Wangjangnim's perspective

How many do you know that speak English?

Requirements in running a money making hagwon

The following list is not going to be exhaustive, please add you own concepts that I forgot or neglected.

1. Marketing Genius

Before anything else goes, how you market yourself is going to be the single biggest influence on your success.  Ultimately, teaching English is teaching English.  It doesn’t matter how smart you are, how many qualifications you got, or even the experience in teaching you have acquired.  First and foremost, know how to sell the idea of teaching that mothers are looking for.  It isn’t as easy as it sounds.

2. Develop a full package

To retain students, you are going to need some level of substance in your offer.

a. Curriculum; you need to get stuff into parents hands so they can see some results.  Probably why a lot of sham schools are successful is because they are effective in keeping up the appearance.  I neglect most of this. :)

b. Results: Blow your results into the biggest possible proportion.  If one little kid wins even a class competition somewhat related to English.  Make sure everyone knows you made it happen.  Let’s forget the efforts and sacrifices of the kids.  I neglect this.  The only ones touting around should be the kids who made it happen by sitting in a boring classroom and going through the hard work to make a difference.

c. Homework: Make sure you do not loosen your grip on the kids even at home.  Mothers will love you if you can pile up tons of homework on top of their daily schedule of sitting in your classroom.  Let’s forget the basic principles of Decreasing Marginal Utility and long term negative effects of lack of sleep.  This is a mentality I have yet to defeat.

d. Teachers: Blond and blue eyes are the most effective teaching tools available.  When the children are mesmerized by the perfect cut, there is no other way than to be instilled by his flawless English.  I am blond and I have green eyes, so I know how effective they are.

e. Internet: Apart from all the paperwork they take at home, let’s not forget the online component that allows parents to micromanage their kids even more effectively.  Keep those grey cells working, the prodigy has to show itself one day.

f. Reporting : Make sure the parents are informed at the click of a button or the flick of a wrist on how their kids are stellar in their performance.  Sow no doubts about your effectiveness, but do keep parents afraid of the future.  If their children do not achieve A,B and C by X time, they will miss out on the gravy-train!

3. Networking

Try to join as many community services as you can to bolster your image.  Try not to spend any energy or money actually helping people, that will take it away from running your business effectively. The more people see you, the more people want to be you.  They just have to go to your school. Don’t forget to talk to other small businesses like yours, but not quite the same, to see if you can barter students with each other.

I actually wanted to make this post a bit more serious, but it got out of hand.  What I am trying to say is; When image is the effective tool in being successful as a school, and parents do not take the mental/physical health of their kids to heart, all they are doing is paying for an empty box, not only in cash, but also with the future of their kids.


Becoming a Brand?

A good way  for any business to retain customers is to generate brand recognition.  Brand recognition brings with itself a status that parents can carry around like a badge.  The problem with branding is it can easily bite you in the ass too.

When I first opened my school, I asked people around and they immediately said “Ohhhh looks expensive!”, even though prices in Korea are regulated ….  I thought that image might have been in my advantage but it seemed to work against me.  Since people had the perception of me being “too expensive” they didn’t bother inquiring.  When schools advertise, they have to add their prices in their advertising, it is just that no school does that, and no punishment is given, at this point.  It is also dangerous to do that since you might actively start a price war with your competition.  Koreans are very good at starting rumors, especially bad ones.  As a foreigner, you will have absolutely no recourse against this problem.

This is probably why franchises do better in South Korea.  Since the brand recognition is there.  But most of us silly foreigners don’t get that part, and are convinced we can do better.  We do better, but your customers don’t know that.  Certainly not at first.

It took me three years to get my “brand” recognized on city level.  It is when I reached my peak that my brand recognition started to backfire.  I had two negative incidents with 2 different teachers not too far apart ( +- 6 months) which turned my brand into a negative added value.  I am still trying to turn back around the negative implications of those incidents.

The customers I have know this, but the customers I don’t have (and would very much like) don’t.  They rely on past information.  It is very difficult to expunge these bad ideas when you are a foreigner.  You have zero control over information spread in your area.  Going viral, as they like to say, is a two-edged sword.

Koreans Trust The Gossip.  The Gossip train is run by mothers who are not pro-actively seeking the truth.  They are very much ingrained with a herd mentality.  What the truth is don’t matter, what everybody else is saying matters.  Exasperating when you are swinging on the wrong side, Exhilarating when you are on the right side.

You want to get that early success, you need to get that Gossip Train work in your favor, but beware, you make a faux-pas, it could well bite you in the ass.


The overstimulated generation

I find that the children, in the industrialized countries, and more specifically South Korea, have become overstimulated.

There are 2 things that drive this situation.  Reduction of hours of sleep and Increase in hours of study/training.  Increase in Media exposure.

As a school owner, I am part of the problem, and therefore potentially, also a part of the solution.

How do we notice these overstimulations?  What are, from my point, telltale signs of these issues?  It basically comes down to attention issues.  As most of my readers are teachers, I am sure most of your energy is focused on getting the kids to simply do what was asked of them.  How many times do we deal with kids getting side-tracked, falling asleep in class, irregardless on how much energy the teachers themselves exert to get kids to focus on their tasks.  Sometimes I see their brains going completely blank, right in front of my eyes, their brains stopped functioning and are crying out for rest.

I have steered my curriculum away from vocabulary and grammar memorization, and pushed into writing and speaking actions, because it allows for children to find expression to the many ideas floating inside their heads, and giving respite to the constant hammering of facts inside their heads.  To focus on the creative energy within the children, that seems close to infinite, rather than the forcing of the brain to memorize specifics about few things they will rarely or never use.  This is a personal opinion, not guided by any scientific research, but based on practical experience in the field.  To stick to the practical.

It might be that the current stress we force onto our kids will create a new selection mechanism to separate the capable from the incapable, because that is what education today does.  It separates children from the capable and the incapable, the fast and the slow, the dull and the creative.  Rather than admitting that everyone is capable and incapable, fast and slow, dull and creative.  Educations systems today are used to filter those who abide by what people specialized in Education find important ( I would like to refer to my post last week Testing), but is that really something we want to do?  Is memorization an important part of being human?  Is detailed flawless work the aim to go for?  Is it important to write beautifully in cursive, as it was when I was younger?  I say it is not.

What is important is the liberation of the mind to maximize the comprehension of reality.  Humans are flawed, the brain is lazy due to the energy requirements to think, we are assumptive creatures, we see relations where there aren’t any since that is what will increase the likelihood of survival in the wilderness (fear!).  I want my students to become fearless and free from these bonds, to express their point of view clearly and with no reserve.  THIS IS NOT THE CURRENT EDUCATION ENVIRONMENT.  The current environment still focuses all their energy to make children fearful for their future rather than hopeful.  They enforce traditional thinking instead of creative thinking, simply because mistakes are considered bad, even in the classroom.  Absolutely ridiculous.

We can reduce the stress of the overstimulated students by finding a better balance between different requirements within education.  Yes, training your brain to do complex arithmetic without using tools IS useful, just not everyday.  Teaching drama to allow children to find a way to express their thoughts is equally important.  But in an environment where tests are believed to be the decisive factor in your value to society, the first one is applaud, since it can be measured, but the second is denied, due to the huge variance it displays from person to person.  It is VARIANCE that we need.  We need to allow people to create variance and potentially STUMBLE upon a new idea, something that could actually be useful for mankind as a whole.  This is where chance flourishes, not in tests, but in people finding their way to express their unique point of view.

Testing uses well defined tools to find out very precise concepts of what we believe should be.  Assessments would allow for a broader appreciation of the individual, and yes, they are also not without fault, but they will allow for children to maximize THEIR individual potential rather than the potential OTHERS want them to achieve.  True Freedom.


Unrealistic Expectations

I read a story by someone who had experienced a situation where the discrepancy between the actual situation and the imagined (hoped for) situation has led him to be in an impossible situation of trying to do his job.

Should he let go of the job, and lose money?  Should he stick around and keep the lie alive?  Should he try to assuage the employer/parents to reduce their expectations?

The first thing he should get answered is how this situation came into existence.

It starts with a little lie, the boss is trying to keep the students in school, so to keep the parents happy, he wrongly informs them of their ability to perform.  Parents do not have the ability to even guess to how far this information is correct, and since believing is easier, keep insisting everything is alright.

There is of course an inevitability.  There is going to be a moment where the card house crumbles.  So in a last ditch effort, let’s hire a super star teacher who can solve the problem in a couple of weeks.

Another inevitability is that the teacher in question will not be able to perform the hoped for results.  The teacher will become the scapegoat.  The teacher will get screwed and his reputation tarnished.

The only solution is to walk away.

If you ever get into such a situation, you already know that the employer is a liar and a cheater, and will do anything to keep his image/cash flow intact.  Walk away.  Look for another job immediately, before the situation forces itself unto you and you allow other people to control your life.  This is probably what separates the independent minds from the dependent minds.  You can already see a few steps ahead of how this situation is going to resolve, and you take the measures to avoid the backlash of the situation.  You Get Out.  People afraid to change the unattainable equilibrium will end up with all the pile of poo on their lap, and will pay the price in their future employment.

I am always amazed how people get themselves stuck in situations, simply because they did not want to challenge the status quo.  You need to stand up for yourself, commit to your agreements, but walk away the instant you experience that the other party is not keeping up to their agreements.  Especially the inexperienced ones who come over get themselves stuck in the mud.  The experienced lifers in Korea have established simple rules (red flags) that will allow them to walk away from a situation before it explodes.  The inexperienced are still too trusting and need to develop some serious grit in a very short time to be able to take control of the situation.

Slavery is no longer practiced in South Korea. You can walk away, just the same as they can fire you if they think your work is inadequate.  It doesn’t have to get messy.

Everyone is the best teacher

Whenever I hire teachers, they all claim to be the best teachers, and so forth, but really, everyone is nothing more than average.  I have yet to meet any teacher who is completely honest with themselves and honestly admit that they are not the “best” teacher, but they are there is stuff they are good at and there is stuff they have to get better at.

If you truly love your profession, a better strategy would be to show me your passion for teaching and to give indication to things you helped master in- and outside of the classroom.

Last week I said that the act of teaching is not difficult, mostly because everyone CAN teach.  I don’t doubt your ability to teach, what I doubt is your effectiveness IN teaching.  This is always overlooked by every single teacher.  How do teachers measure their effectiveness, and here you will slowly realize why I am against how they do it.  Scores.  Teachers effectiveness are measured by the students scores, but there is a problem.  These tests are created by the teacher.  The lesson are prepped by same teacher.  The lessons are given by same teacher.  The test is given by same teacher.  The test is corrected by same teacher.  Anyone with half a brain immediately understands the problem.  Anyone with a smidgen of understanding of HR practices and ethics revolving around test taking knows that this is simply ineffective.

Tests cannot be objective under those circumstances.  OOOO you say, but that is why we have SAT tests and the like.  Generalized tests that are the same for all students and not dependent on the teacher.  Really?  Those tests are made by teachers.  At least, as far as I understand the Education Industry, tests are manufactured by those mostly occupied with the profession of teaching.  Nothing wrong with that.  Everything wrong with that.

Teachers teach to the test, if same said people create the test, they will make it in such a way that it maximizes their utility.  There is no objectivity.  Language tests should not be created by language teachers.  Statisticians, or any other mix of people who understand what is required to properly test the ability to use a language are the people who should develop tests.  Not teachers who want students to learn this or that way, and so makes the test reflect the efficiency of their “techniques” .  Why is grammar and vocab so important in Korea.  Because the people making the tests ONLY KNOW GRAMMAR AND VOCAB.  Which forces the whole country to abide by their POV.  It is ridiculous.

General Tests are scams.  Huge scams with children, an parents, as victims.

I am not sure if I can ever make a dent in this worldwide organized education scam.  Business have already developed excellent ASSESSMENT tools to better judge the real capabilities of individuals.  They don’t require Memorization as a base to do well, they require positive learning habits and behaviors, they require open mindedness, positive characters, and what else business requires in an employee.

I don’t think the Education Industry does what it is supposed to do, mostly because they are using the wrong tools, the wrong mechanics to properly assess a student, and assist that student to maximize their potential, whatever that potential may be.  Teaching is still very much teacher oriented, and thus limited to the limits of the teacher, most will claim otherwise, but they are selling as much BS as any MBA’er trying to sell you their product.

We will only know who is truly a great teacher, once teachers stop evaluating themselves, and start being evaluated by the results they achieved with their students through proper assessment tools.  Until then, the ESL mess we are in will remain unchanged.

The trouble with teachers

As a hagwon owner, and having connections with other hagwon owners, the stories reaching your ears about teachers screwing stuff up does spark up the imaginations, and can easily create a negative attitude that remains as a cautious tale within the memory for future teachers to deal with.  ESL Teachers in Asia are their own worst nightmare, and they make it difficult for all of their colleagues to have a good career.  To be completely honest, I do feel that more than enough of expats (irregardless of their nationality and position) can make it more and more difficult for all the other expats to do business in Asia.  I am not always surprised at how some Asians do have a bad taste in their mouth when meeting Westerners, especially if they experience or hear the stories I have  heard AND experienced.

The Contract

A big problem in South Korea is the contract, or the seemingly lack of value of the contract to ensure the rights of the teachers.  A contract is an agreement between two people.  Many employees seem to forget that.  There is also an implied, unwritten, meaning to the contract.  A promise that you both will try to attain a certain goal.  A school, especially a smaller hagwon, does not have the capacity to just lose a teacher, so when a teacher chooses to exercise his right to quit his job (which I am in support of, don’t assume differently), a Korean academy owner cannot just replace the teacher on the fly, and will try to do anything in their power to try and keep the teacher there until they can find a replacement. The problem is, if you have studied a bit of Game Theory, there is always a problem with what we call the End Game.  When two individuals don’t trust each other, but they have an ongoing relationship, the chance that they betray each other is very low, due to the fact they need each other, but once one party has decided to finish the mutual beneficial relationship, the probability that either of them cheat is practically 100%.

This is why, ending the cooperative relationship, especially between two people from completely different cultures and no other connection apart from the one they are, the ESL market is in such dire straits.  Teacher should be very aware of this situation.


Single Expats who are flush in cash and young are probably the worst representation of any culture.  Alcohol, hormones and cash are probably a very good way to get the worst out of people.  Not all succumb, probably very few do, but the problem with generalizations is that they are quickly made when they put the local populace in a better light, especially on the battle field of acquiring female attention.  Most people willing to accept teaching jobs in Asia are single, young people, needing to pay off loans or comparing their potential incomes in different situation. People are not idiots, and earning more money is better than earning less money.  Teaching is not the hardest job, it doesn’t require special skills that can only be learned by a happy few.  I am not talking about being a good teacher, I am talking about the act of teaching.  They come over, earn around 2.000 dollars in cash and don’t need to pay rent.  Even if you have to pay off a loan, the fact that you have no family to maintain, no rent to pay, most of that money becomes disposable money.  Add the potential boredom of having no family and no long time friends (the fleeting expat friends …), the mind needs a distraction, since dealing with kids 6 hours a day can have a detrimental effect on mental stability, and a healthy lifestyle.    What am I trying to get to?  Recipe for trouble, is what I am getting to.  Why do Big companies only send families to expat positions, exactly for the reason that their business will suffer if their representative gets into trouble.

I am not going to tell you what you should and should not do.  I am not going to sermon about ethics and morality.  I am just telling you how I perceive the situation, the reality of what is going on.  Yes, my opinion is biased, and so is yours.  The difference is, I know your point of view, but you do not know mine.

Park Geun-hye : Ban them Hagwons!

Wow!  check it out! Banning “Advanced Learning”

I am not sure if President Park has ever read the Korean constitution.

(1)All citizens shall have an equal right to an education corresponding to their abilities.
(2)All citizens who have children to support shall be responsible at least fort heir elementary
education and other
education as provided by Act.
(3)Compulsory education shall be free of charge.
(4)Independence, professionalism and political impartiality of education and the autonomy of institutions of higher learning shall be guaranteed under the conditions as prescribed by Act.
(5)The State shall promote lifelong education.
(6)Fundamental matters pertaining to the educational system,including school and lifelong education, administration,
finance, and the status of teachers shall be determined  by Act.

Why do I even worry about the antics of President Park.  If she wants that bill to come into law, it will be immediately annulled by simply invoking the constitution.  You cannot fight the private education industry with the LAW, it is not possible unless you change the constitution.  Who are her advisers.  If she would give me half their salary, I could come up with a far more effective deterrent to excessive spending in private education,without having to resort to bullying tactics.  I really wonder what the hell is going on in their minds.

I wrote about this in the past.

The government’s actions are simply said, not incentive compatible.  If they truly want to liberate the parents from exhaustive expenses on education, you don’t resolve it by putting a lot of energy in closing down businesses, you provide an alternative.  In this case, quality public education.  But Korea doesn’t have the budget for that, that is why individual parents are paying for it.  Ergo sum, it’s cheaper to try and break the hagwon industry.

If President Park would be successful in closing down my business, due to all those extreme measures, what will happen?  The same that happened with Prohibition and the War on Drugs.  It will go underground and it will become a crime. Not only will it become a crime, the costs will go up even more dramatically due to higher risk for the entrepreneurial spirit.  I have no problems with regulations that are sensible, it just forces the business to respect basic rights of the individuals and reduces potential abuse.  But pushing the law a bit too far will only create more criminals and no real solution to the problem.

What could kill my business outside of this obnoxious attempt?  The solutions are obvious, but they require huge amount of willpower from the people and the government on changing the way society in Korea is stuck together.


The LOR : Letter of Release (aka. The ESL shackles in the SK)

I have a whole list of resources for you to read through at the bottom of this post, but they are all saying the same thing.  They are not really discussing the real problem of the LOR.

Let us get down to some basics:

1. No institution is LEGALLY required to write a LOR.

2. Immigration REQUIRES a LOR for visa transfer to a different sponsor.  You obviously don’t need one to get a NEW E-2 (E-1) visa.

I just called Immigration on 1345 (3 * 0) and asked an officer there, under the pretense that I am hiring an E-2 visa holder, but that the other hagwon is not willing to write a LOR unless we “compensate” that school.  The answer was, “It is Immigration Law”.  I requested from her to tell me which law exactly, which book, which chapter, etc …  The officer in question could not answer, even after consulting her colleagues, and requested if she could call me in 30 mins.  I always love it when people say it’s the law, but when you ask which one, where is it written down, when was it ratified, a lot of people realize they have no basis for the information they spread.

My contention is that it violates The Korean Constitution, Chapter 2 Article 12 (1), which states:

Article 12  [Personal Liberty, Personal Integrity]
(1) All citizens enjoy personal liberty.  No person may be arrested, detained, searched, seized, or interrogated except as provided by law.  No person may be punished, placed under preventive restrictions, or subject to involuntary labor except as provided by law and through lawful procedures.

I believe that the LOR is a direct violation of this specific part of the Korean constitution.

Let me explain.  When you sign a contract, you fall under civil law, which, in case of trouble, needs to be fought in civil court.  Civil court is expensive.  When you start working for someone, you fall under Labor Law, now labor law falls under criminal court.  To start a criminal investigation is for FREE.  The visa restrictions fall under Immigration Law, and are at the discretionary power of the Immigration officers.

Immigration referred me then to the following site:, too bad it is in Korean.  They told me to look at Immigration restrictions, Article 26/2.  Isn’t it strange that a law concerning immigration cannot be found in another language.

I called immigration again, and the only answer I get is: “If the person did not finish the contract, he or she needs a LOR to be able to change visa sponsor.”  In effect, the teacher, under the discretion of his hagwon owner, cannot just terminate his contract and find new employment, which in effect, is in direct conflict with the Korean Constitution, since you are either forced to finish your contract or have to pay off your hagwon boss to get the LOR.  Indentured servitude is still being practiced in South Korea, and supported by Immigration, it seems.  I kept asking for anyone to send me an English version of the Immigration restriction article 26/2.  After 2 hours of searching, I still don’t have it.

Even 1345 could not give me the clear information, the agent on the phone even had the gall to say “whatever.”, after I thanked her for effort.  Which ended in; go to Immigration office (where no one speaks English) and get your information there, which will be exactly the same:  “It’s the Law.” Funk that!  What about your constitution!  I am not sure what 1345 is supposed to achieve, window dressing?

So people, if ANYONE that reads this can find the English version of Article 26/2 under Immigration restrictions, PLEASE send it to me so we can open up this can of worms.


I spend some time looking for the article and I found the Immigration control act. Now look at page 14, there you can find article 26, or can you?

Article 26 (2) A person who intends to report the change or addition of a workplace under the proviso to Article 21 (1) of the Act shall submit reports on the change of addition of a workplace, along with documents prescribed by Ordinance of the Ministry of Justice, to the head of the office or branch office..

Okay.  This rule establishes the need for the Teacher to inform that he changes the workplace, but I do not see the requirements that the LOR has to be written by the workplace.  The information at this point is thus STILL not clear and confusing.  My claim that the LOR is not consistent with the Korean constitution still holds true.

LOR Example

Details on contract termination

Visa Transfer doc reqs – VISA guide

Some opinions

Runner vs LOR

SMOE playing it dirty

Empty head

This week, very few things have captured my mind to be able to write about it.  February is always a slow month, due to schools still not going into full swing.  Normally March is when the big push is.

Maybe just a few ideas, very small things.

1. When people find my site through Google, they often find it with the sentence “why do we need teachers“.  This strikes me as odd.  Either it is a reader who constantly forgets my URL, and only remembers I wrote a piece on my defense of teachers vs. technology, or there is a genuine concern that teachers might become an extinct species …. I don’t really look at my stats but today I just might.  Just now, I even have a link stating that my webpage was translated into German, that is nice.  Another funny search term is “should you worry if a student complains at your hagwon and drops your class?“, I would say if it only happens once, it is not you, if it happens five times, it’s you.  Finally, we got “what is the meaning of wangjangnim”.  Well, Wang means prince, and wonjangnim, means director.  First, I made a mistake when registering the URL, but when a Korean family member asked me why I called myself the Prince man, I decided to stick with it.

2. The most popular pages are: Trust the mediaKorean MumsA rebuttal  , Probably because they are cross linked with blogs far popular then my own.  Trust the media is me complaining about the glorification of money, especially done in such a way as to give the person making the money for him to make even more money.  So the title is short for Trust the media to screw with your mind.  Korean mums was written in response to the pressure society pushed onto woman in Korea to be a “perfect” mom, a “perfect” wife, etc …  If only people realize that perfect is like the speed of light, to attain it you need infinite  time and energy.  The rebuttal was written to try and fight the skewed perceptions that ALL HAGWONS ARE BAD.  No, they are not.  If you have attended a score of bad hagwons, maybe the problem IS you.  If I have hired a score of bad teachers, are ALL teachers bad?  No.  I suck at finding good teachers.  People should stop blaming everyone else for their misfortunes, and start dealing with the source of the problem, which simply said is, themselves.

3. My average visits per day is around 20.  That isn’t much. When people write something, they write something so they can share their POV’s with the world.  The reason I write is because I want to get feedback.  I want to test my idea’s in the real world, even if it is just a sparring of words, sometimes comments do turn on a light in my brain.  I just don’t get many of them!

4. Luckily, I had someone giving me some advice on my site, too bad I don’t have the skills to implement.  He said that reading my blog chronologically makes the most sense, from first to last, so I should find a way for readers to do that with the click of a button.  I am happy I got this blog online for so long!  He also told me my search button dissipated and that makes me angry.  I have no idea how I lost it in the first place!  Talking about SEO, I still haven’t figured out what it even means.  I got enough people trying to sell it to me though, even though I don’t make a single won on this site.

5. Hagwons going under.  A recurring idea that I hear left and right is that hagwons are going under left and right.  The problem is, I don’t know.  Are they?  Where can I get that kind of info.  I wish the hagwons in my neighborhood would all go belly up …..  What I do know, or feel, is that in my direct vicinity, capacity is just too much. People are not having a disposable income to spend on education.  And many people are starting teaching from their homes to supplement their income.  I do think that people starting hagwons, or any other small time educational center, haven’t realized the market is on the down.  Adding capacity to the market might not be the best strategic choice.  I also see a lot of fellow expatriates who normally operate in the education Industry, to try and branch out into other Industries or find a way back home.  These are all signs of the time, interconnected with each other.  The Education Industry in Korea is waning.  Now is the time to expand your options, and look for greener pastures.

Cheers, enjoy your weekend.

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