But your ass ain't free, either.
OK, people. Get out yer contracts and think about it. In basic form, how is working in Korea on an English-teaching visa any different from a term of 17th-century European indentured servitude? Adjusting for modern contrivances like email, lack of smallpox, and actually being allowed to move about the city when you're not working, of course.
I mean, essentially, you're fresh out of college or close to it, it's a first job for many, and you're dependent on the provisions provided by the contracted relationship -- transportation into the country, room and board, and a set salary in relation to the amount and type of labor to be performed. Right?
And you can't feasibly leave your employer and go to a better competitor -- effectivelyletting the market decide and regulate out bad apples -- because your EMPLOYER has to give permission for any other work, which ain't gonna happen, and you'll be deported if you get caught doing it on your own.
Crucially, your ability to stay in the country is linked to your work visa -- and given the rampant violations committed by sheisty owners, vice-principals, and other people who see you only as a walking dictionary (not as a human being), its about 50/50 odds as to whether you'll be extremely screwed upon arriving here. But you can't technically quit without being penalized for not completing the contract(try proving your side in a court of law, or waiting to go through the process -- the hagwon owner has time and familiarity with the system on his side, while you either are or are not going to teach 35 hours starting Monday), and you will have to leave the country, and you've gotta go back on your own dime.
You have technically have legal recourse against your employer, but the whole system and process is stacked against you, and there are few effective legal instruments for forcing payment of promised wages/damages even if you DO win. They don't garnish wages here.
Then there's the fact that you are literally considered, through a racist news media that presently is using English teachers as the scapegoat for all of society's ills, a criminal. You have to get a criminal background check, drug test, and even take -- of all things -- an HIV test before coming here. Nice.
Sounds like a term of indenture to me. Even if it's not completely such a legal instrument in its intent, that's what a hagwon contract is, because of social and legal circumstances, in effect. Because in Korea:
-- Socially, you're a walking dictionary. Think not? Try saying "I'm a painter who came to Korea because I can work and make a decent salary while still having time to paint." What does the average Korean hear? "Oh, you're an English teacher." It may not be how you define yourself, but that's how they define you. Get used to it. I say, "I came to Korea to work on my dissertation research, but got sidetracked by photography. My main jobs are teaching US History in private schools and working part-time in an international NGO." The Korean person asks, "But you teach in English?" After replying in the affirmative, they say, "So you're an English teacher!" But they're right, actually. No matter what you do -- unless you're a banker or corporate raider -- you're an English teacher, in the end.
-- The government has said you can and will be deported for doing ANYTHING outside of your stated purpose for being here. Sounds fair, right? But that includes anything you do in your FREE time as well, as in FOR FREE (not working). Yeah, that includes volunteering at an orphanage, doing a comedy routine (here, too) on your own time, or anything else that isn't standing in a room under the auspices of your employer teaching English. Not like they check, but it is a tool that has and continues to be used to expel people who step out of line, speak out, or make trouble. Still think you're not an indentured servant?
-- The social circumstances are such that the English teacher is the lowest form of foreign life now. I'm not being facetious, either. When I came to Korea in 1994, being an American GI was the bad thing to be (sorry, guys!). Now, GI's joke about not wanting to be mistaken for English teachers. Considering the ridiculous amount of press coverage that the few expected idiots get, despite the fact that the crime rate per capita among foreigners has always been and continues to be lower than for the Korean population, the "fake degree, HIV+, drug abusing, sexual predator English teacher" has become the dominant trope for foreigners here.
Still think that's in any way significantly different from being a white indentured servant in living in 1640 Jamestown?
Well, let's hope the new-age indentured servants never have a year like 1676. Well, adjusting for modernity in this analogy, we'll probably eschew the muskets and sickles for keyboard complaining/campaigning, or alternatively, voting with our feet and not coming here to live as the collective whipping boy for a society that is understandably frustrated by a cutthroat and immoral education-industrial-complex.
Look at that contract and your life conditions again, as defined by your limited options -- not whether you can still get a cheese bagel or have wireless internet. As NWA said, albeit in a different context, "a bitch is a bitch," and I'm afraid many of us foreign types are certainly that, no matter how much it's painful to admit.
As I've said many times before, the only reason I can even take it is because I'm on an F-4, which gives me the same rights of choice as a Korean has, simply by virtue of the fact that half of my "blood" is "Korean" -- whatever the fuck THAT means. I guess it means that since my mother is Korean, like all Koreans, my degrees are real, I don't molest children, and I maintain "proper" relations with Korean women.
Indeed, my degrees are real, I don't get off on touching kids, and my relations with Korean women are about the same as just about any man with a penis might be, Korean or not: Often, I am proper and upstanding, and sometimes I can be just a dick, I guess. Depends on who's looking. But that's not because of my BLOOD, and it's not guaranteed by me having an F-4 VISA.
If Koreans would stop looking at people in these stereotypical, broad, sweeping categories, maybe the ludicrous ways foreigners are being ineffectively regulated by the government, exploited by a runaway private education industry, and vilified by a racist, sensationalist, and completely unprofessional media would become clear.
Until then, back the fields and mines, bitches! You're on the fucking clock!