A few months ago I talked about how excited I was to be moving to South Korea. I was looking for a positive life change, going to a place where I could be creative and save money and travel. You may also remember I mentioned that I was kinda wary of it. I tried convincing myself it was just nerves and that it was okay to be afraid. I really should have just listened to my gut. Always listen to your gut.
Long story short… I hated the job. I felt I couldn’t keep up, I was told I didn’t have the right personality, I broke down a few times, I was given more responsibilities than I could possibly handle during my working hours… the list could go on and on. It wasn’t just one thing, but a series of little and big things that began to pile onto one another until I decided I just couldn’t do it.
Breaking a contract in Korea can be difficult and incredibly scary. Your visa is tied to whomever you work for, so by putting in my 60 days notice (as per the contract), I was essentially severing myself from my current visa in 60 days time. Two months may seem like a healthy chunk of time, especially in comparison to the standard 2 weeks notice of home, but it goes by extremely quickly. However, it’s plenty of time to find another job, there’s a plethora here in Seoul… right? Well, a week later I was told I’d actually be leaving in 30 days. A bit more of a time crunch.
My boss was perfectly in the right in cutting that time. I agreed to it because I even stated in my resignation letter that a mutually agreed upon date of an earlier dismissal would be okay. 30 days is the legal requirement an employer must give you in Korea. At first I was like, hey, freedom! And then reality sunk in. I had a month to find not only a new job, but a new place to live. In a country where I spoke a handful of sentences of the language and I’d only been a resident of for four months.
When you are to end your visa in Korea, especially an E2 (for foreign language teachers), you have three options:
- Get another job that requires an E2 visa and just do an E2-E2 visa transfer.
- Pack your bags and skedaddle, if you want to come back to work you need to go through the full process again.
- Switch to a D10 visa, which is a job seeker’s visa and allows you six months in the country to find work.
An E2-E2 and E2-D10 transfer have different sets of documents you need and fees. However, you won’t need to get a new CRC and apostille or anything. That’s the plus. When you find a job again you can just easily transfer from a D10 to an E2 (or E7 if you’re lucky).
In order to do option 1 or 3, you need this magical piece of paper called a Letter of Release. This paper is your key to getting another job in Korea because it means your employer releases you from your visa with them and will allow you to get a new one. Without this letter you cannot do that. Some Immigration Officers will let you get a D10 without a LOR (because employers are infamous for not granting them because they’re angry you’re leaving, and they’re under no legal obligation to do so), but it honestly depends on who you get.
The best way to get a Letter of Release is to be as professional, kind, and suck-upish as possible. It depends on your school really, some will outright say they will give you one (like mine did), others you’ll have to sweet talk. Some will never mention it and you’ll have to squeeze the mere thought of it from their angry angry brains. Provided they agree, you will get your letter on your final day of work. Make sure you find your supervisor and have them give it to you. Stick around until they relinquish it if necessary. Thankfully mine was fine and dandy, I was wished luck and I was sent on my way. Not everyone is so lucky, but if you want to stay in Korea, the LOR is your golden ticket. Make sure you get it.
If you are planning to break contract, here are some important things to consider and remember:
- Don’t feel bad. A LOT of people do it for a LOT of reasons. You have your own.
- Record EVERY meeting you have with your supervisors. It’s legal to audio record people here without their knowledge and it will help you should you need to make a case against your employer for whatever reason. But be sure that you ALSO speak during the recording. You need to be part of the recorded conversation.
- In your resignation letter include the date 60 days from the day you give them the letter, this is the final day you will work. Make sure it’s there and have a copy of the letter at home. Again, just in case. And make sure your supervisor TAKES the letter.
- Do not sign ANYTHING until you understand every part of it. Have questions? LOFT (Legal Office for Foreign Teachers) is a great resource for foreign teachers.
- It is ILLEGAL for your employer to demand money back because you quit. This includes airline tickets (unless you quit before 6 months AND it is stipulated in the contract that you have to pay it back under those specific conditions), future recruiting fee to get a replacement, etc. I didn’t know this until after I agreed to pay back my plane ticket, and it didn’t say in my contract that I’d have to. It’s not allowed. At all. It’s against immigration law. Article 20 (Prohibition of Predetermination of Nonobservance) No employer shall enter into a contract by which a penalty or indemnity for possible damages incurred from breach of a labor contract is predetermined. However, remember that Letter of Release? You have to pick and choose your battles. I could have made a fuss, told them it was illegal and I wouldn’t do it, but then I could have kissed my LOR goodbye. Maybe not, maybe they would have backed down with a threat to report them to the Labor Board (Open 09:00-18:00 M-F, Dial 1350). I’ll never know, and I was too afraid to try, especially after the fact (I would have had little-to-no case because I agreed to pay it. Womp womp).
I hadn’t landed quite in a “Hagwon horror story,” but I wasn’t in a place where people were happy to work (I was the 9th staff member to leave since March if that gives you any indication). So I made the choice to leave. With that has brought both relief and a new set of stresses, but ultimately I am proud of myself for being brave enough to break contract.
Thankfully I was able to find a cheap and clean place to live in a nice area and after working on my budget, I will be good to be on a D10 for awhile to think about what my next step will be. I did have another job lined up but… let’s just say that was an actual horror story and will have to wait for another post.
For now I am going to concentrate on writing and seeing if my immediate future will be in Korea or if it’s time to move on and call this a bust. I honestly have no idea, we’ll see which way the wind blows.
Please note that I won’t talk about which school I was at in this or any future post because Korea has pretty hardcore defamation laws, however if you have questions, I am happy to answer. You can comment below or contact me at NERDVENTURISTS(at)GMAIL(dot)COM.
Kristina is a radio jockey, podcaster, and freelance journalist with a travel addiction and a fondness for cranberry juice.
She’s been producing and co-presenting a Sherlock Holmes based podcast for the past three years called The Baker Street Babes, which was nominated for a Shorty Award in 2014 for Best Podcast. She’s organized the Sherlock San Diego Comic Con party for the past three years, which is one of the most popular events at SDCC, selling out in less than 48 hours each year and boasting 500+ attendees. The BSB has been featured in the New York Times, The Today Show, USA Today, MTV Geek and more. It has 1 million unique listens and 100,000 followers across social media.
She’s an ardent traveler and has been to over forty countries and has no plans to stop. She taught English in a small fishing city (Yaizu) in Japan for a year and volunteered on an archaeological dig on an Iron Age site (Tel Gezer) in Israel. She’s a vegan, an author, a dreamer, and has crazy curly ginger hair.