As quickly as my teaching career began, it was over. I hated it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s dead easy. But children are a nightmare.
On my first day at school, I had no clue what to expect. And of course, I didn’t ask. I was just shown into a classroom and told that this was my class. A Korean co-teacher came in and briefly explained that while I had a main class, I would also switch between other classes and then teach the after school program with and hour and a half break between the two. Seemed easy enough, right?
The school was really small. Like really small, about 5 tiny classrooms and a very small teachers’ lounge. It was in a run-down officetel with not too many exciting businesses in it. There was a nearby public playground that we could use once a week but other than that, there wasn’t much to it.
There was another foreign teacher working at the school, David, who was also from Florida. He was a bit older than me but was very nice and helped me feel a little bit more comfortable. He showed me the ropes and gave me a clearer idea of what it was like to work there. The first few days we’d walk to school together, but as nice as he was, we didn’t have much to talk about. So to spare myself the morning small talk, I started walking alone.
It was 9:05 on my first day and the kids started coming in. They appeared to be alright, until one of them started acting up. Naturally he wasn’t listening to me and wouldn’t calm down. Abraham (remember him?) came in and started yelling in Korean. Now if you’ve ever been in a room where someone is getting in trouble, you know how incredibly awkward it is. And to make things even more uncomfortable, Abraham started spanking the kid. So here I was, my first day at a new job (awkward), in a foreign country (awkward) and watching my boss spank a child (the holy grail of awkwardness). This was the first of many weird things I’d see Abraham do…
There were 6 children in my class. 3 were cute, 3 were not. They were aged 6 in Korean, but 5 in normal years. Instantly I had a favorite, Jina. And like all good teachers, I would blatantly favor her over the rest of the kids.
If the spanking earlier hadn’t been enough to weird me out, Abraham also informed me that every Monday afternoons, I would have to read Bible stories to the kids then quiz them afterwards. I’m sorry, what? Bible stories? This was not in the job description. Shouldn’t they have asked me if I would be ok with this? I tried to tell them no, and explained that I was not Christian therefore was not in the position to be preaching the Bible. I consulted with David on it, who had to do the same thing, and he explained that it annoyed him at first too but it’s not the worst thing that goes on in this place. So reluctantly, I agreed and was from then on reading (fairly complex) Bible stories to 5 year olds once a week.
The rest of the teaching was done through books that were given to me as well as some worksheet making coupled with some improv so that they didn’t think I was completely stupid. Korean kids can be so cute, so when I was too lazy to make lessons, we’d just play. I always had to disguise this though as Abraham creepily would peak into my classroom throughout the day. He also would come in my classroom and turn off the heat or a/c during the day. He started to make me uncomfortable very quickly after my arrival. One time I had the kids draw the Korean flag and I taped them up on the wall. Abraham came in during my break and took them all down with no explanation. He was weird, and only got weirder.
A few days after I started, we sat down and had a meeting to discuss HR type things. Remember how I said in Korea, the school you work for would pay for your flight over? Well Abraham had me pay for it with the promise that he would reimburse me when I got there. So during this meeting he explained that he was only giving me back 80% of what I paid for the flight. He justified this by saying the rest was used for things with my apartment. This didn’t sit well with me, but I let it slide because I assumed he was being truthful.
Although he came across very strange, I was able to ignore it for the most part and just got on with things. I tried not to speak to him too much. His wife also worked at the school, although had very poor English. But she was very nice so I would try and speak to her if I ever needed anything.
It was time for the weekend so I called up Genine (my sorority sister already living in Seoul) and she invited me out on a Saturday night. She introduced me to a lot of people from all other the world, but mostly England. Thank fuck for her because I have no idea how else I would have made friends.
Despite this, weeks/months went by and I was slowly becoming very lonely. My school and I were located in the far north east part of the city while Genine and all my new friends were located south or central. It was an hour or more journey to see anyone. I would go Monday-Thursday without having a single social conversation with anyone. To cope, I would spend my weekends at a friend’s house so that I could maximize my social interactions. Even still, I started to hate work and hate the school I worked at.
I then thought, there’s so many ex pats here that enjoy themselves so why should I be here and be miserable? I genuinely enjoyed Seoul and didn’t want to leave, so I looked into how to go about changing jobs. It wasn’t as simple as quitting and finding a new one. There was a visa involved so you had to be careful or you could be deported or even banned from the country. But as luck would have it, a friend of mine worked at a really reputable school and they had an opening. I arranged an interview and told Abraham that I had a doctor’s appointment one afternoon.
I was amazed in about 2 seconds of walking in this new school. The building was brand new. They had a gym, a rooftop swimming pool, a cafeteria, an art room, a music room and even a slide that slid into the reception area. There was also a library and an actual HR department. I don’t even think I interviewed properly, I think I just walked into the principal’s office and said, ‘can I work here please?’ Fortunately for me, she said yes. I had to explain my situation though. So I told her that I was working at a small hagwon (private school) with a creepy boss and wasn’t sure how I was going to get out of the position. To my surprise, she didn’t mind and hired me anyway with a caution that should he try and do anything to me (wait, what?) that I should contact her immediately.
Do anything to me? What does that even mean? Well, I was about to find out…