Teaching in South Korea – A Day in the Life

Teaching in South Korea-A Day in the Life

By Paul Gaasenbeek

It was eight in morning on a beautiful Monday morning and I was wide awake-thanks to the woman upstairs who usually starts vacuuming around this time. I love being up this early, though, as not having to work for another seven hours provides me with a few hours to do whatever I want. Of course, I only slept for four hours last night so today I will be dead tired at work but that is life here-or so it seems.

Being up, I decided to go for a walk along the road (there is no sidewalk to walk on) near my school appointed apartment. The apartment is not bad I guess but it is small. It is one room with the bathroom having nothing more than a sink, a toilet and a shower head hanging 2 metres off of the floor. Showering here is weird in that the whole bathroom gets drenched due to there being no shower curtain or door. You literally are showering on the floor. The water just goes all over. I were back home and teaching, I surely would have a bigger place. For some reason people here think living in a thirteen `pyong’ (Korean measurement-1.8 square metres) apartment is suitable for a university graduate/teacher. They seem more like something you would live in while you were a poor student but what can you do?

I should point out that if you land a job at the one international school they have here in Busan (a port city on the south east coast…just off of the East Sea-not the Sea of Japan. Say that here and oh boy, watch out), you do get set up in a nice place (three rooms and a bathroom with a tub and shower). Any other job you land, whether it be at a university, a public school or a private institution which is where most people start out, you are provided with a one room apartment or an “office tel” as they are called. The room comes fully loaded with a small bed, a chair and a television taking up all of the space. That is about it. Some of the places here are nothing more than four walls with a sink. It is almost like living in poverty. You do get paid, generally speaking, 2.2 million WON or so, which works out to about $2000 Canadian; so while your place may not the greatest, one can live comfortably if you are not trying to save money. If saving money is your game, with the way things are here now, it is difficult. I will talk about his some other time.

My first apartment here in Busan was unbelievable. It was in the basement of an old building twenty minutes away from the school. The walls were so moldy that my shoes and clothes constantly had fungus on then. I had to move the clothes rod, my bed and television away form the walls in order to stay mold free. I was living in a literally in a space tow metres by tow metres. I finally took a once nice pair of shoes into the school and thrust them up onto the teachers table. The Korean teachers were so freaked out they demanded I take them away at once. I refused saying that if I had to live with this, so did they. I was moved into a new place two weeks later.

My new place was brand new at the time. Two weeks in, the whole apartment building from the third floor down was flooded due to the company who built the apartment using inadequate screws. Things here are done on the cheap-including what they do for foreign teachers. Although Korea has recently been designated to be a `developed’ country, I still like what a friend of mine once said and that was, “Korea was a third world county painted well” as it seems that way sometimes.

So, moving along (no pun intended), I was walking along the road when this little Hyundai came barreling down on me. I looked over and saw that the light was green for me but that did not stop the driver, who was also on the phone, from flying right through the light. No joke, Korea is number two in the world for car accidents and sadly, it is the number one way children die here. People here drive like maniacs-which is kind of good as I now drive a car and find myself feeling for the first time like I am assimilating well into the Korean culture.

Anyway, after my walk, I headed home to enjoy some quiet time, or so I had hoped. It is never quiet here. Most women do not work so they are always home and constantly making noise. It really is something else. The people here are very compulsive but I won’t get into the psychology of the Korean people today. The “those who live in glass houses” metaphor applies to me all too well here.

After breakfast, which consisted of a two dollar grapefruit (produce costs are through the roof here) and not much else, I lie back down on my cot like bed and rest up for work. I also try to put my hangover to bed. Sadly, most people here drink every night as there is not much else to do. I would say most people put on five to ten kilograms in their first year here. This is due to the drinking and the food. Koreans are generally slim but their food takes a special stomach and collection of taste buds to adapt to so most do not eat well here. There are fast food outlets everywhere as well Korean restaurants that are inhabited frequently by us foreigners due to them being cheap. And while I know I said most foreigners do not take well to the Korean diet, these Korean `fast food’ restaurants due serve up fried pork and foods that are not like the traditional Korean places so we tend to put on weight here. But to be honest, the weight gain is more to due with the nightly drinking that occurs here. Korea definitely can be seen as a playground if you want it to look as much-or an extension of university life. Let’s move on.

So it is not time to get up and head off to work. I grab a shower while cleaning the bathroom at the same time and head off to Quiznos and Starbucks for my lunch and coffee. I grab, I go, as I am late-yet again. Great reading or what? I sometimes hit the gym before work but I did not feel like bathing with naked Koreans today who like to watch you while cleaning the back of another man. This is okay here. I am far removed from typical Canadian customs in the change rooms but I think this one is not normal for us. I could be wrong, however, so I will not judge as I have seen many things here that would `wow’ people. One event that comes to mind was seeing a boy peeing into a cup being held by his mother while standing on the table in a TGIF restaurant. I called the manager over and he just kind of laughed. Back to work!

I enter work and say my usual hellos with the one Korean woman who can actually speak English saying hello in return and the others just sort of nodding in my direction. Teaching here is nothing like you could ever imagine. In fact, it is worthy of an article all on its own so let’s take a break here. I will leave you with a bit of advice, though, and that is, if you want to teach abroad, go to Japan! That was a joke. I have been here for seven years so like anywhere one has decided to live, it is what you make of what you have that makes or breaks you. Life here is good for me. I came not expecting anything other than to stay for a bit and travel while hopefully saving a little money. What I have experienced, however, is something totally different. Anyway, until next time teachers do your homework!

Note: I somehow bumped into Paul  while surfing some Ed. sites…he struck me as a great find and I asked him if he would like to post some articles…fortunately he agreed…I hope our members enjoy the read…it looks like this may be an interesting serial…DavidM