Our time in Korea has not been ideal. It's been far less rewarding than most expats'. The main cause of all our trouble here has been our hagwon (Yoon's English Forest), but sometimes it's difficult to separate our business culture experience from our overall culture experience.
So, I thought I'd post the top six "good things" that have come out of living in Korea. No, not all of them are directly correlated to Korean culture, but they've been made possible by this journey.
Korean culture is backwards from U.S. culture in many ways. Working and living inside it has been a challenge from day one. It seems that everyday I had to relearn how to problem solve and step outside my comfort zone. I tend to keep to myself and not ask for help, so starting from the ground up has been a really good experience for me.
2. The Kids
Working with kids is always rewarding. While they give us hell sometimes, it's only a handful that are actually true troublemakers. The rest of them are a mix of clownish girls and boys who just want your attention.
I wish I had more photos of students, but here are some memorable kids:
Jenny and Ann. You might remember Ann from a video I posted when Mom was here titled "Ann talks about bodily functions."
Cameron. He's a smarty, but he's a crier. He cried about everything from forgetting his homework to losing a foot race from the street into Yoon's.
Mattew and Eric. This dynamic duo will do anything to weasel out of work. But, it's all in good fun. Mattew knows just about every way to say "What?" in English. There were always periods of class which were punctuated with Mattew's barely restrained giggling and repeated "Pardon me?" "I'm sorry?" "Come again?"
3. Korean food
Being a vegetarian in Korea is difficult, but manageable. It really taught us how to eat our veggies and enjoy a wider range of flavors and textures (both in Korean recipes and others).
Sushi and yubu chobab (I can't remember the fried tofu stuffed with rice's Japanese name).
Take out bibimbap, all mixed up.
4. The People
Sure, our company sucked and the director is an evil dictator. But, we met some really wonderful people here (Korean and otherwise) and we've built some international friendships.
Haso teachers (and Chang su).
Hayley, SJ and Kate.
Jeff, Adam, Matt and Albert.
Iris and Michelle.
Tina (in the maroon, I don't remember her friend's name, we only met her the once).
Rahee (far right).
Chun wha, Chang su and Min su.
We're about to embark on a trip back around the world and we got to spend New Year's in Japan. Neither of those things would be possible without our time teaching here.
Zojoji Temple, Tokyo.
6. Our Marriage
Hopefully, it's a given that a married couple be best friends. But, dropping ourselves into this new culture has made Ian and I iron clad. We've shared a one room apartment for almost a year. We (literally) do everything together. And, we faced a bully of a company together.
I made some banana zucchini bread tonight. I had intended this loaf to be a goodbye gift to Chun wha and her family. But, I overfilled the pan and it got a little too fat.
Luckily, I made two loaves worth of batter. So, we'll bring the ugly loaf over to Ben and Amy's on Thursday and I'll give the (hopefully) better looking one to Chun wha.
Tomorrow will be the last official post on Everybody Jecheon Tonight. As requested, I'll recap the good experiences we've had and share some of my favorite photos. On Thursday, I'll open the blog and make it 'public' once again.
I realized today that there will only be about three more posts on Everybody Jecheon Tonight. There might be the odd photo post from our travels, but it's more likely we'll use Facebook to keep the family updated.
It'll be sad to let go of this project, but Ian and I will be starting a green lifestyle blog once we're settled in Portland. It'll be a challenging undertaking and I'm excited to get it started. I'll link it through this blog when we've begun.
I figure that the last few posts should be dedicated to helping people find good work in Korea. Obviously, the first step is not to work for Yoon's English in Jecheon. But, as they're not hiring anymore foreigners, it's unlikely for someone else to get duped by them.
Tips for Finding a Good Job in Korea
Go through a major recruiting service. People have complaints about all of them, but, the bigger the company, the more of a support base you'll have (other recruits, different recruitment agents) if something does go wrong.
Know what you want (do lots of research) and stand your ground. Recruiters work for you and you can fire them if they don't make you happy. You don't have to take the first offer that comes and take your time before saying yes to any offer. Research the company.
Spend time on job forums and get to know the lingo. If you know what's normal, legal and acceptable it's less likely that you'll get worked over. Dave's ESL Cafe is a good start, though it's tough to navigate. One of the forums is for people to post their contracts and have them reviewed by teaching veterans.
Questions to Ask any Potential Company
How many foreign teachers are currently working at your institution? Generally, it's better to work for a hagwon that has more than 1 or 2 on staff. There is strength in numbers.
How many teachers have renewed their contracts and stayed for more than one year? You can take renewals as a vote of confidence in the hagwon.
What is an average day like for a foreign teacher at your at your hagwon? How many classes will I teach? How long are they? How much time will I have between classes? What other duties will be expected of me? This is where it's important to know the game. Research what's acceptable and normal and then go for exactly what you want.
Will I be covered under the National Pension Scheme? Hagwons are legally required to provide pension, but many still try to wiggle out of it.
Will I have a co-teacher or Korean helper? From what I can tell, it's mostly public schools that have co-teachers, but some hagwons do too. It's not a necessity, but they can be very helpful and take some of the pressure off you.
What will my actual take home salary be? It's important to iron out all these details. Is the company providing housing or will you have an allowance? What are your overtime options?
When are my vacation days and how many do I get? Public schools get a lot more vacation days than hagwons and their schedules are more concrete. If you're looking at a hagwon, try to figure out whether their vacation dates are already set or whether you'll decide them later as a company. Now is also the time to make sure that Saturdays and Sundays are always free days.
Where is the school located and where will I be living? Is it within walking distance? If not, is there a transportation allowance or a school bus that I can take advantage of? Will I be working at one campus or several?
Is this hagwon really a part of the "___" franchise? Just because they're under the umbrella and carry the name doesn't mean they are operated in the same way or with the same curriculum. Many "franchise" schools are actually run independently.
What age group will I be teaching? What are this school's students like? Are they advanced, beginners? Kindy classes are tough and they take a lot of energy, but they can be the most rewarding. Older elementary students tend to have a lot of behavioral issues. Middle school students are quieter and reserved, but they usually show you more respect than their younger counterparts.
How long has the school been in business? In my opinion, if it's less than two years, walk away.
Can I have some contact information for other foreign teachers who currently work for your school? Any school should readily provide this.
Always remember that everything is negotiable. Don't be afraid to push, but do show your employer the proper level of respect (they're taking a gamble on you, too). But, if you feel like a potential school is hiding something from you or giving you wishy-washy answers, simply decline and wait for the next offer. There are plenty of good opportunities here.
We spent it cleaning (so that Thursday will be a cinch) and then we met Ben and Amy at Mr. Pizza for one last western restaurant dinner. After gorging on pizza and crappy "American" salad, we went back their place, watched Wall-E and drank gin and tonics (because we're classy grown ups).
Our meeting was bittersweet, since we know we'll say goodbye soon (we're staying with them on Thursday). Meeting Ben and Amy has definitely been one of the best things about coming here. I really hope that they decide that Portland is a good fit for them (they're seriously considering it) because I don't think I'm ready to give them up quite yet.
Tomorrow is our last Monday at Yoon's. I'm am so happy that it's almost over and that we'll soon be going on our trip. But, I'm terrified of going home and starting a new life. Again.
Today was a blast, but difficult as I didn't get enough sleep last night and we actually spent the majority of the day in the car.
The weather here (Jecheon) sucks right now, but it was partly sunny and much less humid in Gangneung-si, where we went to Gyeongpo Beach. The day was much more laid back than our usual sight-seeing tours with them. I wish we would have had more time to spend at the actual beach, but it took about three hours to get there, so the short stay was understandable.
On the way, we stopped by Yi I's (the scholar who is on the Korean 5000 won bill) birthplace. His mother (Korea's premier female artist) is on the 50000 won bill.
Shin Saimdang, Yi I's mother.
Gyeongpo Beach. It was a bit gray, but the air was wonderful.
Spicy fish soup delivered to the beach! It's called 매운탕 (maeuntang) or, simply, "spicy soup." Of course, Ian and I did not partake. We had packed a picnic lunch of onigiri (rice balls) for ourselves.
매운탕 sees you coming to eat it.
Ian is a pirate.
I'm not so talented when it comes to drawing with my foot.
Bathing suits (or, at least, exposed bathing suits) are not common place in Korea yet. Instead, people go to the beach, and into the water, fully or mostly clothed.
Four girls had Superman shirts (the dark blue).
Since 99% of people were fully dressed, the lifeguards really stood out.
See the Speedo? There were five or six lifeguards all in Speedos. They were terrible swimmers, too, I don't think they would have been very effective if someone needed them.
Rain on the beach. Luckily, it was clear while we were actually hanging out.
On the way back, we stopped at the Morae Shigae (Hourglass) Park. It's the largest hourglass in the world and it counts one year at a time. They rotate it at midnight every January 1st.
They took us out to dinner back in Jecheon at an acorn themed restaurant. All the food had something to do with acorns. Who knew they were so versatile?
This salad was made with acorn noodles, veggies, pears, and a spicy sauce.
We mixed them by hand. It was delicious. It, and the acorn flour pa jeon (veggie pancake) were my favorites.
Now it's time for bed as we've got to scrub down our apartment tomorrow morning! Oh, joy!
Just as Ian and I were getting ready to pack up and leave today, Montana came in and handed us a packet of information regarding our tv/internet/mobile bills.
Apparently, Julia signed us up for 2 and 3 year contracts (with the companies) when we first got here. The longer contracts saved on start up fees and also gave us a discounted monthly rate. They knew that we were only signed up with Yoon's for one year, but they figured that they could pass on the services to the next round of foreign teachers. But, the company has decided that we will be their last foreigners, so, they must cancel the contracts early. Because of this, the company is asking for that the difference (from the one year contract monthly fee and the discounted multi-year rate we've been paying) be paid in full. The bill came to 545,604 won or approximately $450.
So, naturally, Yoon's decided that this was our responsibility.
We told Montana that we were never in control of these contracts and therefore were not going to pay for the company's mistake. It was the company's responsibility. Ian left to call Julia, who did not answer, but promptly called Montana's phone.
He spoke with her, asked us if we would like her to come down and speak with us and we said yes.
She showed up about 15 minutes later.
Before she would let us say anything about the bill, she wanted to discuss why we wouldn't just talk to Montana about these things. We tried to explain that Montana has been working for Yoon's for less than a quarter of the time that we have and he, more often than not, does not have the answers we need. As we are running out of time, we figured it was best to talk to Julia directly (or as directly as one can speak through a translator).
We finally got down to talking about the bill. At first, Julia couldn't seem to understand the difference between paying a lump sum and a monthly bill (as in, we would have paid a higher amount each month with a 1 year contract, so what's the difference now?). Then she went on to attempt to guilt trip us by telling us she signed up for these elongated contracts to save us money. After all, she argued, the company could have charged us the full price and pocketed the difference. But, they wanted to be moral, you know, so they gave us the discount. She even threw in the busted white board from the Janrak campus (closed down 8 months ago), blamed Ian for it and basically said that she didn't charge us the 900,000 won for it out of the kindness of her heart. That white board split because they drilled into for access to a power outlet behind it.
Through all of this, we kept pushing. We told her that the company was taking money from us left and right and that this extra $450 was a very big burden. Then she tried to ask us whether or not we thought she had a conscience, which we declined to answer based on the fact that we're supposed to have a professional relationship.
And then, finally, she bent and told us that the company would cover the bill and that she didn't want to say anything else. Montana signed our printout as a safeguard and we went on our way.
It was a small, exhausting, but thrilling victory.