Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Reader's Questions Answered

I don't like to show off but now and then readers of my blog send my way questions about life here and teaching. I try to do my best to answer honestly and to help them understand life out here.

One reader, a while back sent me some questions about public vs. private schools and so I thought I would post up my response. Here we go~

would you recommend newbies completely avoid [hagwons] them?
I don't think one has to completely avoid a Hagwon. Just be very picky and do a lot of research first. Also know the differences between a public school and a hagwon and ask yourself if you are willing to make those sacrifices. I know people who have worked at and are still working at hagwons and haven't had the same experience as me. Many have a pleasant time. Also you can work at hagwons that teach adults and so have a completely different experience. For a newbie you just need to know the challenges that lie ahead for either a public or private school. 

But are hogwans, in your opinion, to be avoided at all costs?
Not really. Some are run by very nice people. I know someone who is trying to develop her own hagwon school. Right now it is kind of small. Generally it comes down to these facts:
Hagwons = are a business. They will expect you to do a good job to keep the number of students at the school. If parents complain than you are going to be bothered a lot. 
Public school = run by the government, follows a repetitive schedule, more holidays, solid pay schedule etc. 

The similarities are:
Both mean you will be working with Koreans and the Korean system of doing things. You can't avoid that they lack the ability to give prompt notice. If you have read about it on my blog you would know that working with Koreans is a whole ball of wax that takes time to get use to. Some people have no problem adjusting. I just want to say that whether you work at a hagwon or public school you are still working with Korean people who typically function different from Western society.

Complaints about public school:
I had to think about this because well my complaints aren't that major I think. The one thing I would say is that the the Principal will make or break a public school. If he is very conservative and traditional than the people you work with will be scared of him. Doing things like using a personal heater might upset him so if he comes around you have to hide it. Again this points to Korean culture and what you have to get use to.

But really I don't have any major complaints. There are struggles now and then to make your lesson plans in time and full of good things but that is normal I think for a teaching job.
Update: I would say that you have to be cautious of your coteacher. They will be use to teaching in a certain style and may not be open to your suggestions or methods. Therefore in this case patience will be needed.

How do you like living in Gyeonggi rather then Seoul? Is there much of a foreigner community where you live now? Is it difficult to make friends?

I like living in Gyeonggi rather than Seoul because it has a suburban feel. Depending on the area it can be more quiet and quant. In Seoul everything is covered in concrete and parks are crammed in. Out here you can get to know your neighbors a bit more because you will typically see them more often. I just like the less stressed city feel out here. But living in Seoul offers more resources and fun things to do in my opinion. But if you live close enough it is easy to get there.

There are foreigners living in any major city and small major city. Usually they get together in their groups at bars or clubs. My friends and I are trying to start major communities so to make it better for all of us. It is not difficult to make friends. IF you work at a hagwon you get to know those folks. If you work at a public school you get to know people in the program. But you do meet a lot of new people and folks from around the world. It is a lot of fun.

Any other advice??
Sleep a lot when you first get here. It really helps battle jet lag. Also just try to relax and let yourself work out all the culture shock stuff. Give yourself time and eventually the things you love and hate about this place won't be that big of a deal.


  1. Joy,
    Lots of good advice here :)

    Hagwons have received a lot of flak for their hiring practices, but public schools aren't necessarily or automatically the 'better' choice. Next time you see my girlfriend, she can tell you some stories... The issue comes up when principals or other administrators try to run their school like a hagwon...

    Hagwons are a business - and like any business, they're in it for the money. Happy kids make happy parents, yadda yadda yadda. If it's your first teaching job, respect the business side of things, and know it's not just about 'education'. The teacher that gets treated better is the teacher that makes the kids (and parents) happy.

  2. Very useful and informative post, thanks!

  3. With public schools, especially those in rural areas, it can be harder to meet other foreigners. Not everyone goes through SMOE, GEPIK, or EPIK, and as a result, many folks arrive at their school knowing absolutely no one. In my case, I literally had to just wander around town until I saw other foreigners.

  4. Good point Kelsey. I am sure working in a hagwon in a truly rural location gives the same kind of problem.

    When they says "rural" believe it!


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