A Week In The Life

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I have long since decided that attempting to detail the day to day goings on of my life in Korea is absurdly impractical. As such I intend to take the easy way out, occasionally providing you with a snapshot image of the life of an EPIK teacher as and when my schedule/brain allows. Having just finished my first week of teaching, this seems like as good a time as any to begin.

I realised a long while ago that each year EPIK teachers are essentially entered into a huge ‘employment/living lottery‘, of which not everyone is aware of. I have heard tales of GETs (Guest English Teachers – us) finding themselves in near perfect situations as many times as I have heard of people living and working in Hell itself. The draw does not seem to discriminate by experience, creed or colour and therefore, I suppose, is as fair as it is possible to be. I imagine this doesn’t make it any easier to take if you pull a short straw.

It is not quite as simple as good school vs. bad school however, and there is much to be taken into consideration before you play. A good school with a decent budget, plentiful resources and charming kids is one thing of course, but a rich school doesn’t automatically guarantee a clean, livable apartment. Another important factor is you co-teachers and fellow English faculty. How many of them are there? How well can they speak and will they be willing to converse in english with you? Do they expect you to run the lessons by yourself or will there be 50/50, actual ‘co-teaching’ going on? Perhaps they will run the lessons by themselves and you will be there solely to model pronunciation. All of this happens, and before you begin work at school you won’t have a single clue as to which way it’s going to go. Also up for consideration is the location of your school and apartment. Will you be close to a subway stop on a main line? Will you have to commute to school? Will you have to work at more than one school? This is but a tiny, tiny insight into the mind of an EPIK teacher during orientation…more questions are added each day, but precious few can be answered until the first day of school.

I began my new job properly on Monday, as is traditional. I have heard that some of my friends are not beginning to teach anything at all until week three and are filling their days until then either deskwarming or observing the Korean teachers doing their sweet thing. This sounds boring, yes, but also an incredibly easy ride and I admit it makes me feel small shivers of envy. Other friends have begun teaching on a reduced timetable or just helping the co-teacher whilst they get a feel of the place. This too sounds awesome. On my first day I was expected to teach full lessons, completely on my own with little to no input from any of my five co-teachers. As luck would have it even week Mondays are my busiest day, with five first-grade classes and one third-grade class solidly back to back from 9am. Foolishly I assumed that, considering it was my first ever day of teaching, perhaps the co-teachers would have prepared something themselves but this was not the case. By the time 3pm rolled round I was exhausted, my throat sore and my hopes for an easy year thoroughly dashed. I left school feeling rather dejected (probably doing the ‘Arrested Development ‘Charlie Brown’ Walk) and lay down for a while, reviewing my day and trying to pinpoint exactly which parts of the EPIK Lottery I had lost in.

I could go on and on spouting worthless emo drivel about how hard done by I felt, but I’ll spare you all and cut to the chase: At some point during my time spent lying on my bed I realised that I was being a childish, selfish douchebag. I confronted why I had chosen to come to Korea – had I come to work, earn money and get experience or to be given an easy ride from a foreign government? It’s a surprisingly tough question, but I am happy to say that after a bit of a think I could safely and honestly assert that I came for the former. Obviously an easy ride would be nice but I have absolutely no right to be upset that I have ended up with a proper, full-on teaching job…plus I have a lovely apartment in a decent location to escape to after a tough day. On some days I can even convince myself that I wouldn’t have wanted an easy job.

This long story isn’t being cut nearly as short as I would like it to be, so I’ll move on. Now acting like less of a moron, my week improved immeasurably. Of course it’s still exhausting and some classes are a certified nightmare, but on the whole this is what teaching is, and I enjoy it. Some of the students are hilarious, some are even adorable and the majority of them, on the whole, are really not as bad as you would expect from a disreputed boys’ middle school with little to no resources.

Tuesday was better than Monday (in that I only taught five classes back to back) and Wednesday was better than both (four classes) and between all of this and lesson planning I finally managed to apply for my Alien Registration Card (see previous post). On Thursday my presence was required at a staff meeting (completely pointless as it was an hour of people talking in Korean) which ended with me being forced to hold a placard, put my fist in the air and have photos taken. I imagine that somewhere on the school’s website I am proudly supporting a cause I do not understand.

By the time the weekend finally rolled around I was well and truly ready for a drink. Having recently discovered reasonably priced (not terrible tasting) red wine at my local Home Plus I arranged to hang out at my friend’s apartment, discussing the week and generally how strange Korean students are. Somehow on my way back home I bumped into some fellow EPIKers on their way to ‘Club Fix’ (‘Day Lounge and Night Club’) and managed to get in as somebody’s ‘+1’, therefore avoiding paying the hefty 25,000 won entrance fee. I haven’t paid entrance fee to anywhere in years and I do not intend to start here**. Club Fix was…well…shit in the way that nightclubs anywhere are shit. The main bar area swam with  trendy folks sipping expensive drinks whilst wearing expensive clothes, hitting on fellow expensive people with their expansive repertoire of cheap chat-up lines. The dance area was somewhere between an overpacked disco and a cattle market, with music so shrill and loud that thinking was a tricky business, never mind talking. At one point I ventured to the toilets and very nearly tripped over a Korean woman who was vomiting into the bin. It would appear that despite cultural difference the world over, the awfulness of nightclubs is constant and unchanging.

**Note: Whilst this makes me sound like a dick, it’s worth noting that I have not been anywhere requiring entrance fee for a number of years.

I realised after my trip to the vomit-room that I had misplaced my friends. I eventually found them in one of Club Fix’s private noraebangs (‘singing rooms’, for the happily uninitiated) conversing, with various degrees of success, with a Korean plastic surgeon. I spent a few minutes in there, watching my friend’s duet with a Korean girl (conducted entirely in Chinese) followed by a group rendition of Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’. As the Korean plastic surgeon made polite conversation over his bottle of Dom Perignon (this in a club where a 330ml can of Heineken cost 7000 won) I realised how much money had been plowed into his night. To be honest, it weirded me out a little bit. Shortly after I realised this he expressed an interest in learning more english (which is good) through the marvelously Korean utterance “you will teach me english and I will make you thin!”, which is without doubt the creepiest thing anyone has said to me yet in Korea…and I have a student who pronounces ‘Zookeeper’ as ‘Jewkeeper’.

I realised that my nightclub fun quota had long since been filled, so I decided it was time to leave. In a few short minutes I was in a taxi, where the driver (upon discovering my englishness)  yelled “Ahhhh, Eng-er-belt-ur-hum-er-deeek! I number one fan-urr!” for some time. It wasn’t until he launched into a very loud (very Asian) rendition of ‘Please Release Me’ that I realised he was talking about Englebert Humperdink. 5 long minutes, 6000 won and an impromptu Humperdink megamix later, I was home…safe in the knowledge that I wouldn’t be repeating my nightclub experience for a good long while.

PS: Apologies for the rambling, unconnected, largely incoherent nature of this post. It matches my week perfectly.


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