2013 has quietly slipped away . And what a year it has been! Many insights have emerged as I settle into my life in Korea. The first is the realisation and acceptance that changes happen and that (it took more than 50 years to realise this?) that mostly we are pawns in the game of life; sometimes able to make minor adjustments to our course, but unable to change the major trajectory.
My mission was to come to Korea and recuperate from the brutal cut-throat industry and the narcissistic regime that is ESL teaching in Sydney. I was most fortunate to land a wonderful job teaching at a University near Incheon, but within months it appeared all was not well there. Within a year, I found myself reluctantly promoted to senior trainer of the department, and a year later promoted to overall responsibility for the programs at 2 universities. Luck? Serendipity? Or because I am so remarkably talented? Well I think we can cross the latter off the list. So how does this happen to me all the time? I recall arriving in Korea a decade ago as a raw recruit to a prestigious (that’s what the brochures said) ESL school nestled in a back alley of Gangnam and which rather pretentiously claimed to be the Culture and Education centre for New Zealand. It was less than a year before I was FORCED to become the Head teacher after the previous 2 heads were summarily despatched for refusing to toe management’s ‘bums on seats’ line. The upshot was that i floated to the top of a talented and higher qualified group of wannabe heads. In a bizarre turn of events, my position was unassailably fortified by a snap election among the candidates – not withstanding the fact that I had thrice declined to be nominated, in line with staff room decisions about the best candidates for the job. However, it was the election that clinched the back room deals. And in spite of the sentiment of the other teachers, it was the cleaning staff and waiter’s votes that buoyed my rising star. What a nightmare that was. As one colleague mused, it was like being a firefighter – constantly called out to false alarms – and with very little actual firefighting happening . Anyway as I had predicted those who had truly hoped the job would be theirs were incensed and cooperation fell to an all time low. Egos were bruised and while management obviously felt they could communicate better with me, those affected preferred to take their problems directly to management rather than allow me to be the voice of the staff. Others voted with a rather insulting and arrogant slide into lethargy and by broadening their extra contractual teaching load to impinge on their actual work load to the extent of refusing to teach particular classes because it interfered with their out of school private lessons. The net result was a cosmetic sense of calm but in reality the decision had fragmented the channels of communication and shattered the sense of camaraderie.
In fact the whole episode was a treasure trove of cultural insights – one how aspects of Korean management culture works and the o there an insight into the workings and motivations of ESL teacher – well especially NZ ESL teachers. The irony of this was that I was a Kiwi by adoption and not through birth, however it truly shattered my perception of the New Zealand work ethic.
And so, a decade later, the pattern is repeated. And what was meant to be a peaceful, perhaps relaxing sojourn in my adopted country turned into a journey on a road often travelled before.
The goal has now become, not just teach a class at UNI, but have overall responsibility for 2 departments at separate universities…and not only that, but to start production of an online version of the course.
The goals of said program are somewhat muddy- as is the deadline. In a somewhat predictable manner, little research has been done and little thought as to the realities of transforming an on-campus-program into an online format and to make matters worse, of the FOUR original teachers entrusted with the task, one has quit and the other has been terminated… The two remaining teachers (including myself) are away for 6 weeks, leaving only the somewhat demotivated (and terminated teacher in the office to carry out allocated tasks. Not a recipe for success I hear you say? Hence the constant holiday bombardment from admin assaulting my hard earned holiday; Please ‘inspire and motivate’ the poor terminated teacher as she sees out her contractual obligations in solitary confinement in an empty office. Such are the joys of teaching in Seoul 🙂 Mind you, this process is also not new. It was just 6 months ago as I prepared to take my contractual break for 3 weeks that I was suddenly informed that I would be teaching a group of 60-odd teachers (at a second campus).
“Thank you for letting me know a few days before my holiday. Shall I cancel my tickets home?”
“Oh, you were going away?” Hmmm We’ve already organised for you to teach the classes!”
God bless the process.
And so, 2014 has crept up on us. And I wonder, will anything be new?