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.

Advertisements

Six Month Update

The week leading up to my six month mark has been excruciatingly stressful. There are three Western teachers (myself included) at my school. Two of us were told that we would have to begin coming in an hour earlier every day to teach a new class (which currently only has one student enrolled). The other teacher is being forced to commute to another school nearly an hour away two days out of the week.

I don’t feel like I can divulge more details, but I’ll say that things are not good.

Everything that I have disliked about being here has culminated into complete and utter disdain.

I can hear the Korean teachers talk about us, though I can not understand what they’re saying. I don’t assume it’s anything positive.

Being in the classroom is so much fun and I genuinely love working with the kids. However, the work environment here is far from healthy. The hours are long, often with little time for breaks. The attitudes are passive aggressive, at best. Standing up for yourself puts you at risk for verbal abuse and belittlement from your superiors.

Furthermore, entire schedules are shifted around with no notice, leaving you with a headache and no time to plan lessons. I do not understand how anything gets done efficiently. When the head teacher gives out a new schedule, I sit with my co-workers and try to solve the cryptic paper before us. It almost always ends with a shrug and a guess, as we’re too nervous to ask anyone else.

Mostly, though, I just feel bad for the kids. The time that students spend taking tests isĀ  incredible. They aren’t official or mandated by the government. I believe they are simply given to promote “diligence” and “education.”

I don’t remember if I’ve written about this before, but most Korean students have at least a twelve hour school day. For high school students, bump that number up a bit. This makes me so sad because kids don’t actually have any time to be kids. Their lives are consumed by studying and taking tests. The contrast between my elementary and middle school students is shocking. While my younger students are full of energy and want to play games, my older students mostly sit at their desks, heads down, completely drained of any life or emotion.

For now, I’ll shut up and do as I’m told. But the lack of autonomy and constant fear of scrutiny is essentially crushing my soul.

5 Month Update

Today, I’ve officially been in Korea for five months. Only seven more to go!

Despite the bitter cold and my recent string of complaints, things are going pretty well. Right now, I am looking forward to my trip to Tokyo, which is only nine days away. I think a change of scenery will be good and I can’t wait to see my friend Eri and explore her city.

I honestly don’t have too much else to report. Although my office situation pretty much sucks, I love my classes and my students. I have a new elementary phonics class which I really, really enjoy. The kids are all very low level, so I get to have fun and be silly with them. I do a lot of pronunciation exercises and we play games like Pictionary.

In one of my higher level classes, I have four students who I had last semester. They love doing tongue twisters and I’ve even rapped for them before. Yesterday, they shared chestnuts with me and didn’t want me to leave when the bell rang. So two of them kind of attached themselves to me and followed me back to the office. I also recently taught them to stop starting sentences with “and” and “because,” and they’ve kept it up! It’s little things like that that make me feel like I’m making some kind of difference. Even if it’s a tiny one.

That’s it for now!

Exploited

Some days, I feel very exploited working as a foreign teacher in Korea. Today is one of those days.

I don’t often complain, as I love my students and love teaching them. However, there are certain aspects about work culture here that are beginning to exhaust and frustrate me.

First of all, most teachers are expected to work long hours with little time for breaks. Some days, I only have six classes all day, with two hours worth of breaks in between. Others, I teach six classes back to back, have less than thirty minutes for dinner, and then have three more back to back classes.

Additionally, I was also just told that we will be beginning “phone teaching.” This means that I will have to call students at home and ask them questions about a story they were supposed to have read.

Then, there is the lack of preparedness and communication. Today, I walked into one of my elementary classes and, to my surprise, none of my students had their story book. After running downstairs to ask my boss why, she told me it was time for a new book. No one notified me or gave me one. I practically had to beg for the new book so I could get back to class for my lesson. This happens constantly and foreign teachers are also the last to find out anything.

Furthermore, there is complete and utter disregard for the wellbeing of employees. My two foreign coworkers were horribly ill today (and have been since last night). There is no “calling out sick” in Korea, despite the fact that we all have two sick days allowed in our contracts. No teacher should be in a classroom endangering the health of students and coworkers. I find this mentality extremely ignorant and selfish on the part of the employer.

To make matters worse, my office and classrooms remain at frigid temperatures all day. The heat does not get turned on and I am forced to teach in my winter coat while my fingers freeze. The students sit in their coats, as well. The windows in the halls and bathrooms are also kept open. If someone tries to close them, they are promptly opened again.

I really don’t have anything else to say right now. This has been a rant.

Christmas Cards and Cheer

Yesterday was absolutely fabulous! I got to spend the majority of my day making Christmas cards with my elementary students. The school provided colored paper, markers, and crayons. I printed out some reference pictures (like Santa, elves, reindeer, Christmas trees, etc.).

These kids were so excited. Some of them brought scrapbooking scissors, stickers, and glitter glue. They went all out. I even made a little sample of my own and they all gasped “Wow! Teacher good!” It was so cute. I loved working with them and helping them glue things and write little notes.

At school, we also have a Christmas tree and a giant singing Santa Claus. It’s actually quite festive.

My middle school classes weren’t allowed to make cards, but instead of doing text book lessons we did a conversational lesson about Christmas instead. They told me what they do with their families, asked me about Christmas in America, and we talked about movies and sang songs. They all seem to love Home Alone. Which is awesome. Because it’s my favorite Christmas movie, too!

After work, Steve and I went out for shabu shabu which was the best possible dinner choice since it was so ridiculously cold. We literally sat in the restaurant with our hands over the boiling broth while everything cooked. I don’t think I’ve ever been so cold in my life. My school hardly turns the heat on: kids and teachers walk around in their coats (and sometimes blankets). They also keep the windows open. Especially in the bathrooms. It’s bizarre. I guess that’s just how they do it here.

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.

Frustrated

I’m extremely frustrated right now. On the verge of angry, really.

It’s nearly November and I still have not been told when I am getting off for winter break. So, today I decided to ask my boss. As soon as the words came out of my mouth she stopped and stared at me.

“We don’t know yet.” Her eyes narrowed. “Why do you want to know?”

Why do I want to know? Are you fucking kidding me?

“I’m trying to make travel arrangements,” I replied calmly.

She brushed me off.

I spent the rest of my time in between classes looking up airfare and accommodations for a variety of different destinations. Prices have already gone up since I started looking several weeks ago.

I refuse to spend one of my two longer breaks in Korea (I only get 6 actual vacation days for the year, split between winter and summer). I have an entire year to explore this country and there are so many other beautiful places to experience nearby. Thailand. Japan. Taiwan. The Philippines. Vietnam.

If I wait any longer, I’m not going to want to pay the price for a plane ticket. No. I refuse to pay the price for a plane ticket.

I’m a planner. Not planning things in advance gives me anxiety. Also, I grew up having a travel agent for a mom.

Rage rage rage. Rant rant rant.

I’m having a chocolate bar and going to sleep.