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11 Questions Teachers Should Ask A Prospective Employer in South Korea Before Signing a Contract
English teachers have a diversity of stories to share about their experience teaching and living in South Korea. There are a number of factors that can make a teaching experience fulfilling and rewarding or frustrating and disappointing. You can increase your chance of having a memorable experience in South Korea by asking some or all of the following questions to a prospective employer. This is a list I developed from questions I asked my hagwon (private school) in advance, or wish I had asked in retrospect.
1. Will my flight to Korea and home again be paid for in advance or will I be reimbursed later?
The ministry of education in certain regions of South Korea has decided only to provide one way airfare for teachers. Some schools promise to reimburse you later. Often this is no problem, but on occasion a hagwon may close down unexpectedly without paying the teacher as promised.
2. Can I please have the contact information for one of your current foreign teachers?
This is a great opportunity to ask questions and expect a more honest answer. Ask a current teacher questions about how the school is operated, if they're paid on time, how long they've been there, if they have enough support and if they've had a positive experience overall.
3. Is a meal provided for me at school? What is the cost, if any per meal?
You can save a lot of time and money eating a meal at school. It will likely be a lot of Korean food so if you have food restrictions or are a vegetarian you may need to ask specific questions about the food plan. Having to leave the school to find and meal and return in a small amount of time can make your break seem very brief. On a side note, it's a great way to try local cuisine, ask what you're eating and learn how to order it in the future!
4. Are my accommodations paid for? Can I please see some pictures of my apartment? Are furnishings provided?
You will be living in your apartment for a year so it's alright to be a little picky. Don't expect luxury as accommodations are often pretty small and simple. However, it's fair to want a clean apartment in a secure building.
5. What bills will be I expected to pay for? What is the average monthly cost for these bills? Is a cell phone provided for me?
Having a rough idea of the cost of monthly bills will help you decide if a salary offered to you is worthwhile or will help you create a budget in advance.
6. What are my teaching hours? What breaks do I get during the day? Am I able to leave the school during this time or are these breaks for lesson planning
Make sure you get a reasonable amount of down time during the day. Especially if you're teaching younger children, this quiet time may be very important for recharging your batteries. Teaching hours can have a big impact on the lifestyle you hope to have in Korea. Some teaching positions begin in the afternoon and end as late as 11 PM.
7. What is the maximum class size I will have?
A profit-motivated private school may willingly take on any new student regardless of the timing or current class size. Make sure you are comfortable with the number of students you will be teaching.
8. How far is my accommodation from the school? What transportation is available?
A long day feels a lot longer if you have to travel an hour each way to and from school. Make sure you know your apartment address and your school's address so you can estimate what your daily travel time will be. If you are an avid biker or really want to walk to school each day, this may be an important consideration for you.
9. What taxes or pension fees will be taken off my monthly salary? Will any of these taxes be returned at the end of the year?
Certain taxes like pension will be returned to you at the end of your contract. Your employer may be required to match your monthly contribution. This means you will have a lump sum of twice the amount you contributed returned at the end of the year.
10. Will I be required to work any additional hours? If so, how often and how will I be compensated for this time?
Some employers try to take advantage of foreign teachers by asking them to work extra hours without pay, or at a pay rate much lower than if calculated according to their salary.
11. How many days paid vacation do I receive in the year? Am I able to take these days all at once or only one day at a time? Will I be paid out if I don't use the vacation time?
Don't worry about being overbearing or too direct. Your thoughtfulness and diligence will be seen by a good employer as signs that you are competent and care about your working environment. If a potential employer brushes off your questions or cannot give a concrete answer, it may be a red flag. Thorough responses to your questions is an indication of a reputable management at the school.
Ensure any of the details that are important to you are clearly indicated in your contract before you sign it. If this means minor edits to make the contract clearly understood and not up for debate, request that your employer do so. Don't let an potential employer rush this process. Although they may be operating on a tight deadline to secure a teacher, it is more important that all of your criteria is met.