The Korean Hogwan

Before embarking on a career as an ESL teacher in South Korea, you will have to make one decision: EPIK or Hogwan?

A Hogwan is the name of a private academy in South Korea. Thousands of Hogwans are located throughout the country and offer all types of learning! From piano lessons to English conversation classes, from soccer academies to conversational Japanese. They cater to all ages, even from as young as one years old.

Every year thousands of companies hire native English speakers to work in these education centers. Working hours can vary from job to job, but can start from as early as 6am and finish as late as 1am. (Recent laws have made this less likely).


It is important to note that every Hogwan is different and they should not be mistaken for a Korea public school (EPIK).

It is recommended to use a recruiter when applying for jobs at a Hogwan because at least if something goes wrong you have a second point of contact.  But be warned – you should never ever pay a recruiter for this service.

Below is a brief list of the benefits and negatives of a typical Hogwan:

Pros

Salary

Generally, Hogwans pay well. A starting salary normally varies between 2.1 and 2.3 million Korean Won, depending on qualifications and experience.

Free Accommodation

The majority of Hogwans also provide free accommodation and free school meals, which cut your costs each month and allow you to save more of your money.

Severance Pay

The completion of a one year contract normally means the employer will give the employee severance pay, which is equal to a full month’s salary.

Flights

Almost every Hogwan will provide you with a free one-way flight to Korea. Many also offer a return ticket upon completion of the contract, but unfortunately, this is becoming less common over time.

Paid Vacation

By Korean law, Hogwans are obligated to provide their employees with 2 weeks paid vacation a year. Most allow one week off in July (summer vacation) and one in December (winter vacation).

Unfortunately, like with everything, there are also some negatives to working in Hagwon…

Cons

Parents

The students’ parents have too much involvement in most Hogwans. They can be very generous with gifts on special occasions, but equally as critical and moany every other day of the year. Ultimately they are paying a lot of money for their kids to attend school, so as annoying as it is, I can see why they hold so much power.

Closure

Many potential teachers fear that the school they are applying to will close down. This is not common, but unfortunately not a rare thing to happen either. Hogwans are ultimately businesses, so when they are not profitable or the owner has had enough, they can be closed down just as easily as your local corner shop. In most circumstances though, the Hogwans are bought out by investors who keep the current teachers employed.

Money First

As I just mentioned, Hogwans are businesses and money comes first. Sometimes the decisions by management and staff are not made in the best interest of the children or the teachers, but due to a financial means.

Before accepting a job at a Hogwan in Korea it is important to weigh both the pros and the cons. Do your research on that Hogwan and try to contact current teachers if possible!

Check out the A-Z Guide to Teaching English in South Korea:

How to Tell Your Folks You’re Moving Abroad

So you’re about to embark on your journey as a TEFL teacher: you’ve secured a cool job, found some cheap flights, made a checklist for your rucksack, and figured out your visa situation. Congratulations! Now all that’s left is the trickiest part: telling your parents without them totally freaking out.

To be blunt, this is a conversation you need to be well-prepared for. Being prepared will give you confidence in what you’re going to say, which honestly is the key to the whole thing.

First off, remember that you’re telling them, not asking. You’re an adult making an adult decision. Opening with, “I’m thinking of moving to Cambodia. What do you think?” is going to seem like you’re seeking approval as you’re unsure of your decision, and sounding anything less than confident will fail to put their minds at ease.

To help you mobilize for this inevitable discussion, here’s a cheat-sheet of likely responses and how to prepare to answer them:

“It’s too dangerous!”

It’s true that many places you’ll go will lack the safety associated with your hometown—every town in every country has its own inherent risks. However, it is important to realize that millions of people spend every day of their entire lives in these countries. Let them know you’re well-equipped to handle any problems that may pop up. Know what areas are safe, what the local laws are, and what resources you have available. Explain you’ll be registering with your closest embassy, clarify whether or not you’ll need travel insurance, and assure them you know how to contact both local and overseas emergency services.

“But you don’t speak _________.”

While the language barrier is of course a valid concern, this also gives you the opportunity to stress that you’re up for the challenge of totally immersing yourself in a new culture, including the language itself. One of the best ways to learn a new language is by moving to an area where you’ll be forced to use it for even the simplest interactions. Acknowledge that you know it will be difficult at first, but that you intend take the opportunity to learn as much as you possibly can.

“How will we know if you’re okay? What if you get sick/hurt/etc.?”

This one is definitely easier to answer these days than in the past, as modern technology has made communication so much easier. E-mail, Skype, International phone plans—keeping in touch is easy so long as you put in the effort and accommodate the time differences. Even those living off-grid can usually get to an internet café once a month or so. Try to know ahead of time what your most likely means of communication will be, and set up a schedule to call home once you’re settled. Check to see if your recruiter or agency has a system in place. Many request your parents’ information so they can contact them if they need to and some even call just to let them know your plane landed safely.

“When are you going to come home and get a real job?”

Even after teaching TEFL for years, this question will still pop up and will sting a bit each time. For those using TEFL as a means to a gap year or semester abroad, it’s easy to answer the first half and dodge the second. For those looking to teach long-term, it becomes a bit more complicated. Because TEFL teaching is often associated with volunteers & backpackers, many don’t think of it as serious work. Be assured, working as an English teacher IS a real job that takes as much dedication, energy, and hard work as any other, if not more. If you do have long-term goals in the TEFL world, let them know; if not, fall back on the spiel about how great it looks on a resume and how it can be a stepping stone to those “real jobs” you’ve heard so much about.

Lastly, be prepared for the fact that this conversation may not go well; your decision may not ever be fully understood by your family. Keep in mind that even if they disagree with your decision it is likely out of concern—they’re your parents and they only want you to be safe, happy, & successful.

-Ashley