Thursday, May 13, 2010


You'll find that term everywhere in Korea.  Mostly, it's used to refer to things that are holistic in nature, like healthy eating and clean, active living.  But, it's also splashed everywhere as a marketing tool.  More fuel for Korea's image obsession.  Here's a well written article on the ubiquitous use of the word.  It closes by discussing the new trend of young people wishing to leave Korea to find their well-being.

Most every internet source will tell you that two things are crucial for emotional and mental stability (well-being) while living away from your home culture:  learn the language and exercise.  And while I agree completely with those two ideas, I think (from my limited experience in Korea, anyway) it goes a lot deeper than that.  Korean workers have very little (read: none at all) control over their work environment and situation.  There also seems to be very little social mobility here.  And, without getting political, these things are very troubling for me.  I can't speak for any other foreigner working here, but the lack of autonomy and effectiveness I feel leaves me with a feeling similar to what one might experience if they were forced to live with a wet rag draped over their head.

So, to combat these feelings, Ian and I take certain holistic steps.  First of all, we run six days a week.  It's absolutely crucial.  It makes me feel powerful and the endorphins help, too.  We combine that with a super healthy diet.  If your body is getting what it needs then you're more likely to be mentally balanced as well.  Plus, Ian and I both have weight loss goals.  We weigh once a week and watching the pounds come off gives us a secondary focus.  I also take Vitamin D (thanks Mom), which is supposed to be a mood elevator.

As for the language, I've probably learned about as much as I'm going to.  I've got a decent vocabulary for food, getting places, numbers and the classroom.  I understand far more than I speak, which is usually just frustrating for everyone.

Under normal circumstances, I'd like to think (following the experts' advice, as we do) that we'd be happy as clams here for our year.  I find myself thinking of how life would be different if we had been employed by GnB, Wonderland or any of the numerous academies in the country.  But we weren't.

So, in a country that trains workers to choose following orders and submission over self reliability and self starting, we have Julia's reign of terror to sit atop it all.

During our Monday meeting Julia talked about how worried the principles of Haso and Sinback are; she said they thought that switching me out for Ian was probably the best solution.  Several times she said, "They want Ian to teach at their schools very much."  So, I felt like I was being sent down the river by my principles.  Again, Julia made me question the one person with whom Ian and I have a real relationship with, Chun wha.

I didn't bother to say anything about the switch to my principles (the truth is that I found it difficult to talk about, so I could hardly tell my students) because Julia convinced me that they were not only in on the plan, but that they were the instigators.

So, when Chun wha approached me tonight and asked me why I hadn't told her about the switch, I was very confused.  You see, a student of mine and mentioned to Chun wha that it was sad that today was my last class with them.  I told Chun wha about Julia (Pack Eun-hee), the switch two weeks ago and how Julia had decided that this was for the best.  Then she asked me why.  I told her I didn't know.  She was visibly upset.  In fact, she teared up and then she hugged me.  I almost cried.  Chun wha wasn't in on it, and she heard it from a student, not from Julia and not from me.  She grabbed the other teacher (I've never known her name, so Ian will make sure to learn it on Monday) when I was leaving and explained the situation to her.  My limited Korean allowed me to pull out "Pack Eun-hee" (Julia's real name), "aigoo" (an all around expression for things going badly, like Norwegian's "Uff da"), and the grammatical phrase "moruget" (referring to understanding or knowing something, or -in this case- not).  So, it seems that Julia has failed to communicate again.

I am so angry that this hateful, ridiculous woman is effectively ruining my experience here.  There is so much to like and we've met some truly wonderful people.  But, the way Julia runs our lives has tainted everything.  We've soured on Korea.  I never wanted to be people who generalized a country the way we do here.  I try to fight it, but for every good thing there are five to ten terrible things waiting around the corner.

I told Chun wha that we should all have a picnic.  I have her phone number and her email address.  I won't let the few Korean friends we've made slip away.  I hate that Julia made me question the few connections we have.  Again.  She is very good at manipulating us into feeling even more alienated and powerless than we actually are.

That's enough anger for one night.  Thank you for your patience.

Good night!

1 comment:

  1. Well-being indeed. the article, along with your experience, helped me understand the work environment in Korea. Hopefully the young workers will be brave enough to revolt against the system some day.

    Wow, the depth of Julia's manipulation really amazes me. This woman is very good at it. I am so glad the Chun Wha came to you, otherwise you would have went home thinking that the friends you made were not really your friends after all. I hope you make things happen with Chun Wha and her husband, even if you are making the first moves much of the time. You have to figure that if Julia was feeding you lies about them, she was feeding them lies about you as well. Don't give her the power to take those relationships from you. She has had too much power all ready. Manipulators are usually very good at that, and I would have to say that she is one of the best I have seen. I know today is your last day at the other school, you might want to pull those people aside and explain that you won't be there after today. Chances are they are in the dark also.
    When you email Chun Wha, or talk to her, will you tell her I said hello and that I enjoyed meeting her and her husband very much?

    Finally I know when you leave Korea and the bad taste of Julia leaves your mouth, your good memories of the experience will be what you remember most. That is why I say keep at the relationships with the few friends you have made. You don't want any regrets.