Category Archives: business

International Schools in South Korea: The Good, the Bad, and the Sketchy

International schools come in many shapes and sizes in Korea. Teaching at an international school can be the experience of a lifetime or a complete nightmare, depending on the school and its management. Here are some things to be aware of when considering international schools in Korea, whether you’re a teacher looking for work or a parent looking for a good place to educate your kids.

Accreditation

Perhaps one of the most significant factors when considering an international school is accreditation. There are several ways that a school could be recognized in South Korea. The best, most trustworthy schools will obviously be accredited by a reputable board, whether Korean or foreign.

Government-approved

The biggest international schools with the strictest requirements for teachers and facilities will be international schools recognized as such by the Korean government. Officially recognized international schools have to meet government-approved standards, and teachers must be appropriately educated, licensed, and experienced in their fields of study. Real registered international schools are typically sizeable, reputable, and well-funded with their own property and facilities.

Other Accreditation Councils

Many private international schools may also have accreditations or memberships associated with various international school associations and councils that all have their own standards and requirements. Schools with these accreditations and memberships may or may not be registered as schools with the Korean government. There are too many different associations to list exhaustively here, but a few memberships and accreditation associations you might see include East Asia Regional Council of Schools (EARCOS), Korea Council of Overseas Schools (KORCOS), and Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI). Also be aware that some organizations offer different levels of membership, such as full membership and associate membership. Lower levels of membership may or may not guarantee serious standards from member schools.

Whatever accreditations or councils you see a school advertising on their website, you should do your own investigation into what those associations actually mean and what their standards are. Reputable organizations have high standards and ensure that their members continue to uphold those standards to maintain membership, while other no-name associations are simply there to make things look official without really checking up on their members or guaranteeing any kind of standard.

Unaccredited

Lack of accreditation should be an immediate red flag to teachers and parents alike. A school without some kind of accreditation may be a small, perfectly well-meaning private school, but without some kind of official recognition, it may be difficult to tell. If a school you are interested in is not accredited, here are a few things you can ask to dig deeper:

  • When was the school founded? A young school may not have been open long enough to get accredited yet. Some organizations require that a school be in operation for a certain number of years to be eligible for membership or accreditation. The accreditation process may also take several years to complete. If a school has been operating for several years and has not bothered to begin some kind of accreditation process, they have probably chosen not to—likely because they don’t want to do what it takes to become accredited or they already know they won’t be approved.
  • Have they started the accreditation process? If so, how far along are they? Some unaccredited schools may say that they are still in the process of becoming accredited. This may be true, but some have been saying this for years just to sound good but actually have no intention of becoming accredited. If it’s been a long time since a school supposedly started the process and they’re still not very far along, they’re probably not really going to get accredited anytime soon.
  • Were they previously accredited? Some schools have previously been accredited but lost their accreditation or let it expire. They might even leave their framed certificate on the wall for everyone to see, knowing that nobody is actually going to look at the date. There is not really a good reason for a previously accredited school to no longer be accredited. They’ve either let their standards slip, or they’re too cheap and lazy to keep up with the renewal process. Even if they have a legitimate reason for no longer being accredited by a certain organization, they should at least be in the process of joining another.
  • Why are they unaccredited? It is possible that a small private school may be great at what they do but truly lack the means or facilities to become accredited, but most schools should have some kind of motivation to seek accreditation. Even a small private school would need a pretty convincing answer to this question to still seem legitimate in any way.

If the management of a school can’t answer the questions on this list honestly and convincingly, the school is probably not worth any more of your time or consideration.

Registration

Closely related to accreditation, a school’s registration within Korea determines a lot about the standards and requirements a school must meet. International schools registered as schools with the Korean government must follow strict requirements and guidelines like any other Korean school would have to. However, not all supposed international schools in Korea are actually registered as schools. In fact, a lot of them aren’t.

Many small international schools are only registered as hagwons or miscellaneous businesses. Although hagwons are academic in nature, they are still just businesses in the eyes of the Korean government. Hagwons are not schools, and their teachers are only required to have an E-2 visa for teaching conversational English.

Because of the relative ease of starting and running a hagwon, it is not uncommon for low-budget international schools to have conversational English classes like any other hagwon in the afternoons while having international school classes during regular school hours. Since they are only registered as hagwons, such schools can easily hire teachers that only have to get E-2 visas rather than the E-7 or F-series visas teachers would usually have at registered international schools.

Hagwon status and its academic nature gives sub-par international schools the apparent legitimacy of some kind of registration and membership within the Korean hagwon association, but it still doesn’t make them real schools, even if the words international school are part of their names. To unsuspecting foreigners, hagwon registration might be enough to make a small operation seem like a legitimate school, but hagwons are actually just businesses and do not have to meet the same criteria as actual schools.

Curriculum

The more highly-accredited a school is, the stricter the curriculum requirements are likely to be. The important thing is that a school has a proper, reputable curriculum of some kind and that they stick to it properly. Different accreditation organizations have their own curriculum standards, so things will vary from school to school.

A good school will use reputable, up-to-date curricula and textbooks. Students and teachers alike will be properly equipped with the textbooks they need for each subject. The school will be able to confidently show and explain their curriculum and textbooks to prospective employees and students.

A sketchy school might not even have proper textbooks or materials. In some cases the teachers might not even have the books or materials they need and be left to come up with their own plans and materials. Particularly bad or poorly equipped schools (probably of the unaccredited hagwon flavor) may end up photocopying books and printing a hodgepodge of free worksheets off the internet rather than providing everyone with appropriate textbooks and materials. Always ask to see the curriculum and textbooks a school uses. If they can’t or won’t show you a thorough and complete curriculum with appropriate textbooks and materials for every subject, they’re probably hiding something.

Faculty and Staff

As the word international implies, an international school would typically have a lot of international teachers. This doesn’t necessarily have to be the case, but the point of having an international school is to teach international students in a language that they can all understand, typically English. It’s normal to have some local Korean teachers too, but many of the faculty and staff at a legitimate international school are likely to be foreigners.

More importantly, the staff at a real international school will have to meet certain requirements to be hired. To work at an official international school, faculty will typically need to be licensed teachers with master’s degrees in their fields of study to get E-7 visas. Teachers who have been in country for a while may also have F-series visas instead.

If the teachers at an international school are not licensed or are hired on E-2 visas, then the school is not registered with the government as a true international school. It is probably only registered as a hagwon at best.

Facilities

Reputable international schools will typically have their own property and buildings. They should have all or most of the equipment and facilities you’d expect at a normal school anywhere else. Small-time private schools and hagwons will often just be renting a building, or even just a floor or two of one. Really low-budget operations will have bare minimum classroom supplies and equipment. The smaller and sketchier the facilities, the more alert you should be for other red flags. Always ask for a tour, even if it has to be by video call.

Avoiding Bad Schools and Hagwons

If you’re a teacher looking for work, you might consider getting hired through a recruiter to make sure you end up at a legitimate school or hagwon. And whether you’re a teacher, parent, or student, you should check out some of these review sites and blacklists for schools and hagwons to avoid:

These lists and reviews are far from exhaustive, but it’s good to at least make sure a school you’re considering isn’t on a blacklist. If you’re up for a little more digging around online, you might also consider joining a Facebook group for foreigners living in the same city. Other foreign teachers in the same city have likely at least heard about the other hagwons and schools in their area and may be able to give you specific information that you won’t find anywhere else online.

Conclusion

Depending on what you are looking for, it may not matter to you if a school is public or private, government-funded or small-time and unaccredited. After all, it is possible to get a good education from good people without fancy facilities and accreditations. That being said though, the more highly-accredited and government-regulated a school is, the easier it will be to know exactly what you’re getting into. Especially when considering small private schools, be sure to do your own due diligence and ask lots of questions to make sure they are legitimate.

Teaching English in Korea: Bad Hagwons and How to Avoid Them

Have you ever considered teaching English in Korea? Teaching English can be a great way to travel and gain valuable work experience, but it can be a bit risky if you don’t know what to look out for while seeking employment. Signing a contract with the wrong employer can quickly turn an overseas adventure into a hagwon horror story! Hagwon life is not for everyone, so if you are considering teaching English in Korea, be sure to do your research and ask lots of questions before making any agreements.

What is a hagwon?

A hagwon (학원) is an afterschool academy where students get extra lessons and tutoring. Many hagwons specialize in one subject, such as English or math, while other hagwons offer classes on a variety of subjects all in one place. Some hagwons are independent businesses, while others, such as 눈높이, are part of a large chain of hagwons. Although hagwons are academic in nature, they are still businesses, not schools. The popularity and relative simplicity of hagwons makes them very abundant and, unfortunately, very attractive to some unsavory businessmen looking to make easy money.

Good hagwons vs bad hagwons

Bad hagwons have red flags big enough to see from space if you know what to look for. Unfortunately, most unsuspecting foreigners have no idea what to look for or what kinds of questions they should be asking when considering job offers from hagwons. Here are a few things to consider and ask questions about when applying and interviewing for hagwon work:

  • Reputation: Good hagwons have good reputations that they have earned over time. As such, they are well-trusted, have good systems and methods in place, and get plenty of business to keep things running profitably. Bad hagwons often pander to parents and bend over backwards to keep them happy and keep them paying, even if that means the hagwon has to shoot itself in the foot and mess up its own system to cram in a new student, move classes around, or send a kid to class with no textbook for several months.
  • Discipline: A good hagwon with a good reputation wants to maintain that reputation. Their work speaks for itself, and they are not afraid to discipline or expel problematic students when necessary. They do not need to pander to unreasonable parents or put up with terrible students just to keep their tuition money coming in. Bad hagwons have little or no discipline because they fear angering parents and losing students. In a bad hagwon, teachers who complain about problematic students are often given a lame excuse such as, “That’s just how it is,” or told that it’s not a problem with the hagwon, but rather with their teaching abilities.
  • Class structures and levels: Good hagwons have clear class structures and levels for students to advance through as they study and improve, and they do their best to place students correctly and stick to the system. Bad hagwons bend over backwards to cram in any new students they can get and randomly move students around between classes and levels to make room or satisfy complaints from controlling parents. Bad hagwons often end up with classes full of students on different skill levels with different textbooks (or no textbooks at all) because they wanted to make room for some new students in another class or because someone’s overcompetitive mom called and demanded that her kid move up a level.
  • Curriculum: Good hagwons have a curriculum to follow. They may use a curriculum they’ve developed themselves over the years, a series of textbooks, or a bit of both. However they choose to do things, they have a system in place and follow a logical progression of lessons and textbooks. Bad hagwons have no clear system, or, if they do have one, they don’t actually stick to it. With all the pandering and moving around, they end up with students who have multiple unfinished textbooks, the wrong textbooks for the class they are in, or no textbooks at all, creating quite a nightmare for teachers. Teachers in bad hagwons often have to teach off the cuff, change schedule with little or no prior notice, make copies of textbooks for kids who don’t have any, and spend hours creating their own tests and quizzes.
  • Facilities: Appearances are very important in Korea, so good and bad hagwons alike will do their best to look presentable to parents. Behind the scenes, however, bad hagwons’ facilities are often lacking. They may be missing simple things like a decent computer and printer for teachers to use, and the computer they do have will probably be old and slow and lack proper office software. In some cases, the entire business might be running on one cruddy old laptop! Chairs and tables may be severely worn out and falling apart. The hagwon likely won’t provide copies of textbooks for teachers to use in class. Bad hagwon owners either can’t afford to maintain their facilities, or, more likely, they simply don’t want to spend the money.
  • Pay: Pay will vary even among good hagwons, depending on things like location and what other benefits the hagwon offers. A good hagwon should typically offer somewhere around 3 to 5 million won per month. A hagwon in a smaller, cheaper city might offer a paycheck around the lower end of the spectrum, while a hagwon in a large, expensive city might offer a relatively high paycheck. Pay can also vary depending on whether or not the hagwon offers other benefits like housing and insurance. Always read the contract carefully when considering a hagwon, and, if something is not crystal clear, ask lots of questions until you know exactly what you’re getting into. Sneaky employers may describe a certain salary per year but neglect to mention anything about sick days and reserve the right to cut your pay by the hour if you miss work for any reason.
  • Teachers: Korean parents understandably want their kids to learn English from native speakers, so most of the teachers at a good English hagwon will be foreigners from places like the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia, and South Africa. Of course, hiring foreigners is more expensive than hiring locals, so bad hagwons may try to cut corners by rotating one or two foreign teachers through the classes while local Korean teachers fill in on the off days. It’s not bad or uncommon for a hagwon to hire some Korean teachers to help out, but if most classes are not primarily taught by foreign teachers, you might be dealing with a bad hagwon.

Hagwon and International School Combos

In your search for hagwon employment, you may come across international schools that also offer hagwon classes in the afternoon. Such institutions might be looking for someone who can teach at the international school during the school day and then teach hagwon classes in the afternoons. A setup like this may not be impossible, but such an “international school” is likely not legitimate. And even if it were a legitimate school, the number of teaching hours one person would have to put in per day is ridiculous. If an institution claims to be an international school and a hagwon, they are likely only registered as a hagwon, not as an accredited school. In addition, the E-7 visa requirements to be a teacher at a real international school are different and more demanding than the E-2 visa requirements to be a conversational English teacher at a hagwon. If an institution is offering to hire you as an international school teacher on an E-2 visa, they’re either not an accredited school in Korea, or they’re into some shady business. Always do your research!

Hagwon Blacklists

Many people have taken it upon themselves to help out their fellow humans by sharing their hagwon horror stories online so the rest of us don’t have to suffer the same horrible fates. Unfortunately, online backlists are not nearly exhaustive, but they are still very helpful. If you’re considering a hagwon, look for their name on these popular hagwon blacklists to be safe:

Even if you don’t find a hagwon’s name on a blacklist, always do your own research and ask plenty of questions to make sure you don’t end up being the one to add them to a blacklist yourself!

If you’re still looking for more detailed information on a specific hagwon, you might also try looking for a social media group for foreigners living in the same city—Facebook pages for foreigners in Jeonju or Busan, for example. Ask around the group to see if other foreigners in the city have heard anything about the hagwon your considering. You might even find someone who’s worked there!

Teaching English in Korea can be a fun and rewarding experience if you find a good school or hagwon to work for. Just be careful to avoid the shady characters looking to make a quick buck and ruin the experience!

Freelance Writing: Could This Be the Path You Have Dreamed Of?

The following is a guest post by Lance Cody-Valdez of free-lance-now.com. If you enjoy his writing, visit his website for more great articles like this one!


Whether you dream of working your way through school or a way to supplement your income post-graduation, freelance writing could be the path for you. According to research, freelance writers in certain niches made over $3,000 monthly, so the career can be lucrative. Here are ideas on how to get your freelance business going.

1. How to Find Training Courses

If you have never written for a paycheck or you want to take your writing game up to the next level, you may want to consider taking a training course. These can help you succeed as a professional writer and give you an understanding of what clients want. Freelance writing is a blanket term consisting of many types of content creation, so focusing on one type and developing your expertise with it can be beneficial. Training courses can help you understand one or more writing niches to enable you to increase your workload.

2. How to Find Freelance Opportunities

Self-employed writers are frequently on the hunt for new projects and clients. To land high-paying gigs, ensure that you have a strong portfolio. Show prospective customers that you are up to their challenge by providing proof. Keep some of your best work on hand to share readily with anyone who is thinking of hiring you. Further, providing testimonials of past happy customers shows that not only can you write but you can craft your words in accordance with the needs of your patrons.

In addition, there are numerous websites that help connect writers with companies or individuals that need their services. Try out several sites and see which is a good fit for you. 

3. How to Advertise Your Services

In today’s society, you will need to market yourself online in order to be successful. You can join social media groups for writers, connect with other freelancers and send cold emails to companies you think you could help with your expertise. Although connecting with others online is essential to a freelancer’s success, you can also attend local community events to make personal ties with others. 

4. How to Stay on Track with Deadlines

When juggling multiple clients and deadlines, it is easy to get off track quickly if you are not careful. Technology has made tracking your to-do list and income easier than ever. However, some writers prefer to stick with the tried and true paper calendar method. This can be easy for those who like a visual as you can place the calendar in plain sight where you can glance at it throughout the day.

5. How to Protect Your Interests and Get Paid

Many self-employed writing entrepreneurs choose to establish a formal business entity to protect their personal interests and minimize tax obligations for their earnings. You can choose from one of several types of legal entities. Forming a limited liability company provides several benefits such as tax advantages, less paperwork, flexibility, and reduced personal liability.

To ensure prompt payment, invoice clients immediately after completing a job and simplify billing terms. It’s also a good idea to give clients multiple payment options. You can create a branded invoice with an online invoice maker. Choose the template you favor and then edit it to include terms and your preferred font, background, and colors.

Becoming a freelance writer is entirely possible for those who set their minds to it. Whether you want to supplement your main income or find a way to work flexibly from home, you can make good money with a little research and a lot of effort.

Visit Grammarai Warrior for grammar lessons and resources and fun apparel!


Thanks for reading this guest post by Lance Cody-Valdez! Remember to visit him at free-lance-now.com for more great content!