How to do a Midnight Run without Getting Caught
Posted by E on August 6, 2007
I want to preface this entry by saying that I’m genuinely sorry that your situation has brought you to my blog.
First of all, I will assume that you gave this job a fair shot and you have done a fair amount of soul-searching before you came to this conclusion and googled “midnight run”.
But here we are. You clearly want to get the hell out of Korea and your hogwon – your apartment is lousy and all your fellow expat teachers are unsociable drunks; you don’t have hot water and the old ajuma next door shits in a bucket; your class is made up of screaming imbeciles and you would rather throw yourself off the Lotte World bridge than endure another game of Bingo. Your director is a penny-pinching, whip-weiling sadistic fuhrer-type who wants to work you until you drop dead, while your teacher-partner only knows how to apply ten coats of make up a day and say “Hello, how are you?”.
Little children run after you on the road and scream non-stop “Teacher, how are you?” and “Meegook dweggi” (pig-foreigner). You’ve burned your esophagus on soju during your first welcome dinner night and frankly, you think soju is seriously overrated. The smell of kimchi in the morning makes you vomit uncontrollably in the alleyway by the whore-parlors while walking on your way to your air-condition-less school.
You hate the stares, the double shifts and the huge gobs of spit littering the sidewalk.
You want to get the fuck out of here. But how the hell to do it??
Ok, let me first say that before you take this radical step, you should try to get yourself a “release letter” from your hogwon. Yes, some people CAN get out of their hogwon hell and do it legally. It happened to me.
I ran into difficulties in my first month in Ichon. The supposedly-20 hours only job was turning into 30, and I was supposed to accompany kids on school trips for which I would not ever get paid. Never mind that I wasn’t supposed to teach infants but middle-schoolers and adults. However, I did eventually manage to get myself out of the contract. But it wasn’t pretty.
I got angry. I cried. I came across like a total freak who had no maternal instincts whatsoever. I hated children, I told them in a straight face, and never realized that until now.
They asked me if I would stay even if I were to teach older kids. But by then I knew I didn’t want to stay in this shady academy, and I had found a reputable school in Seoul who really wanted me (plus they gave me my own apartment and more money, so I was determined not to let my first month in Korea be ruined by one shitty hogwan).
I told them I couldn’t stand kids at all. But I really, really loved Korea and I would do anything to stay. I just couldn’t help that I had no maternal bone in me.
We got into a shouting match. I shouted back. I basically told them that I wouldn’t stay there, no matter what, and since I had my air ticket back already, I could leave anytime. But if they gave me my Release papers I would work the month for free, and the other school would give them a finder’s fee.
Finally, they agreed. So it turns out that for my first month I worked for free, but I spent the next twelve months working for a fantastic director at a different Seoul ESL academy. And I am really, really glad I stayed. Not because I grew to love Korea that much more (like all places and experiences outside your comfort zone, it has its ups and downs), but because it was an experience that pushed me to the limits. Looking back now, more than a decade after I left, there is much more that I miss about my life in Seoul than I ever thought possible (and no, not just the kimchi bokumbop!)
Being honest CAN work – as long as you are not intimidated by the reality of a confrontation. But OK, say you KNOW that your director isn’t a rational human being, and bribing him with working a month for free (to reimburse him for the airfare) won’t work.
What are your options?
a) stay, grin and bear it for an unterminable year
b) get on the first bus/train/donkey cart to the biggest city and just walk around; it won’t be long until you see an ESL academy where you can walk in the door and ask if they will hire you on the spot. Half the time they will, or will refer you to a school who will. Alternatively, try to find recruiters who can introduce you to schools for a small fee, and remember, there are always schools who will take an illegal teacher – but be prepared to be paid a little less. But they will take care of you and your lodgings.
c) Just hang out in Seoul or Pusan and live off private lessons – only if you have enough cash to rent a room for a month, until you make arrangements
d) Do the infamous Midnight Run! After all, that’s why you’re here!
So without further ado, here are Elisa’s 10 Steps to a Succesful Midnight Run:
1. Cut your losses. Be certain of your decision, since embarking on it means there is no going back. You will not be able to reenter Korea for at least a year, at least until your E2 visa expires.
2. Do not tell ANYONE. Other than your grandma or best buddy who will be meeting you at the airport back home, TRUST NO ONE. Even people who confide in roomates have been burned! That nice Australian chap who you go drinking with after class and shares in all your moaning and bitching about your school, accomodations, brats, etc. may indeed turn around and stab you in the back for extra kudos and a better schedule.
And by the way, if you DO decide to tell your folks back home that you are coming back early, I strongly encourage you to email them, or call them when you are SURE that your roomate(s) are out or not within earshot. I’m serious.
3. Ship some of your belongings home before you take off. Some of you who live alone may think – “Why bother? I don’t have a roomate so nobody will see my packed suitcases waiting by the door until my flight next week!
You’re dead wrong.
Hogwon directors and their minions have been known to make unexpected visits to teachers’ apartments whenever it strikes their fancy. Seeing all your stuff packed up will definitely ensure that you don’t get that nice month-end paycheck you’ve been waiting for before you fly this coop. So don’t be stupid.
Hide your suitcase if you can, and if you can’t, pack at the last minute or ship some of your stuff home early. Hey, it’s just a lot of souvenirs and cheap knock-offs for the folks, right?
4. Realize that someday, you may actually regret not having stuck it out, and that Korea wasn’t actually that bad. Then go to the bank and withdraw all the money you have – you may need to make several visits. Do NOT tell the bank that you are cancelling your account! Remember that your school initially set up your account, so they could be notified of the closure! Just tell them that you need the money and then pretend you don’t understand the question. It’s not their business to question what you’re doing with it! If possible, make sure you leave about a hundred bucks in there so the account doesn’t close entirely. You can always try taking it from an ATM back home – it worked for me.
5. Give yourself plenty of time before you are expected back at work. In other words, don’t do it on a weekday! The more time you have, the less likely anybody will notice you’re missing until it’s too late and you are sipping on a cocktail on your flight back home. This is especially important if you live in a small town and have to wait at a bus or train station before connecting to Seoul. You never know if someone there might know you or your school director!
Be prepared to have a story ready! Your grandma died, you’re visiting home for a week (this would only work if you’re running on a major holiday like Chusok), or just taking a weekend trip to Seoul/Bangkok/wherever.
6. Make up a family emergency if you have to – but be prepared to act convincingly or you will forfeit that paycheck or worse! Make sure you know exactly when you need to leave – you can get your ticket online and pick it up at the airport. I don’t recommend having it mailed to you. Too risky that someone might see it.
7. I am assuming you weren’t a total moron and you let your director keep your passport “for safe-keeping”, in which case you’re shit out of luck unless you can convince them of a great emergency, or just that you want to visit Beijing on a 4-day trip (It’s a nice city, I recommend it).
8. If you need to buy yourself some time, play sick. Really sick. Make sure you get the day off, and that nobody sees you (including the other teachers and doorman downstairs) leaving. This is really, really risky and you might get caught, especially if that doorman decides to call your hogwon wondering what you are doing with all those suitcases. That’s why it’s important to have shipped most of your stuff back home and just carry a backpack and/or duffel bag – you’d look like you’re just going out of town for the weekend.
9. As you’re leaving through customs, tell them you are going back home to visit. Under no circumstances you are to tell anyone that you are doing a run. If they really want your ID card back, give it to them. Breathe, don’t choke on your adrenaline, and just get through those doors!
10. TRUST NO ONE. Yes, I’ve said that before, but it’s important enough to reiterate it again!
Ok kids, please write back and tell me how it all went! And remember, although you’ll feel like Jason Bourne in a spy movie, it’s not really all that bad! If you keep your plans to yourself and keep a cool head on your shoulders, nothing will go wrong. Good luck, bon voyage, and see you when you get home!
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