Controversial review accuses GotoCo summer program of dubious practices

GotoCo, which arranges summer teaching placements in China to university students, has been the subject of recent controversy online. The social enterprise is heavily advertised to McGill students through Facebook and by hosting events at and around McGill, such as their annual attendance at Activities Night.

The review, which was posted to Reddit, TrustPilot, and GoOverseas, claimed that GotoCo fraudulently advertised the experiences that they offered. According to the anonymous author, the company neglected to return a 300 deposit, placed the reviewer in mold-infested accommodations an hour away from their teaching placement, and paid participants 100 (CAD146) euros each for five-star reviews. The review also alleged that GotoCo’s communications only contacted the reviewer two days before they were expected to fly to China, which forced them to pay for expensive flights (GotoCo fully funds participants’ trips other than airfare).

McGill graduate Steven Hu, who went abroad in summer 2018 with GotoCo, said that parts of the review seemed accurate.

“I can see all of them being true except the [unreturned deposit claim] and the [paid review claim],” Hu said. “In general, there were things about my placement that, technically, GotoCo was dishonest about. Like, the volunteers at the summer camp being bilingual, or having translators [accompanying] the volunteers. [….] I ended up getting a 120-hour TEFL [Teaching English as Foreign Language] certificate from GotoCo, which is kind of dishonest on their part, because in our placement, we spent a total of, I don’t know, 30 hours doing teaching-related stuff? So not a lot.”

An account with the username “GotoCo_China” offered a lengthy rebuttal in the Reddit comments to the review.  According to Mathilde Hourticq, a U3 Arts student and campus ambassador for GotoCo, the comment was written directly by GotoCo founder Richard Lloyd. Hourticq and another member of the GotoCo team also left a refutation of the review in the comments. 

“Richard, one of the founders, found the Reddit post, I’m not sure how,” Hourticq said. “And he contacted me being like, ‘Hey, would you mind sharing a bit of your experience?’ Because, you know, this post is all lies.”

Several users commented that the comments posted by the team members appeared to be manufactured. Hu concurred.

“It sounds like they’re not very familiar with Reddit,” Hu said. “You can see how old an account is [….] Just a general feeling I got from [GotoCo], they’re well-meaning, they’re just not very competent. [….] [GotoCo responding to this Reddit post is] not 100 per cent in good faith, but then, most companies aren’t acting in 100 per cent faith.”

According to Hourticq, the review was largely fraudulent. She pointed out that the review was removed from Trustpilot for containing false and defamatory information. Hu agreed that much of the review seemed far-fetched to him.

“First of all, I was awarded my TEFL right after I did my [placement],” Hourticq said. “And my deposit [was returned] completely, so I think those are like actual lies [….] Yeah, [paying participants 100 for five-star reviews is] a completely terrible business practice.”

“This is hard to believe,” Hu said. “They threatened not to give them their TEFL because they left a bad review online? That sounds like bullshit.”

Hourticq admitted that there was truth to the fact that GotoCo had communications issues.

“They have quite a small team,” said Hourticq. “And also everything is like a 12-hour delay. There’s a time difference [….] They do take, sometimes, a while to reply.”

Hu stated that he experienced similar woes in communicated with GoToCo while still in Canada.

“Communications [on behalf of Gotoco] are pretty bad,” Hu said. “Especially before the placement. For instance, I think I applied in January, and they tell you where you get placed in June. […] You don’t really know when to book your plane ticket until they tell you.”

Charles Sirisawat, a U3 Arts student who went abroad with GotoCo in Summer 2019, said communication was faster within China.

“At first, when you communicate abroad, they won’t respond to you directly very quickly,” Sirisawat said. “But [in China], they respond quite fast. [I learned about where my placement was] almost a week in advance [of going].”

Hu also agreed with the anonymous reviewer that the accommodations GotoCo provides could be of mixed quality.

“The lodgings vary between places,” Hu said. “For us, we lived within […] rooms within a summer camp [….] Electricity would go out sometimes, water would go out sometimes, which was kind of problematic. It’s summer in southern rural China, you’re outside. [The problems are] placement-specific. I think that’s the frustrating thing about talking about GotoCo, is that experiences are very individual.”

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