UPDATE: THIS SCHOOL HAS CLOSED. CHANCES ARE, IT WILL OPEN UNDER A DIFFERENT NAME IN A NEW LOCATION.
Let’s face it: most job application processes come with a bit of stress. But in all honesty, working abroad doesn’t have to be as daunting as some may think. Working as a teacher in South Korea has been one of the best choices I have ever made. Prior to moving here, I did a lot of research on my first school and wasn’t able to find any information – bad or good. I assumed the lack of details to be a good sign, which was a very big mistake. This school should certainly be added to the hagwon blacklist.
I recently completed my contract with a hagwon called LCI Kids Club in Suji, Yongin City, South Korea – also known as Language Kids Club International in Suji-gu, South Korea. While I can’t speak for any of the other LCI franchise hagwons (and there are many) throughout South Korea, I will say this particular school was a horrible place to work for the 14 months I was there. I feel I was deceived from the very beginning of the process. Don’t be fooled by the big smiles and warmth you feel you’re getting during the initial Skype interview. Within a week’s time of arriving in Korea, it will be evident that you’ve become a pawn in their sketchy scheme disguised as a business.
The school’s website alone is a sham.
The photographs of the classrooms are laughable, as none of the classrooms at LCI are that colorful, nor do the teachers have time to do artwork with their students. The 9 classrooms that are no longer being used now serve as grungy storage units offering a reminder to the director of her former success. The one photograph that struck me as the most deceitful was the play gym, which is the middle photograph in the last row. Many former teachers at LCI, myself included, continuously had to ask the Korean staff to fix the holes in the nets as well as a slew of other safety hazards as we were concerned for the children.
Of this list of former native English speakers featured on the site, just one person is still employed at LCI Kids Club in Suji. Of the 9 Korean staff listed as current employees on the LCI Kids Club Suji website, only three are still employed, as the rest have quit – most of them also before I started working there in December 2013.
Most parents won’t pay attention to whether or not the hagwon significantly downsized its staff members, but it’s definitely something anyone on a job hunt should take into account. The lack of staff created stress on all levels and made the scheduling system a tumultuous one, to say the least. I think it’s also worth mentioning that LCI Kids Club in Suji does not pay its foreign teachers pension, which is, well – illegal.
As I mentioned above, working at that school was a sham from the very start. When I first arrived to the school, I was informed on my first day that I was replacing a girl who was fired due to a medical disorder that caused her to fall asleep while teaching – yikes. Since she fell asleep while teaching a class, nearly one dozen students left the school and more parents threatened to do the same if this teacher stayed employed with the academy.
For the first few weeks of my employment at LCI Kids Club in Suji, I did not realize that everyone was being kind to me because I played a small role in saving the business. After my first few weeks, things started to go a bit downhill and I realized the Korean staff at this branch does not care about the well-being of their native speaking staff in any way, shape or form.
I went a solid year of my life walking into a filthy, paper cluttered staff room every morning with a fake smile on my face cheerfully saying, “good morning!” to a group of [Korean] coworkers that responded with grunts or often nothing at all. I went a year of my life asking those same coworkers about their lives and their interests while unfortunately being shut down and ignored at every attempt. I went a solid year having to force feed information to young children who are on the verge of depression and anxiety from all the stress they’re put through in this system. I went a year working for an employer that found it acceptable to give kindergarten and preschool students a maximum of 15 minutes each day of play time. At the end of the day, if you have any sort of humanity or self respect, avoid LCI Kids Club in Yongin, Suji like the fucking plague.
I knew I wasn’t working for decent human beings since early July 2014. Let me preface this story by informing anyone who doesn’t know this that voyeurism is a massive problem in South Korea. The problem is so severe that by law, Korean phones must have the shutter sound installed.
One evening, I woke up to the sound of shoes on pavement and a camera light bouncing off my wall at about 4 a.m. When I initially woke up, in my groggy state, I woke James up and told him there was a “huge bug” on the wall. However, when both of our eyes focused a bit more, we noticed a man was lurking in the darkness watching us sleep. I screamed at the top of my lungs and sat there shaking and in shock, which didn’t phase the perpetrator whatsoever. He slowly, and I mean slowly, closed the screen window, followed by the main window. We both ran outside, but there was nobody in sight.
The next morning, James and I investigated the side of my building and noticed there were finger prints all along the piping leading up to my window as well as handprints all over the glass of my window.
Realizing this situation needed to be handled in a serious matter with the help of a native Korean speaker, I contacted the school’s director, head teacher, assistant director and my supervisor with the assumption they would be able and willing to help me following the traumatizing situation. After multiple phone calls, my supervisor [reluctantly] came much later in the evening and didn’t fully translate everything between myself and the police officers. The police determined that my school provided me with a broken window, which is how the man was able to silently open it with such ease.
One of the biggest let downs from the entire investigation is that the police stated they were unable to test the area for fingerprints, as they assumed he was wearing gloves. Their statement alone was infuriating, as they weren’t even willing to try despite the fact I was visibly upset. In addition to the standard lack of common sense that seems prevail here in Korea, the fact that I don’t speak the language with fluency made me feel even more frustrated and defeated. The officers notified me that there had been similar problems with my several of my neighbors within the past few weeks and that they were working on solving the issue.
After not hearing from anyone aside from my supervisor all weekend, I assumed they would be a bit more caring when I walked into work that following Monday – especially considering all of the Korean staff at LCI Kids Club in Suji are women. I was definitely wrong on that assumption, but one person informed me that the school’s maintenance man would “fix the broken window immediately.”
So, what they did was send the school’s maintenance man to look through the trash for pieces of broken glass and put it outside my window, assuming that would deter a man from climbing 9 feet up the pipes to film me in my own home a second time. I felt pretty uneasy knowing this was the lengths they took to alleviate the obvious danger and stress and let them know this wholeheartedly. Again, they assured me it would be taken care of in a timely manner and apologized for the broken window.
Assuming the school wouldn’t do anything about the window since staff members continuously proved their incompetence in various ways leading up to this particular situation, I took the matters into my own hands. I lodged my Swiffer handle in the window frame, which made it impossible for anyone to pry it open from the outside. Hoping they would follow through with their word, I persistently asked the school every day for 5 months until the maintenance man begrudgingly and haphazardly fixed the window. At the end of the day, bad people are everywhere in the world, and this incident is definitely not just unique to Korea. However, the way my emotions, safety and well-being were ignored by the staff at this academy speaks volumes.
I know I’m not the only one feeling such disdain for LCI Kids Club – Suji. Two of my former colleagues pulled two consecutive “Midnight Runs” within a week of one another.
A midnight run takes place when an employee waits until their last paycheck before fleeing back home (or anywhere besides Korea) without informing their employer. In addition to that mess, the school’s former Korean receptionist – a longtime employee of this academy – recently quit without having any sort of backup employment after calling several parents and informing them of the shady business that takes place within the institution.
Put it this way: When I first started at LCI Kids Club in Suji in December 2013, there were 9 native English speaking teachers working for the school. By February 2014, the number dwindled down to a mere 6. As of April 2015, there are just 3 native English speakers in total. If those numbers alone don’t scare you, I’m not sure what will.
Since I’m what some would refer to as an “alpha female,” there was no way I could handle staying at that job any longer than I contractually needed to be. I’ve since moved onto a much better working and living situation in Sinsa-dong, Gangnam, and I couldn’t be happier with my decision. Avoid LCI Kids Club Suji at all costs – no matter how desperate you could possibly be, there are literally hundreds of jobs opening up throughout Korea on a weekly basis. Everyone deserves to be slightly happy at their job. Good luck!