Veronica Shoffstall – After A While.

After a while you learn
The subtle difference between
Holding a hand and chaining a soul
And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning
And company doesn’t always mean security.

And you begin to learn
That kisses aren’t contracts
And presents aren’t promises
And you begin to accept your defeats
With your head up and your eyes ahead
With the grace of a woman
Not the grief of a child

And you learn
To build all your roads on today
Because tomorrow’s ground is
Too uncertain for plans
And futures have a way
Of falling down in mid flight

After a while you learn
That even sunshine burns if you get too much
So you plant your own garden
And decorate your own soul
Instead of waiting
For someone to bring you flowers

And you learn
That you really can endure
That you are really strong
And you really do have worth
And you learn and you learn
With every good bye you learn.


The Insignificance of Westerners in Korea.

I have just read this on Facebook: “Me: Hey. How are you doing today? Him: Best day of my life. Me: You won the lottery? Him: Nope. I’m breathing. He makes a good point. Every day is a good day if you’re alive and able to live it.”

I thought that was pretty cool, but I am accompanied by bitter sweet feelings this morning. On one hand, I am feeling so much better about recent happenings, and on the other I am feeling just as insignificant as I did 3 months ago. I wanted to substantiate this feeling with something that I’ve recently noticed. It happened again just this morning.

As some may have read, I am a High School teacher at a public school in South Korea. I have 3 co-teachers, meaning – that I work with 1 teacher at a time, but they change accordingly. 1 of my co-teachers, with whom I had my interview with before getting the job, seemed lovely. She picked me up at the bus terminal for the interview, and complimented me to no end. I thought she was amazingly nice, but also eccentric. I felt I should be cautious of that kind of Korean, because they usually end up being the most difficult people to work with.

Regardless, I have been here for just over 6 months now. I don’t have any concrete problems with her. We get along fine, and she isn’t high maintenance at all. I have, however, started to notice how she undermines  me at any given moment. Given that I am the English teacher, from an English speaking country and I can pronounce things correctly and correct students appropriately, one would think I would be in charge when it came to listening to and correcting English sentences that the students have constructed? No. I’ve recently started having the students create 1 sentence with the 15-20 words we learn every lesson. I then ask them for their sentences and correct them where necessary. This Korean teacher starts taking over, leaving me standing behind her. She picks the students and gives them a big “wow!” even when their sentences are “I wait bus” or “I’m like music”. She occasionally turns around, and I will correct them, but I feel utterly belittled as the English teacher when she takes full control in that manner. I have also found that, no matter where I am standing, she tends to stand right in front of me?! What is that about.

She also translates every single words that I say, and she is disregarding the English portion of the lesson just as much as the students. Many times, she cuts me off half way to start talking and translating. At the end of the day – the way that English is taught in Korea is not effective. These children are learning English by memorizing dialogues that are supposedly teaching them life and conversational skills. They are able to memorize and answer, quiet easily “Where is the bus terminal?” “It is on your right” but when asked in reality “Where is the bus terminal?” they’re utterly stumped. How is this effective?

I’ve suggested more free flowing, spontaneous speech to my other co-teacher, who is absolutely lovely, open-minded and agrees that the system of memorization isn’t cutting it. I’ve suggested choosing topics and folding them up, students will choose a topic and talk about it for 1 or 2 minutes. She agreed that that would be a good way to encourage conversation, yet the principle would like to see English being learnt. In other words, print out a lovely English dialogue, with a word list and an accompanying Powerpoint, and now the students are learning English.

And how am I to be treated with respect, as a teacher, when the faculty treat me with less respect than that of their Korean counterpart? During lunch time, I am very often the only person sitting at my table. We eat lunch in the same cafeteria as the students, and they can see the Korean teachers walking swiftly past the white teacher, to join their Korean chingus (friends, in Korean). Sometimes, they avoid my table altogether, only to sit alone at the table ahead. How are these teachers good role models to incorporate diversity, to appreciate different cultures and different races?

I just feel like they spend so much money bringing in foreign teachers – paying for their return flights, rent etc and it’s all this big show. Koreans do NOT care about English. In fact, they want everything to do with America and westernization except actually BE apart of America or any part of westernization. All over, I see people wearing shirts with English writing (A student came to school wearing a T-shirt saying “Fuck what you heard!”) they have English pencil cases, they watch Twilight and know English pop songs yet when it actually comes down to dealing with any foreigners – they want nothing to do with us.

How do I feel appreciated at work or in this country (or dramatically, in life) if this is how I spent 75% of it?

South Korea: Kinder, Elementary, Middle & High.

Having taught at a private English Academy (Hagwon) as well as a public High School in Korea, I have taught just about every school-going age group. I thought I’d share my opinions on the pros and cons of teaching in Korea.

At my first job, I taught predominantly Elementary school students (7-13) a little Kindergarten (about ages 5-6), and a tiny bit of Middle School (13-16). These age groups differ quite considerably.

Kindergarten children do not understand English. Speaking from personal experience, I did not enjoy teaching them. They were out of control, they ran around the classroom, wouldn’t do work or listen, would all run out of the classroom to go to the bathroom together in packs, and they would make an utter mess of the classroom. That was my experience. I would like to vouch that that was not entirely my fault as an educator because soon after, my Korean co-teacher started taking that class and she too had the same problems. My two best friends in Korea however have taught students younger than age 5, and they absolutely loved it. The students’ English level was remarkable for that age, it was astounding. I guess in that regard, it all depends on the school and level.

Elementary Schools students are adorable. They want to be first to do anything e.g. answering questions, reading dialogues etc. Of course it is difficult to control them at times, but they are eager to learn, they appreciate small incentives, like stickers or erasers as rewards. They really want to talk to you, so they try their hardest in their broken English. I can say that teaching Elementary School was, by far, my favourite age group – yet, children at private Academies and Public School may differ (level of English, class sizes).

Middle School was tough. The students I taught were about 13-15, and they thought they were too cool for anything. They would backchat, complain about the work ALL of the time, even when I’d give them no homework or give them free time. They would blatantly cheat off their friends’ work while I was looking at them. They often did not bring their books for lessons, and more often than not – I would walk out of there in a bad mood.

High School students generally do not attend English Academies, it is more popular among Kinder, Elementary and some Middle School students. The difference here, is that I teach at a Public High School whereas my Kinder, Elementary and Middle School experience came from an Academy. There is a difference. However, High School students (I am unsure if they attended a private Academy in their younger years) have hardly any English skills. They do not want to engage with you 80% of the time. I get the odd student that comes to me during lunch for English conversations, or for me to help them with their University essays but majority of the time, all I hear is “Hello, how are you?” and that is where their English skills end. It’s very difficult to hold a conversation with them, it is like a game of Charades. These students are also over saturated with a heavy work load, and so almost every lesson, about 20% of the class will be asleep. They do not want to participate in lessons and they do not want to answer questions, or sing songs and be silly.

Having said that, I will give my closing statement in that – my assumptions about these phases may differ considerably, depending on if you’re at a Hagwon (private) or Public. The fact that my Elementary and Middle School students could hold English conversations is because they had English classes with me every day of the week. The fact that they were allowed to moan and complain was because there was no Korean teacher present. Whereas, my High School class does not have English classes every day contributing to their English skills, and I have a Korean teacher present with me – so they do not moan.

That being said, that is only my assumption of the different behavioural levels. It may vary, depending on Public or Private.

Pros & Cons of Teaching English in South Korea.

I have been teaching English in South Korea for just over 2.5 years. I spent one year at a private after-school English Academy in Osan, a year teaching at a public High School in Icheon and now I am at a Public Elementary School in Ansan. There are so many pros and cons to both Academy (Hagwon) and Public School jobs.

Hagwon Pros

Working at a private Academy (Hagwon) does have it’s pros, even though many people will tell you to work for a public school. In my opinion, I enjoyed working at a Hagwon because there is a small faculty of teachers. This means that you can get to know your co-workers well, join in on school dinners, make Korean friends and also – depending on your boss, get take-out delivered to your school for lunch. Now, of course this pro will vary, as you may not like your co-workers – but the majority of mine were great and it turned out to be really helpful when I was in a situation where I needed some Korean assistance (buying a cell phone etc).

You will teach your classes by yourself, which I really felt was a con while I was there – but now have realized that it’s perhaps not. Being at a public school now, working with a Korean teacher side-by-side, I often have to hide my anger or frustrations because it is their job to discipline. There were very many times where I would walk out of my Hagwon class in an exceedingly bad mood, but it was still perhaps better to show my emotions at all times, take full responsibility and control your classroom alone.

Another pro, would be that the class sizes are small. You will teach about 4-12 students in one lesson. This also helps you get to know your students, remember their names easily (they are given English names) and help them one-on-one.

Hagwons are also great, because the children are forced to speak English as there is no Korean teacher present. I spent six months teaching 5-6 year old students and they could barely speak a word of English, but they were forced to try. I would play very simple games with them, like drawing objects on the board, teaching the English word and then turning it into a game, with points.

It is also very easy to get a job at a Hagwon, with only a Bachelors Degree. They are abundant and plentiful.

Hagwon Cons

A con of working at a Hagwon, is that you probably will not have your own classroom. At my old Hagwon, we were 8-10 teachers and the office was very small. There were 4 computers, and 2 were mainly for students who needed to do homework or activities. I would often be kicked off the other 2 computers by Korean teachers, as their work was more important than mine (Facebook, Gmail), which is fair but so frustrating. I would have 5 minutes between classes, and would not really have a place where I could sit or even stand.

You will teach about 30-35 hours a week. This is actually insanely high when I look at my current job at a public school. I taught 6-6.5 classes a day out of 7 and so often I did not have a chance to eat or sit down for a long time at work. It does get tiring. After 6+ months, you may get the feeling of  burning out.

Your boss is really a key factor in whether you will have a good time at your Hagwon or not. My bosses were a married couple. The wife spoke English, but the husband did not. When you work at a Hagwon, it is solely a business. You are basically attracting as many kids as you can to come to your school. The boss pays your salary, and thus you may have problems when it comes to receiving your salary. If your school is doing well, and your boss is great – you won’t have any problems with getting paid (on time). However, if your students start leaving the Hagwon, it may very likely go out of business and you are left either not getting paid or without a job. This has happened to my friends in the past. On the other hand, your school may be doing fine yet your boss either forgets or I suppose deems your salary unimportant, and thus you will need to remind them about paying you, as I did 11/12 months at my Hagwon.

Your severance pay is also debatable as I was able to leave my contract 1-2 weeks earlier, for specific reasons and it was conveyed to me that I would only lose x amount of money, do I want to take or leave it. I agreed to take it, and when I checked my bank balance, it was not at all the figure which was conveyed to me. My boss told me “If you see a problem with the amount, please let me know” which is already sketchy. I told her it seemed too little and she gave me some more money, in cash, but it was still not up to standard.

It will be very tricky for you to get a sick day at a Hagwon. Some could even be fired because they were in need of a sick day. I took 1 sick day out of the year, and my boss was OK with that. She took me to the hospital and paid for my bill, which was nice but probably all in vain as they had not set up my medical insurance (illegal). As an English Teacher in Korea, you pay 50% of your medical insurance and your employer will pay the other 50%.

Holidays are basically non-existent at a Hagwon. In my year, I got 5 days of vacation time. 3 days in summer and 2 in winter. My contract stated that I was to get 5 in winter and 5 in summer, excluding weekends – but they told me that weekends did count – and at a Hagwon, a contract means NOTHING.

Public School Pros

You now work for a school with a very large faculty, who teach an array of subjects. That being said, not many at all can speak English. You will not remember their (Korean) names, and they will most likely not know yours. You will, however, have a Korean co-teacher that will teach classes with you – but that again, is Russian Roulette as you may not like your co-teacher. (Korean woman can be very difficult).

You will no longer teach by yourself, but with a Korean teacher. This can actually be considered a pro and a con. Pro – you may have a fantastic co teacher, who is helpful and who is a great teacher and great at discipline. This takes a lot of sweat off your back, as well as the fact that 25% – half of your teaching time is done by him/her.

Class sizes are big. There are about 36-40 students in your class, and that is why having a Korean teacher is also useful. As a teacher who cannot speak their language – this comes in very handy.

You will have your own classroom, with your own computer and better equipment (screen projector etc). I have my own classroom in a basement and I am alone the majority of the time. I quite like the personal space and lack of noise. I am able to do my lessons and whatever else I choose during my off lessons (type my blog, watch movies).

You will have many more free lessons, and often classes are cancelled. I teach, on average, 3 classes a day. Some days, I will have 2, some I may have 4 (5 if you include Club Activity, where we watch an English TV show). I enjoy time off because – who doesn’t? In the English teachers’ world – we call this Desk Warming.

You work for the government, which means – no more late pay days and no problems with not getting paid at all. Your salary will be paid into your account on the same day every month. This has proven to be one of the best things that I have enjoyed while working at a public school – reliability.

You are given 11 paid sick days per year. As you know, I have just broken up with my boyfriend and felt it necessary to take a “personal day”. I called in sick, and was given the day off. This was very  useful for me. I also am studying PGCE through correspondence with a University in South Africa, and I need to write exams in Seoul. My school was perfectly happy to give me the day off to write my exam.

Vacation time is great – you will have 2 weeks off in summer and 2 weeks off in winter. I was able to visit Vietnam in my 2 week summer vacation, as well as Busan (one of the best locations in Korea, by the beach).

Public School Cons 

I am not able to establish relationships with my students, as I see them once a week in a class of 40. It is hard to get to know them.

The students do not have English names, which also makes it harder to maintain a relationship. They are given numbers, not called by name. They will sit at a desk in conjunction with their number. So, number 1 is at the first desk on the left. I find this completely detached, and personally, do not like it.

You will teach with a Korean teacher, and sometimes – they can be very difficult to work with. I have not really had any problems with mine but – they may make you re-do all your lessons, criticize your teaching methods or even belittle you in front of students. Also, they are in charge of discipline. If they are not very stern and strict with students, you will be left with a chaotic class.

The Korean teacher will also translate every single tiny word that you say. This, for me, is a con because I feel the students are not really learning English. They will switch off when I speak, and listen to the Korean teacher explain. They also are not challenged to learn English in that manner nor are they forced to speak English, ever.

It is also much harder to find a Public School job. They are very strict with their list of qualifications. You will need to have a TEFL certificate, as well as a Bachelors Degree. Coupled with that, experience is good but regardless – with a TEFL, Bachelors and experience – you may still be on the bottom pay scale. I am now receiving 100 000 won (about $100) less than I did last year at my private Academy.

To conclude, I usually would recommend a Public School position, because of all the benefits – sick days, vacation, helpful co-teachers but I do however find it less challenging than working at a Hagwon. With all the time off at Public, I do not need to do much work and thus, get bored easily. Yet, after experiencing Public School Elementary this year (2013) I am quite ready to return to a Hagwon, as my co teacher is very difficult and has made this whole experience awful!

One VERY important tip for those who are about to get a Hagwon job – SPEAK TO THE CURRENT OR PREVIOUS FOREIGN TEACHER! Ask them if the pay is always on time, what the school and boss is like and if they are happy there.

Important tip for Public School with Korean co-teachers – the younger the woman, the easier it will be. Older Korean women tend to make your life hell with lessons planning, changing plans, execution and treating you like a bottom bitch.

If you are trying to get a Public School job – I used KORVIA or EICO. They were extremely helpful, I would definitely recommend them.

Good Apples.

It’s happened. Gangnam Style was on repeat earlier and I got up and danced. This is disturbing and great at the same time. Disturbing, because for the last month I’d been complaining about how ridiculous that song is. Great, because – I danced. I’ve been feeling so terrible for the last week, I couldn’t even listen to music (this has never happened to me before). It either made me sad, or just pissed me off.

If you’ve been following my life for the last week, you would know that I had somewhat of a decision to make last night (last post – Friday Confessions and Temptations). I make it sound so dramatic, but it really wasn’t. My heart is healing, and I didn’t know if I should see a guy (a fellow South African, also an English teacher) and possibly do something I may regret. I didn’t know if that would be good for me, yet I didn’t want to be alone. It was a Friday night, the first weekend being broken up with my boyfriend and I thought my ex would probably be out having fun, getting up to nonsense and I just did not want to think about that.

I saw the guy. I tried to call him in the evening, of which he didn’t answer. He called me back later, admitting to have been sleeping. He came over to my place at 11:30pm, and by that stage I was already a little tipsy (I’m lying, I was drunk). He came here, and I smiled awkwardly a lot of the time not knowing what to say. We spoke a little about my break up and how I am not in a good place right now. He hugged me, which was the first hug I’d received during all of this. It was awkward, but l appreciated that hug so much. He told me that I looked pretty and suggested we go to the one and only foreigner bar in our town (which is so small). He gave me W10 000 (about $10) because he knew that I was broke, which was also great of him. So, we took a cab there (I told him I’d only go if we took a cab, because I was lazy) even though it’s about a ten minute walk. The place was more busy than the last few weeks had been, but as it’s that time of the year – where many English teachers go home and new ones come in, there were new faces. I recognized a guy that I went to school with, so that was pretty great. And, I spoke to some new girls. All in all, a success until I tried to find my phone and it was not in my bag. I made a drunken fuss about it, crying (hopefully not at the bar!) where the manager was calling it insistently and looking through all the seats for me. It wasn’t found, but this is Korea – cell phones just don’t get stolen. The guy and I decided to leave, and took a cab to my place.

When we arrived, my phone was laying there on my bed, After feeling like an idiot, I either cried or sat there in desperation or stupidity or even just drunkenness. I can’t remember, truthfully. It could of been all of the above. He stood there and told me he was going back to the bar. I think I wanted him to stay, and sleep next to me but he didn’t and at the end of the day, whatever his motives were, I am so happy for the outcome.

I feel good (and a little stupid) about last night because I got to have some fun, I went out for the first time all week and I did not do anything I would regret today. I also can’t say that had he tried something, it wouldn’t of happened – but why worry about things that could of happened, but didn’t.

I am grateful towards him for coming to my place, getting me to go out, giving me a hug, giving me some emergency money for the night, taking me home and leaving to go back to the bar. I had been in a similar situation with him before, where he put me to bed and left again, so that he could try hook up with a girl and if that’s what his motives were last night – good for him. He didn’t take advantage of the drunk girl and he looked after me.

I suppose there are some good apples out there, girls.

Friday Confessions & Temptations.

I positively could not sleep last night. Maybe it was because I had woken up at twelve noon. Either way, it was 5:30am and I was laying bed, wondering about what my next blog post would be. I felt somewhat inspired and excited to start writing about some more positive, as you may know my previous entries have been nothing but disasters. I wanted to write about how Korea has changed my life, and it has. But as it goes, this will not be that post.

I woke up around the same time today, twelve noon. I feel worse than what I did yesterday because it’s Friday. I’ve spent 80% of this week alone in my apartment and that’s been fine. I’ve cried, I’ve written, I’ve watched movies, cooked, slept and done my assignment. Some would call this ~me~ time. This is exactly what I’d hoped to achieve during my time off. However, it’s Friday now. It’s been one week since my ex has spoken to me. Given the circumstances, it’s evident he feels not a shred of guilt, and so the only thing I dread – is for the sun to go down, when the bars are alive and he is out, quite possibly meeting and fucking someone else.

I’d been messaged by a guy who lives in my city at the beginning of the week. We went to the same University, yet only met in Korea. He’s a friend, kind of, but we’ve slept together twice. He told me he could tell something was up and if I wanted to join him this weekend, then cool. I was pretty appreciative of the message. I thought it was thoughtful that someone cared to do that. When I told him so, he replied with “You can thank me on Friday ; )” Again, sex. The question stands – do I go see this guy tonight?  I am broke and unable to travel to friends. I fear being alone, especially tonight.  I told him that I was in a bad place, he should not expect much from me. That was my subtle way of trying to get him to understand that really all I need right now, is a friend. I know that if I go over there – drinking will almost definitely lead to sex, and waking up in that manner tomorrow may be worse than the feelings I’d feel tonight. I don’t know what to do.

On a positive note, I feel that my cluttered brain with haphazard worries, concerns, events and questions is now more clear. It’s difficult to explain – but if you suffer from anxiety, you may get an understanding of what I mean. It’s like someone taking a clean sheet of paper, scribbling all over it repeatedly and crumpling it up – just muddling up all of the scribbles together making no sense whatsoever. This is what it’s like inside my head, constantly. My head feels less cluttered, because I’ve written it all down. This blog has helped me in more ways than anyone or thing has. My friends have all told me “You don’t deserve this” “He’s a douche” and thank you to all of you, I appreciate it more than you know – but isn’t that what friends are supposed to say after a break up? I don’t take anything at face value anymore and more importantly, how do I believe them when I feel this break up is a reflection upon myself? My best friend told me –“You need to appreciate people’s kindess” and it’s true – so thank you to all of you who have put up with my rantings, and crazy notions. I have love for all of you.

I’ve been hesitant to admit to the fact that I am back on the online dating websites, and I am hopelessly waiting for some new guy to take me out of my misery. As another good friend said – “One way of getting over a guy is to get under another”. I’m honestly not looking for a hook up. My life has been too many of those. In fact, if there is something I have learned in the past six months – it’s don’t mix first meets or first dates with alcohol. Alcohol and low self esteem equals bad judgment. I would like to try the whole ~afternoon coffee thing~ at some point in my life.

If it hasn’t become evident to you by now – I am brand spanking new to the dating scene. Prior to these last six months, I spent a grueling six years sleeping around and not feeling a damn thing about it. I could fuck someone (I know the language is horrific, but that’s what it was), not knowing their name and not persist to care the next day. It takes it’s toll, I’m not saying I was heartless – there were times every couple of months where I’d analyse my behaviour and hate myself but I was too scared to open myself up emotionally. I retraced from any real feelings during these escapades, but later they would catch up with me. This part of my life is cause for a whole new post, and you’ll see it – just not yet.

I guess I am waiting for some beautiful boy to save me from my old ways (The Killers), but never have those lyrics meant more to me. I sincerely thought that was Brett, but life sometimes throws you off.