Thursday, November 25, 2010

New blog!

UPDATE 2015/2016: Find us at http://wanderlustandwayfare.weebly.com/



It's up!  Go check out http://theurbanagrarians.blogspot.com/.

It's good to be back, guys!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Good(bye) Things

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.

  1. Personal Growth
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).

Remember the first time we ordered pizza and it came with ham?  We were so sad.  And hungry.

First experience with bibimbap.  Note that in this post we call Chun wha "Kim."  Is that her English name?  I actually have no idea.

Fishy bread!

Homemade puchingeh and overcooked rice.

Kimbap and ramen.

Rainbow ddeok (rice cake).  My favorite.

Homemade bibimbap with brown rice.

Ddeokguk (rice cake soup) for Korean New Year's. 

"Nostalgia Drink" is not for Ian.

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.

Tania.

Iris and Michelle.

Tina (in the maroon, I don't remember her friend's name, we only met her the once).

Rahee (far right).

Ben.

Amy.

Chun wha, Chang su and Min su.

5. Travel

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.


Thank you for reading!

Good night!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Ugly Bread

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.

Good night!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Working in Korea

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.

Good night!
 

Goodbye Sunday

Today is our last Sunday in Korea.

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.

But, change is what makes the world go 'round.

Good night!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

East Sea

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.

Black bamboo.

Yi I.

Pomegranate tree.

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!

Good night!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Surprise!

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.

Good night!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Beginning of the "Lasts"

Today was our last Thursday with Yoon's.  Thursdays' hold the dreaded Basic B27, so I'm happy to say goodbye.

Rahee told me that she called the National Pension Scheme and found that she and her mother are registered as "self employed."  She did some further hunting and found that all of Jecheon Yoon's employees are registered as self employed.  I haven't yet been successful in my hunt for legal help, but I don't intend to let this fight go just because we've gone home.  I will contact the NPS (and whomever else necessary) and do my damnedest to get this company held accountable for something.

Julia was at Goam for about a half an hour today during one of my classes, but she was hold up in Mrs. Choi's office in a meeting with her the entire time.  I only saw her on my way to make copies a few times.

This weekend is packed full.  On Saturday we are going to the East Sea with Chun wha and Chang Su (I'm excited!).  Then Sunday we will be cleaning, packing and seeing some of the teachers (at least Ben and Amy).

Good night!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mixed Emotions

I'm having what we expats tend to call an "I hate Korea day."

But, it's a little more complicated than that.

Sure, I'm angry.  So angry that it feels more like helplessness than actual rage.  I'm angry at Yoon's for taking advantage of us.  I'm angry for the potential money we lost.  I'm angry for the time and effort spent on a fruitless project.  But, most of all, I'm angry at what this experience has done to my outlook on life.  I don't trust people to have the best intentions.  And I certainly don't give them the benefit of the doubt.

Though I've always considered myself more of a realist than an optimist, I think my youth and inexperience gave me the kind of naive happiness that my generation is known for.  I believe this year was the final straw on that proverbial camel's back.

On top of all this, I have conflicting feelings about leaving Korea and even our trip.  

I'm not a quitter and Yoon's is robbing me of the opportunity to finish what I started.

I can't wait to go home, but I'm terrified of the prospect of not finding a job.  I can definitely see why many people stay abroad, hopping from one country to the next teaching English rather than facing the market back home.

I'm excited for our trip, but I'm so tired and stressed that I find myself sometimes wishing that we were going straight home.

It's all a bit much, really.  I just keep saying, "I look forward to looking back."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Avoidance

If there's one thing that Julia and David (the directors of our hagwon) have become very adept in, it's avoiding us.

Julia (via her son, Terry, I'm sure) finally emailed me back today just before work.  I had been emailing her demanding that we set up a face to face meeting and telling her that docking our pay in June for the day we took off (right after we were fired to get some of our personal business in order) was deceptive because there was no prior communication about it.

Dear Casey.
 
sorry, i didn't check your mail until now. i was so busy .

As you mentioned 'sick days', you should submit copy of prescription or letter from a doctor to prove you used the day off for medical reason. And there's no exception.
We both know you two used the day off for your personal business, not medical purpose.

About your medical insurance, yes, we will provide proof of insurance coverage.
We'll ask insurance company for the copy.

Please send your mail to suprevise, Mr,Sin from now. That is his job.

Thanks.


I responded thus:

Hello-

I am unsure of who "Mr. Sin" is, but I assume it is Montana.  I do not have his email address.

As for the money taken out for days off, I do concede that they were not sick days, I was simply pointing out the lack of agreement and communication between us since you defer everything to someone else.

I think we can manage to schedule one meeting face to face before we leave.  This is an issue that I will continue to push.


Thank you for your reply.


Even in her reply, she avoids us.  She didn't say a word about scheduling a meeting and she basically told me not to contact her anymore.  I haven't heard back yet.  She was on campus today when I arrived, but by the time I put my things in my classroom and came back to the lobby, she was gone.  I won't make that mistake again, as soon as I see her I will approach her, though I'm uncomfortable with the idea of actually talking to her.  

David was on campus for a large part of the day.  But, anytime I got within ten feet of him, he was suddenly needed in another room.  One time I came out of my classroom to make copies for a student and he was watching the video screen in the lobby.  One must walk through the lobby to get to the copy machine.  As I approached him, he (without even glancing at me) turned sharply and headed quickly down the hallway.  The copy machine is near the end, so it was as if I was chasing him.  It was simultaneously amusing and frustrating.  Not that talking to David would get me very far.  He would simply defer to Julia.

Montana did give me a copy of our proof of insurance today.  And it's real!  They went with a private company (AIG), so that's why we never had health care cards.  I'm happy that there's one less thing to feel crummy about.  At least Yoon's wasn't stealing that particular money from us.  Granted, they went with a private company because they didn't want to pay pension.

I haven't heard back from any lawyers yet.  I will call someone tomorrow and see if I can get some advice without paying a consult fee.  I think it might be better to leave the country and then send a letter to the government (National Pension Scheme) through a lawyer.  That way, we don't end up paying into it and then getting hosed.  We could pay into it from the states, if necessary.

Six more working days left!

Good night!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Eggplant Parmesan Mini Cutlets Over Greens

Instead of closing the circuit of negativity that's going around here and continuing to tell you faithful readers how crappy Ian and I feel, I thought I'd post our fabulous dinner.  After all, we'll be out of here soon and I'm trying so hard to move forward and feel good again.

Yum!

The eggplant and greens recipes can be found on the Jen Goes to College blog that I recently started following.  In the background you can see Ian's cinnamon-sugar apples.  He doesn't use any oil of butter, but just lets the apples get juicy in a frying pan with the seasonings.

Good night!

A New (and Sadly Short-lived) Tradition

Though we didn't go running in the park today because the weather was too unpredictable, we still met Ben and Amy for dinner over at their place, as we've done for the past few weeks.  I never remember to take pictures of our get-togethers because we have too good a time.

Amy cooked cubed potatoes for a DIY potato salad (a fabulous idea which I am totally stealing).  Ian and I brought greens (spinach and baby bok choy) and parmesan crusted eggplant.  It was great.  After dinner, we went to a new gelato place that opened down the block, went for a walk to the airstrip and then came back to their apartment and watched Leatherheads.

We will be very sad to leave Ben and Amy behind.  Their friendship has been one of the few positives about our time here in Korea.  They are looking in to Portland as a possibility for when they come back to the states (at the end of December).  I think we've convinced them to come visit shortly after their return even if they choose not to move to the city.

I looked up the Oregon Humane Society today and I'm very excited about the volunteer opportunities they have.  There's a group of people who take some of the dogs running on Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings.  I can't wait to get back into that.  There's been a big hole in my life for the last year.

Good night!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Odds and Ends

It's difficult to pack up your things while you're still living somewhere.  Especially since we can only leave the things we will take in our rucksacks unpacked.

Ian and I packed another big box full today.  We filled our suitcases with bedding (we have the bedding that they gave us to use for our last week) and put them in the box.  Then we weighed it repeatedly to make sure we were just under the 20 kilo maximum.  It'll go on the slow boat sometime early this week.

The last box will be a (hopefully) smaller express box with the laptop and other electronics in it.  We're going to have to toss more stuff (like a low quality roller bag that I have) than we had hoped.  But, that's the way it goes when you move.

I'm looking forward to apartment shopping in Portland.  We'll be looking for a place where we can comfortably live for the next 5-7 years.  It'll be nice to have a more permanent residence.  Since I just graduated last year, I've been moving each year for the last five years.  It gets to be a hassle.

But, it feels good to be moving on.  Monday will start our last full week working for the nightmare that is Yoon's.  I think I'm starting to see the light.

Good night!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Stand Still

There isn't anything new to report on the "hagwon from hell" front.  And, frankly, I'm so frustrated and tired that I don't have much to say.

We just got paid tonight and they've overcharged us for our days off in May and they've charged us (with no prior agreement) for our day off in June.  Considering we still have sick days left, I'm pretty unhappy.

I've emailed two lawyers with a rundown of the situation.  So, I'm playing the waiting game.  I'm guessing that I won't hear back until Monday.

We don't have any plans this weekend other than packing the rest of the things we don't use on a daily basis and shipping them on the slow boat.

If any of you know anyone (or anything) that could help us, please email me.  As it looks right now, we're going to lose this game.

Good night.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

An Island

I emailed the US Embassy in Seoul today to see if there was anything that they could do for us or if they had any advice.  They emailed me back very promptly and expressed sympathy about our situation.  But, all they could tell me was that the embassy isn't permitted to give us legal advice regarding or represent us in employment matters.  They could only suggest that we consult a lawyer and tell them about our legal issues.  They provided us with two links to lists of English speaking lawyers in Korea.  I will email them for advice, but we can't afford legal representation and we don't really have time for a case.  We just want the company to be looked into.

I'm really starting to feel like we're on an island and no one can help us.  It's pretty maddening and damn depressing.  I don't want this company to get away with this just because we don't have the resources or time to push for legal action.

So, after work Rahee and I walked out of the building and I told her everything that the company has done to us.  I told her to look into her pension, health care and taxes.  Her mom works for the company, so she'll be checking for her, too.  Also, if the laws are the same for Korean citizens as they are for foreigners, Rahee is owed 30 days pay because they fired her without written warning.  She told me that Montana told her that she shouldn't speak to Ian or me unless she wanted to suffer a similar fate.

If I can help Rahee get the ball rolling and turn the company over to the Labor Board, Taxation Office or someone that can hold them accountable, possibly audit them and (fingers crossed) remove their business license.  Rahee isn't as gung-ho about going after the company as we are because her mom has worked for the company for several years.  I told her to call the Labor Board and ask them about all the possible consequences.

I just don't even know what to do with myself anymore.

Good night.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Reveal

We found out something very interesting this morning when we called the National Pension Office to discuss the legality of a hagwon not paying into the scheme.  When they ran our Alien Registration Numbers they found that we are listed as "self employed" (as in, free agents who came to Korea [not under contract] looking for work on our own).  We read them our contract and they agreed that Yoon's has mis-registered us.  They did this to skirt around tax, health care and pension laws.  So, before we can go and apply for our pension refunds (meaning we and the school will have to pay back pension that we will get back in 6-8 weeks) we have to go to the tax office and change our status to "worker."

Our meeting with Montana this morning was terribly anticlimactic.  It's not that I wanted a fight, Montana went from "You've made a big mistake" (on the phone with Ian last night) to "Do whatever you need to, it's your choice," (the gist of his input during today's meeting) in a real hurry.  I don't think he was prepared for us to have found out about the school's shady fraud situation.

Julia did not show up for our meeting.  Ian tried to call her today and she refused to talk to him, stating that her English is not good enough and that she'd have a "recruiter" call back.  Sure enough, ten minutes later a girl from ESL Park called.  She tried to convince us that pension was a contract issue and that it isn't mandatory.  When it was obvious that we weren't convinced, Ian told her that she wasn't privy to our plans and hung up.

In discussing this new circle of hell with fellow teachers, I've discovered that the school has been stealing the money that it claimed was going to pay for health care from us (15,000 won a month each).  We have no health insurance cards and David/ Julia accompanied us to the hospital the three times we had to go.  That adds up to roughly $220 and I want it back.

I'm really tempted to open the blog early, but I worry about libel laws and our last paychecks.

The last few entries will be suggestions and warnings regarding Yoon's and working in Korea in general.  Here is a draft of the "blacklist letter" that I've been posting on several different ESL sites:

-Yoon's English Forest (영어 숲 ) has three campuses in Jecheon-si (Haso-dong, Sinback-dong and Goam/Jangnak-dong)
-The director's English name is Julia Lee and her Korean name is Park Eun-hee
-The corporate website is yoons.com (there is no website for the hagwons as of right now) and the phone number is 010.651.0580

From the start, the school was difficult to work for. I chalked my feelings up to cultural difference, kept my head down, worked hard and pushed through. I should have listened to my gut. 10.5 months in, I'm regretting ever getting on a plane and coming to this country. I work for this company with my husband, Ian.

Our director threatened to terminate our employment starting when we were 8 months into our contracts. It took us very much by surprise. We had had our differences, but we had always worked hard and found common ground in the past. It all reached it's peak then when they gave us a letter stating that we would be terminated if our "performance" did not improve in two weeks time. While this warning came as a shock to us (we had had a couple rough meetings with our director before then in which she was unhappy with one or two small things, but the overall feeling was that we were doing well), we took it very seriously and worked very hard (putting in extra hours and showing a lot of submission to our director) to show that we were serious about keeping our jobs.

Two weeks later, in a meeting to discuss whether we would, in fact, be terminated, our director told us that we seemed to be "doing our best" and that if we kept that up, everything should be fine.

Then, two weeks before the end of our third term with this hagwon our director made some changes to our schedules, switching the campuses that we worked at and such, and told us that if enrollment didn't improve in two weeks that we would be terminated (this time with no letter). Again, two weeks later our director told us that if we kept up the good work that our jobs were not in jeopardy (she seemed happy with our performance at this point and said that the "switch" was a very good idea).

Then, two weeks into the term, she called another meeting. She stated that she was very unhappy with our performance and said that our teaching skills were not up to par with what she had hoped for. The meeting ended with nothing concrete being said about our employment. The next week our director failed to show up to our meeting. Instead, it was conducted by our translator/supervisor. He told us that the company had decided to let us go and gave us a letter listing the reasons (which included ludicrous claims of inappropriate language and behavior in the classroom and poor class preparation [we have folders and folders of lesson plans, activities and worksheets to prove otherwise]). We have little room for legal action because they gave us four weeks notice (meaning we'd have to wait until we were no longer employed and housed to make a claim).

Additionally, we found out this morning that Yoon's registered us as "self employed" to skirt around tax, health care and pension laws. As we are American citizens living as "workers" (not self employed free agents as Yoon's falsely told the government) we are required to pay 4.5% of our income into pension with the school paying a matching 4.5%. Then, when we are leaving the country, we can apply for a full refund as per the agreement the US made with Korea in 1993. They have also used this illegal loophole to fly under the radar with National Health Insurance (which they have also not been paying or providing). Our hagwon has tried to convince us that their (and our) payments into this are optional. They are not. We will be going to the tax office, changing our status then taking the appropriate steps (including paying our back pension) to hold Yoon's responsible for this indiscretion.

Less shady and illegal, but still important things to know about this hagwon are:

-The school is incredibly unorganized and has no foundational curriculum to speak of. It (and the schedule) change upon the whim of the director.
-The school employs CCTV and regularly forces teachers to watch hours of themselves teaching and write down any mistakes or flaws and report them to the director
-There is no meal provided to foreign workers or time specifically allotted for consuming one's own, making for days in which one cannot eat for 7 hours
-There is no transport or stipend provided (while its common to make one's own transport, make sure you're living within walking distance to the campus or that the school provides a bus/van [as Jecheon GnB does])
-The director is known for her contradictory behavior. She will be happy with you one week and sit you in a two hour meeting discussing your faults the next.

Please, do your research. There are plenty of great schools and great people in Jecheon. Just DO NOT work for Yoon's.

Good night!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A New Low

I asked Montana for the pension paperwork right as I was leaving work tonight.  He said that he didn't have it because Julia hadn't been into the office today.  Then he asked a question (which I don't remember) to clarify and he referred to it as "taxes."  I corrected him and told him that our pension and taxes are two separate things.  He said he didn't know what our contracts say, to which I replied that it had nothing to do with our contracts, that it is the law (we must pay 4.5% into it and the company must match 4.5%).  He again stated that he didn't know anything about foreign contracts, and I repeated myself.  Then we said our goodbyes and I left for home.

I tried to call Ian to tell him that we may have a problem, but the line was busy.  A few minutes later he called me, telling me that he had just received an angry phone call from Montana.  He had called Ian after I left to clarify this whole taxes versus pension situation.  When Ian told him that we and the company must pay our 4.5% halves, things started to get ugly.  Montana wasn't having it and when Ian asserted that it is the law, Montana said that Ian was threatening to shut down the company.  Of course, Ian stated clearly that he did not say that or even imply it, but Montana was adamant.  He told Ian that we'd have a meeting (including Julia) tomorrow at noon to "figure this out."  He basically closed the phone call by telling Ian he'd made a big mistake.  Remember, Korean libel laws are archaic and extremely harsh.

So, I met Ian at the Sinback campus where we printed out the English information regarding pension from a site for expats and directly from the National Pension Scheme's website.  We did the math and figured out that our "taxes" taken out of our paycheck don't add up to 4.5%, which means that we most likely haven't been paying into the plan and neither has Yoon's.  As we were walking home, Ian decided to call Montana back, hoping to end things on a lighter note.  Montana insisted on referring to our pension as "taxes" and stated that pension was "not a must."  The US has an agreement with Korea (France, Germany, Canada and Hungary have the same kind of agreement and other countries have different stipulations) and it is legally required for both parties to pay the tax.  While it's our fault for never having run the math before, Yoon's was in charge of any and all deductions from our paychecks.  If it hasn't been paid by either of us, I'm not sure there's anything we can do.  If that's the case, we've lost another $2,500.

This nightmare just won't end.  I miss my country.  At least I understand its flawed labor laws.

Can someone tell me the feasibility of taking legal action from the US against a foreign company?  I'm going insane here, I need options.

So tomorrow we will have a meeting at noon with two people who want nothing more than to screw us over in every way.  It'll be our first face to face with Julia since she canned us.

Good night.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Trip Planning

Planning for a vacation is equal parts stressful and fun.  In the guide that I'm putting together (so that we can plan our days as we go without being tied to a computer) I've made it as far as Prague, the fourth city out of our nine (not including the night we'll spend in Bangkok).  It's incredibly tedious, but I'm so looking forward to getting out of here and leaving this job behind.

I asked Montana for a copy of Yoon's pension records in regards to our paychecks.  He said that he had spoken to Julia and that he'd give me the paperwork tomorrow.  We shall see.

Two of my classes were really rowdy and obnoxious today.  I try to give them the benefit of the doubt, they are just kids after all, but the students at the Goam campus are so spoiled and bratty it's just unforgivable.  They're rude, packed full of self righteous expectations and to them, as we're foreigners, we are the help and nothing more.  I have less patience, tolerance and energy with each passing day.

I just hope I can make it another two weeks without cracking.

Good night!

A Quiet Night

Today was more like any other Sunday than the 4th of July.  We met Ben and Amy for a run in the park, it was completely packed today and some of the kids were a bit obnoxious.  After we went home and showered we met later for dinner in (at their place) and a movie.  We watched Greenburg which was alright, but I think the film was trying very hard to be something specific instead of just letting the writing and acting speak for themselves.

It's always great to hand out with the Nanneys and tonight was no exception.

But, I'm not feeling all that great (I think it's too much dairy from the two slices of pizza I had for dinner), so I will keep this short.

Good night!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy 4th of July!

Ian and I aren't doing much today.  Last night we went over to Arienne and Tristan's apartment for a Canada Day (July 1) and 4th of July party.  We met some new people, drank some sangria and generally had a great time.  Their apartment is amazing.  It's still small by American standards, but it's one that I wouldn't mind living in stateside. The layout (it's much more open than most Korean apartments) is very desirable.

I don't really mind a low key 4th.  I do miss my family, as this holiday is one of the quintessential summer days spent at my grandmother's house on Mason Lake.  But, I'm not a fan of fireworks.  They make me anxious and I'm always worrying about animals on the 4th.

Speaking of animals, Mipa from Alien's Day Out linked a petition to help Moon Bears in Korea.  They are facing extinction, as only 19 bears live in the wild.  The real problem is that there are 1400 Moon Bears in captivity, kept and tortured for their digestive bile and other body parts in the name of Oriental Medicine.  Go to moonbears.org for more information and, if you're moved to, sign the petition.

I hope you all have a wonderful, fun, and safe holiday weekend.  Be sure to wish our native land happy birthday for us.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Going through the Pantry

Ian and I are trying to get through the dry goods in our pantry.  Mostly, we have a lot of noodles and lentils to get through.  So for dinner tonight we made jjajangmyun, or stir fried veggies with black bean sauce over noodles.  It supposed to be wheat noodles, but we used the cellophane ones we already had.

Looks like a big mess, but it's yummy!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Fun with Korean Snacks

We found a few new products of interest at Lotte Mart.

Dick Stick!  They come in three flavors: fried chicken, bulgogi and (these) sesame seed.

We bought a three pack of gum because it was on sale.  We opened it while we were waiting for a taxi in the dark.  Because it was dark, we couldn't see the packages very well.  Figuring we'd save the peppermint looking one for last, we tried the Acacia first, it tasted like a cross between liquid dish detergent and perfumed lotion geared toward the elderly.  Then we tried the Sunkist Mangosteen; it tasted a bit like flat Fanta, but it wasn't terrible.  Last was the silver package.  It is the most terrible thing I've ever tasted, very akin to laundry detergent.  It wasn't until we got home that I realized it had a "no smoking" symbol on it.  I'm guessing that means it's nicotine gum.  Gross.

Good night!

Death and Taxes

The former is what we wish for Yoon's, the latter being the latest matter of interest in our downward spiral with them.

Before we left work tonight, we quickly asked Montana what he had found out about our pension.  To remind you, we get reimbursed for the Korean pension we pay here because the US and Korean governments have an agreement.  So, we just wanted to make sure that Yoon's had been paying their half and that there wasn't anything else that we needed to know before filing for our reimbursement.  But, when we asked Montana if he had any information for us he said that he had talked to Julia and she said that there was nothing we could do, that because we're leaving Korea we will not be able to get our money back.

We told Montana very firmly that this is not true.  Then we clarified that Yoon's had been paying their part and Montana insisted they had.  So, we're going to the file the paperwork as soon as possible.  We won't be able to get any money back until our last paycheck is issued (because that's when our last payment will go to the National Pension Scheme), but we want to make sure everything is good to go before we leave.  Click here for Korea4Expats' explanation of the pension scheme.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Replacements

Thursday is very rough and I am exhausted.  It's my longest day, as the first class starts at 2 and the last ends at 8:40.  I have a couple of breaks, which I used to work on our guide for our summer trip.  It's going to be a big packet and when all is said and done I'll have probably put over 20 hours into it.  I'm excited, though.  I found some vegetarian restaurants in Ho Chi Minh, including a vegan pho restaurant.

Danny and Montana were at the Haso campus with Ian today.  Danny was sitting in on Ian's classes, but Montana didn't really have a purpose there.  Maybe he is required to go wherever Danny goes.  They do live together, after all.  It seems that Danny will be taking over the Haso campus once we're gone.

I'm no expert in Korean law, but as far as I know only native speakers of English (only those holding documents from countries like the USA, UK, Australia, etc) are supposed to be teaching conversational classes.  For a hagwon to be operating legally, there must be an hour of classroom time with a foreigner for every hour of classroom time with a Korean English teacher.  Yoon's system is already a little different than most of the others (with the tapes and everything), so I'm not sure if they are within the lines of the law there or not.  I also know that many places hire Filipino teachers and that seems to be legal.

Danny was born in Korea and his parents relocated to the states when he was very young.  He is a Korean citizen; and though he speaks very little Korean, Yoon's currently has him teaching the grammar classes that are designed for Korean teachers.  I'm not sure whether his citizenship makes him an illegal conversation teacher or not, but I will be looking into it.  I've nothing against Danny, but I'm after anything I can find against Yoon's.

It seems that my replacement might be lined up as well.  I haven't met or seen her, but Yoon's hired a Korean-Canadian named Maria recently.  I think the company has had its fill of white people, since the foreigners they are bringing in are Korean by heritage.

I couldn't be happier to be leaving rigid homogeneity behind.

Good night!

Coworkers

This will be brief, as I am absolutely exhausted.  

Chun wha invited us out with the teachers from Haso tonight.  We briefly walked around Uirimji and then headed to a hof (tavern/ bar) for dinner and a couple of beers.  It was amazing to relax and hang out with coworkers.  I will sincerely miss them when we leave.  We even talked a little about our firing and found that most of the other teachers feel the same way we do.  David (the teacher who replaced Eun wha at Haso) told us that he worked one day at Goam and quit because it was too stressful and he didn't like the students or the boss.  I think Yoon's may find it even more difficult to hire and keep employees on its next round.

Chun wha and Chang su have invited us to the East Sea (or a trip somewhere else if they decide another place is better) on the 17th.  I'm excited.

Good night!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Rewind

Today's meeting was bizarre.  We were about 15 minutes late, which turned out not to matter at all because Montana was in a meeting with Julia.  We came and sat in my classroom and a few minutes later, Montana joined us.  No Julia.  Even though she was on campus she did not show her face at our meeting.

Montana jumped right into giving Ian a rundown of how the classes went on Thursday (the day after we were fired).  Montana covered them at Haso while Ian and I took a day off work to clear our heads and figure out what we were going to do.  I stared out the window while Ian and Montana talked.  The meeting was hardly relevant to me at all.  It reminded me (exactly) of when Gene was working here.  This meeting was basically a carbon copy of every meeting we ever had with Gene, pointless and short.  At one point, Montana sketched a worksheet template suggestion (saying the note was from Julia) for Ian that is literally the graph style template we use for 95% of applicable worksheets.  

There was no mention of the firing.  There was no chastising or correcting.  It was as if we were normal, well liked employees and it made me so angry.  I will never let something like this happen to me again.  I know, now, how to see this kind of shafting coming and I am no longer naive enough to give an employer the benefit of the doubt.  There is too much at stake.

Montana went to close the (20 minute) meeting, but Ian and I stopped him to ask him some questions and clear up our timeline.  He supposed to get back to us with tax information, since he doesn't know much about that.  But, our last day of work is the 21st and we'll have someone (Julia, David or Montana) inspect the apartment on Thursday.  As soon as they see that we've left it in good shape (aside from a couple of burn marks from our gas range which we hope they'll overlook) they'll give us our last check.  Based on the bizarrely kind way they've been treating us this past week, I have a feeling they'll say the apartment is up to snuff.  After all, they've already got what they wanted, they're already saving themselves $6,000.   With check in hand, we'll be off to the bank to send the last of our money to our Chase account, change some currency and close our Korean accounts.  That will be a good day indeed.

Good night!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Out of Steam

The only other time I can remember being so thoroughly exhausted as this was UPS finals/ graduation.

For me, it's not necessarily all of the things that I am doing that make me tired.  It's the thought of everything that needs to get done.  I'm a notorious list maker.  Through college I had a cafe board on which I made lists of everything that needed to be done.  Everyone always talks about wonderful it feels to cross something off the list; I get almost as much relief our of making them.

But, sometimes the lists don't help.  Since we got fired I've been having trouble sleeping.  It takes me an hour or two for my brain to stop cataloging all that needs to be done (packing, cleaning, Visa applications, itinerary finalizing, etc) and fall asleep.  Then if I wake up at any point, it starts all over again.  Last night I nearly hopped out of bed because I randomly remembered that I wanted to find a vegan whipped cream recipe for Mom.  Stress does ridiculous things to me.

It's not as if I was sleeping well before we got fired; our bed is rock hard and the mattress is starting to break down where I normally sleep because it has no give at all.  I went to bed at 11:30 last night and got up at 8:40.  I was doing a little reading during one of my breaks and I actually dozed off for a minute or two.  I should be functioning better on 9 hours of sleep.

Aside from physical energy, I don't have much either.  I'm so disconnected from this job.  The lesson plans I made today are lazy and while I feel bad for the students (the ones who aren't urchins), I honestly don't think they care.  I'm officially a warm body to fill a (legally sanctioned) position until they find a replacement.

Julia tried to greet me in the hall and I mostly ignored her.  I tried to smile a little to be polite, as I don't want any complications regarding our last paychecks.  But, I think I only managed to twist my face into a grimace.  Later, Montana popped his head into my classroom to tell me there was pizza for the staff.  I said okay and sat back down at my desk, not intending to do any interacting that wasn't obligatory.  Then Terry (Julia's son) came in with the pizza box and a cup of Coke.  I told him I didn't want any.  I wanted to tell him where he could put the pizza and coke, but I didn't.  He seemed very surprised and left.  

We have been told that our presence is required at a meeting tomorrow at noon.  I don't know what it will be about, but Ian and I have several things we need to clear up (taxes, date of our last payment), so we will take full advantage.  I'm not sure if Julia will be there.  Either way, we're going to discuss the effectiveness of such meetings.  We don't want to attend any more.  After all, our letter cites seeing no solution to our faults as a reason for letting us go, so why bother?

Good night!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Inner Child

When I was a kid, I was really into making bracelets out of embroidery thread.  At first, they were simple braided things, but then I learned a few different knot patterns and they got more interesting.  Unfortunately, I've forgotten most of the patterns.

Today, Ian and I were in the Daiso downtown and I saw a packet of embroidery thread for 2000 won.  I couldn't resist.  So, I spent several hours today making silly little bracelets and necklaces.

I made Amy a little bracelet.

And myself one, too.

I got these two dol hareubang (grandfathers) from Jeju Island.  I bought them specifically to make a necklace.


We had two ¥50 coins, which have holes in them, so I decided to make another necklace.


The two necklaces share a lot of elements, so they can be warn layered or separately.  I'm pretty stoked about them.

Good night!