They Deceive Foreigners. Beware of Jinan's International Volunteers Foreign Teachers of Harmony English Teaching Experimental Research Center
Location: Jinan, Shandong Province
Company name: International Volunteers Foreign Teachers of Harmony English Teaching Experimental Research Center
OR Shandong Provisional Modern School Culture Institute in Jinan
School name: Dong E Primary School (the largest elementary school in Dong E county, Liaocheng)
Better known as Harmonious English or The Jinan Cultural Center; they’ve been in business for three years and counting. This recruitment company deceived us (along with many others) for over four months resulting in a loss of over 12,000 rmb (for two ESL teachers). We know of at least four other teachers who work for Harmonious English who are still owed money and or have left the company because of it. Please feel free to contact us if you want further details because we have pictures, the office address and paperwork documenting that this company is not to be trusted. Please be careful because China has been a very rewarding, fun and enjoyable experience but there are companies like Harmonious that give the ESL industry a very bad name. They are not as they appear to be or trustworthy.
We are out 4,285 rmb ($628 USD) from the plane ticket (the school gave us 5,000 rmb). 2,730 rmb ($400) for the L Visa including the cost of expedited services. 1600 rmb ($235) as the December living allowance because the school withheld this in favor of Harmonious “paying us back”. Harmonious is also withholding 2,000 rmb each (4,000 rmb total for the both of us) for January and February’s living allowance because they fear that we may not want to work for them any more. I wonder what would make them think that? And finally, Harmonious advised us to go to Hong Kong for the final F Visa run in which they would reimburse us the 6,000 rmb (3,000 each) that it costs us to renew our Visas. The numbers are overwhelming for anyone. Please be very cautious if you consider working with International Volunteers Foreign Teachers of Harmony English Teaching Experimental Research Center/Shandong Provisional Modern School Culture Institute in Jinan because they may and will change their name.
We are an American couple in our twenties and wanted to teach ESL in China. We researched through www.eslteachersboard.com
and this was how they found us. Introducing himself as Tom Pei (he no longer works with Harmonious English), through email he offered us two ESL positions in Liaocheng, Shandong Province. Tom was very thorough and one of the reasons why we accepted this job. He answered all of our questions very promptly. Questions about the Z visa, hours, salary, location, housing, plane ticket reimbursement, class size, etc. What he couldn’t answer, he promised to find out ASAP and he did. We eventually tweaked the contract to our liking and thought that he worked for the school. He said that his company pays us but we work directly for the school and it’s an “Experimental School”.
After three months of unanswered questions and stress, we finally discover that neither Harmonious English nor the school had the license to hire foreign teachers. Harmonious English kept this disclosed from the beginning, acting as though they were going to convert our L Visa to a Z within one week of arriving. When we addressed our concerns over not having a Z visa the school and Harmonious English told us we had a residence permit so it was unnecessary. This was to get us to China. After a foreigner has spent $700+ USD on a plane ticket and packed a year’s supply worth of luggage to teach English, once you’re there, it just makes it easier for Harmonious English to give excuses, to lie, to stress you out, to deceive, and eventually out of a lot of money. And the worst part was that the school, we also trusted, and in the end you always end up losing. We know that as the new semester on March 1st approaches, Harmonious will be lurking this website and others like it, in search of new foreign teachers. Can you blame them because they have a history of unhappy and financially inept foreign teachers? It’s not unlikely that they look for more to replace the former ones that have come and gone (minus a couple thousand RMB). Harmonious is holding conferences as we speak, to bring in more gullible schools, more schools who “must” have foreign teachers. More money, money that they don’t pay to the foreign teacher. Please be warned and read more for details.
We made it very clear that we wanted to work in China legally, on a Z Visa. After hearing different answers about whether or not an L Visa could be converted to a Z Visa we confronted Tom Pei about it. He said the school semester started already on September 1st (it was September 9th when we started talking to him) and that he really wanted and needed us. Tom said a Z Visa would take longer to apply for (than the L) and agreed to put in the contract that Harmonious English would pay for the L Visa and convert it to a Z within one week of arriving. We paid an extra $80 USD on expedited L Visa costs in Harmonious English’s favor because they needed us “last minute”. They said they would pay for it so we bared the costs in good faith.
Once we arrived to Harmonious English’s Jinan office and the school, we immediately asked about the Visa. Tom Pei told us he had to go to college prior to us arriving in China. By this time, Tom Pei’s new replacement was Cindy Zhang aka DanDan (Skype). We asked Cindy and she ALWAYS said, “I’ll ask my leader.” However, unlike Tom, Cindy never followed up. It was ALWAYS “I’ll ask my leader…”
We even asked the school about it. They said they would contact the Jinan office and that it should be okay because they were taking our passports down to the local Police Station to register us. The next few times we asked Cindy about the Z Visa she finally answered, “We are working on getting it…”
Finally, a month passes and we ask again about the Z Visa and the payment on the L Visa. This time the answer was different. “We are working on getting the license to get your Z Visa… Oh? And we NEVER pay for the L Visa to get here… I’ll have to ask my leader…” Another popular answer was, “My leader is not in the office today. I’ll call/ask him on Monday…” Cindy never got back to us about the L or the Z Visa until two weeks before our L Visa expired. The other “funny” thing was that the school and Cindy were giving us two different dates to when the semester ended. The contract said that during the Winter Holiday we would only be paid 1,000 rmb each person per month as the living allowance. When asked multiple times, Cindy eventually said that our teaching stopped on December 31st and would restart on March 1st. The school told us January 31st, but Harmonious pays us so we took their word for it. Ultimately, this resulted in a lot of stress and confusion as the school’s contract with Harmonious ended in December but their school semester ended in January. They wanted, expected us to work… for free because Harmonious wasn’t going to pay us…
After repeated, “I’ll ask my leader… Oh we never pay for the L Visa, I’ll ask my leader… My leader is not in the office… I’ll call him on Monday and ask him…”, it came down to three weeks before our L Visas expired. After we asked her, Cindy requested a copy of the first page of our L Visa even though she already had the first photo page. Another week goes by and we’re down to two weeks. We ask Cindy again. “I’ll ask my leader…” The reply that took almost three months to answer became, “Oh, you know the ‘rules’ have changed… The leader has a “good friend” and will get the F Visa for you…”
We don’t want an F Visa. We want a Z Visa, the one you promised us or we would not be here. There are plenty of schools that will have us working here on an L Visa. We are working with you because you told us you would give us a Z. Then Cindy’s answer became, “Oh, the F Visa will cost the two of you 4,000 rmb each and you have to get there yourself.”
That’s when we drew the line. Harmonious English owes us an L Visa, a one-way plane ticket and they don’t even have a license for a Z Visa. We refused to pay 8,000 rmb up front for an F Visa. Cindy promised that as long as we kept the receipts, Harmonious would pay us back. We reminded her that they still owed us money and that the company should pay THEIR good friend up front rather than reimburse us. Cindy said their accountant (they don’t have one) has to have receipts before she could pay us and that was her final answer. Harmonious didn’t seem to care about whether or not we stayed because we already worked three months out of the four month semester. Who did seem to care was the school, which had paid the Jinan office in full for over 1,500 English books (which honestly, is a horrible English book filled with many grammatical errors).
The Jinan Cultural Center aka Harmonious English, sells books to schools and per 1,000 books sold the school gets a foreign teacher for three months. The students pay 59 rmb each for this cheaply made grammatically incorrect English book. These kids pay for the ESL teacher’s salary. Unluckily for us, the school paid for these Harmonious English books in full, leaving them no power over matters directly following the payment given to Harmonious. Books paid for. Check. School no longer a concern for Harmonious. Most schools don’t pay for the books in full.
Later, we even found out the school’s contract with Harmonious included that all responsibility fall to the school if the teachers were to leave. The school was also responsible for our one-way plane ticket. Out of courtesy and the kindness shown to us, we trusted the school more than we did Harmonious. That eventually backfired as well.
Dong E primary school was very kind, “sincere” and cooperative from the beginning. The school laid out to us that they knew and understood our stress. They enjoy having us teach for them. Dong E offered to pay for the 8,000 rmb up front and that we don’t tell Harmonious. When Harmonious reimburses us, Dong E would be paid back. We warned the school that are you sure you want to do this? Harmonious has a reputation for doing things last minute and there is a good chance that this “friend” of theirs may not even give us a Visa as promised. They said that they knew this and that they were willing to bear the burden of solving this problem, keeping us as foreign teachers and making everyone happy (the students who paid for the books and the school board). They told us this. We trusted them.
We trusted the school and with one of our Chinese English-speaking collegues, embarked on this wild goose chase to Qingdao to get our supposed F Visa. Through miscommunication on Cindy’s behalf, we managed to pay an extra five nights of hotel fare because we need not arrive as early as we did. After applying for the Visa and returning to the school, three days later the “friend” calls and tells us we didn’t get the F and instead, we got a one month extension on the L Visa. If a foreignor goes to the Local Police Station on his/her own accord, they can get a one-month extension free of charge, hotel costs and hassles. What we could have got for free costs the school 5,500 rmb to the “friend” for his “services”. Even after that, we finish two more weeks for the school and another bomb drops.
The school deceived us into thinking that they would bear the burden, but they did not. The school held back 5,500 rmb from our one-way air ticket because they said, “Harmonious will pay you…” Will they? Have they? No. Aside from trusting the school, the worse part was that the school admits that they “must” have foreign teachers for next semester. They will get foreign teachers at any cost, even at the cost of hiring them illegally and disclosing this information from them. The school first tried to hire us themselves without using Jinan, we declined because we would still not have a Z visa which we demanded.
Picture of the Office Workers (the Woman on the left is Cindy, the man in the white shirt is the Leader, and Dale is on the right but we have no encounters with Dale.:http://i795.photobucket.com/albums/yy234/BewareJinan/Jinan-Arrival2.jpg
Picture of their book:http://i795.photobucket.com/albums/yy234/BewareJinan/Book1.jpg