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Why Prep?

Critical Advice  for TEFL X-pats
in/or going to:
Teach Abroad


This page is for those looking to become expatriate English teachers.  It also contains helpful advice for those IN the foreign country experiencing problems with their bosses.

What you'll find on this page:

black lists (of schools)
sage advice (for dealing with bad bosses)

Other Pages

When you finish with this page,

Please see my Expat's Page

and my How to Find a Good Job Page

(Bad English Academies/Institutes)

When, you go to abroad to work, it's pretty much a gamble as to whether you get a good boss or a bad one; But, in order to make it as much less of a gamble as possible, I've chosen to post this page. There is no black and white, ONLY GRAY (which is why this page is called, the "Gray List". What may have happened to one individual may not happen to you. However, it is important to do one's research.  It's not worth it to try and take things to court.  You're visa will run out before it ever gets to court.  You don't speak the language.  And, you probably can't afford a good lawyer.   

Don't worry. There are so many jobs available, that you don't have to worry about getting stuck in a foreign country without any means to subsist or means get back home (unless you've been really unwise with your money and passports).  Please follow my advice (below).  I've been working overseas from 1995 to 2015.  I know what I'm talking about.

Working overseas can be the best experience of your life, or the worst.  It is easy to get duped. Talk to other people and check out every possible resource available before signing any contract. You may think, "If I don't like it, I can just leave." Yeah, you could, but you'll never work in that country again. You will be blacklisted.  If you want to be released from a contract, you have play your cards right, and you have to get a letter of release from your boss to show to I.N.S. 


Let's say you don't like your boss (job), you can't just leave.
You have to get a letter of release (in most countries), because most countries have exit requirements.
How to Get a Letter of Release:

If you want out of your contract, there is a right way and a wrong way to do it.  Saying, "F___ you!" and storming out of the office is probably NOT a good way.  Some contracts have a section about discontinuing the contract.  BUT, most contracts (that I've seen) deal with the school's rights regarding discontinuance, and NOT yours.  Therefore, it is necessary (in most cases) to lie.  You have to make up a story about your grandmother passing away and wanting to go back to your home country to bereave and console fellow bereaved ones.  In Korea, where family continuity is a very strong value, they will empathize and in most cases let you out of your contract.  [However, sometimes they will give you time off and expect you back to finish out your contract.]

There could be a problem here.  It's not as simple as that.  If your boss is smart, he/she will ask, "If you are not planning to come back and work in Korea, you do not need a letter of release.  So, I'm not going to give you one."  If this happens, you should make up some kind of story like, Korean immigration won't let me leave the country without a letter of release.  (And in fact, I think technically and legally you ARE required by immigration to show them the letter of release AND hand over your resident card before leaving.  The card I'm sure about.  The letter of release, I'm not sure about.)

You should go to the Immigration Office and confirm this.  If it is true, then have your boss contact the Immigration Office to verify it for him/herself.

After that, you shouldn't have any problems.

 THE OTHER OPTION:  Is just leave and wait till your contract expires, then get another contract with another company.  And next time, see this page for further advice on how to find a decent job.




about dealing with difficult bosses

& leaving a contractual job prematurely:

1.  Dealing with infuriating bosses:

No matter how infuriating your boss gets, try to avoid a "heated" confrontation.  Remember, they hold a pretty good hand and you have to make a really, really good bluff to win.

2.  Your Passport:

Under NO circumstance, give your passport to your boss.  I have heard of cases where bosses held passports hostage to make teachers complete their contracts.  If your boss says that your passport is needed to complete some registration documents with immigration, simply say, "I'll go with you."  You have to go any ways, because you have to give your "John Hancock" and get finger printed and all that rigmarole.  So, DON'T give your boss your passport!  The US Embassy is NOT very helpful in Korea (whereas I've heard they are VERY helpful in China).  Actually, I don't know what the US Embassy in Korea would do if you reported your passport stolen by your boss.  I've never had to face that problem, nor do I know anyone who has.  I've only read stories, and those stories did not mention how the passport was retrieved.  However, I would immediately report the passport stolen (by your boss) at your embassy.

3.  For persons put up in an apartment building:

If your boss has a key to your apartment, which is likely, you should NEVER keep your passport or money in your home.  I have heard of cases of apartments being searched by bosses (or thieves).  If you live in an apartment, and if I were you, I would have the locks changed (without telling your boss).  I did.  I changed both the dead bolt lock AND the knob lock.  (But, that wasn't because I don't trust my boss, it was because I didn't trust anybody... there were a lot of keys floating around from previous Expat English teachers who gave copies of keys to friends, and I swear people were coming into my home while I was at work and that really pissed me off, so I had the locks changed).  If you do it, and your boss complains, I'd ask your boss, "What the hell were you doing trying to get into MY apartment while I was away?"

Oh, and ALWAYS LOCK YOUR DOOR, even when you are at home, because Koreans just walk in.  They're not supposed to according to their own culture, but you are are a foreigner and you are not always treated with the same respect that Koreans would receive.  I've had Koreans walk in on me all the time.  And one female expat told me that one time she had just gotten out of the shower and some maintenance men just opened the door without knocking and walked right in unannounced.  She screamed as loud as she could and they left.

4.  For persons who are "put up" in a "detached" house:

If your boss puts you up in a detached house, you can expect to be robbed.  It happens all the time.  Such is a commonplace thing in Korea (and the robbers rarely get caught).  I was robbed once in a detached house, but the robber only took my cash (which just happened to be all my savings).  Luckily, he/she didn't take my passport.  (This was during my second year in Korea, when I was put up in a detached house in the countryside.  No more than a couple days after I had moved in, and someone broke in the back door.  It was easy... could have been done with a screw driver.  I had my money and passport locked in a chest of drawers, but that was broken into as well, clothes were everywhere.  The robber even took all my quarters that I had brought as gifts for the students.)  You can get a bank account in Korea.  All you need is a passport to get one.  It's a piece of cake.  Get a safety security box (or whatever they are called) to put your passport and other valuables in.

5.  Traveling / Commuting in a Foreign Country:

I think, legally, you are supposed to carry your passport, and/or "resident permit" with you at all times, in case you are "picked up" by the police; But, in ten years of living in Korea, I never was once harassed by the police, and only once was I asked for ID.  I always keep my "resident permit" in my wallet.

There are "pick-pockets" in every country, so be careful.  I've had problems in every country that I've been to.  As a foreigner, you are a target.  I got pick-pocketed or my bag knifed and/or attempts in EVERY country that I've visited as an adult.  Mongolia is the worst.  I'm sorry.  I love Mongolia, but it is the worst for pick-pockets.

Some suggestions:
-  Do not keep your wallet, or any valuable documents, like your passport in your bag, and especially NOT in a backpack.  It is VERY common for thieves to slash your bag and take some of the contents out.  (It happened to me in Korea!)  My bag was slashed in the subway during rush hour (so I was totally unaware) and I lost a pen and a notebook (no biggie, but it could have been worse).  I had no idea that my bag had been slashed until I had arrived to my destination and inspected my bag.

-  Keep a decoy.  I keep a decoy bag with me at all times.  I put stuff in there to make it look appealing to pick-pockets, but nothing of great value to me.  It works!  I've been pick-pocketed 5 times in five weeks from my decoy bag (in Mongolia).

-  If in a group, watch each other's bags and stuff.

Occasionally, even the locals become victims.  I know, personally, a Korean woman who lost her wallet, which was in her bag, that way.  She was on the way to work.  When she arrived at work, she noticed that her wallet was gone (out of her slashed bag).  She immediately called her bank to "stop" payment on her ATM card, but it was too late, the thief had already emptied her account.  How the thief did this without knowing the PIN (secret password or secret number) is a mystery.

Also, in Mongolia, I saw a Mongolian woman chase a Monglian man.  She was crying and running until she ran out of breath, because he had pick-pocketed her.  It was dark and I didn't really understand what was going on at first, because I didn't understand the language fully.  I would have intervened, if I wasn't standing on my balcony, but I'm not necessarily encouraging you to get involved (for your safety).

6.a.  Getting Paid:  Overtime

Keep a running log of your overtime hours and make sure you are being paid according to the contract.  If your boss refuses to pay, you refuse to do any more overtime.  It's that simple.  That's what I did.  But, I can imagine some bosses threatening to withhold all your salary unless you teach overtime.  That's when it is time to pull the ol' dead-grandmother story and get the heck out of Dodge (if you know what I mean).

6.b. Getting Paid:  Regular Salary

Put money away for a rainy day.  Sometimes schools go through financially difficult times, and your salary might be delayed.  I had to learn my lesson the hard way.  The bosses don't warn you when your salary is going to be delayed.  They just "conveniently forget" to pay you on time.  Then, they say, "Okay, I'll pay you as soon as I can."  (and who knows when that will be?).  Legally, in Korea, institutions do NOT have to pay if they do not have the money.  So, you will be S.O.L.  JUST count on it happening.  PLEASE, put money away for a rainy day.

If an unacceptable amount of time passes without payment, you will have to say something.  I gave a sad face and pleaded, complaining that I didn't have any money to pay my debts in the States.  You can try saying that your relatives in the States (mom, dad, grandparents) are relying on you for income.

7.  Some Sound Financial Advice:

I'd advise you not to go to any foreign country without a safety-cushion fund to fall back on if you should encounter financial problems.  Also, get a bank account, where family, relatives, or friends from back home can wire you money in times of difficulty.  Finally, don't "blow" your whole first-month's pay.  Put some away each month for emergency.

8.  Other Possible Problems:

Plan for every possible contingency.  Plan for you school going bankrupt.  The signs will be there, such as deferred and/or incomplete payment of salary.  Many Koreans do not do their market research before starting a business.  They just think, "Oh, let's start an English Academy."  without calculating costs, and without doing any research into the market where they wish to open the academy.  Nor, do they always choose the best locations.  So, it is no wonder why many academies fail (go bankrupt).

Plan for things to be different than you expected.  For example, hours may change without due notice, schedules may change without due notice, housing may change (or not be what you had hoped it would be).  I was never notified of schedule changes until the day before, and that's not because the school didn't know well in advance, but rather because they neglected to tell me (or any of the other foreign teachers).  The students knew well before we did.

Plan for such possibilities as:  no teaching materials, no curriculums, rowdy children, unhelpful administration.  It's all part and parcel of the Korean English-teaching gig.

9.  "Training":  (Interesting Konglish Word)  See my Konglish Page for more Konglish

Be aware that the word "training" in Korea means: "orientation".   So, if you are promised "training", all you will get is "orientation".

Thusly, be aware that in different countries, there are different meanings for English words.  It's not right to tell them that they are wrong, but you might enlighten the locals that where you come from that word has a different meaning.

10.  Doing Private Lessons Overseas:

Be careful regarding private lessons.  They are usually illegal.  If you have a work visa (AKA: work permit), the government (and more especially the Korea government) is not so strict about it, and it is legal if you get permission in writing from your employer and if you pay taxes on the income; HOWEVER, if you have a tourist visa and you get caught, expect to be fined, jailed, deported, and blacklisted from ever returning.

I'm not saying don't do private lessons.  They can be a nice source of extra income.  However, be wise.  Don't advertise or flaunt your private lesson activities.  Don't tutor your own students, as your boss may consider such a conflict of interests.  If you really don't think it will be a problem, then get permission from your boss first.  Sometimes they will say, "Yes."

11.  Your Contract:

Be warned!  You might read your contract and take some things for granted.  Do not take ANYTHING for granted.  Contacts are usually written for the advantage of the employer and NOT for the employee (in Korea).  Sometimes, employers "borrow" "standard" English contracts without having read them or having completely understood the content therein.  It's just a formality to them... something for the government.  Bosses sometimes have no intention of following the contract to the letter.  The sense of contractual obligation that we have in the West is not the same in other countries (especially the Far East).  You might try to insist upon certain things being put into the contract before you sign it, but you will be considered a trouble-maker from the start and the job offer may be rescinded.  In such a case, I would consider it a good loss.  You don't want to work for such a person.

I had a case in Korea, where my contract offered me a raise every quarter of a year, if my teaching was satisfactory.  My boss kept telling me how much he liked me.  Then, after six months, I was like, "Hey, wait a minute!  I'm supposed to be getting more money."  When I approached my boss, he said that he hadn't read the contract.  Then, I said, "Well, you are reading it now.  Can I have my raise?"  He just laughed and said, "No."  Then, he wondered why I didn't renew my contract at the end of the year.

12.  Tactics to deal with "NAGGY" bosses:

What I mean by "naggy" bosses, is this:  The bosses who keep asking you to do things that are not in the contract.... (or keep asking you to change your teaching style).

Depending upon the things that your boss "nags" about, there are ways of dealing with them....

     1. For bosses that keep asking you to do things that are not in the contract (like work on Saturday or Sunday), just keep reminding the boss what the contract says.  (They hate that, but there's nothing they can do about it).

     2. For bosses that ask you to change your teaching style, just smile and agree.  Then, do whatever you want.  (This method works really well!  In fact, I highly recommend it!).

13.  Tactics to deal with non-payment:

      -  Keep bugging the crap out of them until you get your money (without getting angry).  Just keep bugging them, everyday.  Give them sob stories (that's what I did), like: you've got student loans to pay off or you have an unemployed father with disability and you have to support him and your mother... whatever it takes.

      -  Many Korean bosses like to pay in cash or money orders.  I have been shorted this way, and my boss ensured me that they counted the money several times and it was correct.  So, after that I insisted upon direct-deposit.  That way, there is no way to be shorted.

      -  Never threaten your boss.  But, if a significant amount of time goes by without payment just stop teaching without notice.  When your boss confronts you, just calmly say, "As soon as I get all back pay, I'll start teaching again."  Suddenly, the money will appear in your account (even if it means he/she has to take the money out of his own personal bank account).

     -  I have heard of some bosses blackmailing their teachers in order to keep them teaching classes and lining their pockets with money.  If this happens, GET OUT IMMEDIATELY!  Do not say "Goodbye", do not give any notice, do not try to contact the police (it's your word against a Korean citizen's word).  Just leave secretly in the night.  Go back to your home country.  Wait for your contract to expire, then come back and get another job.  If you were dumb enough to give your boss your passport (and he/she is holding it hostage), go and report him/her to your embassy immediately.

Don't Let Bad Things Happen to You.








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