Korea Visa Changes (Part 2)

Read about Korea visa changes first.

I don’t really know the industry in Korea well enough even to hazard a guess, but I can comment that TEFL, especially TEFL in Korea, does seem to rely heavily on non-career teachers who come because it is relatively easy to get a job and make a fair amount of money in a short time. It is easy to condemn in writing those who “don’t care about” teaching as a profession, but the reality is that the TEFL industry can happen because of this: teachers put up with poor conditions because they have motives other than developing as teachers – to see the world, to save money, etc. and then leave after a year or two. If more people came into the field expecting to stay with their Korean employer for years, things would be very different. Schools would not get away with the salaries and conditions they currently offer and it is logical that the cost would eventually get passed on to students. Its also worth pointing out that it is very possible to take the job seriously without committing to it as a life career.

Will these regulations have any unexpected effects?

One interesting point raised at the ESL Café was connected to requiring the visa interview to be done from the home country only. Teachers are regularly – and logically – cautioned against taking a job over the phone, and encouraged to visit the school first. In many cases it is possible to, for example, visit Country X as a tourist, checking out language schools while there, deciding on one, and then visiting Country X’s consulate in neighboring Country Y to get your visa. Flying home is an expensive option, and meeting in person often results in the best situation for the teacher and the school. This law would make it expensive to the point of impossible for teachers to visit Korea first, and would make accepting a job over the phone the most practical option. Would this really result in better, “higher caliber” teachers?, asked one poster at Dave’s.

It seems not. It would likely put school in both a position to more easily mislead teachers (resulting in some very angry people – and angry people who have been misled are probably somewhat less likely to be perform well than those who get a fairer deal), but also to unknowingly hire someone who, upon first meeting, they might realize would not be a good fit or is perhaps exactly that “low caliber” type they are nominally trying to avoid. Those teachers willing to accept whatever is offered on the phone would continue to do so, and those more serious teachers who had concern about committing to a school they’d never laid eyes on – precisely because they take the commitment seriously – would either give up their ideals and take a job on the phone or go elsewhere.

EFL Geek raised another interesting point though: if Korea becomes less attractive to those there for a quick buck, who by most accounts do in fact contribute to an environment where teachers are “disposable” (because there are just so many that if one leaves, another newbie is waiting to fill his place), the value of those who are serious and also there to stay – i.e., working for years at universities with their lives established in Korea – will go up a lot.

His conclusion, however, was that this scenario is unlikely. Probably these laws will be just one regulation on the list. There is of course the “prohibition” argument to be made – if the government goes too far in regulating things, it will all “go underground”. Whereas a country with reasonable documentation requirements will foster schools and teachers who follow them, a country with sky high regulations – which are hard to enforce – may simply breed schools adept at outwitting the regulations because they are too much, too expensive, too time-consuming to follow. In that case the result could well be more teachers with no documentation at all. Certainly I wouldn’t say that Korean hagwon owners want to see children abused, but I would say that they do want and need to make a profit, and may – like many people – fell that they can spot an offender and not hire them. Hence – they’ll take their own precautions.

What do you think?