Finding hagwon jobs in Korea is easy, but finding a good hagwon job, well, that just takes asking the right questions. Read on to find out what those questions are.

Anthony Weineck - ProfileAnthony has spent three years in Korea, at three different schools – all of which he was very happy with. Writing to you from a country far, far away, he hopes everyone enjoyed their Chuseok, and got home safe and sound. 

Unlike the public schools in Korea, all hagwons are for-profit institutions competing in an immensely over-saturated market. In 2010 there were 25,000 hagwons registered in Seoul alone, with over 6,000 in the Seoul suburb of Gangnam. Unfortunately, this means that hagwons tend to be run as businesses engaged in selling the time of their foreign employees to as many students as possible. In addition, many hagwon directors have realized that foreign teachers, denied easy access to labour law provisions by the language gap, and trapped in a foreign country with little ability to escape a bad job, are ripe for exploitation.

[framed_box]Hagwon (Korean: 학원) (also hagweon or hakwon) is the Korean-language word for a for-profit private institute, academy or cram school prevalent in South Korea.

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But that’s just one side of the story. On the other side are the thousands of teachers who have come to Korea, worked hard, travelled, made lifelong friends from around the world, and left entirely happy with their school, their students, and their bosses.

It’s not impossible to tell the difference between a good hagwon and a bad one, and most people who work more than one year in Korea are able to find a good job in their second year. How do they do that? Well, they know what questions to ask, and what the warning signs are.

[framed_box]If you’re looking for hagwon jobs in Korea, you could start by trawling the job postings at Dave’s ESL cafe to get an idea of what’s out there and what they pay, but once you’ve done that your best bet is to find a recruitment agency that you trust: they’re all different, but you want one that won’t knowingly put you at a bad school just to score the recruitment cash. Check out our list of Recommended Recruiters for those that’ll put your needs first.

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Once you find a potential school, however, here are the things you should consider before making a final decision.

Decide what amenities are important to you. Do you want to live in a big city, or a rural town?

1. Location

Where do you want to live? Most jobs in Korea will be in urban areas, but how important is it to you that you live in or near big cities? Seoul, Busan, Daegu, Daejeon, and Gwangju are all major cities with lively expat communities and lots of things to do. Find the address of your potential school and punch it into google maps, then work out how far you’ll be from major centers and transportation networks.

Finally, head over to the lively forum communities at Waygook and ask them about the area – someone should know something about it: if no one does, that should tell you something right there.

[one_half] Ideal outcome

It depends on what you’re looking for. The suburbs around Itaewon are a nice place to live, and convenient to just about everything. If you don’t like huge cities on the other hand, Daegu is an awesome place.

[/one_half][one_half_last]Run for the hills!

Anything that looks like this. Of course you’re already in the hills, so it’d be a short jog.

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There are at least 4 hagwons in this picture

2. Reputation

If you have any questions about the school you’re thinking of taking a job at, ask someone! Someone on Waygook will know something about the school or its chain.

As a precaution, take a look at the Hagwon Blacklist and see if your school is on there, and why. Take it with a grain of salt, though, as angry people tend to exaggerate, and a lot of the reviews are outdated. You can also check the Greenlistbut keep your salt shaker handy here, too.

[one_half] Ideal outcome

A big franchise with a lot of recommendations from people who have worked there. .

[/one_half][one_half_last]Run for the hills!

Places with reviews like this:

Holidays are not given, there are problems with housing and the directors have refused to pay final pay. The directors also tried to sell one teacher‘s apartment whilst he was still living in it.

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Ask specific questions about your duties and responsibilities, or you could get saddled with unexpected paperwork

3. Transparency

After you’ve made contact with the school, do they answer all your questions? Sometimes language issues can get in the way of clear communication, but that’s also a great way for them to avoid directly answering questions like “are you going to make me work on Saturdays?” or “Are you counting public holidays as paid leave days?”

Ask clear, specific questions, and expect answers of the same quality. Most importantly, ask for contact details of another teacher at the school, and send that teacher an email with very specific, point-by-point questions that they can’t easily evade.

[one_half] Ideal outcome

Perfect communication, all your questions answered, and a current (or even better, past) employee to back it all up.

[/one_half][one_half_last]Run for the hills!

You just can’t seem to get clear answers to your questions. How many hours a week do I have to work? Do I have to write reports on all 50 kids every day or every month?

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Korean students work hard - and you'll be teaching them around their already busy schedule

4. The Students

An obvious one, but what age are the kids at this hagwon, and what are their levels? High-level kids can be more rewarding (and easier) to work with, but there’s generally more pressure on to achieve results, whereas low-level kids can be frustrating, but their parents may not be as demanding.

Also bear in mind that, due to their different schedules, different age groups tend to have classes at different times. Teaching middle or high school kids means your classes will be in the late afternoon/evening, which is pleasant if you like to sleep in.

[one_half] Ideal outcome

This depends entirely on your preferences. Personally I prefer middle and high-schoolers because they’re easier to relate to and generally have less snot on their hands and clothes.

[/one_half][one_half_last]Run for the hills!

Teaching adults. The job may be easier, and your students better motivated, but you’re almost certain to be working split shifts: a few hours in the early morning before their business day starts, and a few hours in the evening after their day ends. Try working a sleep schedule, much less a private life, around that…

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5. Working Hours

Hours are pretty typical across the industry: 30 teaching hours per week, and 40 hours total time spent at work. This is the one place, though, where the schools are most likely to take advantage, since your classroom hours translate directly into money for them. They might not count your 50-minute lessons and 10-minute transition as a full teaching hour, and they’ll try their damnedest to never pay you overtime.

It’s also pretty usual for your contract to include a clause requiring you to work the odd Saturday workshop or field trip. It’s up to you how you want to deal with those, but I would try and get them to write a yearly maximum into your contract. Four or five times in a year seems reasonable.

[one_half] Ideal outcome

There are schools, generally very wealthy ones in Seocho or Gangnam, that only require you to teach in the morning, on a precanned curriculum so there’s no prep work, and with very little marking.

[/one_half][one_half_last]Run for the hills!

Anywhere that doesn’t clearly define your working hours in the contract. If they can find ambiguity in the wording, they’ll find it even easier to just slip in an extra class here and there.

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6. Environment

This is the best question to ask a current teacher about. One of the great advantages of hagwon jobs over public school jobs is the instant community of a group of foreign teachers working together. One bad personality, though, can turn an otherwise-pleasant work environment sour.

[one_half] Ideal outcome

Good coworkers can make your year

[/one_half][one_half_last]Run for the hills!

Not a good boss

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Make sure you fully understand all the condition of your contract before signing

7. Terms and Conditions

Read your contract carefully, and be aware of what is included and what isn’t. Extra work like reports, marking, or monitoring students during lunches will quickly add to your workload, so try and find out exactly what your work day entails. Ask someone to walk you through a typical day and week, and, again, ask specific questions.

Make sure the following things are included in your contract (these are industry standard, but schools occasionally leave them out to save money):

  • Airfare to Korea and home again upon completion of contract (hagwons have been trying to phase out the return airfare lately, don’t let them!)
  • At least 10 days leave, not counting public holidays
  • Contract completion bonus/13th check (required by law)
  • Pension payment (your employer must, by law, match your monthly pension payment of 4.5% of your salary)
  • Your own furnished apartment, with bed, fridge, cooking range, and desk (no sharing)

If you have any contract questions, speak with your recruiter, or upload your contract to the appropriate Waygook forum for advice.

[one_half] Ideal outcome

A boilerplate contract, no issues, everything clear and concise.

[/one_half][one_half_last]Run for the hills!

This contract. Working for this school is going to involve doing a lot of work for no pay, and probably having your pay withheld for taking sick days. Do not sign this!

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8. Pay

Pay is one thing you probably aren’t going to have a whole lot of control over. Theoretically, you should get paid more if the hours are longer or more demanding, but that’s rarely the case. More often the pay is going to be set according to the level of experience and education they want from their candidates, and you’ll just be shopping among the jobs for which you’re qualified for ones that have better work environments, hours, and locations.

Intro pay should be around 2.1 million won, going up to 2.7 at the highest – but you’ll need a Master’s degree and a lot of relevant experience to command that.

Whatever you earn, though, the cost of living is low, so it’ll be enough to live very comfortably, travel, and either save money or pay off a good bit of that student loan that’s been hanging over you.

Hagwon Jobs pay good money

Dear Korea, by Jen Lee

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For more information on getting a hagwon job, check out these other great resources: