Why I Left Korea

Even though I did a pretty thorough job of explaining why I had to flee the Sanbon Feinschule last post, that didn’t mean I had to leave the nation of South Korea. My Hagwon was a pathetic excuse for a school, but if I wanted to I could have found better working conditions elsewhere in the country.

I decided to come back to America not only because of my school. But also because I just “wasn’t feeling” South Korea. So I’m going to go over a couple of reasons why I just couldn’t stay in the Far East anymore.


(I’m going to lay all my cards on the table.)

 No diversity.

Visit Korea and you will notice one thing right away: It is all Koreans all the time, with some Chinese mixed in. Seriously. My first weekend there, I went to Seoul Station, the equivalent of Grand Central Station in NYC and I could count the Westerners on one hand. I even walked around the surrounding areas for 3-4 hours and saw nothing but Koreans.

The next weekend I went on a date to Gangnam (the equivalent of Times Square and also the subject of the song “Gangnam Style”) and had to wait to meet my date. In the busy metro tunnels it was, again, all Koreans all the time. So much so that I couldn’t resist taking a 1 minute video. Check it:

Now, on the surface what I’m saying sounds highly RACIST and PREJUDICED and BIGOTED. After all, how much of a [jerk] am I to go and complain that there’s too much of a certain race in a certain area? How is that any less disgusting than me complaining about too many Jews in Brooklyn or too many African Americans in Harlem?

Two reasons: first, Koreans speak KOREAN in Korea, which I can’t speak, so all the hundred or so people you saw bustling through that exit I cannot communicate with. The level of English in Korea varies. Either they’ll pretend they don’t speak English, or they will speak English but it’s quite broken. The Jew in Brooklyn and the African American in Harlem I can actually COMMUNICATE with, but the Korean I most likely can’t, which makes living in Korea a frustrating experience.


 (“Can’t I just stick to normal words like ‘On Fleek’ or ‘Chutzpah’?”)

It’s a stone city.

 And I don’t mean that as a compliment. Like the rest of Asia, Korea is overpopulated, and since they’re recovering from the Korean war in the fifties, they need to house millions of Koreans, and FAST. I’ve taken a couple of pictures to show that all Seoul is is just a series of GIGANTIC apartment complexes. Look:


(Taken on my bus ride out of there.)


(Snapped while walking down a main street.) 


 (Sanbon. A bus ride down from where I lived, and nothing but shops on top of each other.)


(A train ride provides a scenic view, no?)


(Just around the corner from Seoul Station. Was I crazy for leaving this behind?)

Now, these pics were taken from different parts of not only Seoul but outer regions like Gunpo and Suwon That’s to show that honestly, the entire city looks EXACTLY the same: gray, drab, and boring. There’s no sense of aesthetic or artistry in the design of the city. Just building after building after building with businesses and people all crammed in there.

Yes, I know people who are reading this and want to punch me in the face are yelling about how they still think it’s a beautiful city and I just don’t “get it” because I’m racist / stupid / a pinhead etc., but to those people I present photos I’ve taken from cities that are ACTUALLY lovely. Behold:


(Paris from the Eiffel Tower. J’Adore!)


 (Just outside the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Qué interesante! Qué artística!)


 (Downtown San Francisco. Wish I was there now. Gorgeous City!)

Get it? I swear, when I first started walking around that morose PENCIL SKETCH of a city, I was wondering to myself, “Are there any famous Korean artists / painters? Do they even let kids touch crayons or stuff like that? For crying out loud I haven’t even seen any GRAFFITI anywhere!”

I took another video of my 3 minute commute from the door of my apartment to the school to show my family, and when they saw it they were like “Oh cool! The area seems pretty commercial and happening!” But then when they looked at it a second time or shared it with a friend they were like “Um…do you live in the ghetto or something?”


Check the video and judge for yourself. And even though this Gunpo (an hour south of Korea by train) believe when I tell you that all of Seoul looks this drab.

I don’t speak the language and didn’t plan on learning it.

Last summer I took Korean lessons at the Korean Culture Center down the street from Madison Square Garden. At first I was keen to add Korean to my knowledge of English and Spanish, but after a couple of classes it became apparent what a huge undertaking it would be.

The course was only 10 weeks, and covered Hangeul, the Korean Alphabet. Even so, I only went to eight of the classes because I lost interest, realizing that it would take YEARS of study to learn this language. And sure enough, just in time for this post, someone on my Facebook posted a link ranking how hard certain languages are to learn for native English speakers:

Korean hardest languag to learn marked

(Check out the full chart and article here.)

I should have known going to Korea for a year was a mistake when I skipped the last 2 classes, but I think I was so eager to head out that I wasn’t thinking straight. Anyway, I went to Korea with no Korean and, surprise, surprise, it turned out to be disastrous.

All the food is labeled in Korean and so are the streets.

So is the public transportation. There was a bus stop right outside my apartment, but if I’m not taking the bus in New York, there’s no way I’m figuring it out in Korea.

Even the appliances in my home were in Korean. Take a look at my washing machine:

Korean washing machine panel

(Do I even need a caption here?)

This resulted in needing a guide to do ANYTHING. I hung out a few times with another American who, for anonymity purposes we’ll call Strawberry (just go with it) and it was her who ordered food for me when we ate out or drew me maps to go places.

Strawberry was my odd friend who would come out and say random stuff like:

“I wouldn’t tell anyone you paid a thousand dollars to a recruiter to get a job at a Hagwon, because they’ll think you’re stupid.”


(After knowing me for 3 days) “You seem all right, so let me tell you about [this extremely illegal thing I’m doing].”


(“Heh, heh. I’ve totally got rights in Korea, Joe. Heh, heh. *Bursts into tears*)

Needless to say, not knowing the language was a hindrance, and got old FAST. This leads me to my last point, which is…

They treat you like the immigrant you are.

I know, I know. I must be some spoiled American to think that I’m going to get to Korea and they’re going to roll out the red carpet for me, right?

Tiny Korean towel

(The only thing they “rolled out” for me was a tiny green towel to dry myself with after a 14 hour flight.)

Well, I wasn’t expecting that, per se, but I was expecting a little bit of compassion, considering that I flew halfway around the world to a country that’s about as alien to me as could be.

Now, not counting the individual experience of walking through Seoul and everyone staring at you (because spotting a Westerner is like spotting Sasquatch) or Koreans giving you weird looks when you try to talk to them about anything, there were a few specific things that happened at my Hagwon, the Feinschule in Sanbon, that made me feel alienated.

The first is that the Koreans would isolate the Americans from them. In the main area the foreign teachers would be at their desks, and the Koreans would speak in Korean at another table in the nearby. So that bothered me. But it was also the feeling that I simply wasn’t welcome there. That I was an alien they just smiled at but never made any effort to try and get to know.


(“But I just want to be friends. Can’t they see we’re not so different?”)

The staff at the school honestly wanted me there for appearance purposes, but didn’t want to actually help me out in any way. For example, one of the things I had to do when I got to Korea was head down to immigration and get an Alien Resident Card.

Kara the Vice principal drove me early one morning to the doctor (located a twenty minute walk away) to get blood work and x-rays, and a physical done (for $110) all of which was necessary for the paperwork. But after that Kara was DONE helping me.


(“Joseph-teacher can go. I am many many busy.”)

The next step was to go down to the immigration office in Suwon and process everything. Strawberry told me that it takes over an hour to get there, and I would be waiting at least an hour to be processed. They close at 6 pm so what I had to do was leave the school at 3 pm, take a train, transfer to a different one and then walk to immigration.

But instead of just driving me there, Julie (disgusting human being) printed me out a subway map:

Seoul Metro map 001

 (Click to enlarge)

And a map of where the train gets off along with circling the immigration office.

Suwon Immigration map 001

 (Click to enlarge)

I looked at the photos above and I was like, “Uh…can’t you just drive me there?”

Their answer?

“You can go.”

One more time.

“Well I’m not sure I’ll be able to make it, because it’s going to take over an hour to get there and I’ve never taken these trains before, and if I get there late they’ll close, and—“

“You can go.”

So I went, and it was just as difficult as you’d expect, considering the instructions they’d given me. I got the first train no problem but then when it was time to transfer, I wanted to blow my brains out.

I tried to follow signs to transfer to the other train and kept getting lost. There was one sign (that I HAD to take a picture of, lest people thinking I’m making this up) that pointed to the transfer station but actually POINTED TO A DEAD END.


 (That arrow inside the yellow bar points to a wall! And there was no English speakers to ask!)

Frustrated and pressed for time, I asked the cashier at a store how I transferred to the Bundang line and because they only spoke Korean she had to lead me to an elevator and pantomime directions. I finally found the right train and went to immigration and was able to process my paperwork, but the whole time I was thinking, “They couldn’t have just dropped me off here?”


When I say I got the Hell out of there, I mean I got the HELL out of there.

So I fled. I posted about the lack of training, and how awful the teachers and working conditions at my Hagwon were, and since I just wasn’t that into Korea itself, I decided to bounce.

I booked a flight the Thursday night where Julie (POS) harassed me to the point where I raised my hands defensively and said “I feel uncomfortable.” I packed over the weekend (as opposed to spending it making lessons plans, which Julie wanted me to do) and Sunday morning I took the bus to Sanbon and then an “Airport Limousine” to the Incheon Airport.

I flew from Korea to Hawaii first, waited five hours, and then flew from Hawaii to LAX. Now at this point you’re probably wondering, “But Joe! Why didn’t you do them the courtesy of letting them know you’re leaving?”

Instead of EXPLAINING again that I’m dealing with horrible people who will probably screw me over even further, let me just post the photo of the email from Brad, the in-country coordinator from CIEE (Scam company. Do not use them).

CIEE is a scam 1

(Click to enlarge)

Yup. Had I done the right thing and let them known my intentions they would have held me HOSTAGE in communist Korea until they saw fit to let me go. Furthermore, I was talking to another American and learned that if the school decided to fire me, I’d be in a bad position, because they OWN THE APARTMENT I WAS LIVING IN. So hypothetically if I said something to piss them off they could have simply tossed all my stuff out in the hallway and locked me out, leaving me nowhere to go.

So screw it. I left without telling them, and I’m SO GLAD I did. The only penalty was financial, although I heard that when stuff like this happens they might not allow entry into the country for a couple of years.

Well, Korea is a crap hole and I don’t plan on visiting it or Asia any time soon. But before I left, I was sure to HIDE A NOTE underneath a towel on the towel rack warning the next teacher. The school found it, so there’s no harm in just posting it here:

Teach In Korea Warning note

 (The brain surgeons who found this had no idea what 3x meant; they thought I was asking for money for the things I bought.)

But in spite of everything I’ve complained about in this post and the two previous, I really wanted everything to work out. I spent a lot of time and money in the hopes of having an incredible experience but it blew up in my face. I admit that I made a mistake, and look back at what happened as a very expensive vacation.

That’s all for today. Thanks for reading my photo-heaviest post, and if you like what you’ve read please be sure to SUBSCRIBE BY EMAIL so you don’t miss a post. If you have a friend who can benefit from the information please SHARE the post. And of course if you agree / disagree with me, or want to call racist for not liking a country that isn’t America, be sure to LEAVE A COMMENT below (I want to hear your thoughts as well!).

See you next time,

 J. F. Seegitz

P.S. I don’t have any tattoos, but I’m so grateful to be back in America that I’m thinking of getting one to show off my patriotism. What do you think of this:




I’ve returned to America, and surprise, surprise, CIEE Teach Abroad not only won’t help me claim the wages I earned while working at the Hagwon from Hell, but they also won’t refund the $1,000 I paid them for services they never delivered (orientation, pre-departure webinars / training, etc.).

Long story short: Do not give a DIME to the pirates working at CIEE. These reptiles will most certainly pull the old “I already got your money, dude” routine on you. BEWARE!


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20 Responses to Why I Left Korea

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  4. Ariella says:

    Im really glad I read this. I have been looking into CIEE for many years and was just waiting for the right time to apply. It seemed like the easiest way to get paid while living in a country of your choosing. When I started doing research about teaching in Korea, I realized that in the probably 50 youtube videos I found and dozens of blogs, not one person mentioned going through CIEE. It was always a different recruiter. I found this odd because CIEE has such a nice website, looking very professional and glossy. I thought everyone went through CIEE. I could not find any reviews on them, good or bad. This was a red flag.

    I have been looking for something like this – an un-sponsored account of someone’s experience with CIEE for teaching abroad. Im sad its not a good review but I started to suspect CIEE was bad news. Im glad I came across this. I was tempted to use CIEE although you have to pay because there is no competitive process unlike other programs; but after reading this I’d rather save my money and take the chance…..

    • Joe says:

      Thank you for your comment, Ariella. Without getting too emotional, let me just reiterate how important it is to AVOID CIEE like the plague: I lost thousands (not hundreds) of dollars due to their incompetence, indifference, and GREED. Don’t give them a cent. I don’t recommend teaching English in Korea (I hear Japan’s nice!) at all, but if you must, DO NOT use CIEE.

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  6. Peter says:

    Hi I work at the same Hagwon and had the same recruiter, CIEE.

    Are you joking? CIEE is a recruiter. They got you a position that you left willingly and you expect then to reimburse you? They did their job. They’re not the police. What are they supposed to do?

    Maybe the school was a more major problem when you were here, and I can’t blame you for leaving the school as I don’t know what it was exactly like. However, you must know that a Hagwon is a for profit business. My goal every day is to teach the kids as much as I can given the curriculum and other obstacles. It is the same for many teachers in Korea and I would expect in America.

    • Joe says:

      I’m not sure if you read this post in its entirety (or just skimmed it) but it answers all of your questions. Also, there are two companion posts that offer more details on the situation.

      But to reiterate, I absolutely expected CIEE to reimburse me for services they promised but did NOT render: namely the orientation, training webinars, etc. Not because they didn’t place me, but because they did, and then ditched me ASAP. See, completing a task is NOT equivalent to completing a task well, understand?

      And boy, did they drop the ball, big time.

      “However, you must know that a Hagwon is a for profit business.”

      That statement in no way justifies a Hagwon abusing their employees. And of that, I am NOT joking. Be careful when using the profit motive as a “Get Out of Accountability Free Card,” as I’ve seen people commit heinous and reprehensible acts, only when caught to justify them by saying, “WHAT? I’m a businessman, after all.”

      But then again, who knows? Remember, this occurred two years ago, so maybe things are different at CIEE. Maybe things are different at the school.

      • Peter says:

        You left the country wthout telling them and expected them to give you an orientation?? What is Brad supposed to do once you’ve left the country??

        • Joe says:

          I asked where my orientation was and when I learned I wasn’t getting it that factored into my decision to leave.

          • Peter says:

            Why didn’t you get it?

            I’m surprised that factored into it, it’s just this tiny weekend thing… so you can meet people and connect… doesn’t really seem that vital. And they have them on a repeating basis, did you think about asking to go to a different one if yours was cancelled?

  7. Peter says:

    Sorry for repost, viewing site on my phone is weird. PS I have the same waking machine. Learn some Hangul before you come to the country! Lol!

  8. Peter says:

    타는 곳 means “place to ride” (boarding platform). The sign is correct. The orange indicates a direction not a connection to the orange line. You were trying to habge to the yellow? You want the 가라타는 곳, the place to change where ou ride. Or if you can’t read Korean you could just look for the yellow 🙂

  9. Brad Brennan is a Cunt says:

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Oh my god- sorry for laughing, but I’m so happy you actually wrote a detailed commentary on CIEE and Brad Brennan.

    That school- it’s called Feinschule right? In Sanbon? They are a bunch of greedy cunts! I’m so sorry to hear that you got scammed. CIEE is a big scam company that looks for greedy cunts like Brad Brennan to get their teachers shit jobs so that CIEE can justify charging $1000 for what? Doing nothing?

    I gotta say- CIEE and Brad Brennan are the worst human feces to ever exist. Feinschule already pays Brad Brennan around $1100 US per teacher he places at the shit school. Then, CIEE also pays Brad Brennan for getting the teacher a job so that CIEE can profit.

    CIEE spends millions of dollars to be placed on first page of Google in order to trap naive people looking for jobs. Unfortunately, some teachers only go with one company, and if they are unlucky to choose CIEE, they get ripped off, SADLY. You did a noble thing of coming out and letting the world know how you got scammed. Surely some people might call you stupid, but you didnt know any better. You had a genuine will to get a job abroad, and then got taken advantage of by idiots like Brad and Feinschule. Don’t worry, you learnt a valuable lesson, and by letting the world know, you are doing a righteous thing so that you can prevent other people from getting scammed. The best way to shut down a scam operation is to prevent it until they starve and die and go to hell.

    • Joe says:

      Yes, the Feinschule in Sanbon. January will be five years since my experience there. I kinda wonder how the school is doing now, since it wasn’t doing so well when I was there.

  10. Kyrie says:

    Omg this is seriously cracking me up hahahaha. I understand a couple things, but my guess is that you didn’t really do the research that you needed to do before deciding to take a job in Korea xD

  11. Rena says:

    There are plenty of problems with Korea, but what you listed about the lack of diversity and the difficulty with reading signs are not part of the list of problems. 학원 are definitely bad though.

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