Archive for June, 2010

How much are they paying us? Wow, this is a good gig, but, ya know: I had travel expenses, I'm probably gonna spend a good chunk on dinner/drinks, plus there's the hotel. What are they getting paid? Shit. That's almost 1/3 of what we're getting. What the fuck Korea?

“They” are Korean provincial employees assigned to each of us. “Us” are four foreign English teachers chosen to interview Korean applicants for this year’s Jeollanamdo English summer camp teaching positions.

The issue essentially boils down to this: My Korean co-workers work longer hours, put up with more bullshit, and get paid less than I do. I’m ignorant of, or shielded from, most bullshit, work 9-5 (not including lesson prep), and am paid a tasty wage, plus benefits.

This work/wage discrepancy between Korean and Foreign teachers makes for issues of inequality in the work place. For one, Korean teachers (especially the young ones) are required to fill out mounds of paperwork. On top of that they are responsible for any paperwork regarding the foreign teacher. As a foreign teacher, I contribute to a small percentage of my paperwork and am rarely required to produce any sort of scholastic material. If there’s a problem with my paperwork, or me, my co-teacher gets the shaft for it (like this).

Another, more tangible difference, is work hours. My co-teachers stay at school until 9 PM, or even 12 AM, and works every other Saturday. After regular school hours they might tutor students, teach an extra class, or supervise a study hall. An upside is they have a more intimate relationship with the students and school community. I cycle through 6 different schools (on 4 islands), rendering my appearance practically novel.

Ever more tangible are the living situations. My school is supplied a budget for outfitting my home with appliances, furniture, etc. To my knowledge, Korean teachers are responsible for their own amenities. A co-teacher of mine said he just spent 100,000 won on a used refrigerator. To be fair, no teacher pays rent. However, in my experience, foreigner teacher quarters are much nicer than Korean teacher quarters. Then again, most Korean teachers have family and homes they visit on the weekends, so the lame conditions might be a lesser inconvenience. It’s always important to look at multiple points of view.

I can only handle so many points of view.

Speaking of won: I tend to get more of it, compared to Korean teachers my age. I also have the opportunity to change schools at the end of each contract and can always apply to new jobs throughout Korea and abroad. My Korean co-teachers are essentially locked into a school for at least 3-4 years if they want to maintain good standing within the system.

And believe me, good standing is everything for a Korean public school teacher. Like the USA, long term employment with the public school system means excellent benefits and near guaranteed employment. Also, public school teachers garner loads of respect in Korean culture. It would seem the downside, like lifelong employment with a single institution,  is that the teacher is often locked into teaching within a small area (typically the province). In this way the global transient lifestyle of the foreign ESL teacher is, well…foreign, to most Korean teachers.

I could go on about slight job requirements for foreigners to the destructive dis-empowerment of teachers in the workplace, but I’d rather be more creative. Here’s my conspiracy:  Foreigners are outsiders in the ol’ Hermit Kingdom. The wage/benefit discrepancy makes this perception more egregious. Foreign English teachers are pacified by excessive wage, benefits, and Hite; they don’t work too hard to close the gap. In times of unrest, the foreign English teacher is an easy scapegoat. Outrageous claims, such as those made by the Anti-English Spectrum, couple nicely with the fact that foreign teachers are more expensive than the good Korean teachers. Foreign English teachers are then phased out, the country is strengthened by its new-found solidarity, and K-life marches on. Foreign English teachers leave, pleased by the opportunity for profitable employment. Both sides are happy without worrying needlessly about equality.

It’s just a thought.

On a side note: It’s the first time I’ve given an official interview. I say “official” cause I think life is sometimes a series of interviews. That’s another story all together.

I wasn’t too fond of the power, and judgment to be made. However, I got to hear some really great stories from Koreans with lofty aspirations and interesting backgrounds. My vision of Korea gets pretty slight after too much time spent on the island. It’s cool to hear about the different moves people are making.

Shout out to people who read this blog. You guys are awesome. I promise that my next blog will be much more interesting. Peace.


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