The Indonesian TEFL Scene- The Ugly New Kids on the Block (Part 2 of 4: Rumah Bahasa)

In this part we focus on the ugliest of all the new kids on the block, our old nemesis, Rumah Bahasa. This hideous brainchild of sociopathic con-man Frendy Horas was surely the nastiest excuse for a language school  to have appeared in Indonesia in the past decade. Nothing more than a elaborate con, Rumah Bahasa fleeced upwards of 2000 trusting customers in its miserable year and a half in existence. All seven of its former branches are now closed, and we have even heard rumors that justice has finally caught up with Frendy Horas. According to one post we have received, some of his former employees have been called as witnesses by the police and charges have been pressed against Frendy Horas. Hopefully, the reports are true; a classic confidence trickster who has cheated thousands of hard-working families out of money, he needs to face criminal justice.

Rumah Bahasa Spreads Its Tentacles

The first we heard of RB was in late 2013 when a whistle-blower appeared on Dave’s ESL Cafe and warned people to avoid the school at all costs. He warned people that not only the expat teachers at the school but even the school manager were on 30 day tourist visas! He described a truly dysfunctional school in which the expat teachers didn’t even have TEFL certificates and in which none of the teachers had been there more than a few weeks. Furthermore, they were offering some of the lowest wages that had ever been offered to expat teachers- a mere Rp 4-5 million a month.

Yet in spite of the crap salary, the Western tourists moonlighting as English teachers, and the school manager who was known to challenge unhappy teachers to fistfights, Rumah Bahasa schools had a very impressive surface. The two original branches at Kelapa Gading and Bintaro were both located in glossy malls owned by Lotte, a Korean conglomerate. Jakartans are a mall-mad bunch (there is a severe lack of green space in the city, making malls an appealing place for an idle stroll), and they associate air-conditioned malls with luxury. Wall Street had been the trendsetter in this respect; by opening in upmarket malls rather than rukos (shophouses), they had upped the ante in terms of TEFL school premises. Perceiving that Jakartans would trust a language school in a mall (imagining that it must have had a lot of money behind it), Horas came up with the ingenious idea of using a prestigious location as a bait. He would lure customers with an impressive facade and then provide them with substandard teachers who were on rock-bottom pay. All of the elements of a classic bait and switch were there.

But a fancy location wasn’t the only idea he stole from Wall Street. Wall Street had also pioneered a lump-sum, upfront payment system, which involved students paying for a years’ tuition upon signing up. Now Wall Street is a highly reputable business with branches in 28 countries, but it is easy to see how this payment system could be abused in the hands of a rogue. Frendy Horas’s modus operandi was to attract customers, get them to hand over a large chunk of cash (sometimes up to Rp 12 million, which is around $1000). They would then, allegedly, receive language instruction for 12 months. However, it didn’t always turn out that way. While Bintaro and Kelapa Gading remained open, some hit-and-run Rumah Bahasa schools opened and closed. There was one each at Season City and Bay Walk. They rented a premises at these malls, signed up scores of students and then closed down just a few weeks later. As time went on, Rumah Bahasa turned more and more predatory in its practices. The last Rumah Bahasa school to close was Rumah Bahasa Cinere Mall, which stayed open a mere 2 months and robbed between 300 and 400 students in the process.

The Role of This Blog

This blog played a big role in hastening the end of Rumah Bahasa. In its two locations (the previous location was closed due to legal threats from TBI), this blog has received over 200,000 views now. That is a massive amount of exposure for a school trying to con people. There are odd days in which this blog receives 300 or 400 views in a day. Internet searches for Rumah Bahasa numbering in the tens of thousands have now reached this blog. That meant many hundreds if not thousands of people have been spared from being ripped off by this blog. The numerous victim testimonies from Rumah Bahasa ‘customers’ have been extremely helpful. Written in Indonesian, they speak to potential victims in their own language of the dangers. We would like to thank people who have written in and shared their stories.

It should also be noted that Horas threatened to sue us numerous times. We also received messages from a Dutchman who was managing one of the RB schools who threatened to punch us if we saw us. Frendy Horas also sent in numerous fake testimonies swearing how good RB is. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t know we could see the email he sent them from. All these different testimonies swearing RB was wonderful all came from a single email address! Finally, Horas threatened to sue the original whistle-blower unless he removed his warning post from Dave’s ESL Cafe. Disappointingly but not surprisingly, Dave’s ESL Cafe capitulated and the warning was taken down. All of this shows have much Horas hated the exposure of his scam-ridden school. We would also add that when his last RB opened, he did not even create a webpage or advertise online. Scared of being exposed, he tried to fly completely below the radar with Rumah Bahasa Cinere Mall. Hopefully, however, that was his last scam for a while, and he will now do jail time for his crimes.

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