The TEFL Life: A TEFL blog

a story about bad grammar and non-existent punctuation and my TEFL adventures

agent: friend or foe?

Another (sneaky) reason I wanted to leave Thailand, or rather, was happy to leave Thailand, was the fact that an agent had found me in Bangkok and asked if I wanted to work for a school of his in China. I still don’t know how he found me, but he had an office in Bangkok and I was flattered and so I went to meet him.

He was South African, so I felt comfortable meeting him, which is a weird thing but it really happens. He showed me photos of the school in China and told me how much I’d be earning. He offered to pay my flights to and from South Africa and he would sponsor my work visa. So far so good.

When I went back to South Africa we stayed in touch and he called me once to discuss the situation further and chat about the working conditions. China was a daunting prospect, he was not very good at hand-holding and it was difficult to organise things with both of us being in different countries and neither of us in China. But eventually he pulled through, sent me details of my flight, and off I went again. A totally different country for a totally different adventure. This is the joy of TEFL.

He met up with us (I had persuaded another friend to join in the fun) in Hong Kong. The flight had been long and exhausting and Hong Kong is overwhelming – even the airport – and as we sat down for something to eat, he whipped out our contracts and asked us to sign them. Can you hear those alarm bells? I could, even above the din of hundreds of Chinese people in a food hall, but you know what? Sometimes even when you hear those alarm bells you choose to ignore them, to cover them with a blanket in the spirit of independence. And besides, without him we would’ve been stuck in the airport in Hong Kong, clueless.

So while this story may not be as dramatic or terrible as it could’ve been, this definitely was a year I learnt a few good life lessons.

Lesson # 1: Don’t always trust people because you like them, think they are nice or have a similar background. Arthur (who I would have no problem naming and shaming, except I have forgotten his surname) was an arsehole who didn’t seem to appreciate women as humans and definitely considered himself a gift to the local populations. He was often unreachable and, once we were safely delivered to the school, never lifted a finger to deal with requests or complaints.

Lesson #2: If possible, don’t sign anything until you are sure of what you are receiving. Needless to say, our school did not look like the one in the photos he had shown me, our working conditions were not what we were expecting, our working visas never panned out and he had neglected to tell me that he would be taking 50% of our pay every month in agent fees. 50%!!

Of course, you could argue that I didn’t read my contract properly or I hadn’t understood what I was getting myself into, but the way in which Arthur handled the whole situation was unfair and a whole lot dodge and if you are above-board there would be no need for that.

To end with a disclaimer: it must be said that not all agents are as cringeworthy as Arthur. (I think bigger is often better and safer in this kind of TEFL situation). I’m sure there are many who genuinely care about your well-being and are not interested in taking you for a ride, but just make sure you are dealing with one of those,

and that his name is not Arthur.

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2 comments on “agent: friend or foe?

  1. jellybeanqueen
    February 25, 2015

    UPDATE: Strangely enough, this came to my attention this morning:
    http://www.complaintsboard.com/complaints/ftc-educational-services-bad-employee-c603001.html

    Bear in mind I dealt with Arthur and FTC in 2004/5. Apparently he’s still at it in 2015!

  2. Pingback: yet another TEFL scam | this is it

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This entry was posted on February 4, 2015 by in General TEFL and tagged , , .

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