One of the more controversial conventions of teaching in Korea is something that’s known as the midnight run. It’s the process by which a teacher leaves in the middle of the night without giving any notice whatsoever. Search around for the term and you’ll find scattered blogs of teachers both condemning and supporting the practice. You’ll also find personal stories of teachers who have themselves run from their positions.
Many of the midnight run stories you’ll hear are from teachers who were unsatisfied with their jobs at hagwons – after school language academies. Hagwons may have different names, teach different subjects, or may have different modus operandi, but there is one thing they share in common; they are businesses first, and schools second. The primary objective of the hagwon is to make money – not to educate students. The sooner a teacher can understand this, the better they can be informed about how exactly their school operates. Countless horror tales fill the internet of teachers not being paid properly, being shacked up in dilapidated apartments, and being subjected to questionable working conditions. These are quite unfortunately the norm. No situation will be perfect, there will always be something wrong. Be it your apartment, your coworkers, your management, your students, your classroom, your work hours, or your contract, if you’re planning on teaching in Korea – take these things with a grain of salt, since there are likely to be a few major problems here and there. If you’re planning on doing a midnight run, there are a few important things that you must first consider.
As a good teacher, consider your students first. You won’t get the chance to say goodbye and some of them might be sad to see you go. On the other hand, these students are paraded around by their parents to not just yours, but several hagwons. They change teachers many times a year, and given their enthusiasm for education you might be nothing more than a passing face. Try to empathize by imaging a teacher from your school days leaving suddenly, and keep in mind that these students might have several teachers per day. A few of their classes might get cancelled, but you can be sure the hagwon will do everything in it’s power to make sure that doesn’t happen (read: make sure they don’t lose money). Will it affect your students that much? You can be the judge.
Hagwons are well guarded against teachers performing midnight runs. Teachers’ pay periods are often deferred as a safeguard. While you might have worked the month of August, you won’t get paid for it until midway through September.
This in mind, if you perform a run after your pay day (which most teachers tend to do), you’ll voluntarily be giving up a portion of your income. If you don’t get paid until the 5th, you’ll lose out on 5 days; if it’s the 15th – 15; this can be a lot of money. If you terminate your employment as specified in the contract, your school will be required to pay you for the exact number of days worked. Unfortunately, many contracts have long notice periods – sometimes upwards of 3 months in advance. Less reputable hagwons might also seek vengeance, forcing you to reimburse them for paid airfare, other costs, or even terminate you right on the spot out of spite. Every contract and every school is different, so consider your situation carefully.
If you choose the run, will you need to close your bank account? Likely not. There are many forums of teachers not closing their accounts, and returning years later to find them still active. If your account is tied to your Alien Registration Card (ARC) it could be closed when you turn in your card at the airport. Make sure to transfer money home before hand. Be weary though, there are stories of teachers emptying accounts too early, and school directors being contacted for the account’s “unusual activity”. If you’re bringing cash home, check with Korean customs and those of your home country to determine the amount you can safely bring home. What about your bills? Make sure to close any personal accounts you might have opened – telephone, internet, etc. The general forum consensus on utilities seems to be split between paying them out of pocket, or leaving them behind for the school considering the pay period deferral and lost income there.
Often your responsibilities will be passed along to coworkers after you leave. They might need to take up extra classes until your school (or even if your school) finds a substitute teacher for you. If the situation is truly terrible, coworkers might understand why you need to leave, but don’t be surprised if someone holds a grudge – nobody likes unexpected extra work.
Your Future Career
If you pull a midnight run, it’s unlikely you’ll be working in Korea for the remainder of your visa – that’s a given. After you leave, your school will likely call immigration and report you for breaking contract. Until your original visa expires, as far as I’m aware at the time of writing this, you’ll be unable to get another. The only way to get a job on your current visa is to get written permission from your employer (known as a letter of release), which anyone can tell you takes more than a smile.
So if you’re not working in Korea, where else can you work? If you want to stay in the English teaching field, there are several other countries that you could give a try. If all else fails – you could always head back to where you came from and search for a job there.
If you’re wanting to stay out of the teaching field, you could always try to secure a job back home. Speaking from experience, this can be a little difficult to do while still abroad – but it’s not impossible. Make sure to include your specifics in cover letters and resumes so that companies know how best to contact you. If you haven’t secured a job, it’s a good idea to make sure you have adequate finances saved to help you with buying a flight, and the transition of finding new employment.
There are of course many factors to consider. How will you get to the airport? When will you leave? What will you pack? Will you ship home your luggage? Do you want to travel and take the long way home? These are just a few of the questions you might be thinking to yourself. Making the decision to break contract without notice is a large one that should not be made lightly.
When considering your decision, give it time. Analyze it from all angles. Will it be worth it? At the end of the day, I was always taught that a job isn’t worth your happiness. If you truly aren’t happy where you are – seek it elsewhere. Good luck.
Note: In no way do I condone or encourage breaking contracts or performing midnight runs. I’m simply providing a source of information and reflection amalgamated from anecdotal examples found on various forum posting boards and other blogs.