Friday, 1 June 2018

25 Annoyances about Teaching in Korea

I have to admit that I do love living in Korea, but (you knew there'd be a but, didn't you?), there are somethings that annoy me. Below you can find 25 of my pet peeves that at times make me want to pull out my hair.

Applying for Job and Interviewing
Looking for a job is stressful. Add cultural issues to it and it can be very frustrating. Read on for 5 difficulties you may encounter.

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Getting new apostillised copies of your degree and recently issues transcripts
Listen: my degree and transcripts are like my birth certificate. They don't change. I was given a degree X years ago and I still have it. It's still valid.

Sending originals
This is a cultural issue. I've been told that you can go to a Korean university and get loads of "original" degrees similar to what we would get for transcripts. That's not the case in the western world. You get one degree. You might be able to get one replacement and you'll most likely have to pay a fee and jump through hoops in order to get it.

Personal info
I've gotten used to this now, but expect to put down your date of birth, age, visa type, address, phone, email, and civil status on your CV. Questions about your age, civil status, children (how many, when you plan on having them, why you don't want kids), religion, spouse, and religion are not off limits here. I've even been asked height and weight. Not comfortable with these questions? Try switching the topic politely by telling them that you'd much rather talk about how wonderful a teacher you are.

You will be judged on your looks. While that happens everywhere, Koreans are pretty blatant about it. Get a professional photo taken and they will Photoshop the heck out of it. Stick that on your CV. Dress up for the interview, put on make-up, do your hair, and don't forget to shine your shoes.

Scanning and handing over all your docs
Every time I apply for a job, I send scans of my passport, alien card, degrees, transcripts, reference letters, and proof of employment. I don't blacken out any info. I send them as it. Am I worried that someone will steal my identity? Not really. This is Korea. That's just what's done when you apply for jobs.

However, handing over my originals: not going to happen. I had one employer tell me that they would keep my documents until I left. Remember how I mentioned that Koreans can easily get "original" degrees? Because of that, they don't treat your documents with respect. I've seen them folded, with holes punched in them, ripped, written on, spilled coffee on, you name it. It's been done.

My solution is simple. I bring my originals. I make the copies in front of them and I give them the copies. That's it. Works fine. There's no reason why they should have your originals.

Generally considered to be low on the totem pole are hagwon jobs. There are a number of reasons why they're not that good. Here are 5. For another viewpoint, check out the link under the photo on below.
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No Breaks
Getting a 10 minute break is considered a luxury. Many places only give 5 minutes. That's barely enough to push your way through a sea of screaming kids and go to the bathroom.

No Sitting
Horrible rule. Teachers have to stand all the time. Standing is going to wreak havoc on your body physically.

Holidays and Sick Days
Sure, you get 10 days of vacation plus Korean holidays, but many places won't even let you take 10 days in a row. They'll give you 5 for summer and 5 for winter. Hardly worth spending thousands of dollars to go home when you'll be jet lagged the whole time. Sick? don't even think of taking a sick day. Yes, it's in your contract, but it's an unwritten rule that you do to work unless you're dying.

Teaching hours
30 seems to be the norm. Teaching 6 hours a day is exhausting. Finishing at 8, 9, or even 10 at night is not that uncommon. Sure, you have mornings free, but finishing that late at night sucks.When you're teaching, you're always "on". Add to it that you're most likely dealing with kids who don't listen, you can't sit down, and the teaching material is crappy, and you're on your way to getting burn out, if you don't have it already.

Getting Screwed
Hagwon owners are unscrupulous. Many don't have a background in English or teaching; some may barely speak English. The reason they have a hagwon is because it's profitable. 11 month firings happen all too often because they want to get out of paying your flight. 

Public Schools
Government jobs in Korea are pretty easy, though you do have to worry about your school getting funding in order for you to renew your contract. Read on to find out about 5 other annoyances you might have to deal with.
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Desk warming
Sure, you only teach a maximum of 22 hours a week, but you'll spend the remainder of that time desk warming. And when school's not in session and all the teachers aren't there, you sure will be! The positive aspect of this is that if you manage your time well, check out 7 Habits of Highly Effective People for tips, you can get a lot done. Want a master's degree, to start a blog, or write a book? You'll have plenty of time to do so.

Blocking emails
Emails can't be checked due to firewalls, yet you can get on Facebook and Reddit. Yeah, makes perfect sense to me too!

It's the luck of the draw. Sometimes you get a good one who will help when needed but usually lets you do your own thing. Sometimes they'll stay in the class the whole time. Other times they'll leave. Sometimes they don't speak English. Regardless, having a co-teacher is tough.

Pay Issues
Usually you won't have issues with public schools with pay, however, some teachers have reported that their schools don't take pension out, citing "foreigners don't pay pension", despite the fact that it's in the contract.

You'll also have to pay them a security deposit of 900,000 won. This deposit can't be deducted from your pay check (that's illegal), you're supposed to give it to them. Get a receipt or do a bank transfer. This deposit used to be for housing to ensure you didn't damage the apartment and was called a housing deposit. Nowadays, it's just for sh!ts and giggles since everyone (even those with their own housing) are required to pay that deposit. It makes no sense whatsoever.

Methods and Materials
Memorizing: Be aware that when it's test time, you might be told that not only should you give the students the questions ahead of time so that they can study, but also the answer. Um, come again? Yep, can't make stuff like this up. I think this is one thing worth fighting about. Just do it nicely.

Books: Ah, English text books at public schools. You often get them and go what were they thinking? The material can be lacking to say the least. I know people who were told to spend 45 minutes teaching the following:
  • Hi, My name is Minsu. What's your name?
  • My name is John.
  • Nice to meet you.
  • Nice to meet you, too.
Written by a native speaker who was likely forced to make a textbook. Check out the eye chart.
The "I say, you repeat" method of drilling is used a lot. It's further exasperated by the low English level of some of the English teachers. I'm not sure what tests public school teachers need to pass to become English teachers, but I will say that some of the English I've heard is absolutely atrocious. The pronunciation and grammar is just not good at all and this is passed on to the students. Furthermore, the Korean culture doesn't allow people to correct their elders. So if a teacher mispronounces something, even if there is a student who speaks English better (perhaps they lived abroad or have a parent who speaks English), they would never correct the teacher.

On the other hand, sometimes they give you books that are way above their level. Now, granted, Koreans are very good at test taking. Years of rote memorizing and test taking have prepared them to pass tests. But when you are told that you're supposed to teach TOEFL to kids who can barely make a sentence, you can't help but shake your head in disbelief.

Other times, you'll be given nothing. You'll be told to prepare your own lessons. This can be great, but you need to have a basic understanding of their level and be able to plan a simple curriculum.

Considered the creme de la creme of teaching jobs in Korea, they are not without their problems.
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Making Up Holidays
When you get red days off, you're likely expected to make them up. This never works. Students choose classes based on their schedule. It's pretty much impossible to find a time to meet that works for everyone. Usually only about a third of the students can make it. Then you run into the issue, of what the heck do you teach? You can't teach anything necessary, since most of the students won't be there. Any how about attendance? Can't make it mandatory, since students have other classes. So what happens is that you *wink, wink* tell students that you'll forget to take attendance. After all, you can't punish students for not coming to a class that isn't in their schedule. In the end, no one shows up if you're lucky. If you're not, you'll get one eager beaver student.

Grades and the Curve
Many Korean universities have high curves. By high, I mean that 50% may be allowed to get As. The key word is "allowed". You don't have to give half of your students As. You're welcome to give them all Cs if you want. However, students know what the curve is and will try to get you to max it out. They'll often ask about their ranking.

Grading on a curve can be a pain. If you have an amazing class, you're not allowed to give them all As. You will be forced to give out Cs to some students. Making sure you spread out the grading during the semester can help. Rubrics will be your friend. Learn how to make them and use them in class. Also be sure to pick meaningful assessments. Unfortunately, some students will need to get low grades. Fighting over grades brings us to the next topic: grievances.

Oh, the complaint period, otherwise known as the grievance period. This is the time when a student can come to you begging and pleading for a higher grade. Common reasons are:
  • I made my best effort
  • My parents have no money
  • I will lose my scholarship
Notice that none of them involve subjective reasons, such as the teacher made a mathematical error when calculating the grade. Or that the student really can speak English. I always tell my students what constitutes as a good reason for asking for a higher grade. Many times students have come to me asking why they got a B or C and they can't even ask the question in English. Well, there's your answer.

More often than not the amount of time you have to enter grades and grievances just doesn't make sense. Some unis will give you three days to enter grades, but a week to change them during the grievance week. Who thinks this stuff up? Admin who has no experience teaching. It's much harder to get all your grades in order than to change a few. A tip: always leave extra As and Bs just in case you make a mistake. Then during the grievance period you can bump students up if you don't need them. 

The Language Institute's Office Hours
Often the language institute's office is separate from the teachers' room. Teachers will be given a card to open the teachers' room door, but not the office. The office will usually open from 9am-5pm and be closed during lunch, from 12noon-1pm. Yet, teachers often need things (updated attendance records, paper (I kid you not, paper is often rationed, like gas for heat!), or just information) from the office before classes start.

This is especially true at the beginning of every semester, when changes happen. I understand that it's hard to work long hours, but they should be open longer. Perhaps hire more secretaries and have them work different shifts. There's no reason to have numerous secretaries in the office twiddling their thumbs. Have them work 10 hours, 4 days a week and cut down the number of secretaries who are in there at the same time. If there are busy times during the day, have more secretaries work then. Seems like common sense, right?

Everything shuts down in Korea during lunch time. The office is closed and most other classes don't meet then, but English classes do. Murphy's Law states that lunch time is a perfect time for your computer to break or the projector to overheat. Speaking of technology brings us to our next point.

Crappy Technology Hand-me-downs
All unis claim to be "global" yet the English department always ends up with the worst stuff. Money isn't allocated well. What is often down is that when other departments get new computers or new anything, the old stuff gets sent to the English department. While I understand that desktops can last a long time, upgrading them is key. When it takes your computer 15 minutes to start up or your internet browser crashes three times before lunch, something needs to be fixed.

Teaching in General
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Useless Paperwork
Since admin has to prove things, they will often make you do useless paperwork. Some examples are self evals (that no one reads), printing out everything you did during the semester (always a waste of paper since no one looks at anything, but just stuffs it into a cabinet), or having meetings about the curriculum and writing up minutes (again, no one cares. You'll work all semester on it and the admin will just end up doing whatever they want).

Lack of Support
They may tell you the rules about grades or absences, but more often than not, they will throw you under the bus when you try to implement them. They will say, "up to you" which means that you can do whatever you want, but we won't stand behind you even if you follow the rules. They should really read a book or two about ed admin or how to teach English.

No heat or AC
Once the head office decides that winter or summer is over, the heat and AC get turned off. And if that means that you're sweating bullets or your hands shake because you're so cold, don't expect them to care; those same rules certainly don't apply to them. Oh and don't forget that the hallways and bathrooms won't be heated or have AC either.

Cleaning Your Own Office
Somehow this is never written into the contract, but I've worked at places that probably hadn't been cleaned in years. Whether they do this because they don't want the cleaners to be accused of stealing or to save money, it doesn't work. They need a new system. Keeping stuff neat and tidy, fine, I understand. But having to mop the floors of the office? Nope, not going to happen. Let the dirt pile up. 

Signing a Resignation Letter When Your Contract is Up
Even though your contract has an end date, they're still going to make you sign a resignation letter. Most likely it's so they can put all the blame on you for leaving

Well, there you have it. It sounds like I have a lot of complaints about teaching in Korea, but that's not true. It's just that different complaints apply to different teaching situations. Teaching in Korea sure isn't perfect, but it is a great job.


Thursday, 1 February 2018

Should You Accept a Low Paying Online Job Teaching English?

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Yes, more likely thank not you should. I've written about teaching English online before and many of the jobs don't pay that well. However, you should still consider teaching English online. Let's find out why.

Some Money is Better Than No Money
If you aren't going to be working, it's always better to get something rather than nothing. Let's say you teach an hour a day for $10 an hour and do that for 20 hours a month. That's an extra $200, which isn't that much. However, in a year, that would be $2400, which is a nice chunk of change.

No Commute
Other jobs may pay more but more likely than not you'll have to commute. If you get a job that pays $30 an hour, but have to spend 30 minutes commuting each way, then you're really only getting $15 an hour. Plus, if you're in Asia, the timing seems to work well since most of the classes are in the evening and at night.

Knowing how to teach online can help you for future jobs since you're working with online platforms. The more you know about technology, the better. So even though the pay might not be that great, you're gaining experience.


Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Should TEFL Teachers get their Boss a Christmas Gift?

TEFL teachers have the chance to be immersed in the country and culture. Giving gifts are an important part of many cultures. There are a few things to remember before giving Christmas gifts.
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1. Is Christmas celebrated?
In some countries, Christmas may not be celebrated, such as in Muslim countries. Or if it is, it's not that big a deal, like in Korea, where gifts are usually given during Chuseok and not during Christmas. When in doubt, ask what the local customs dictate; you don't want to end up committing a major faux pas.

2. Don't expect something in return 
Gifts are all about giving; not receiving. Just because you give a gift, doesn't mean that your boss has to get you something in return. Expecting something in return brings us to the next point: bribery.

3. Don't use gifts as bribery
This should be a given, but some people still expect preferential treatment because they gave their boss a Christmas gift. Don't expect to be treated special or that giving a gift will get you that promotion that you've been wanting. This is probably the main reason people don't give their bosses Christmas presents; they don't want people to think they're bribing their boss.

4. Stick to the budget 
If you are going to give your boss a Christmas gift, ask your co-workers how much they usually spend. Spending too much or too little is not good. You don't want to stick out. Remember the nail that sticks out gets hammered down. You want to blend in. Maybe everyone can pitch in and buy your boss an amazing gourmet gift basket.

5. Is it appropriate?
As an adult, you should know whether a certain gift is appropriate or not; however, the company culture also comes into play. Some offices give gag gifts or white elephant gifts. Others do secret Santas. Find out what the norm is for your office and follow it.

6. Get something for the office 
Speaking of the office, perhaps the safest thing to do is get a gift for the entire office. Homemade cookies are always appreciated. If you can't bake, no worries, there are plenty of delicious store-bought items that you can buy and everyone can enjoy. Food like mixed nuts, dried fruit, coffee cake, and cookies are always a safe bet. Drinks such as a variety box of coffee, tea sets, and assorted hot chocolate are sure to be enjoyed during break times.


Sunday, 1 October 2017

How to Legally Work on a SOFA visa (ex. Teach English)

If you're coming overseas with your spouse and are hoping to get a job off base, you'll need to jump through some hoops in order to do so legally. If you want to do it off base, you're going to have to go to the immigration office and get permission. The only way that you can work legally on a SOFA visa is if you're doing it on base. If you want to work on base, there are many options available. You can find out more in the post, getting a job on an American military base overseas.


Please don't believe people who tell you that you can work on a SOFA visa. The SOFA visa allows you to live in Korea. Live. That's it. Not work. Not study. Just be here. If you work, it will not be legal. If caught there will be repercussions for you as well as your sponsor, so don't risk screwing up their career because you didn't go to the source. Fines, deportation, counseling for your sponsor have all happened to people who have been caught. Don't risk it. Same goes for modelling. Here's more info about modelling in Korea.

Go to the Source
The people you need to ask are immigration. The Legal Office does NOT issue visas. They will refer you to immigration, who are the people who issue visas, fines, and revoke visas.

If you're in Korea, the immigration office can be reached from 9am-6pm on 1345. Like everyone else in Korea (except teachers), the entire country shuts down and they have a lunch break from 12noon-1pm.

The immigration website can be hard to navigate since the url doesn't change and it's not globally friendly at all. You have to use an antiquated version of Internet Explorer and even then it's not guaranteed to work. 

What will happen to your SOFA visa?
You have two choices. What you choose depends on your situation. I choose the second option since my sponsor was leaving Korea and my SOFA visa would be cancelled. By getting my own visa, I could stay in Korea.

1. The first is to keep your SOFA visa and simply get "permission for activities outside your sojourn" added to your SOFA visa. That means you have your A3 SOFA visa but have asked for permission to do something else and they have granted it. Basically, you're legal. Go to the immigration website and choose "immigration", then "immigration guide" on the left you'll see "foreigner sojourn" then pick "participation in activities certified for current sojourn status? According to their website it costs 120,000. I think that since SOFA visa holders are not required to have an ARC, then you wouldn't have to pay 30,000 for the card plus 3,000 for delivery, but don't quote me.

2. The second option is to cancel your SOFA visa and get another visa. You do not have to do a visa run. You can do it right here in Korea at an immigration office. This cost 100,000 to change your visa, 30,000 for a new ARC, and 3,000 to mail it to you. Here's the fee info.

Going to the Immigration Office
Many immigration offices now require you to make an appointment first. This has to be done on their website. You need to register first and download a whole bunch of random keys, ActiveX, and TouchEn. It's a pain. I'd see if you can get someone to help you. The other option is taking your passport to your immigration office and getting them to make an appointment for you. They'll then send you a text with the info. Screenshot that text.

What docs you need depends on what job you want. Basically, you need to fulfill the same requirements as anyone else who would get that visa would need. Let's say you want to teach English and would get an E2 visa. Here's what you need.
  • A passport from the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand, or Australia
  • An apostillised criminal background check (within the last 6 months) (more info)
  • A bachelor's degree and apostillised copy (more info) with sealed transcripts   
  • A self-medical check
  • A medical check from a specific hospital or clinic
  • 2 photos 3.5cm X 4.5cm
  • Fee (bring about 200,000)
  • Lease with your name on it (or document that certified you live there. Go to the immigration website and choose "Application forms" from the bottom right. It's at the top of the pop-up under "sojourn related forms")
  • Utility bill
  • Your school will also have to provide you with docs, like your teaching schedule, contract, business registration, and educational certificate.  
  • Photo copies of everything 
Get the right paperwork together and you CAN legally work on a SOFA visa. No need to worry about doing something illegal and getting yourself and your sponsor in trouble.


Friday, 1 September 2017

How to Get a Job on an American Military Base Overseas

Updated 12 September 2018

Assuming you don't want to join the military, there are loads of ways to get a job on an American military base overseas.

Basic Info about working on Base
Pros and Cons of Federal Jobs
Federal jobs offer many perks and benefits such as long paid vacation, housing, tuition reimbursement, free or discounted schooling for your children, moving allowance, flights, and more.

Of course there are negative aspects to working for the government as well. There's lots of paperwork, red tape, things seems to take forever and sometime with furloughs you'll get unpaid leave or the start date of your contract could get push back.

The Federal Resume
Like no other resume, the federal resume and application packet will get you ready to work for the government. Expect lots of paperwork. There are tons of guides available out there to help you and I highly recommend you read them. Don't think that a normal resume is going to cut it. You will not get the job unless you follow the rules.  Federal Government Jobs is also a good place to start with.

There are also federal resume writing services out there. Expect to pay about $700 for them to write a federal resume for you. If you have base access already, check with ACS or AFRC. They usually run federal resume writing workshops once a month.

If you have a foreign degree, you will need to go through a degree evaluation service. Here are the ones the government accepts. My advice is to pick on that has been an NACES member for a few decades.

Advice for Getting a Job on Base
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Network, network, network. I can't say it enough. It's all about knowing the right people, and being in the right place at the right time. If you know the right people, they can tell you where and when you need to be. Not on LinkedIn? Might be time to sign up. Make a name card / business card and hand it out to everyone you might. You never know who will know someone. Don't forget to follow-up on your connections and always, always thank them for their time even if they weren't able to help you.

Veteran's Preferences
If you're a veteran, be sure to take advantage of the fact that more jobs are open to you. You get different preferences due to the category that you're in. Feds Hire Vets and eBenefits are great websites to start with. Facebook has some great resources too. I highly recommend checking out the following groups.
Taxes and Visas
If you are able to get a SOFA visa, then you will not need to pay local taxes on your income. However, not all of these jobs will get you the necessary paperwork to live and work in a foreign country. Some are only open to dependents while the military member is in country and therefore their dependents get their SOFA visa through the service member. Make sure you ask and see whether or not they sponsor visas.

Keep in mind that you may not be eligible for a SOFA visa even if you are an American. Many of these jobs require you to be an ordinarily resident in the US. The problem is that it's a very grey area, but the more ties you have to that country, the less likely you are to be able to get a SOFA visa. Examples of ties are:
  • Any visa besides a tourist or SOFA visa (such as a work, study, resident, etc)
  • Marriage to a local citizen
  • Children attend local schools
  • Paying local taxes
  • Buying a house or apartment there
You can find more information on page 62 in this doc and on this site. Even if you are granted a visa, they can change their minds in the future. Here's an example of someone who had to pay six figures in back taxes to Germany and some contractors in Korea who had their visas revoked.

Types of Federal Government Jobs
There are many types of federal government jobs overseas. Here is a basic overview of the main ones. For the most part you're going to have to be an American citizen or green card holder.

Banks and Credit Unions
Banks and credit unions on base often have really good hours and are enjoyable places to work. Check out Community Bank and Navy Federal

Contractor Jobs
You're not working directly for the government when you have a contractor job. The government is their customer (i.e. they work for the government) and you work for the contracting company. They can range from meh jobs to amazing jobs. There are tons of contracting companies out there.

Lists of Contractors
Popular Contractors
DODEA Teaching and Staff Positions
You'll be working at DODEA schools, which are on American military bases. If you're a certified teacher, then you can get a teaching job on base. Math and science teachers will have an easier job finding a job than elementary school teachers. You can also work on the staff, such as being a secretary, school nurse, or even principal. They advertise on USA Jobs.

GS Jobs
You'll be working for the government on the General Schedule. They also mainly advertise on USA Jobs, but be sure to check the link section below to find out other places to look. GS jobs have 15 grades and each grade has 10 steps. Here's more information about GS jobs and their requirements. If you're looking at specific branches such as Army Civilian Services, you can also find that there.

Military AutoSource
Ok, you're going to be selling cars and working long hours, probably weekends too. There's definitely a learning curve. I've been told that the first year you don't make much. Maybe $20,000 but once you learn the ropes, the sky's the limit. They'll get you a SOFA visa and you'll get a ration card which gives you access to the commissary and BX/PX. Plus, you get to talk to super diverse people. The people working there are often retirees who want to stay in-country. They have jobs on their site.

NAF Jobs
These are Non-Appropriate Fund jobs. You can find out more information about NAF jobs here. They usually advertise on NAF Jobs or USA Jobs

There are a few universities that are strongly associated with the military and they often have jobs overseas, whether they be teaching, staff, or admin positions.
The USO is awesome. They really help service members and their families. It's a wonderful place to work because they are constantly doing outreach to the community. They post jobs on their site. 


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