A Broken Contract and a Midnight Run

I’ve been back in New Jersey for twelve days. I was debating over whether or not I should write about why I chose to leave Korea, and I’ve finally decided that I would.

Working in Korea was making me very unhappy. Not the kids or being in the classroom, but my superiors and their actions. I felt anxious all the time, to the point that there was a constant knot in my stomach. For those that don’t know, many hagwons use CCTV to watch students and teachers. Whenever I tried to do something fun in class, my boss would pull me aside after and tell me “no games, we must promote more study.” I’m sorry, but how are you supposed to teach a nine year old without the use of games or activities?

I was also getting very tired of seeing other teachers hit and discipline students so harshly. That’s something I’m not used to seeing in America and, by sitting quietly on the sideline, it made me feel like I was condoning child abuse, which I most certainly was not.

Additionally, the Korean teachers at my hagwon kept to themselves and there was very little communication. Often, I would walk in and find papers or new schedules on my desk with no explanation of what they were or what I was supposed to do with them. Sometimes, I would be given about five minutes notice that I was supposed to administer a test to a class. If I got courageous enough to ask someone for help or clarification, I mostly got blank looks. And, of course, still no explanation.

My breaking point came after two events. First, I was given a new class with very little notice and was expected to come to work about an hour earlier than I had been coming in all year. There were also no materials and the other foreign teacher and I were supposed to find time to make some from scratch (we had no knowledge of the level of the students, either). Second, (I will not go into this in great detail because it is not my tale to tell) one of my coworkers was berated and belittled in front of the office for standing her ground on a matter that affected her personally. In response, she was called names and was denied the things she asked for.

For me, this was absolutely a toxic environment and I had to remove myself from it. I packed up all my belongings and left without telling anyone at work.

Happy (Hagwon) Halloween!

Everyone who knows me knows that I love Halloween. Like, a lot. I love costumes and makeup and candy and spooky movies. Literally everything about it. (I’m already getting really excited just writing about it.)

I wasn’t sure if Halloween was a “thing” in Korea. I was getting a little apprehensive as it drew nearer because I wasn’t sure how I was going to celebrate.

At the beginning of the week, though, my head teacher came up to me and said that there was going to be a Halloween party on Friday. She also asked me if “I could costume.” Oh, yes, I could certainly “costume.” So, the next day, in the pouring rain, I dragged Steve with me to a little costume shop up the street. I bought a cat ear headband and a blue wig.

On Friday morning, all the hagwon teachers in Ulsan were required to attend a mandatory seminar. This was quite possibly the biggest waste of everyone’s time. I had to be at school at 9:30 AM along with Hailey and Nick. We were driven off to some far away center and had to sit in an auditorium.

The first presentation was about child abuse. It was a very long, uncomfortable PowerPoint presentation set to Josh Groban’s rendition of “You Raise Me Up.” It featured key phrases such as “secret sins” as well as examples of child abuse cases (half of which were from New Jersey). The presenter ended by telling everyone “most children love you! I trust you!”

The next part was interesting. It was about Korean history, specifically focusing on astronomy. We watched a video that mostly featured Gyeongju, and it showed nearly all the places I had visited when I was there. I can always get down with the moon and stars.

There was another video about industrial things. I found that particularly boring, so I talked to Steve on Facebook (his boss forgot to pick him up, so he didn’t actually make it to the seminar).

Next, the presenters discussed how supreme Korea’s technology and internet speeds are to the rest of the world’s. Then, they couldn’t figure out how to get their slideshow working. They tried for about fifteen minutes, failed miserably, and the next presenter read off a printed script instead.

Blah blah blah. Seminar over. Got a free lunch.

Fast forward to school.

I did my makeup and went in early to help set up. Nick and I got put in charge of face painting (which I could not have been any more ecstatic about). Nick played music, spooky sounds, and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. I had fun.

Costume #1!

Costume #1!

We did this from about 3 PM until 7 PM. I didn’t have any of my evening classes due to testing, so I literally sat in the office and read Huffington Post. It was a good time.

Monday, Monday

Mondays in Korea are like Mondays everywhere else in the world – no one likes them.

Especially when you have to teach six classes in a row without any breaks.

I’m still trying to learn names, so at the beginning of class, I go around the room and ask them their names and to tell me something. Today’s topic was “What did you do over the weekend?” Most of my students said things like “play with friends” or “sleep,” except for one boy who told me his grandma died. I didn’t quite know how to recover from that, especially with the language barrier. I quickly said “sorry” and moved on, but I felt really bad.

Anyway, my goal for the day was getting my older students to talk more, and I think I achieved that. There are usually stories or articles in the textbooks. So, after my students read them out loud, I broke them into teams and had them write Pro/Con lists. Most of them had never heard of a Pro/Con list, so I explained it as pro = good and con = bad. Some of today’s reading topics were plastic surgery and adoption. It took a little pushing, but once I got everyone up at the board, they seemed more eager to talk and write down their answers.

Some are still painfully shy, but we’ll work on that.

After my break (which was only 30 minutes), I had two hour classes with two groups of middle school students. The last class was really good. They warmed up pretty quickly and were willing to participate.

After work, I went home and made some dinner. To my surprise, the last teacher left two big bags of chicken strips in the freezer. I cooked two up and added them to my salad. Yum!

First Day!

Today was my first day at school! I got to shadow one of the co-teachers, Nick, during his classes. There are a lot, but they only last 35 minutes each. There are plenty of breaks throughout the day for preparing lessons, as well. My school also has a planned curriculum and many different text books and work books. The American teacher whose place I’m taking (Peter) was really good at going through each class with me and gave me a general idea how to use the books and work through the lessons.

First day selfie!

First day selfie!

I’ll have students from beginner elementary level to more advanced middle school level. All the kids are very cute. From sitting in the back and observing, I got to see that some are really interested in learning English, while others are not. I guess that’s to be expected, though. Many of the students were willing to participate. Some were very shy, and there was only one I saw that was legitimately disruptive.

During the dinner break, Peter and I grabbed a snack and a coffee. There is a very prominent coffee culture here and there can be three, four, or five coffee shops right next to each other! It’s a wonder how they don’t put each other out of business. The one we went to was very nice. I ordered a frappuccino and actually watched the barista brew espresso to put in it. It was exponentially better than any frappuccino I’ve ever had at Starbucks – and probably with way less calories and preservatives.

We got back to the school and many of the teachers had to administer tests to their classes. I awkwardly sat by myself in the office for a while. The only thing I really didn’t like was that the native Korean teachers didn’t go out of there way at all to introduce themselves or talk to me or anything. It was mildly off-putting.

Regardless, I am excited to go back tomorrow. I’ll be on my own for my classes, so I guess I’m diving right in!

Best Bank for English Teachers in Korea?

Hey everyone! I recently came across this article which talks about KEB and refers to it the best bank in Korea for English teachers.

Money is definitely an important issue for people living and working abroad, especially for those who will have to send money back to their home country to cover expenses like loan payments.

Does anyone here use KEB? Pros? Cons? Let’s discuss!