CPIS = awful hagwon = 28 more days!

The hagwon life at CPIS continues to baffle us; Friday we were given slightly less than half pay(which was already 5 days late).  Monday I found out the Korean teachers got even less.  My director hinted that she’s skeptical about the key money we were previously told would cover our lost pay if the CEO closed the school.  She had a disturbing meeting with the CEO where he deflected and laughed off every question she had about paychecks, pensions and the $1 million key money (deposit) he had on the building.  She translated that to us as “it may not be there.”

28 more days!

After a laborious staff meeting that kept going in circles we realized there is a divide between the Korean staff and native English speakers.  The complaints were universal but when it came time to see who was ready to take action the only raised hands were white.  So far our new director is doing a good job of keeping us in the loop. Unfortunately the resulting discovery of [the owner’s] refusal to communicate left us with an even greater feeling of hopelessness.  It seems that she shares this frustration and also feels powerless to negotiate with him.

Today is Wednesday January 15th; my latest birthday present was the news that [the owner] is in fact selling the business.  At first I thought that was a good thing but now I’m less sure.  We don’t have any answers about how the sell will effect us and have heard stories of teachers being fired in the 11th month to avoid paying severance.  Who will take over paying us and the pension?  Will we have new contracts, will it void our old contract?  We are suspicious that this is a ploy to get out of some of what we are owed.

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Accepting a new contract!

Last Friday I finally got my letter of release!  I immediately emailed it over to Young Hoon Elementary and first thing Monday morning I had a contract sitting in my inbox.  That was yesterday.  I looked it over and printed it out before giving it to one of the office assistants to fax.  Now its Tuesday and I got my “welcome to Young Hoon” email!

Its such a huge weight off my shoulders to know that not only will I be able to leave my current atrocity of a “school” but that I’ve got a great job lined up with a month of summer and winter vacations!  I don’t know what age I’ll teach yet but I asked for 4th grade and  I’ll be working with 3 of my current coworkers (Susan, Sara, & Brian).  We are apartment hunting together in the upcoming weeks  and hopefully we can find somewhere with 4 apartments and have our own Seoul version of Friends!

With my new-found vacation time I’m going to try to do some backpacking in Vietnam and get out to the Pacific Northwest US over the summer; likely for a little backpacking with my same troupe that I went through the Southwest US last summer.  If all goes well I’ll end with a stint back in NJ before teaching the second half of the school year in Seoul.

Teaching this week has been a little tough but that’s mostly due to the students being off their rockers.  I’m sure things will settle out again soon and I just created a social story to help our “favorite” student behave on the bus and throughout the day.  I enjoyed meeting some new friends and practicing my Korean & Russian last night at a coffee shop and am looking forward to my second Korean class tonight!

We are supposed to be paid in 2 days but I don’t think any of us actually expect to get our paychecks on time.  When I brought up the payday last week with my principal she said “maybe” and they are still expecting me to repay half my flight out here (roughly $430).  I told them “maybe” I’d pay them when we get paid, but am going to do my best to keep my money.  My contract says nothing about having to negotiate or pay for a letter of release like they forced me to.  I’m prepared to go to the ministry of labor if they withhold it from my paycheck (which is what I’m expecting to happen).

Thanks for following and cheering me on through this struggle.  The support has certainly been welcome and I haven’t lost sight of my real motivation for coming to Korea.  I am loving living abroad and learning about the wonderful culture here.   They tell me its all part of the “honeymoon” phase but in spite of all the garbage I am dealing with at work I am really having a great time!

A Friday fight for my letter of release

2 weeks ago I officially submitted my letter of resignation to CPIS for February 28th, 2014.  This week I was told my school owner called the school that offered me a job and accused them of poaching.  I responded by compiling a list of reasons I was leaving and submitted them with a note stating if I didn’t have the letter of release by Friday I would bring the grievances to the ministry of labor.  Today is that Friday.

I stopped by my principal’s office at 9:00 and she was nowhere to be found.  I asked the vice principal and she informed me “she isn’t in yet.”  I made a few copies and waited for her arrival.  When she hadn’t arrived by 9:10 I went upstairs again; I couldn’t waste my morning waiting around for her and I took this as a bad omen.  Our old principal would routinely arrive after the first few buses and I hoped this wasn’t the new trend.

I went back to my room to get a few things ready and went down to her office at 9:25 to find Mr. Bae and her conversing in the hallway.  He left as I walked up and we walked into her office together.  I asked her if Mr. Bae had written the letter of release.

She immediately began telling me “you know it is not good for you to leave like this.  If you want to teach in Korea.”

“Yes, but it is not good for me to stay here.  I need my letter of release today,” I replied.

“oh, have you, will you, pay the flight?” She asked.

“No, that is an absurd request.” I reiterated my statements from our previous conversation. “My contract says I don’t need to repay the flight after 6 months of employment. If I don’t have my letter I will contact the ministry of labor as I said earlier in the week.”

“You know I didn’t tell Mr. Bae yet.”

Wait, what?  Why would she go all week without even bringing it to his attention?!?  I was starting to lose my trust in this women and wanted to scream.  I wanted to tell her I would call the ministry right now if I don’t have the letter; oh the things I wanted to say.  I used the advice and patience I’ve learned through teaching, working with special ed and fencing for many years to say nothing and let her continue.

“It is bad idea for you to do that.  You know all owners know each other in Korea and it will make it very difficult for you.”

“I agree that all the owners know each other.  In the two interviews I’ve had they knew about (insert school name here) and the problems we are having here before even asking me for an interview.  I have had 2 job offers already and have more interviews scheduled.  I need the letter of release.”

“Okay, I see.  You really need to negotiate with the school.  You know the bad financials it is in.  You should repay half the flight.”

“No.  You need to give me the letter of release.  If that is the only way you will than before I can agree to pay anything I need my letter and a document stating the amount I will be paying and why.”

With that she left to finally speak to Mr. Bae.  I sat quietly staring at the clock. Tick… Tock…  Tick… Tock…  My students would be arriving in my classroom momentarily if they weren’t already bogging down my co-teacher.  She came back a few minutes later.

“Okay, you know this is bad idea for you but if you need the letter we can do that.  I spoke to the accountant and she is getting the amount of flight.  When do you need the letter by?  You need a document too?”

“Yes,” I replied, “I need a document stating the amount I would be repaying and I need the letter today.”

“Yes,” she said, “I will do that.  Are you okay?  You have money?”

“I am fine.  I have American money and have saved from my few Korean paychecks.  So I will have the letter of release today?”


With that I told her my students had already arrived and excused myself from her office.  A coworker overheard the discussion in the hallway and came to the same eerie conclusion I had.  “Was that Mrs. Yi?”  She laughed a little, we both cringed and then agreed that the appearance of this new side of our principal was even more of a reason to get out.

I taught my Kindergarten classes and made my best to ignore my morning conversation.  It was unsettling but I left with a good feeling about the coveted letter of release.  I taught my students about Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and we played the dreidel game before doing our regular centers and working on fact families in math.

My after school group went swimmingly well as we talked about past tense and going places using plural and singular pronouns.  When they had a break for snack with Sae, a Korean teacher downstairs, I bumped into [the director] in the hallway.

“Do you still need the letter?  I spoke with [the owner].”  She asked, as if I might have changed my mind.

“Yes.”  I said matter of factly.

“Just stop by my office.”

“Okay, I am done teaching at 5.” I replied as she went back to guiding her tour of prospective parents.

My class finished uneventfully and I went down to her empty office.  I continued walking towards Mr. Bae’s office and noticed the two of them discussing something in Korean.   I waited a few moments before deciding to let them finish and get back to work in my room.  Around 5:10 my phone rang and [the director] asked me to come down to her office.

I walked in and yet again she asked me if I was sure I wanted the letter.  When I reaffirmed my stance she took out an envelope and stapled piece of paper.

“Is it okay if its Korean?” my principal asked.

“As long as it is the letter of release I can get it translated.” I replied.

She unfolded the letter and said the top line in Korean, explaining that it means letter of release.  The dates no it seemed in order and she pulled out the next sheet of paper, a billing receipt for my flight ticket to Korea for ₩856,259 (roughly $850).

“You are okay to pay half?” she asked

“I can, but I need a receipt.” I responded.

“I cannot do that today, this is embarrassing but when will you pay?” She asked me.

“We get paid on December 5th right?” I told her, knowing that was when we SHOULD be paid.  “When I get my paycheck if I have the receipt I can give [the owner] the money.”

“Maybe.” She responded.

Wait, maybe?  So I guess I should expect the next paycheck to be delayed too.  I guess “maybe” I’ll pay them for this release letter.  At least the fight for it is officially over!  I can accept the other position and with a week to spare there shouldn’t be any more issues.

My coteacher confirmed that it is in fact a letter of release.  I took a picture to send to my current dream job at Young Hoon Elementary school before making a few copies of the documents.  My next fight will be over whether or not the half flight repayment is in fact warranted but for now I’ll celebrate.  Even if I end up shelling out a few hundred bucks its worth it for a much better job that will make up that difference with one month’s pay and I won’t have to deal with all the garbage that this place throws at us!

2nd interview, 2nd offer, still no letter of release

Today I had  a second interview.  This one at another Hogwon but it appears to be run like an actual school.  The owner speaks English fluently, albeit with a thick accent, but everything went great in the interview.

We started off with a quick tour before he brought me into his office.  They have a beautiful gym facility and great classrooms.  Each room is a little smaller than my current school but everything else appear to be much higher quality.  Once we were in his office he spent a while explaining how he had heard good things about me and sympathized with my current predicament.  He asked to keep the details confidential so I’ll just say that he did his best to sell me on the stability and reputation of his school; and well, it worked!

The school sounds like a fantastic hogwon, the only problem, its still a hogwon.  I would get slightly better hours and pay than at my current job plus a lot more trust between employees and the administration but I still would teach Kindergarten.  I still would only get about 2 weeks of vacation and be subject to a wide variety of other restrictions.  He was not concerned about my letter of release situation I didn’t mention that I had another offer.

I then met with one of his current teachers who answered more specific questions about the curriculum (holy shit, there actually is one!), housing, teaching day, social life of teachers, etc.  He was a great guy and I could tell would be a fun coworker.  Everything he said sounded great when suddenly the owner came back in to ask me a few more questions.

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A job offer without a letter of release

I got an email today saying I have a job offer but that they will only hold it for a few weeks without a letter of release from CPIS.  Its the job I REALLY want and the email sounded great until I got to “your owner actually phoned our school and that indirectly or directly accused us of poaching his teachers.”  After reading that it was difficult to finish teaching.

I was seething with anger at the school owner.  How dare he!  Refuse to pay us on time, lie to us and then have the audacity to contact a future employer and try to keep them from hiring me?  Apparently this isn’t the first time that happened either.  One of my coworkers had an offer last month that Mr. Bae “sat on” until the last minute when he threatened a law suit at the other school.  Suddenly the offer vanished.  Luckily it was lunch time; I got some fresh air, gimbap with a coworker, and vented while figuring out my plan of action.

I knew I needed to talk to him today or at least get a message translated.  To help myself calm down I wrote up a list with “15 reasons I’m leaving” which included “5 contract conditions” that are, at best, subpar.  I added a line at the bottom notifying him that I need the letter of release by Friday November 29th (today is Tuesday) or I would “bring these grievances to the Korean ministry of labor.”

After discussing it with a few coworkers and making some edits I decided it was best to first bring this to [the new director’s] attention.  I first apologized for putting her in the middle of all of this on her 2nd day (the old principal’s last day was Friday) but quickly brought her up to speed.

I spoke to her about my letter of resignation the other day but at that time nothing was final.  I let her know that the owner’s actions upon contacting my potential employer were the last straw and handed her the list.  She read it over and I said that I am not trying to hurt the school; I would like to finish out my 6 months here but that I need to look out for my own interests.  We discussed the situation for a little longer before I returned to my room.

Luckily I was in the middle of a prep; I had to head back down to make a few copies and she called me back into her office.  She had spoken to Mr. Bae and he was interested in “negotiating.”  Wait, what?  How do you negotiate about this?  He ruined any chance of keeping me around as an employee for the 15 reasons that I listed.  Well I guess I’ll hear it out.

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