Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Reveal

We found out something very interesting this morning when we called the National Pension Office to discuss the legality of a hagwon not paying into the scheme.  When they ran our Alien Registration Numbers they found that we are listed as "self employed" (as in, free agents who came to Korea [not under contract] looking for work on our own).  We read them our contract and they agreed that Yoon's has mis-registered us.  They did this to skirt around tax, health care and pension laws.  So, before we can go and apply for our pension refunds (meaning we and the school will have to pay back pension that we will get back in 6-8 weeks) we have to go to the tax office and change our status to "worker."

Our meeting with Montana this morning was terribly anticlimactic.  It's not that I wanted a fight, Montana went from "You've made a big mistake" (on the phone with Ian last night) to "Do whatever you need to, it's your choice," (the gist of his input during today's meeting) in a real hurry.  I don't think he was prepared for us to have found out about the school's shady fraud situation.

Julia did not show up for our meeting.  Ian tried to call her today and she refused to talk to him, stating that her English is not good enough and that she'd have a "recruiter" call back.  Sure enough, ten minutes later a girl from ESL Park called.  She tried to convince us that pension was a contract issue and that it isn't mandatory.  When it was obvious that we weren't convinced, Ian told her that she wasn't privy to our plans and hung up.

In discussing this new circle of hell with fellow teachers, I've discovered that the school has been stealing the money that it claimed was going to pay for health care from us (15,000 won a month each).  We have no health insurance cards and David/ Julia accompanied us to the hospital the three times we had to go.  That adds up to roughly $220 and I want it back.

I'm really tempted to open the blog early, but I worry about libel laws and our last paychecks.

The last few entries will be suggestions and warnings regarding Yoon's and working in Korea in general.  Here is a draft of the "blacklist letter" that I've been posting on several different ESL sites:

-Yoon's English Forest (영어 숲 ) has three campuses in Jecheon-si (Haso-dong, Sinback-dong and Goam/Jangnak-dong)
-The director's English name is Julia Lee and her Korean name is Park Eun-hee
-The corporate website is (there is no website for the hagwons as of right now) and the phone number is 010.651.0580

From the start, the school was difficult to work for. I chalked my feelings up to cultural difference, kept my head down, worked hard and pushed through. I should have listened to my gut. 10.5 months in, I'm regretting ever getting on a plane and coming to this country. I work for this company with my husband, Ian.

Our director threatened to terminate our employment starting when we were 8 months into our contracts. It took us very much by surprise. We had had our differences, but we had always worked hard and found common ground in the past. It all reached it's peak then when they gave us a letter stating that we would be terminated if our "performance" did not improve in two weeks time. While this warning came as a shock to us (we had had a couple rough meetings with our director before then in which she was unhappy with one or two small things, but the overall feeling was that we were doing well), we took it very seriously and worked very hard (putting in extra hours and showing a lot of submission to our director) to show that we were serious about keeping our jobs.

Two weeks later, in a meeting to discuss whether we would, in fact, be terminated, our director told us that we seemed to be "doing our best" and that if we kept that up, everything should be fine.

Then, two weeks before the end of our third term with this hagwon our director made some changes to our schedules, switching the campuses that we worked at and such, and told us that if enrollment didn't improve in two weeks that we would be terminated (this time with no letter). Again, two weeks later our director told us that if we kept up the good work that our jobs were not in jeopardy (she seemed happy with our performance at this point and said that the "switch" was a very good idea).

Then, two weeks into the term, she called another meeting. She stated that she was very unhappy with our performance and said that our teaching skills were not up to par with what she had hoped for. The meeting ended with nothing concrete being said about our employment. The next week our director failed to show up to our meeting. Instead, it was conducted by our translator/supervisor. He told us that the company had decided to let us go and gave us a letter listing the reasons (which included ludicrous claims of inappropriate language and behavior in the classroom and poor class preparation [we have folders and folders of lesson plans, activities and worksheets to prove otherwise]). We have little room for legal action because they gave us four weeks notice (meaning we'd have to wait until we were no longer employed and housed to make a claim).

Additionally, we found out this morning that Yoon's registered us as "self employed" to skirt around tax, health care and pension laws. As we are American citizens living as "workers" (not self employed free agents as Yoon's falsely told the government) we are required to pay 4.5% of our income into pension with the school paying a matching 4.5%. Then, when we are leaving the country, we can apply for a full refund as per the agreement the US made with Korea in 1993. They have also used this illegal loophole to fly under the radar with National Health Insurance (which they have also not been paying or providing). Our hagwon has tried to convince us that their (and our) payments into this are optional. They are not. We will be going to the tax office, changing our status then taking the appropriate steps (including paying our back pension) to hold Yoon's responsible for this indiscretion.

Less shady and illegal, but still important things to know about this hagwon are:

-The school is incredibly unorganized and has no foundational curriculum to speak of. It (and the schedule) change upon the whim of the director.
-The school employs CCTV and regularly forces teachers to watch hours of themselves teaching and write down any mistakes or flaws and report them to the director
-There is no meal provided to foreign workers or time specifically allotted for consuming one's own, making for days in which one cannot eat for 7 hours
-There is no transport or stipend provided (while its common to make one's own transport, make sure you're living within walking distance to the campus or that the school provides a bus/van [as Jecheon GnB does])
-The director is known for her contradictory behavior. She will be happy with you one week and sit you in a two hour meeting discussing your faults the next.

Please, do your research. There are plenty of great schools and great people in Jecheon. Just DO NOT work for Yoon's.

Good night!


  1. I would almost think that it is a good idea to open the blog now. I really do not think they are going to pursue any kind of liable issues with you, In fact they may be running a little scared.

    So this ESL Park, is that the company Asia worked for? And have you had any success in getting in touch with her? Keep us all posted on what transpires.

  2. I'm more paranoid than Cari. I say don't do anything to piss them off until you are out of the country. I'm not even sure it's a good idea to pay your back pension contributions. Once you're gone, it might end up being impossible to get them back. I might take the following tack, if it's possible: When you get back to the states, send in a correction to your worker status (with a confirmation of receipt). When they ask for your pension money, say you thought Yoon's was contributing it. When they ask for it again, send in the form that requests the pension money back and a letter (preferably from a lawyer) saying that the form and the payment cancel each other out, and you are expecting $x back from Korea for Yoon's part. I'd seriously advise against putting up any money on the theory that someone else (like the Korean govt) is going to do the right thing.

  3. hi I'm facing a very similar situation w/ my hagwon right now (shady, lies, haven't paid my pension in 11 months, etc.)
    how did your situation turn out? any and all advice would be greatly appreciated. I'm not willing to let my greedy director pocket the pension money that is rightly mine!