Recruiters vs. Dispatch Companies
So you’ve decided to move to Asia. No matter your reason, you’re going to come to Japan or Korea, and you want to share your mother tongue with young children, and you’ve decided public school is the route for you. Congratulations! Teaching overseas is an amazing experience, and will change your life for the better.
But. You need to know exactly what you’re getting yourself into before you even apply for schools. It’s very easy to expect something you won’t be getting, if you listen to the stories recruiters tell you. After working and living in Japan, and now South Korea, doing the same job (English teacher in the public school system,) I’m going to try and break down the differences.
In Japan, the main way to get work in a public school, outside of the JET program, is with a dispatch company. Companies such as Interac recruit people in English speaking countries.
When you apply with a dispatch company, you are an employee of that dispatch company. Despite working AT the school, you don’t work FOR the schol. There are pros and cons to this situation.
- Your employer usually speaks English fluently, and so there’s someone you can speak to who shouldn’t misunderstand you if there is an issue at work.
- If there are issues at your school, your company should be able to speak to the school for you to help clear things up
- You are NOT employed by your school! This is a HUGE problem. Your principal is not your boss, and if you want to ask any questions or have any concerns, you can’t go through the regular public school chain of command (Co teacher, head teacher, vice principal, princpal). Instead, you go to your dispatch company, and depend on them to speak to them on your behalf.
- Dispatch companies have a history of being shady and having illegal contracts. You need to be VERY CAREFUL with your contract, because there are too many loop holes, and these dispatch companies know every single one of them.
- Dispatch companies are chosen over the JET program because they have bidded the lowest price. Your pay will reflect this, and many ALTs are underpaid.
I will be quite honest: My story with dispatch companies didn’t end happily. I was let go from my school, despite my school being pleased with my work. My principal fought with my company in my defence, wanting me to be re-signed, however, it was not his say. When I tried to find another job, nothing offered the pay needed for me to live comfortably, and I eventually had to return home. I loved my job in Japan, but I would never go through a dispatch company again.
South Korea functions very differently in hiring their teachers. Almost all public school teachers in Korea are employees of the government, through three different branches:
- SMOE (the Seoul Ministry of Education) <– controls the English teachers in the city of Seoul
- GEPIK (Gyeonggi English Program in Korea) <– controls the English teachers in the province of Gyeonggi, the suburbs of Seoul and the province surrounding the city of Seoul
- EPIK (English Program in Korea) <— controls the English teachers in the rest of South Korea
These programs are along the same lines as the JET programme in Japan. What happens with a recruiter is they are a middle man. They have contacts with schools and contracts within these programs, and will connect you with the schools that match your qualifications, reqirements, and the schools needs. Once you have signed a contract with the school, the recruiter leaves the picture, and you never hear from them again. There are many pros and cons to this.
- You’re employed by the school board! This means that your boss is your princpal, and the chain of command is within your school. If there are issues, they can speak to you directly (or through your head teacher who speaks English.)
- The pay is standardized, rent is covered, and they will pay for your flight to and from South Korea. You are able to save a lot more while living in Korea because your money isn’t going towards rent.
- If you are having any problems at the school, you can’t turn to your recruiter and expect them to back you up, because they have finished their end of the deal.
- There is the risk of miscommunication because you may be the only fluent English speaker at the school. Some of your co-workers will speak English, but they might not be as fluent as you want them to be.
Right now, I’m employed under the GEPIK program, and I’ll be quite honest in admitting that my personal bias is with the recruiter style. I was never comfortable having someone else speak to my boss for me, and didn’t like dealing with countless middlemen. I also worked with a notoriously bad branch of a very large company in Japan, so my point of view regarding dispatch companies may be distorted. I know many people who have had a really excellent time working under some great dispatch branches.
What ever path you’re looking to take though, be it dispatch or recruiter, public or private, make sure you do your research. Read your contract and find out the laws protecting foreigners in the country you use. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. A good company will have nothing to hide and will be more than happy to answer your questions. Try and speak to the people working at the school, or better yet, the person you will be replacing, and ask why they are leaving and what is the school and town like. There are lots of jobs out there in Asia, and so you are allowed to be particular in your job hunt. Something will always come up.