Well, I was a kindergarten teacher for 5 minutes…

So, two weeks ago, my school imploded. The Korean staff (bus teachers, supervisors, cooks, lunch ladies) had not been paid on time for over 2 years and had not received their full salary in 3 months.  Two Wednesdays ago (July 23) was the final straw and they all quit.    By Wednesday evening, kids were getting pulled from classes and told to take all their books home by parents.  By Thursday, only about 3 Korean staff remained. That same day we received news that the school was closing on Friday.  Since then it has been a whirlwind of confusion and chaos sandwiched around a one week vacation.

David and I had planned to go to Jeju for the week, leaving on Friday night straight after work.  But suddenly, I had no job.  My school was closing and my kids were getting ripped away from me.  On my way to work on Thursday I cried for the first time about the whole situation as the weight of it hit me… on the bus… surrounded by random Koreans.  It was a great way to start the day.  I had no idea how I was going to enjoy a vacation when I had no income to come back too.

Luckily for us, on Friday (the day we were supposed to close), a man, ironically also named “Mr. Kim”, bought our contracts and we were saved in the nick of time.  And when I say “nick of time” I mean we were told that we still had jobs at 6pm that night, an hour and a half before we were supposed to start our vacation.  Those three days were an indescribable cavalcade of emotions for me.

It seems like David and I have been beaten down a lot since we have come to Korea.  It has made me question whether coming here was the right decision for us and if I am where I am “supposed” to be.  The answer is still unclear.  Here’s hoping that things get better at the “New CIS”.

Series of Short Posts 1: Beginning My New Job

I am so sorry I have been absent for such a long time.  In all honesty, I have been a combination of busy, homesick, and actual sick, so I haven’t really felt like writing.  In fact, I have about 3 unpublished drafts waiting for me to finish but who knows if/when I will finish them. To catch everyone up, I thought I would write a series of short posts and TRY to publish one everyday.  We’ll see if I can maintain that!

First off, Beginning My New Job. I have now been working at my job for about a month.  The beginning was a little difficult because I had an entire week of shadowing the current teacher.  This would have been fine except for I had already been doing pretty much the same thing at the other campus.  So it got old pretty quickly.  It is a weird situation to be in, having a classroom but not wanting to step on anyone’s toes.  Watching a teacher, who is very much ready to return home, in his last week with his students.  Not that he was in any way a bad teacher, just that you could tell he was over worked and ready for some time off.  I talked to him a lot about going home and what he was excited about etc.  Speaking to and saying goodbye to him actually launched a week or so of intense homesickness.  I was just re-signing a new contract for the year and all this talk of home seemed to make the thought of another entire year seemed unbearable.  In fact, at the time I was feeling homesick, I started writing a lengthy blogpost about the whole situation.  In the last two weeks, however, this feeling has already faded and life feels ok again.

My schedule is pretty nice.  I start work at 11am everyday and work until 7:20 (except Tuesdays, when I have to be at work for a staff meeting at 9:15).  Since I started though, I go into work early almost everyday.  I have not yet found a way to get everything I need to done in the amount of time I am given.  I am told that this will soon change.  Everyday I teach 1-2 Activity Room classes for kindergarteners.  They only last 40 minutes with the last 10 being spent on playtime.  During these periods we play bingo, freeze tag, alphabet games… and so on.  I feel like these times are some of the most stressful of my day because the kids just want to run crazy and play on the play structures.  It is very difficult to get them to behave at times because I am not their normal teacher and I only see them once a week for 40 minutes.  They are super cute though!

I also teach ESL1 everyday from 3pm to 4:20pm.  These are kids who are in elementary school and have never taken English before.  Most of them are in 1st grade, one is in 2nd, and one is in 3rd.  As you can probably guess, this creates quite a large knowledge gap.  This class is pretty fun because, even though they do not understand me most of the time, I have lots of free reign when it comes to curriculum.  I get to plan a lot of fun activities for them and there always seems to be extra time.  The hardest part is that the kids are still having a really hard time with phonics (knowing their letters and sounds) but we have had to move on to words, vowels, and so on.  So I have been doing a lot of backtracking to the basics.

On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I teach BC 4 which basically means 4th graders who have gone through the program.  There class is from 4:30-7:20 (and remember, this is AFTER all day elementary school).  A couple of the students have conversational English to almost the level of an American 4th grader.  At times, I forget that I am teaching English Language Learners which is probably not a good thing.  It doesn’t help that we use American curriculum though.

I also teach BC 5 in the same time slot but on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  This class has been challenging in a lot of ways for multiple reasons.  For one, there are 9 students (soon to be 11 starting this week).  They are older and do not fit very well into my tiny classroom.  Their curriculum is also much more challenging.  One of the workbooks they use (TOEFL iBT) is a workbook for high schoolers to test their ability to succeed in English-speaking University. Think of the SAT but only focused on reading, writing, listening, and speaking English.  THESE KIDS ARE IN 5TH GRADE!!!  The last couple of TOEFL lessons I have taught have been about the Earth’s magnetosphere, Tabula Rasa (Psychology), and the Industrial Revolution.  It is ridiculous.  Sometimes I’m not even sure of the correct answers from the multiple choice questions and I consider myself pretty smart!  So basically my teaching this workbook is me giving them the correct answers.  I find this style of teaching for this particular book to be ok though because I have a lot better things to be teaching them and our time is precious.

Anyway, my short post turned into a long one.  I will leave you with a couple pictures of my classroom.

Robin Class!

Robin Class!

Color overload?  Yeah, me too!

Color overload? Yeah, me too!

Warning to Potential ESL Teachers in Korea

*David is going to write about what happened to us in more detail later but I just wanted to put my two cents in.

This is a warning to all potential ESL teachers in Korea.  If there are any red flags about your new job, any at all, look for a new one.  If I had read a post like this before coming to Korea, I would have thought that the person was just being dramatic and that it would never happen to me.  However, there are so many jobs here right now and even if you have to wait a month or two for that perfect job to come around, do it.  It will be worth it.  Here is why:

It is EXTREMELY hard to get yourself, as a foreigner with an E-2 visa, out of a bad situation quickly.  As a basic rundown, David and I have not gotten paid in over a month and a half.  We have almost no money (think $100 between the two of us), had to cancel an 8 day vacation last minute, and have lots of bills to pay (phone, electricity, gas, credit card…).  Normally, if a situation like this arose in America, you would just quit your job and find a new one and file a complaint or sue your boss.  In S. Korea, you can file a complaint with the Ministry of Employment, but it takes about a month to investigate, and possibly even longer if your boss ends up never paying you.   The only way you can get a new job in Korea is with a Letter of Release (LOR) from your current school.  This LOR allows you to change your visa to a D-10 (looking for work) or just transfer your E-2 to another school.  Without the LOR, it takes 2-3 months for immigration to do an investigation and allow you to leave the school.  In our situation, this is crazy talk.  We have been denied a LOR by our boss because he says he will, “get the money.”  We have hardly any money and no idea if/when the school will ACTUALLY pay us.  We can not wait 2-3 months for an investigation to take place if we are not getting paid.  Forget about bills, what will we eat?

Luckily for us, it seems as though we might get paid tomorrow (but it could be a lie, who knows), but if we don’t, we are not sure what we will do.  There is legitimately no way for us to get out of this situation unless we have a LOR or leave the country.  Hopefully everything works out tomorrow.

Update: 2/25/14- We did not get paid today as promised and our pay is now over 15 days late.  We have also still not been reimbursed for our airfare.

Bureaucratic Bypass Surgery

With a title like that, you might suppose I had something like very scary news for you all concerning our journey to South Korea.  But you would be wrong, because I just like dramatic titles.  In fact, I happen to have some very good news on that subject.  We now have solid reasons to believe our visa numbers will be finally be processed this coming week!

A little bit of background, in case any one’s forgotten (or we’ve forgotten to mention it): because our employer is not a school in the conventional sense, Korean immigration law requires an on-site inspection before any work visas can be approved.  And it was just this requirement that was holding us up, as week after week the inspection simply never took place.

But now, our recruiter has informed us that, following a personal intervention by our employer, the school/camp/whatever has finally been inspected, and the paperwork can resume its flow toward sunshine and happiness.  Huzzahs are in order!

/Gentle huzzahs flower in the far distance.

This is a welcome development, because as my digital clock and calendar is mercilessly reminding me, we are now half-way finished with the month of November.  When Tara and I got this job, I felt confident that we would be decorating our new apartment in Cheonan before Halloween.  At the rate we’re going, it’s not exactly certain we’ll be out of here before Thanksgiving.  Having promised my mom I’d be home for Christmas 2014, I was definitely starting to feel the pressure.

There’s still pressure, of course.  Our money is limited and we’re not out of the bureaucracy’s labyrinth of apathy just yet.  I don’t think I’ll really be able to relax until I’m on the plane.  But after a month of no news, this development has electrified us.  Today, we will bask in the sparkly good feelings of the inevitable imminent eagerly-awaited conclusion.

So there you have it: the process moves along and we are one step closer to teaching ourselves to love kimchi.  This blog is one step closer to its first made-in-Korea update.  At last, we can get a little forward motion back in our lives, and start living like grown-ups again.

With Tara back from California and our long-delayed visit to Seattle just shy of imminent, I am feeling pretty good about life.  I’m doing my best not to get ahead of myself, but I’ll take any good excuse not to worry myself to death.  We’re together and we’re ready and things are starting to turn our way.

Will we ever leave for Korea?

Hey everyone!  Just a quick update.  We are still waiting on our visa numbers.  They were supposed to be done in about 5-10 business days and it has been almost 15!  I have been in contact with our recruiter and she says that everything is fine.  It is just taking a little longer than normal.  I really hope they come soon because I just want to get over there.  Once we get our visa numbers, we still have to drive up to Seattle and get our actual visas from the Korean consulate.  Then we can leave.  Hopefully our Seattle trip will not be very long (mostly because of expenses) but we plan to see old friends while we are up there so that is very exciting!

In the meantime David and I have been pretty busy.  I FINALLY finished my TEFL class and now have a 120 hour certificate.  I have also started studying Korean pretty seriously (I am determined to pick it up quickly!) and it is HARD!  I mean some words are borrowed from the english language but way more are not.  Plus there are sounds in words that I have never had to make in my life.  It’s crazy but fun.  David learned hangul (the Korean writing system) in two or less days.  I am learning it as I learn the language.  I would say on a good day, I have about half the characters memorized.

Here is a picture of just the vowels from ancientscripts.com

Here is a picture of just the vowels from ancientscripts.com

I have also been hanging out with friends and family like crazy!  It has been really fun but like I said, I just want to get over there.

In the meantime, here is a little more about Cheonan that I have been researching (taken from wikipedia).

Cheonan is considered a municipal (meaning it has its own local jurisdiction) city with almost 600,000 people.  It is considered a pretty small city, especially when compared to Seoul which has around 10 million people!  We are located about 1hr and 15minutes from Seoul via train (that costs around $6).  The best part though is that the city animal is a DRAGON and one of their sister cities is Beaverton, OR, which is located about 40 minutes from my parent’s house.

Anyways, I am pretty excited to move there so hopefully it happens soon!

 

How are we getting to Korea?!

Now that David and I finally have our documents finished we were hoping to leave for S. Korea by the end of the month.  However, we recently received an email from our recruiter of choice, Adventure Teaching, telling us that the job market is quite slow and we may not be leaving until October or November… if we continue to use them.  We could look into other recruiters if we wanted, as we signed no contracts.  This was very disheartening for me to hear because I spent a lot of time researching recruiters and chose AT for a reason.  That being said, while I am currently living at home, I have a limited amount of resources (aka cash), and my desire to leave only grows stronger everyday.  So what’s next?

I have been researching other recruiters and David and I may apply to a few while continuing to work with AT (we still hope that they will come through in the end).  On a very exciting note, David’s aunt Connie knows a contact living in Korea already.  David has been talking with him a little bit and he offered to look for jobs for us!  He thinks he can find us a job faster than AT which would be awesome.  It is amazing how many people know people that know people in S. Korea.  So out of all these options, I really hope something pans out soon.

In the meantime, I have moved home with my parents and David will soon be joining me.  I just went to one of my high school friend’s weddings and it was awesome.  Hopefully I will have some pictures soon.  I am also finishing up a 120-hour Teaching English as a Foreign Language class online which has been a lot of work, as well as, starting to learn hangul and some basic Korean. I’m trying to get David into it as well but he seems intent on learning German first… for some reason :p

Anyways, hopefully our next post will be to inform everyone of our job acceptance!