The Case Of Zen Kimchi (And The Role Of The Internet In EFL)

Via EFL Geek’s blog, I came across the story of Zen Kimchi, a long time EFL blogger, who is currently having legal trouble: apparently he is the first foreigner to actually finish a one-year contract at his school, though when he finished it, his employer did not follow through and pay him the bonus that was part of the contract. I obviously don’t have the background information to speak on this situation in particular but this is a common concern among many teachers in Korea. Zen Kimchi mentioned the name of the employer on his blog and – as EFL Geek noted in his TEFL Logue interview here – is faced with a libel suit from his employer. (There is more to it than this, I believe, but for the sake of simplicity this is the gist of it – read this Zen Kimchi post for the latest.)

Again, I don’t have the details or the context information to make any educated comment about the situation, except to say that as an EFL teacher and blogger, I sympathize with Zen Kimchi. I also draw a blank on much about Korea, but have heard that the legal system is such that it is extremely difficult for foreigners – even those playing by all the rules – to navigate, much to the advantage of schools. I can’t say how this compares to the legal systems in other countries – if Korea really is an extreme case or if it just happens that foreigners more often come into contact with it due to situations like the one in this case.

I have however had an opportunity to form a basic opinion about the internet’s role in EFL as far as finding jobs – and it’s huge, obviously. Its role is very important in connecting teachers from around the world to schools and employers, and of course employers know this.

For teachers, when there is a problem with your job, especially a job you’ve signed on to do for a year and then expect to leave, there is often not much incentive to right wrongs and the urge is often to just get through it the best you can and move on. And while there are definite disadvantages in many respects for the industry of teachers who move on nearly every year – a group that I should point out includes me – the industry also relies on this type of labor. Of course teachers can and sometimes do perform poorly too – but employers generally have more recourse in this situation than teachers in the converse. Schools have multiple teachers; teachers have one job. The EFL industry is so unregulated that it’s easy both for bad teachers and bad schools to proliferate. It’s hard to know what the solution is: internet sites devoted to “outing” bad schools? While there is most definitely a case to be made for investigating claims against schools which teachers complain about before widely publicizing them, this is difficult to virtually impossible in the context of EFL.

In any case, I wish Zen Kimchi the best in continuing to use the legal means available to him to come out on top of this case.