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
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,
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
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.
- 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.
ONLY AS A LAST RESORT, strike. PLEASE, only use this as a last
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.
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.
(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
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
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
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
- 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
- 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.
Let Bad Things Happen to You.