Wednesday, February 25, 2015

It's a Hagwon Life

This week I am preparing to leave Korea as I finishing up my second year working at an English Hagwon (after school academy). I worked for one of the Avalon Hagwons in the greater Seoul area.  I wanted to blog my opinion about Hagwons. Now, I have only worked for 1 Hagwon however, listening to friends at other Hagwons I feel we have similar experiences. So, here we go!


First, I want to start off by talking about what it takes to be a successful alien resident of Korea.  In order to be a successful alien resident of Korea you absolutely must have a flexible, tolerant attitude about life and an understanding of cultural difference. Many people (especially Americans) come here expecting things to be run like they are back home.  That doesn’t happen here and will never happen. Korea expects you to adjust to the cultural differences the minute you step foot off the plane. Every now and then you will run into someone who understands and will help guide you through whatever assistance you are needing (like friends at my church and my current super awesome director) but those encounters are few and far between (even less if you only plan to make Korean friends with only the Koreans you work with.)  Too many people come to Korea with the wrong thinking and mindset about working abroad. They are miserable here all the time and make life miserable for others.  If you do not possess the characteristics I mentioned above do everyone a favor and don’t come. In fact, don’t even read the rest of this blog cause it no longer applies to you.

(On a side note, if you do possess these traits and find yourself becoming someone you know you are not because of the stress of living abroad, get an everyday hobby. Mine is cooking and photography so I bought an oven at Costco and a nice camera. Whenever I found myself really upset about stuff I would cook for others or go out and take pictures of the beauty that we often miss in the hustle and bustle of Korean life.  Those things really help me stay sain during difficult times.  They also help with homesickness.)


Second, if you can avoid teaching at any Hagwon I would at all cost (especially if you have real teaching experience in your home country). Hagwons in general are run like a business, not a school. They basically teach you what not to do when teaching anything.  They exist for the specific purpose of making money and are an educational joke. It's basically glorified babysitting and they work you for every penny they pay into you, plus more. If you don't mind working at a business where you are a salary employee, sometimes forced to work overtime without extra pay and just want the experience of working/living in Korea, then by all means, jump on the Hagwon boat.

 The directors can really make or break a campus.  I have worked through 3 directors in the 2 years I have been here and I can tell you that with one of them, going to work every day was torture.  The other 2 directors were so helpful, kind, and considerate of foreign teachers.  They made Hagwon working very pleasant and I wanted to do the best for them because I wanted them to be successful.


Third I will tell you about my Hagwon. Depending on which campus you are at, Avalon has nice apartments.  They pay you on time, and you walk away with some great cash in your pocket for traveling after even just 1 year. There are a list of policies I could name that annoy the hell out of all the teachers (Korean and foreign) but I won’t bore you with them.  Some of them are unethical and I (as well as my Korean friends) have no idea how they get away with them however, we manage to survive.  If you want to know you can private message me. 

Since their recent change in HR back in September 2014 they are way less supportive of their foreign teachers than they used to be.  If Koreans at your campus aren’t helpful you will never get anything accomplished because the current HR representative brushes everything off to someone else. Basically we are chasing rabbits and it is hard to get any of your questions answered from HR.  Eventually Avalon will mess with the wrong person and end up with a lawsuit but that person would probably be someone I mentioned with the characteristics above. ^^


All in all I have had a pleasant two years. There were times it was chaotic.  There were times I felt unappreciated, used, and abused.  There were times I felt insane and wanted to blow something up.  I have a motto however and that is to leave a place better than I found it.  I believe I have done that with my Hagwon.  My co-teachers have a more time on their hands with the effective system I helped create for managing visual aids.  My students are way better at writing and speaking (2 things hagwons are horrible at teaching) than they were before I came. I have taught them how to be humorous and they can understand and tell jokes well.  They are more creative than they were before I came.  They are also more affectionate.  (All of these traits are hard to find in Native Koreans)  I have taught them how to be better people and how to be more considerate of other people. 

I did the best I could with what I had.  I pieced together the pieces of a broken Hagwon system, making it work into something that never existed before.  Parents are extremely disappointed I am leaving and begging my director to figure out a way of keeping me here.  I am finally feeling appreciated.   

I didn’t slave away all that extra time and money for it to be noticed.  I did it for the joy of teaching and the love of my sweet students.  While I had both good and bad moments, I will always cherish the good and with time allow the bad to leave my memory.  Even though I hope to never work for another Hagwon again, I leave Korea feeling proud and with no regrets.  I gave it my all. I grew as a person. I left my mark like initials carved in an old oak tree. I left more than a trace of myself in this place.  I left something that says, “I was here.”  

Here is a link to see a tour of my Korean apartment.

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