Thursday, June 11, 2009

New Teachers, Love Motels and an Interesting Welcome to South Korea

Here's the question:

I'm getting ready to move to Seoul and am worried about my apartment. I was told that I have one waiting for me, but when I asked to see pictures, they didn't respond. Yesterday, I talked to one of the teachers and they said that I'll be staying in a motel for a week. What's going on? Am I going to get screwed? Should I change schools?

I have been waiting for a love motel question for awhile. Let me kick this one off with a comment Brian left on a post about Jet Lag and Settling-in Time.

"I went from the airport to the hagwon to be shown around, and started teaching the next day. Actually, besides going to school right off the plane I also experienced something common for first-timers on their first night: I was put up in a love motel. Don't get me wrong, love motels rule. It was a weird introduction to Korea, and when the director said "your apartment isn't ready" all the horror stories entered my mind. But it was all right."

What Brian experienced many years ago is still in practice. Sometimes, the apartment is not ready as some schools recruit new teachers BEFORE the old teacher leaves in order to give the new recruit some observation time and maybe a little settling-in time. There's also the possibility (especially with Pagoda, Direct English, YBM etc...) that you will be put up in a love motel for a couple days while you and the director/apartment manager search for the new place. It appears that's what's happening and you really have nothing to fear. It's pretty common practice in the industry.

Now, let's get to the juicy part of the post. In the question, you simply called it a 'motel' and that's totally normal. After all, it is just a motel. However, a motel in Korea is not place you stop for the night when you can't keep your eyes open and on the road. The motel in Korea is called a 'love motel' and, for the most part, it's sole purpose is to house sex. Perhaps that might sound a little surprising since Korea often claims to be a conservative nation, but the truth of the matter is that even though Koreans might not talk about it or display it in public, it's going on all day and night.

Take this question The Korean answered last year:

Why is Korea so conservative about sex? Women go to great lengths to remain (or pretend to remain) virgins or thereabouts until marriage or Very Serious Long-Term Relationship With Certain Future Husband. But there is a Love Motel down every alley, filled with sexual activity all hours of the day. So what's the big secret?

The questioner was dead-on. There really is a love motel on every street and most of the time, they are filled with men and women doing it. Sometimes it's young lovers who didn't have anywhere else to be alone and other times it's a businessman who just offered a little under-the-table cash to his favorite girl at the room salon. If you want to read about some of the seedy-underbelly in Seoul, check out this, this, this, this and this. Brian has written a lot on love motels and hotels in his area as well. The gist of is it that they're ridiculously prevalent and no matter who much they try to claim they're for travelers, it's pretty clear what's going on there.

My wife and I have stayed at these places many times while traveling around the peninsula for the same reason that hagwons put new teachers up there: they're cheap. The cost is usually between 20 and 40 bucks and you can almost always get a room. The rooms aren'y that bad either. I could go on about it, but Brian has already taken a pretty good look at it, so I would suggest taking a peak at what he has to say. (On a side note, it seems that Brian writes more about Korean Love Motels than anyone else on the web. I'm glad someone took the time.)

In conclusion, don't be worried in the least about being shacked up in the love motels for a couple days while you wait for your place to be ready. They're comfortable, free, convenient and -between us- make sure you flip through ALL THE CHANNELS. It's kind of like a strange welcoming gift.

If anybody has any questions, just send me an email at or leave a comment.


Devon said...

"Quarantine" may be another reason. I arrived in Korea 2 weeks ago, and we were expecting to stay in another foreign teacher's apartment for our first week of observation. When we got there though, our manager told us we would have to stay in a hotel for the first week and not come to the school because of the swine flu scare. It seems a lot of hagwons are now doing 1 week "quarantines" where you have to stay in a hotel just in case you do have the flu. We were asked to stay in the hotel as much as possible, but our director said he knew that wasn't really realistic, and that they couldn't really do much if we left. It actually turned out to be great, because we basically had a 6 day vacation, and were able to get our bearings in our new city before being thrown into the teaching world.

JIW said...

I would like to say the situation may also be that the teacher you are replacing isn't leaving until the very end of their contract. So you will move into their joint when they leave. That happened to me when I came here...I would dig for more info..

The Expat said...

When I first arrived, I moved into another teacher's place while she was on vacation. When she returned, she moved her stuff out and into the apartment of the teacher I was replacing. There's a lot of seniority when it comes to hagwon apartments.

The Expat said...


As much as I hate the root of the quaratines, I agree that an extra week to get settled would be great! Thanks for the add. I've been looking for official Immigration positions on new teacher quarantine(for another questioner), but it seems to be pretty subjective. Any leads?

Chris in South Korea said...

Like most things with Immigration, it's all subjective and who's interpreting the rules - and HOW they're doing it. Some will throw the rulebook at you while others simply go more by common sense. It's like dealing with the IRS :shudder:

I'm not sure there is an official *Immigration* position - if there were we'd have heard about it via the Korean news or one of many K-bloggers. The quarantine, while nice to start out with a vacation, is done by schools to give their customers some perceived peace of mind from a perceived danger. As long as that quarantine is served in a comfortable place with realistic expectations - AND you're getting paid, without taking any vacation time away - then I say take it and enjoy it for what it's worth. You probably won't get another one.

In some cases the school has a standing agreement to rent X apartments, one for each NET, and having them cleaned between teachers. That turnover is critical - and often difficult. Imagine someone trying to move into your apartment at the same time you're trying to move out. A little... difficult, right?

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