Monday, May 25, 2009

CDI/CDL and Poly Review (Updated)

I am posting these questions because there are problems happening in Korea right now. Not just because of swine flu, but also because of people asking me more questions due to the recent publicity given to Chungdahm Institute/Chungdahm Learning from their closing this week. In all truth I enjoyed the time I had with many of my coworkers. We forged a special bond on a daily basis from talking about how much we hated work and how it was not worth the money. In turn, I was not strong enough to continue working through the almost daily challenges presented by the company. I do not endorse CDI/CDL in any way and hope that these questions prove to be helpful for those seeking guidance.

Throughout my posts you should notice a significant bias towards my current employer, Korea Poly School. To frame what you choose to read I will simply state, I currently work more hours per week, I am paid less money, and I am happier after 3 months than I was for an entire year at CDI/CDL. I highly encourage readers to educate themselves before pursuing a teaching job in Seoul, if you have any questions regarding these or other matters, please feel free to contact me:

A brief overview about weekly schedules:

Last year when I worked at CDL (previously CDI) with my fiancĂ©, it was rare for us to have the same days off during any 3 month term. Weekends were cut into, overtime was constant, and stress was physically visible. I don’t want to fall into slander here but despite the high rate of hourly pay, the misery that came from the requirements of the institute were hard to swallow. On top of that, CDI did not provide sick days nor did they factor in Korean Holidays. Coming in on Christmas was not a favorite among students or teachers.

Currently after working for two months at Poly, I have had weekends off, Korean holidays, this June every teacher also gets a week off for Summer vacation, and at the end of May my director was gracious to give me an extra week off so that I can come back home to D.C. and celebrate my sister’s birthday. Kristen is working at a private elementary school at this time, and while we do not have the same hours, we are still guaranteed to have weekends off and our vacation time falls on the same dates. This is pretty common among all academic institutions throughout Seoul.

Q: Housing wise, we want a place big enough for 2 people. So a 1-person studio apartment wouldn't really work unless they gave us 2 that were next door to each other (use one as living room and one as a bedroom).
Absolutely, and I wouldn’t have it any other way if I was in your position. Regrettably I’m not in the position to tell you what Poly school would do for you in this case – but I can tell you that they will definitely do more to help you than CDI ever did for neither Kristen nor myself. When Poly gives you a call make sure you inquire about the housing, ask them if they would have you both teaching at the same school campus and what your options are for housing. Because there are so many Poly locations it will depend on the neighborhood. That is to say not every school owns their own apartment complex where they put all of their teachers, but if you’re looking to save money (for you and the school) and house two people in one location most schools will happily help you.

Q: - How are the schools are working with couples as far as schedule and housing goes?
Most schools will work with couples and actually prefer to have married teachers for the sake of longevity. A school will do more for you provided that they have a need for two teachers and quite possibly do more to make you happy so that you stay. Because if one of you isn’t happy, they know that they can lose you both. Most schools will also help to make your schedules match.

Payment Plans
Q: I think we would rather work on a salary basis. I noticed that Chungdahm doesn't pay housing on an hourly position and I think I would like the certainty of a salary position, as long as they aren't unreasonable with things like overtime.
Good choice. When I first came to Korea I wanted salary myself. Sure it’s more working hours, but the benefits greatly outweigh the lack thereof. I actually signed a contract with Chungdahm when I was in the States and when I arrived to Seoul they abruptly told me that I could only have an hourly option. At the same time though there’s segregation in CDI academies; some of them work on a salary option (franchises) while the rest function on an hourly basis (branches). If you want salary, I’d stand firm on getting into a franchise. That would have saved a lot of headaches if people had known about it before signing.

Comparison between Academies
Q: - Which of the schools that you worked at do you generally think is better (I know location makes a difference) and why did you switch schools?
I would give double thumbs up to Poly. And there are a lot of reasons for this. I’ll try to be succinct here. A) Poly provides hassle-free housing nearby the school, CDI will put you out on your own to pay rent if you don’t settle for the offers of their realtor, Michael Yoo; who merely walked from location to location reciting “this is the best you’re going to find”. We ended up living an hour away from the school with the rest of the teachers who found realty on their own. B) The other thing that really has nailed it in the coffin for me is that Poly does not drive home the idea of ‘you can be fired at anytime without notice’. They are a lot more democratic about their relationships with the staff and have really made be feel like a valued part of the team where CDI made me feel like going through a meat grinder.

Company not Fulfilling Contractual Agreements
Q: - I have read a lot about Hagwon's not fulfilling the stipulations in
the contract (not paying on time, not providing return airfare, etc.)
what is your opinion of your Hagwon and Hagwons in general?

What you have read about mostly comes from Hagwons in the countryside. Most schools in Seoul will pay on the 5th or the 10th of each month provided that you have a bank account in the city (no problems there, KB*, Hana Bank, and Woori Banks are everywhere and provide little stress for foreigners to sign up). Now, if you come to Korea and start working at a Hagwon that doesn’t pay you on time, you should definitely put up a red flag. For not paying returning airfare, I again have my reservations about CDI. They did not pay for when I left the country at the end of my contract and they also withheld a $1000 instructor performance bonus from my pay because I did not agree to return to their program this year.

Working Hours
Q: - How many classroom hours do you teach each week? How many days do
you work each week? Are you required to do overtime or is it

At CDI I taught 6 hours a day 4p.m. to 10p.m., but that translated out to about 11 hours total including transit as well as prep time for the class – both of which were unpaid. For one month in the summer and one month in the winter there was the option to teach Intensive classes for 3 additional hours 3 days a week. Overtime extended to Saturday classes during test times and classes directed at under achieving students. Like most normal businesses, the more time you put in, the more you get out of it in terms of scheduling. Unfortunately this was not the normal case for Kristen and myself. Weekends remained busy for both of us.

At Poly I work from 9a.m. to 6/7p.m. depending on the day. I have an hour for lunch; 10 minute breaks between my 40-minute classes, and more freedom to design the lesson. Overtime is nonexistent, and I only have to attend 2 Saturday workshops this year.

Preferences in Teaching
Q: - What is your favorite thing about teaching in Korea? What is your
least favorite thing?

My paradoxically favorite and most hated thing, sadly, was working with Middle school kids at CDI. The thing about teaching in Korea is that you instantly become part of this consuming machine that is driven to make an academic success out of their children. I sometimes wish that my parents had put as much pressure on me to succeed like these kids. When it gets to middle school life downright sucks for kids. It’s not just being lethargically in school like in the states, it’s getting hit by teachers and parents, and going to academies to ruin the global learning curve. At CDI, because they had a middle school program I had the opportunity for 3 hours a week to take kids out of the doldrums, to get them to smile and give them passion for something.

Treatment by School
Q: - Do you feel your school treats you and the other English teachers
fairly and with respect?

At Poly, absolutely. I feel respected, valued, and am treated with a certain degree of hospitality that I never thought was possible through CDI. Teachers at CDI constantly complained about their income, and received no sort of validation from the company. The final insult for me last year was getting a blemish on my passport for an overstay in the country. My visa expired a day before the last day of class and I was told, by a man named John Yoo, that an extension would be granted. However at customs I was informed that CDI did nothing of the sort. Accordingly after an hour of phone calls I was granted permission to leave and told by John Yoo that he would immediately remove the blemish from my record. Later he sent me an e-mail saying that he would take care of it if I came back to CDI. As a result, I did not come back.

Completing the Contract
Q: - What percentage of teachers complete their contract? Why do those
that break the contract do so?

When I worked at CDI I was with a group of roughly 30 teachers. Every term about 5 new teachers would come in, of those 5, at least 1 or two would simply disappear. It sometimes happened without warning, other times it would happen under the pretense of a family emergency. Whatever the case they were never heard from again. I blame the institution and lack of affirmation. People don’t come to Korea to be treated poorly but because of the immense size of CDI, I figure that it’s hard to do anything but embrace quantity over quality.

Living Hardships
Q: - What is the hardest thing about living in Korea other than being far
away from family and friends?

The hardest thing about Korea outside of missing home would have to be the rain and the subsequent mosquitoes that follow. Bring a couple cheap plastic ponchos, some Off and a good attitude about being bitten. Also take advantage of your weekends, they really are priceless.

Q: - Do you get Korean holidays off?
Working at CDI resulted in having no vacation whatsoever, least of all Korean holidays. You were ‘entitled’ to a week of unpaid vacation, but only a few people ever took advantage of such a financially crippling endeavor. Now that I’m out, holidays are standard.

Q: "Is vacation time pre-scheduled? If so, is it scheduled a full week at a time or broken down a day here and a day there?"
Vacation time (outside of CDI) is prescheduled to one week in the summer and one week in the winter. Some academies will work with you in order to better fit your needs, but this depends on the school.

Q: "Hope everything is going well in Korea. I was writing to you to get your opinion. I put in an application at Korean Poly and they mentioned to us an opening that they have for July at their MokDong campus. Do you know anything about this particular school? The pay for the position is great, but the hours are pretty long since it is for a morning/afternoon shift. Which shift do you work and what have you heard about the morning/afternoon shift?"
I’m working over the the Dongdaemun campus. I also do a morning/afternoon shift, but it goes by incredibly quick. Tomorrow I start week 9 of the 26-week semester, and it doesn’t bear down on me at all. July is a good time to come because it’s in the middle of the summer, you’ll have ample time to prepare for the mosquitoes in September.