Now that I’ve become a bit more settled into my new Korean life, I thought it would be a good time to start writing posts also geared toward prospective South Korean ESL teachers. After deciding that we wanted to teach English in Korea, I spent hours upon hours doing research online to learn as much as I could about the process and read about other people’s experiences. I want to contribute to that wealth of information, so, prospective ESL teachers, this one is for you!
One important piece of the puzzle when applying to private hagwons for your first time is choosing a recruiting agency. While there are mixed feelings on these agencies (“They don’t really care about you, they just want to get paid!” vs. “They worked so hard to find the best school for me!” for example), I think as a first time teacher applying from overseas, it is really invaluable, provided you are working with the right company for you. It is at no-cost to you, the teacher, and more often than not, you are working with people who were once in your shoes. They are able to help you along the way, guiding you through your E-2 Visa document collection process and addressing any questions or concerns you may have. Also, they can likely put you in touch with other teachers they placed in your area so you have some immediate connections once you get to Korea.
Many teachers [secretly] work with multiple companies in order to increase their chances of finding a great school (but note that you can only work with one recruiter if you are applying to public schools!). The choice is up to you. If you choose a great recruiter from the start that you feel confident about, there may not be a need to work with others. It certainly doesn’t hurt, and after we felt questionable about our original choice of agency, we did seek out alternative options.
All the agencies have great testimonials online, but what are they really like? I spent hours reading current or past teachers’ blogs to find out about their detailed experiences. It was extremely helpful to me and I hope to be helpful to any of you who are thinking about taking the plunge to teach ESL in Korea! Read more to see my recommendations* on the three recruiting agencies with which we worked.
TL;DR: Not recommended.
Say Kimchi Recruiting (SKR) was the first agency I found online and I was really impressed with the wealth of information provided on the website, the ease of navigation, and the testimonials. I inquired with them prior to submitting an application and received a response within a few hours—good sign! A few weeks later, we applied and received the mostly-automated confirmation email within 24 hours. Great! We were officially on our way to getting interviews and securing employment! I sent a handful of emails to the recruitment coordinator keeping her updated with our document collection process and asking questions when I had them, business as usual. However, two of my emails went unanswered, including the very first one I sent after the confirmation email expressing a worry I had about the timeline. The lack of response definitely sparked concern but I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it was simply missed. The other email didn’t necessarily warrant a response as it was just the link to my intro video. Perhaps I should have followed-up.
After continuing to peruse their website even after applying, I noticed that it wasn’t as up-to-date anymore. The informative blog posts about Korea and preparing for an ESL career had (and still have) ceased; certain pages didn’t reflect accurate staff, particularly ownership; and the bio for the actual recruitment coordinator was still “coming soon,” and to this day has not been added (we are talking 6 months of no updates here, to this point in time). I decided to check on my aforementioned intro video on YouTube. Sure enough, there were no views. The recruitment coordinator never looked at it after all, much less associated it with my profile. I can’t say these things didn’t leave me more concerned that perhaps SKR wasn’t as on top of their game as I originally perceived.
All my doubts about SKR were removed when the recruitment coordinator emailed us mid-December to say a school requested an interview with us for the next day! Amazing! We agreed and I spent hours researching the school that night. I didn’t find a lot of information but what I found wasn’t negative, and in the hagwon world, I think that is great. We were really excited for the interview and Kevin and I sat anxiously awaiting the call. We continued to sit anxiously as the interview time came and went…5 minutes overdue…15 minutes overdue…at 30 minutes overdue we surrendered and I emailed our recruitment coordinator to inform her the school never called and to find out why.
Do you want to know why the school never called? Well I would like to know, too. Our recruitment coordinator never got back to us about why the interview wasn’t honored. It’s now 4 months later, and we still haven’t heard a word from her. I am extremely disappointed that we were dropped off the radar with no explanation. That is certainly not how a business should operate. However, I am very happy that my intuition didn’t fail me, and when we started to feel weary about SKR, we took our business elsewhere (see below). We decided not to follow-up with SKR since we were working with another agency that was actually helping us secure employment. I also wanted to see how long it would take for our recruitment coordinator to respond, not thinking we’d be left in limbo forever. It’s very evident now that the couple’s recruiting fee they would have received from a school was not worth proper business etiquette.
When I started to feel questionable about SKR, I decided to post our resumes on Dave’s ESL Café. Almost immediately, loads of recruiting agencies in Korea responded to my post. I sent back full information to those that seemed like reputable agencies, based on their websites and any reviews I could find. Out of all of the companies I exchanged emails with, Appletree was the one that really stood by us throughout the process. We worked with Jean in Korea, who was very pleasant. Jean would send us schools to consider almost nightly. If we had expressed interest in the school, she would set-up an interview. Most of the schools in the beginning were not suitable to our needs, either due to negative reviews we found on the Black List, too little vacation, too many working hours, or something else. However, Jean always learned from our responses and as the days went on, started to send more schools that better fit what we were looking for. It was through Jean and Appletree we secured our very first actual hagwon interview (one that actually happened), which was for right after the new year. It went well but the school was interviewing a lot of teachers that week and making the decision early the next week. Jean continued to send us school profiles in the meantime in case we found others with which we wanted to interview. We ended up securing employment the same week of this interview but with another recruiting agency (see below). I thanked Jean for all her helpfulness and let her know I would definitely recommend Appletree to prospective teachers, so that is what I am doing here. She was always really friendly and responsive, even when she learned we wouldn’t be utilizing their services anymore.
TL;DR: Strongly Recommended.
It is through Adventure Teaching (AT) we have secured employment in Korea at a reputable school! I found AT on someone’s Top 5 Recruiters Lists and they were listed as #1 (for what it’s worth). I went to the website and I was even more impressed than I had been with SKR’s. AT provides nitty gritty information – like what to really expect from teaching ESL in Korea; not just all the pretty stuff, but realistic, no bs expectations. They claim to really work for the teachers and get to know them so they can find the school that is the perfect fit. The catch? They don’t work with just anybody! In order to work with AT, you must apply with all the regular required information, as well as a cover letter expressing not only why you want to teach abroad, but why you want to work with them. If you pass that initial screening, you are invited to a phone interview in which they ask you questions about yourself and your goals in more detail. If you pass the phone screening, then you are in! I think this approach is great. It’s business, so of course everyone is out for the buck and the bottom line, but the fact that they are not willing to work with just any teacher leads me to believe they really do care about making sure the teacher is in a well-suited school. It’s really a win-win for everyone (or a win-win-win in this case?). Teacher is happy at reputable school, works hard and refers others; school is happy with recruiting agency for finding great teacher and continues to give them their business and refer to other schools; and recruiting agency is happy with teacher for being a great representative of their agency and allowing them to succeed financially.
Kelly was our recruitment coordinator with AT and she was great! She always provided very detailed emails with all the information we would need and always responded to our questions very quickly and thoroughly. She ended up scheduling not 1, not 2 but 3 interviews for us the first full week of the new year. How great is that? Additionally, she always offered tips beforehand and followed-up after each interview. We ended up signing a contract with one of these schools that really seemed like a greatt fit for us. AT had placed numerous couples at this school over the last few years and everyone has been happy with the experience (I managed to find some positive blogs from previous teachers and I spoke with the current teachers at the time, as well).
While we waited for our Visa Issuance Numbers to get sorted (long and grueling process during Jan-Feb because of the new school year, I tell ya!), a representative from The Arrival Store contacted us, per Kelly’s instruction. We had individual Skype meetings with him and he was able to offer tips and answer any questions we had related to packing and what we can find in Korea in general. Not only that, but we got to have a Google hangout with other AT teachers who were scheduled to arrive around the same time. This session, also hosted by The Arrival Store, provided a wealth of knowledge about things like banking, cell phones, workplace culture, etc. The rep wasn’t pushy about selling things from The Arrival Store, either. He was just all about helping answer questions to aid us in our preparation on this great journey!
And since we’ve been here, AT has reached out to us a couple times just to check-in and to give us good information about traveling within Korea. It is nice to know that we do have them to turn to if we have any questions or concerns about anything while we are here!
*The opinions reflected in this post belong to me alone and may not reflect experiences had by other ESL teachers. It is not to say that you won’t have a successful placement utilizing a recruitment agency with whom I did not have a good experience; you may. Please use your best judgment in determining who is the best fit for you.
Well, that was a lot of information that is really only valuable to you if you are thinking about joining me here in Korea. So, dear prospective ESL teacher, good luck in your application process! I hope you find a recruiting agency that is a great fit for you. Never hesitate to drop me a line in the comments or contact section if there’s any questions I can answer for you!
Have a great day!