My last month in Korea teaching English was the most brutal for me. My co-workers were running out of patience with me after I had missed six days of work in the last five weeks of my contract due to being in the hospital. I was trying to make it to the finish line without getting into any verbal altercations. My American co-teacher George was also nervous because so far the academy still hadn’t found another person to replace me as a teacher. So, seven days before my contract was to end I asked my co-teacher Musong when the academy would buy me a plane ticket home.
“No ticket.” he said flatly, not even bothering to look up from his text messaging. From that moment on I knew getting my affairs finished in Mokpo was going to be like going 10 rounds with Tyson. I decided to not bring up my request again until the following Monday. Over the weekend I made some calls around Korea, trying to get a free ticket to the US. I tried to be an Orphan Escort or an Air Courier.
“Now most adoptive parents pick up their adopted children up in Korea,” answered the secretary at Orphan Escorts in Seoul. I guess back in the old days the adoptive parents just signed some paperwork in the US and waited for 6-8 weeks for a Korean orphan to come in on a plane. The Air Courier gig was impossible to get any information on. I guessed that probably most people who needed something delivered just used DHL.
That weekend wasn’t all bad, I was looking forward to my going away party with all my friends from the Angel-In-Us Café English meetings. One hour into the party Jonathan, Jackie and I got thrown out of my going away party, along with the other males at the party. I guess at some point Jonathan got a little too loud. He also may have had a couple few too many beers. The girls who arranged the party got angry at Jonathan for ordering them around and because of this, all the males were thrown out of the party. We didn’t even have a chance to cut the cake. Instead, we all went out to a nearby bar and texted the girls to come down but they never did. I would rather be outside of the party with Jackie and Jonathan than inside without them so I didn’t mind too much.
Starting Monday, I was even more desperate to close out my contract life in Korea and get my last month’s pay check and a plane ticket out of the country. On Monday, Musong had a change of heart and said that he would talk to the boss the next day about my ticket. When the next day arrived I asked Musong what the boss said and he replied that “She is busy this week,” as he was escorting a student downstairs. I remembered the email I received from another former co-teacher Duff (who was interested in renewing a contract with the school). He said he received an email saying that the academy wanted him back but was often too busy to make any final plans. Steam started to pour out of my ears.
“Where are you going?” I asked Musong. I started walking towards his class room and gave him some hand signals to follow me.
“Why is it that she’s too busy this week but will be able to do my ticket next week? What’s the difference between this week and next week? This waiting for my ticket is making me nervous,” I told Musong once we were back in his classroom, trying to remain calm.
“Actually Miss Kang is angry at you,” replied Musong.
This statement kicked off a 10 minute tirade about how me missing six days of work due to being in the hospital was causing the rest of the teachers extra hours of work and pushing the financial status of the company into bankruptcy.
“Have any teachers in Korea ever had to go to the hospital and miss work?” I asked.
“You don’t say sorry, you don’t care about the other employees,” replied Musong.
“What do you care more about, your health or your job?” I replied.
“I care more about my health then my job but I don’t care more about your health than my job,” replied Musong. I flashed back 10 years and thought about a conversation I had with my Japanese roommate. He told me that he was surprised how “direct” Americans were in casual conversation. This statement from Musong was probably the most honest and direct answer I’ve ever gotten from any Western or Non-Western person. I tried to steer the conversation back onto the rails towards sanity. But, it was too late, we were already on the train to crazy town.
“What do you think about me?” Musong asked.
“I think you need to work on your communication,” I responded.
“I am very angry at you,” replied Musong.
“Yeah I know, you….”
“Don’t interrupt, I am communicating.”
I waited for him to tell me to get out of his class room but that moment never came. Instead he just gave me more feedback about the way I treated my co-workers and the boss. The discussion didn’t end in mutual understanding or an agreement. Instead, it was a chance for each of us to vent our frustrations at the other person. In life, people usually save their harshest criticisms of others until the time right before money is to be exchanged.
I left his room and walked back to my officetel. On my walk back home I wondered why they hadn’t planned for my departure better and if they were so concerned about teachers missing classes, why hadn’t they found a new teacher to replace me with a week to go on my contract? If everyone at work was so severely impacted by my absence, wouldn’t that motivate them to make sure my replacement teacher would start work on the date of my departure? George had brought in two of his friends to interview for teaching positions at the academy, but neither got the job. The academy was apparently banking on the second coming of Christ in the form of a native English teacher.
I texted Musong the next day, asking what our boss, Miss Kang, said to him about my contract settlement and ticket.
“None to me,” read his message.
I decided that at this moment I had two options; get a lawyer or find someone scary enough to get them to give me my ticket. I chose the first option. I immediately texted all of my Korean friends in Mokpo, asking them for the number of an English-speaking Korean lawyer. Three minutes later I got a call from my friend Pastor Choi from Sarang Community Church.
“Where are you?” He asked. “Can you come to my church?”
“I’m in front of E-Mart, I will get in a taxi now and come to your church,” I responded
“Ok, I’m in my office on the 6th floor.”
I walked into Pastor Choi’s office 20 minutes later. I retold the tale of my failed attempts to get my plane ticket from the academy. Pastor Choi asked to see my contract. As I opened my backpack to take out my contract the phone rang. It was Musong and he asked me to come to the school immediately. I asked if Miss Kang was there and he said yes. I told Pastor Choi that my work had just called.
“Can I guide you?” asked Pastor Choi. “I can take you to the academy from here in my car.” I had to think about this one. I finally accepted Pastor Choi’s offer, we jumped into his car and headed for the academy. I felt as if I were being taken to the firing range.
As we pulled up in front of the academy, I got very nervous. I knew I didn’t stand a chance in there unless I had a moderator. I asked Pastor Choi to come to the negotiations with me. He accepted without hesitation. Before getting out of the car Pastor Choi spoke, “Let’s try and speak humbly with your boss.” he said. I of course agreed.
As we were entering the academy building Choi quickly said, “Let’s pray first.” So we went into the alley behind the academy and bowed our heads, “Dear Heavenly Father, we can do anything without you.” I kept my snickering to myself, I knew Pastor Choi was doing his best, even if the grammar wasn’t exactly perfect. After our prayer we went upstairs and entered the academy. As we walked in we saw Musong was sitting in the corner, staring into his cell phone as usual.
As he rose to greet us, I introduced my friend Pastor Choi as “Mr. Choi.” After seeing I had brought Mr. Choi, Musong looked at the ground and did one of his oxygen-depleted laughs. He then called Miss Kang to tell her everything was in place. The three of us sat down together and Musong chatted amicably with Mr. Choi for the next 20 minutes. Each time the front door opened of the academy, the three of us raised our heads to see if it was Miss Kang coming into the office. Each time it wasn’t her.
“Ding.” sounded the elevator.
As soon as the elevator door opened a verbal outpouring spilled out of my 5’2” Korean boss. Choi and Musong immediately came to their feet as Miss Kang berated us. See didn’t stop yelling or even bother to ask who the visitor was. She was way too far into her rant to be bothered with small details. The only words I recognized were “Samsung Hospital” and “communication,” the later she said in English. My heart was pounding but I knew my role in this entire process was just to be a spectator. Choi attempted to get in a few words edgewise but was incapable of delivering his message. Her speech was interrupted by her phone, after quickly addressing her caller and hanging up, she motioned for us to come into her office. As we sat down Miss Kang asked Mr. Choi a few questions, I could tell by Choi’s response “…….Sarang Church” that Miss Kang had asked Mr. Choi what his job was. As soon as Mr. Choi revealed that he was a Pastor of a church with over 500 middle school student mothers and fathers in attendance, Miss Kang’s tone changed completely.
“Musong…….coffee.” she called.
Once the coffee was served Miss Kang and Pastor Choi had what sounded like a personal chat and Musong pulled out his notebook to discuss the terms of my settlement. He wrote four points in his notebook.
1) Phone bill
2) Medical insurance amenity
3) Plane ticket
4) Pay check
He let me know that Miss Kang would be subtracting six sick days from my final paycheck. Musong asked me if I knew what “Medical insurance amenity” meant. I guessed it had something to do with me paying money to somebody. He explained that it actually was a refund that I’d be getting. We then made plans to meet me at 12 noon the next day to address the four points and to close out my contract.
Things got off to a rough start from the beginning. For some reason Musong had thought we could buy a plane ticket at his bank. The bank teller informed us that we would have to call the airline to make the reservation.
Musong then made about three or four phone calls trying to make a plane ticket reservation, intermediately he’d ask me to show him my resident card while he was on the phone. He’d then read off the numbers into the phone. After several calls, Musong hung up the phone and stared at the ground in defeat.
“What’s the problem?” I asked.
“Lack of time,” was his only response.
We packed up our paperwork and went down stairs. I suggested we go to a travel agent to get a ticket price. After saying this we both walked in different directions, Musong then yelped back at me to follow him.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“To find a quiet place,” he responded.
Even though Musong was Korean and I was a foreigner, I could tell he had no clue as to the layout of the city or where to go. In my mind this revealed Musong’s obsessive dedication to working long hours in the academy. He was a stranger to the world outside of the academy.
As we were waiting to cross the street, Musong asked me why I hadn’t stayed at the academy after Mr. Choi had left.
“You didn’t tell me you wanted me to stay,” stating the obvious.
Musong then informed me that there were some “tasks” that I needed to do after the settlement that I had missed.
“If you wanted me to come back to the academy to do the tasks, why didn’t you just call?” I replied, suddenly feeling my face turning red.
“It’s not my job to call you to come into work. I’m not your secretary,” replied Musong.
I could tell this was not the best way to start what promised to be a long day of waiting in line together.
“Musong, I don’t want to argue with you, I’m tired of…..”
“You’re tired.” he cut himself off before finishing his point. We then went into a convenience store to have an ice coffee and regroup. While in the convenience store Musong made a call to my bank. This call didn’t end well either. We were both getting frustrated. It seemed that we couldn’t do anything about the ticket or my bank account, so we decided to work on the medical insurance amenity and paying my phone bill. The phone bill went smoothly, they even agreed to let me to keep my phone for an extra few days. The medical insurance amenity was a little more complicated. I had brought my previous money transfer statement (back when I thought I was leaving Korea ten months prior) showing my bank account number in the US, but there were so many different numbers on the wire transfer statement that I had forgotten which numbers corresponded with my bank account. And everything was written in Korean. Neither Musong nor the medical insurance amenity lady could distinguish which numbers coincided with my bank account numbers and which numbers were meaningless. Musong suggested that I call my bank in the US. I couldn’t call them because it was 1 am back in California. I couldn’t access my account online either, because I couldn’t remember my password for my online bank account. Musong didn’t take the news well. He couldn’t believe I hadn’t memorized my bank account number. I decided just to pick a series of numbers off the money transfer statement and put those in as my bank account number on the medical insurance amenity form.
“By the way, how much money are they going to give me?” I asked.
Musong translated the question to the teller.
“$1,007,” she responded.
I was blown away, suddenly the bank account number took on a little more important role. We then left the medical insurance amenity building, not knowing if I guessed my bank account number correctly or not. I could always call them back later if I needed to update the account number. We headed back to the academy and tried to book the plane ticket on line. Musong and I had our hands full once again. It was impossible to make a reservation on a US website with the boss’ Korean credit card. We tried all of her over 15 different credit cards and nothing worked. I had two more days until I needed to leave my officetel. I still hadn’t done a thing in terms of packing my stuff.
Several hours and credit cards later we booked an eTicket on Air China for $649. After we booked the ticket Miss Kang transferred my last month’s paycheck to my account via her cell phone. I was free. I shook everyone’s hand. As I was leaving Miss Kang gave me a US $100 bill and said “Pocket money.”
I thanked her again and left. As I was walking out the door I heard Musong say in English. “You should use two hands when taking money.”
Everything You Wanted To Know About Teaching English In Korea But Were Afraid To Ask
|Yearly Taxes||Yearly Housing Expenses||Total Remaining|
|Korea||$26,000 + 50% of medical bills paid||$780||$0||$25,220|
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Tags: Backwoods, blogging, career, China, esl, ESL Suite, final contract, First Contact in Korea, human resources, Journey, mokpo, Native English Teacher, negotiation, recruiting, South Korea, teaching, teaching english in korea, teaching jobs, TEFL, TESOL