From August 2010 until March 2014, I worked as the graphic designer and photographer in the Research and Development department at KPI Kangnam Pride Institute in Seoul, South Korea. KPI, founded in 2003, is a hagwon located directly across from Seoul's Olympic Park. While working there, I gained valuable design experience and befriended many genuine, adventurous, warm-hearted people. The 3+ years I spent working for KPI were hands down the best years of my life so far. I feel so fortunate to have landed a position at that school and would not trade the experience for anything.
KPI VS. COMPETING HAGWONS
Unfortunately, for various reasons, many hagwons in Korea do not have the best reputations. I have heard from acquaintances, friends of friends, and strangers about unpleasant experiences with these types of discreditable employers. The complaints I have heard seem to mostly focus on two specific issues - hagwons not honoring paid housing as promised and not distributing paychecks in a timely manner.
Not only does KPI provide housing and stick to its promises, but if anything is wrong with your apartment (and you are unable to fix it yourself), John in administration will do his best to accommodate your needs. In fact, oftentimes, John will personally go to your apartment and check out the problem himself. If it's something he and his team can fix, they will fix it as soon as possible. If not, John will schedule a professional to fix whatever it is, and the problem is resolved usually in about a week's time. John and his team's hard work is evidenced by the farewell speeches given at the monthly pizza parties (over 40 of which I attended). Here, many departing foreign staff would start their speeches with a genuine "thank you" for John and his dedication to the foreign staff members.
As for timely paychecks, during my 3+ years at KPI, I never once had a late paycheck. Without fail, my paychecks were automatically deposited into my bank account once a month. KPI is a trustworthy company who pays its employees on time every month.
In addition to honorable paid housing and timely paychecks, KPI also provides one other extremely important factor to enjoying work and life in Seoul, which is a large, welcoming community. With about 30 expats and about 30 Korean teachers at the school, it's a really great environment to create friendships. All foreign staff live in the same neighborhood (unless one decides to pay for his/her own housing), which makes it nice and convenient to plan dinner or park outings with a group. Some of my favorite memories in Korea come from group hikes, weekend trips, and house parties with my KPI friends.
Foreign staff members come from all over North America, and every person brings forth various hobbies, interests, and cultural knowledge. You would really have to try hard not to make friends while working at this school.
In order to promote healthy friendships within the company, KPI provides multiple opportunities a year for staff members to hang out with each other, both inside and outside the office. For example, once every month during lunch hour, a pizza party is held in the school's auditorium. These parties are held in honor of staff members' birthdays, people who have just signed/re-signed a contract, and/or people who will be soon ending a contract. Pizza and cake is provided and speeches are sometimes made. While the parties are not necessarily mandatory, most everyone attends them for the free food and an opportunity to chat with coworkers.
Group trips to Everland and/or a symphony concert have also been provided by our directors in the past.
KPI SEMI-ANNUAL WORKSHOPS
Once every semester on a Saturday, a mandatory staff workshop is held at KPI. While this may not sound like the ideal way to spend a Saturday afternoon, the workshops truly aren't that bad. I'm gonna risk being called a "brown-noser" here and say that I actually enjoyed the seven workshops that I attended! Informative speeches about curriculum and work practices are made, and entertaining team-building activities are carried out. Breakfast, lunch, and an early dinner are all provided, which hey, I had no complaints about.
Janet, one of KPI's Directors, Giving a Speech
David Playing a Game
James and Brain Listening to a Speech
David and Tyler Listening to a Speech
Yann and Katie Participating in a Workshop Speech
Team-Building Activity with the R&D Department and Janet
Jay and Tricia Listening to a Speech
While I was sad to say "goodbye" to KPI Kangnam Pride Institute this past March, I will always cherish the memories made at that school with both my talented R&D coworkers and the teaching staff. I couldn't have asked for a better experience in Seoul, South Korea!