I don’t work in the worst hagwon – there are a lot of good things going for it, but sometimes there are a few things that I don’t feel are entirely right. Hagwon Horrors is a multiple part series where I tell you the short little moral ambiguities I encounter from working at my specific after-school academy. 

As per my contract, I’m entitled to 15 days of paid vacation. We are required to give a 1 month’s notice before taking any vacation days, and after that, it’s the company’s responsibility to figure it out. Unfortunately, that was not the case for me.

For my June vacation, I gave almost a 2 month’s notice. I wanted two weeks in a block, so I figured it would be easy enough to accomplish. After submitting my request, about a week later I was told I was not allowed to take two weeks together. Fair enough. Over the next 3 weeks I played around with a bunch of different options, but none were to the liking of management. Apparently, during those 3 weeks, other employees had submitted vacation requests of one day here and there. Our manager didn’t want me taking my vacation at the same time as other employees, as it might prove difficult or expensive to find a substitute teacher. I was told that my only options were to take 2 days here, 3 days there, 1 day here, and 4 days there; even I can’t plan a proper trip around that. Finally, we came to the agreement that if I secured my own substitute teacher, then I would be able to have my first week off, return for one week, and have my second week after. This was an agreement I was more than happy to have.

I put out some feelers, and after a few swing-and-a-misses, I had found a substitute teacher who was interested. He could commit to all the days on my vacation. Management asked for him to come in for a quick interview, to which he agreed. I was told I wasn’t needed at the interview, but I’m lucky I ended up coming anyways.

Management, despite telling other teachers that they had already found subs for their vacation days – hadn’t. They were now trying to convince the sub that I found to cover the sporadic vacation days of my other coworkers, instead of covering my shifts. They told me that the substitute that I had found and brought in, would be used for everyone else, and as a result I wouldn’t be getting my vacation days. I put my foot down completely, and after much negotiation, our manager acquiesced.

Next came the pay. When putting out the advertisement, I asked how much I was able to advertise the position as being worth; I was told specifically “30,000 won an hour”. At the interview however, I was pulled aside and told that they would only be able to offer the substitute a maximum of “22,000 an hour”. While pay negotiation is one thing, I thought it to be absolutely inappropriate after saying one thing and reneging once they got someone in the door. I was told that the company couldn’t afford it, and that it was expensive, to which I basically responded “too bad, that’s the price of running a business”. They hinted at me taking a pay cut to cover the costs, but I quickly shut that down with the words “legal right”.

After about an hour and a half of negotiation, amidst tense attitudes, they agreed to have the substitute cover my vacation, at the original advertised pay. While I got to take my vacation, I was also now tasked with the responsibility of finding substitute teachers for the 4 other teachers taking vacations at the same time, without extra pay. I was recently given less than 24 hour’s notice to find a sub for a teacher’s vacation day that had been requested months in advance. You win some, you lose some.

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