynamic change in the author’s attitude or approach to life. Her solution to  her “problem” was to leave the country altogether, rather than seeking understanding and enlightening readers as to the socio-economic conditions of Korean ideals of beauty.

Ms. Perez complains that she had to leave South Korea after a year  because clothing stores made her feel fat:

And so at some point I gave up, tired of living in a culture I literally couldn’t fit into, despite my best efforts.

I would not be accepted as a true fellow Korean.

The author’s conflict comes with her claim to a Korean genetic background — she wants to be considered a true Korean (She does not clarify her Korean lineage, nor  her level of familiarity with Korean cultural traits like language.) A fair enough desire, but her “best efforts” at “fitting in” only seem to include trying on a pair of jeans in a Korean clothing store. By her logic, you can only fit into a culture if its community accepts you as unequivocally beautiful.

If that’s the only facet of a culture you care about, maybe you have no business traveling in the first place you really need to get out more.

Ms. Perez is eager to blame others for what appears to be her own lack of self confidence:

… I found it almost impossible to find anything that fit me. Whereas in the United States I’m smaller than the average woman — size 8 bottoms, medium tops, and a size 8.5 shoe — in Korea, I truly felt like a whale … Nothing will destroy your confidence faster than a store clerk shouting at you from across a crowded store, “no, no — very, very big” as you hold a dress up to your body in the mirror.

“Waaaah, this store doesn’t carry clothes to fit a small minority of its target sales demographic! That stranger I will never see again made me feel like a whale with her matter-of-fact explanation given to me in my own foreign language.”

Ms. Perez may also want to consider whether the opinions of children deserve so much priority in her self-estimations.

I was sick of my students calling me “plain face” or “tired teacher” on the days when I wore no makeup …

“Oh noes! The kids are judging my looks! Now I’ll never be a true Korean!”

Lamenting the kids’ lack of understanding when it comes to the concept of “inner beauty,” I wonder whether she bothered to make herself an example of it. I’m guessing not, since she decided to just bitch about them to Buzzfeed.

Ms. Perez closes with a Helen Lovejoy-esque appeal to “please think of the children,” and the admittedly sad truth that many will feel the need to get cosmetic surgery at some point in their lives. Still, it rings hollow after reading an entire piece devoted to her personal “hardships” buying clothes and feeling crappy about herself.

In my experience here, with many friends of various Asian ethnicities and citizenships, they are usually treated as Koreans on sight. Shopkeepers address them in Korean first, and usually speak to them assuming they are translators for their social group. This would have been a perfect way for Ms. Perez to fit in. She is just too image-obsessed to notice it. Maybe she fits in here after all!

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Bundang Pension Office

UPDATED: 04/17/2017

Last week I went to cash out my pension as a lump-sum payment. The process was pretty painless but I thought I’d detail it here for those who need the information.

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Editor’s note: You will need the following documents and information:

  • A one-way ticket out of Korea
  • Your ARC and passport (or at least a photo of your passport’s information page)
  • For those wishing to have the money transferred to a bank account in their home country, a bank statement or canceled check to prove ownership of the account
  • Account number, bank routing number, and SWIFT code (if possible)

You can also have the money deposited into a Korean bank account, for which you’ll need a bank book.

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If you live in Bundang, the pension office is in Yatap. Take exit 4 from the subway station, cross the street, and turn left at the Home Plus/CGV building.

You’ll see signs like this along the way:

Walk a few blocks down to the Korea Design Building.

Once in the building, find an elevator and go to the 4th floor, then follow the signs to the NPS office. Go to the desk that says “lump sum payment”.  Take a number from the machine near the door. You’ll select “lump sum payment.” If an attendant asks why you’re there, just say “I want a pension refund.”

You need to bring your passport, ARC, American bank account information (including branch address and routing number), and plane ticket out of Korea. (I don’t have an ARC anymore since I canceled my teaching visa in January and unfortunately I didn’t have my ARC number on me either. They informed me that without it I wouldn’t be able to get my money! Luckily I called Daniel who searched my email and found the number. Yay!) The money is deposited in your bank account approximately one month later.

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Thanks to Our Readers! Here’s the 맙소사! Year in Review

Thanks to our readers, 2011 was a huge success for us!

Extra special thanks to Jen, who’s been a content machine.

Check out the link below and see a summary for the year.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 14,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

–Daniel Daugherty

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In Seoul Public English Education, Everybody Loses — Again

Thanks to The Marmot’s Hole for the translation of this article.  Apparently, “students and parents preferred Korean instructors fluent in English over native speakers.”

Let’s just sidestep the issue of public education policy being left to parent and student surveys, rather than language and education experts. I kind of understand the policy decision to de-emphasize native speaking teachers as a key toward English proficiency for Korean students. Native teachers are very expensive to bring over. However, they are not the real problem. The real problem is an English education policy that mismanages personnel and fails to respect students’ needs, forcing parents to spend ever more money on the diminishing returns of a farcical hagwon industry. (Do I sound jaded and cynical, or what?)

Let’s address the elephant in the room, first. It’s apparent before you arrive in Korea that the vast majority of people TEFLing here are grossly un-qualified. Most haven’t even got a fly-by-night TEFL certification or any experience remotely related to teaching, let alone experience managing groups of children. Forget all the AIDS fear, drug testing and worries about “corrupting the youth” — most Korean kids are taught by under-qualified individuals. Yes, that included me when I worked at Avalon. (For those scoring at home, I no longer teach EFL.)

However, the wholesale sacking of mostly unqualified native teachers isn’t going to fix the problems with public English education in Seoul.  From what I can tell of friends’ and colleagues’ “work” schedules, the public EFL curriculum is a non-priority at many schools. They often go weeks without seeing a single class while student assemblies, test days and other events crowd English classes off the regular schedule. A common complaint on Facebook is, “the internet ran out of things to entertain me at work today.”

When these teachers do see the kids, it’s in groups of 30 or 40 who come once a week. Not a chance for anyone to form a rapport or give kids enough reps to justify having a native teacher on hand.

My own students describe public-school English as a one-size-fits-all failure. They lump kids together by age, not ability. This means kids who lived in Canada and can read classic novels in English sit next to kids who can’t pronounce a “z” sound or remember the days of the week. How is this helpful to either student? And remember, this is Korea, where saving face is a paramount concern woven into the fabric of the culture. Some kids will just be left behind by their own ingrained desire to avoid embarrassment. This is a public education policy that fails to respect the socio-cultural reality of 99.9 percent of students.

Dropping native English speaking teachers wholesale is also poor management of personnel assets. Yes, most are unqualified. However, for the few who are qualified and passionate about teaching, the public school setting is the only place that gives them flexibility and planning time to apply themselves properly, as well as a pay scale that respects experience and credentials.

Hagwon hiring standards, on the other hand, are bizarrely low throughout most of the industry. Teachers are replaceable cogs in a preset curriculum cleverly designed to take parents’ money. In most, any actual learning is a happy coincidence. Seoul students will now be deprived of the only qualified, enthusiastic EFL teachers and lessons they can hope to encounter. Unless …

This policy might help the hagwon industry since parents who want native speakers will still be able to demand it with their pocketbooks. Those public teachers who are qualified and enthusiastic will likely gravitate to the industry if they want to continue living in Korea.

However, unlike hagwon teachers, public teachers are used to having the flexibility in their curriculum to design effective lessons based on professional best practices: Lesson plans that integrate reading, speaking, listening and writing skills; and games to reinforce those lessons, keep kids engaged and make them think dynamically in their new language.

Hagwon parents don’t get anything like that for their money, nor do they demand it. As I’ve previously written, they demand more homework and bigger vocabulary lists, not creative lessons and teachers who make the language fun. Those bright-eyed, bushy-tailed teachers with any level of enthusiasm will become soulless TEFL zombies in most hagwons.

In the end, everybody loses. The education system will become even more dependent on hagwons and their flawed educational environments, good teachers will leave Korea or have their souls sucked out, bad teachers will proliferate the system even further, and the needs of children will continue to be ignored.  They’ll lose sleep and stress out over a bunch of classes that aren’t designed to teach them anything, for teachers who don’t care about them.

–Daniel Daugherty

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Hagwons, Heli-Tiger Moms and Korean Suicide

When it comes to children and their quality of life, the heli-tiger hagwon moms never fail to amaze me in their seeming indifference toward the suffering of their children.

Working in the industry, I’ve seen firsthand the spirit-crushing results of their insatiable demand for more education: Long hours in hagwons; even longer hours of homework; kids passing out from lack of sleep; kids who have just stopped trying; kids who only put effort into cheating. I even had one student tell me she wished she had never been born because her life was a constant cycle of homework and test prep.

For the hapless hagwon owner, interactions with the heli-tiger moms are a regular, if slightly irritating, occurrence.  “My kid doesn’t have enough homework,” or “My child should be in a higher level,” are stereotypes to anyone who’s taught in a hagwon for a couple of months.  At my previous job, a mother had her kid secretly time teachers with a stopwatch, then asked for (and received!) a discount based on time not spent teaching.  All of these are perhaps justifiable.

After what I heard today, perhaps “seeming indifference” is giving too much credit to some of these moms.  We received a complaint over the phone that two fourth-grade children in a class together are coming home in “too good of a mood.”  Apparently we aren’t doing a good job as a hagwon because children are still happy after three hours in our classrooms.  (I’m as surprised as they are.)

Think of it:  The mothers of these two boys sat down at Tom n’ Tom’s for cappucinos and made a joint decision that their boys’ light-hearted moods warranted intervention.  How does this even come up in conversation?

Mom A: “Have you noticed anything odd about your boy, lately?”

Mom B: “I’ve noticed that he smiles when he comes home from academy. I think something might be wrong with his education. What kind of teacher leaves children in a good mood?  And what kind of academy allows such teaching methods to continue unchecked?”

Mom A: “It’s like you’re reading my mind!  Tuesdays and Thursdays, my boy’s got a hop in his step and a twinkle in his eye — unbecoming traits for the future CEO of Samsung.  I thought maybe I was doing something wrong at home, but clearly it’s the fault of his academy.  I will call them when I get home.  Happiness is all well and good for an executive at Doosan, but we’re not paying first-tier money for second-tier employment.  If nothing else, maybe we can get a discount.

In stroke of serendipity, Ask a Korean! is discussing the country’s notoriously high suicide rate this week, and that extends to youths as well.  I know correlation does not equal causation, but there’s enough evidence to put the theory forward.

–Daniel Daugherty

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Two-Year Contracts: Coming to a Hagwon Near You?

Two Korean children in a classroom

I heard a rumor the other day that might have huge consequences for the Korean EFL job market.  A fellow former-employee of Avalon English+ informed me that, per her director, the company is going to start offering two-year contracts to foreign teachers.

I spoke to two recruiting companies who deal with Avalon and neither has negotiated a two-year contract so far, so this may be specific only to the Imae branch, or nothing but a rumor.  However, Reuben Zuidhof, CEO of the recruiting agency Adventure Teaching, did suggest that it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Avalon HR representatives did not return calls.

“Would be a huge task, but one I think you’ll see in the years to come,” he said in an email.

Indeed, two-year contracts may be the hagwon industry’s attempt to bring down a high turnover rate.  My former head teacher at Avalon Sunae branch, Naved Ali, mentioned that corporate HR sought advice from head teachers throughout the company on how to retain foreign staff, although he declined to put his response on the record.

The possibility of two-year contracts leads to a few other questions:

  1. How will it affect Avalon’s success at attracting foreign talent?  Two years is a bit more of a commitment for many EFL teachers here, considering that most are using the experience as a gap year after graduating from university.  Why would anyone sign on for two years in a strange country they’ve never visited, for a job they know they are probably not qualified to do?  Remember how nervous Jen and I were?
  2. What will it signal to other hagwons?  Given Avalon’s big-dog status in the hagwon-osphere, such a big move could be taken as a sign by other English academies to follow suit.  If Avalon has trouble attracting foreign talent, it won’t matter once Topia and Chungdahm  institute similar policies.  These companies set the standards for everyone else.
  3. What other staples of the “standard” Korean TEFL contract would change?   Will teachers still get a one-month severance bonus?  Will they get proper vacation guarantees?  If companies are asking for double the commitment from teachers, are they willing to give teachers double the anything?

Two-year contracts ” would change the industry and the quality of teachers who come,” says Zuidhof.  As of this writing, he hasn’t elaborated on this statement.  Any further clarification will come in an update to this post. “I think the teacher quality would get better simply because you’d be getting teachers who are more committed to teaching, learning the system, and (hopefully) engaging with the culture.”

I’d love to hear what readers think.  Has anyone else heard this rumor?  Would you come here on a two-year contract?    What kind of benefits would sweeten the deal for you?

–Daniel Daugherty

Full disclosure: Daniel used Adventure Teaching’s services to get his first job placement in Korea, at Avalon English+.

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Some Weekend Links

Thought I’d share a few links I found while checking my “Korea” news feed this morning.

The Waygook Effect posted a “Top” 10 list of the worst English dialogue videos used in Korean public schools.  Believe it or not, they get weirder than this one:

Barack Obama continues to wax hopeful about Korean education standards.  He recently praised Korean students‘ math and science achievements.

Quoth the prez:

In South Korea, teachers are known as nation builders. I think it’s time we treated our teachers with the same level of respect right here in the United States of America.

No one who’s ever set foot in a hagwon would say that.

As for their apparent superiority at science?  Whatever.  Americans might be too stupid to understand evolution, but Koreans still believe in fan death.

-Daniel Daugherty

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